Leyland came into view again, frantically hooking cables to his harness, his left foot already out on the bridge.
There was another Velcro rip, and Mallory dropped another millimeter, her one good handgrip on the slick rope slipping away.
She could hear confused voices below now—Dr. Hunter, the other kids shouting through the storm.
This isn't happening to me. It isn't.
She realized her shoulder didn't feel so constricted now. The belt around her waist was loose. She was unraveling in midair.
“Please, God . . .” Her voice didn't sound like her own.
“Right above you!” It was Olsen. “No—I mean left. The rope, Mallory! It's right there.”
She felt the line trembling through her harness as Leyland worked his way toward her—too far away. Much too far. This isn't happening to me.
Another ripping noise, and then the foot line bowed against her forearm, and she grabbed it, shaking off a string of raindrops into her face. She got her other hand on the line. Olsen was yelling encouragement, urging her to hang on.
Then Leyland was there, lifting her up with one arm, making sure her feet found the bridge. He crushed her against him with one arm, and they slid together—across the river. Even after they reached the opposite platform, after Leyland had threaded an emergency line around her waist and rappelled her to the ground—Mallory still felt the world swaying. She crumpled onto all fours, soaked and shivering.
“Just get me down,” she mumbled, her eyes squeezed shut. “Get me down.”
“Zedman, you're all right now.” Hunter's huge hand was gripping her shoulder. Then his tone hardened. “Leyland, what happened?”
“Look,” Leyland said. He tugged lightly on Mallory's back strap—something she couldn't see, didn't want to see.
Hunter snapped, “Get it off her.”
Mallory's hands curled in the moss and the wet leaves. Her vision went black and she vomited, heaving all the terror out of her body, everything she had ever feared—from Talia Montrose's torn body to her father's fists to Katherine leaving her, disappearing into the yellow house with the dark doorway and the ivy made of iron.
“Zedman.” Hunter's voice was smaller now, like it had been compressed to fit in the barrel of a gun. “You're all right, Zedman. Look. The harness ripped.”
And she looked up, saw him holding the strap that had almost killed her, the rip sprouting tufts of orange synthetic fiber.
“It's okay,” Hunter said. “The main thing is you're safe.”
But she could hear the anger in his voice, and she could see the strap as well as he could—the truth that no amount of reassurance could make all right. The tear line was perfectly straight—the strap had been cut.
The Marin County Sheriff's Office found no body at John Zedman's house, no sign of forced entry except for Chadwick's.
They couldn't locate John Zedman, nor his car, nor his driver, Emilio Pérez. Zedman's only two neighbors on the cul-de-sac had seen or heard nothing suspicious in the past twenty-four hours. But then, they hadn't noticed Chadwick drive up, or Sergeant Damarodas' arrival twenty minutes later, or the caravan of sheriff's vehicles with lights flashing that followed. As Chadwick figured it, their ocean views were so expensive the neighbors lost money every time they looked street-side.
The splatters in John's bathroom were definitely blood. The hole in the living room wall was definitely a bullet hole.
Past that, Detective Prost of the Marin County Investigations Division wasn't prepared to say. He was much too busy enjoying Chadwick's company. Even after an hour of interrogation, Prost was not anxious to let him go.
“So your relationship with Mr. Zedman,” Detective Prost recapped for the twentieth time. “You wouldn't characterize it as friendly.”
“I'd characterize it as irrelevant,” Chadwick replied. “There's blood in his goddamn bathroom. Maybe you ought to try looking for him.”
Prost reached across the kitchen counter, helped himself to some of John's gourmet coffee.
Prost didn't look at Sergeant Damarodas, who was leaning against the refrigerator behind him, but Chadwick could feel the tension between the two policemen. Citing the need for interdepartmental cooperation, Damarodas had politely insisted on staying, and the local cops moved around him with a flustered kind of annoyance—the way pedestrians move around public modern art.
“Mr. Chadwick,” Prost said. “John Zedman's ex-wife was your employer at Laurel Heights. Correct?”
“The answer was yes an hour ago,” Chadwick said. “It's still yes.”
“You and Mrs. Zedman keep in touch since?”
“No? So after nine years of not keeping in touch, she calls you out of the blue to help kidnap her daughter—”
“Escort,” Chadwick corrected. “Legally escort. At the custodial parent's request.”
“Escort.” Prost nodded neutrally. “And at the time of the escort, two weeks ago, did you speak to John Zedman?”
“Yet this afternoon, you visited him.”
“By your own account, there was an argument. You accused John Zedman of causing his ex's financial troubles—the ones that made the headlines this morning.”
“I discussed the matter with him.”
“The friend you paged to come up here, the lady waiting outside—Ms. Jones? She implied it was a little worse than a discussion.”
Chadwick caught Damarodas' eyes.
In some ways, the sergeant had been less than Chadwick expected from talking to him on the phone—not over five-ten, cheap suit, pale skin and brown hair and facial features that reminded Chadwick of an overgrown field mouse—but his eyes were startling blue and sharp. The message in those eyes was a silent warning, No.
“John and I had a discussion,” Chadwick told Prost. “That's all.”
“I see. So when you came back this evening and broke into Mr. Zedman's house—you did that just to check on Mr. Zedman's welfare. Do I have that right?”
“Detective, we've been through this. Unless you're charging me with something—”
Prost spread his hands. “Oh, you're free to go anytime, Mr. Chadwick. Tom!”
A bored-looking deputy poked his head in from the living room. “Sir?”
“Mrs. Zedman get here yet?”
“'Bout five minutes ago.”
“Show her in.”
Chadwick's hand closed into a fist. “You made Ann Zedman drive up here?”
“Escorted her,” Prost corrected. “Strictly voluntary.”
“She has enough to deal with.”
“Why, Mr. Chadwick, I thought she'd be concerned—father of her child, and all.”
Chadwick shoved back his chair and rose to his feet. “You son of a—”
Damarodas cleared his throat. “Been a long night, Mr. Chadwick. Let me walk you out.”
Prost was about to add something when Ann came into the kitchen, her expression like a highway crash survivor's—one of the commuters in the fifty-car pile-ups on the Grapevine who go wandering through almond orchards in the fog.
“Ann?” Chadwick said.
There was a three-second delay before she focused on him. “I just—Two calls in a row. Mark Jasper, forced leave of absence from school. Then the detective here. John's blood . . . ?”
“Don't do this now,” Chadwick told her. “I'll take you home. Get some sleep. Get a lawyer.”
“No, no. That's not . . . I mean, that's not necessary, is it?”
“No, ma'am,” Prost said. “We have some coffee, if you'd like.”
Ann gazed blankly around the kitchen that used to be hers. “I haven't been in . . . so long. He changed the countertops.”
Prost smiled sympathetically. “Have a seat, ma'am. Mr. Chadwick, thanks for your time.”
Chadwick didn't move. He needed to believe that Ann was unshakable. Even after Katherine died, after he'd quit the school and given up all hope of having Ann in his life, he needed to know she was still at Laurel Heights, working with children, dreaming about the ideal school. As much despair as Chadwick had encountered working for Cold Springs, no matter how many terrible situations he'd walked into, how much proof he accumulated that the American family was dying a slow and painful death, he needed to believe that Ann's optimism survived. Now her fragility paralyzed him and he saw that he had relied on her too much, been intoxicated by her faith too long, to believe that she could be broken.
In the space of twenty-four hours, her life's work had been stolen from her. Her soul had spun off balance. If Detective Prost harbored the same suspicions Norma Reyes did, he'd have Ann admitting to anything.
“Let me stay with you,” he tried again. “You don't have to—”
“It's all right,” she murmured, not looking at him. “You go on.”
“Sound advice,” Prost agreed. “And by the way, Mr. Chadwick, just as a formality, I should tell you it'd be a bad idea for you to leave the Bay Area for the next few days.”
“I'm flying to Texas in the morning. You know that.”
“Yes, I do.” Prost smiled, as if nothing could've suited him better. “I suppose I knew that.”
Chadwick took a step toward the detective, but Damarodas' fingers closed around his arm like owl talons. “Right this way, Mr. Chadwick. Easy to get lost in a house this big.”
Damarodas steered him past the evidence techs in the living room, into the front yard, past the police vehicles and the news vans to Chadwick's rental car, where Kindra Jones was sitting on the hood.
When she'd returned his page, Kindra had been waiting for him in a Montgomery Street coffeehouse, pissed off and impatient after three cups of house blend. Her mood hadn't improved when he'd told her the situation, and that she'd either need to wait for him there indefinitely or find a taxi to Marin. “I'm charging the cab to Hunter,” she'd said. “And you're explaining it to him. Goddamn, Chad, I said talk to the man.”
As Damarodas and he neared the car, she slid to her feet. “This joker arresting you?”
“This joker is not,” Damarodas said. “Miss—”
Chadwick made the introductions, then suggested that Kindra start the car.
“No. Uh-uh. I've been waiting for you all night. Somebody's going to tell me what the hell is going on.”
Chadwick filled her in the best he could. “Just so I know,” he told her, “what exactly did you say to the police?”
“What did I say—” Kindra's eyes narrowed. “Oh, wait—they did not sucker you with that, did they? I didn't tell anybody jack shit, Chadwick. Police will fuck with your mind every time.”
“That's a gross overgeneralization,” Damarodas commented.
“Fuck you,” Kindra told him. “Fuck you, Sergeant, sir. Now if you'll excuse me, the car's starting to sound better.”
She slammed the driver's side door behind her.