Damarodas took out a cigarillo, poked it in his mouth, and slumped against the side of Chadwick's car. “Your timing, Mr. Chadwick—remarkable.”
“The blood. Is it John's?”
“It's fresh,” Damarodas said. “Within the last few hours. Past that—they'll run DNA, toxicology. This was Oakland, I'd say a week or two for results. But Marin County? They're not exactly backlogged with cases. Maybe twenty-four hours, they'll know. Doesn't mean I'll find out, unless somebody decides to tell me something.”
Chadwick felt the cool force of his eyes. He realized Damarodas probably got a lot of confessions.
“John Zedman was an old friend,” Chadwick said. “I would never hurt him.”
“Yeah, well . . . we won't get into the fact that the majority of murders are between old friends. Why did you call me?”
The lights of the police cars raced red and blue circles across the windows of the cul-de-sac. The news van people were packing up shop, the cameraman looking disappointed he hadn't gotten any shots of a gurney being wheeled out.
“Someone left that movie playing for me,” Chadwick told Damarodas. “The same video that was playing the night my daughter died. Someone left Katherine's necklace near Talia Montrose's body. Someone's trying to pry up sanity with a crowbar, Sergeant, and I don't know what to do about it.”
Damarodas lit his cigarillo.
“Let me give you a scenario, Chadwick. Just because, well, I'm thinking if I was a suck-up asshole like Prost—sorry, did I say that aloud?—but a halfway decent homicide investigator, too, and I knew what I know about you, and I read the newspaper about this school you used to work at Laurel Heights going down in a scandal—here's what I might think: I'd think Ann Zedman is having financial difficulties. She plans a scheme to embezzle from her own school. Except things start going wrong. Maybe her daughter knows about the plan, tells her boyfriend, Race. Race tells his mom, Talia, and Talia decides to grab a piece of the action. Mrs. Zedman decides the safest thing is to shut Talia up permanently.”
“Ann Zedman is headmistress of a school. You saw her. You figure her for a knife-murderer?”
“For the sake of argument, let's say Mrs. Z doesn't do it herself. She calls somebody she trusts, somebody who's already got a beef against the Montrose family. You savvy?”
Chadwick looked out at the fog, at the lamppost like a hanging tree in front of the empty Zedman house. “Go on.”
“Mrs. Z continues with her plan. She's waiting for the whole thirty mill to be collected before she makes the transfer, but her friend Norma Reyes finds out what's going on. The kid Race tells Norma, 'cause after all, it's his mom that got killed. So Mrs. Z plays scared and innocent, asks Norma to please wait just a couple of days. That gives Mrs. Z time to cover her tracks. Reyes doesn't want to turn in her best friend, but somehow the ex-husband, John Zedman, finds out, and he doesn't share Norma's qualms about making trouble. Maybe he's even got some kind of evidence that could tie his ex-wife to the embezzlement. You're Mrs. Zedman's accomplice. You come over and try to make him see reason. But he's angry and he's stubborn. So you come back later and kill him.”
“And then call the police?”
Damarodas shrugged. “Smart cover. That's what I'd think, if I were Prost. Now here's the rub: A young fellow Laramie from the FBI Financial Crimes Section talked to me today. SFPD's already given the embezzlement investigation over to him. Hell, half the City Council sends their kids to Ann Zedman's school. The locals don't want anything to do with that mess. So Laramie's already working on following an international transfer of stolen funds. He's smelling a career-starter case against Ann Zedman, maybe with a murder or two thrown in. He comes to me on the Talia Montrose homicide, reminds me that it's going nowhere by itself—nobody really gives a damn about a poor strung-out black woman from Oakland. He asks for my cooperation. Then John Zedman, who Laramie wanted to interview, disappears in a little red grease spot. You know Laramie will be talking to Prost, if he hasn't already. If you leave the state now, Mr. Chadwick, how long do you think it'll be before you're the focus of a federal investigation?”
Through the windshield, Chadwick could see Kindra Jones tapping her watch.
“You believe that bullshit?” Chadwick asked Damarodas.
“Me?” Damarodas took a puff from his stench-stick, making the tip glow. “Hell, no. Me, I think somebody's messing with your mind. And I'll tell you something else for free. That kid David Kraft? He seemed pretty damn anxious to make the Zedmans look bad. Loved them almost as much as he loved you. He told me there'd been rumors at Laurel Heights about John Zedman way before this embezzlement scandal broke, back when Kraft was still a student—rumors that when Zedman was working development for his wife, he was structuring the accounts in . . . let's say in some truly creative ways. Taking advantage of the tax-free nonprofit status, being a little loose about what money belonged to Zedman Development and what belonged to his wife's school. You get what I'm saying?”
“I never heard anything like that.”
“Yeah, well, maybe young Kraft is full of shit. On the other hand, maybe he shared that information with somebody else years ago, and that somebody looked into it. Maybe that's where the blackmail came from.”
Chadwick liked the idea about as well as the smell of the cigarillo. “You told Laramie this?”
“Not yet. I'd like to have a candidate for blackmailer, first.”
“I might believe that. I checked the police records, like you suggested. I talked to some old-timers in the department. Your friend Samuel had quite a juvenile record. A dozen arrests for drug dealing. Possession. Accessory to murder in two different drive-bys. Never did any time. He was a freelancer with the drugs—got himself on the wrong side of several gangs. Something else interesting that might go in his column—1988, when the kid was just ten years old, his stepdad Elbridge Montrose was shot to death a block away from his house.”
“Yeah. There was another husband before that, I guess. Point is, I talked to the guy who worked the '88 case, retired now. He remembered that the oldest boy Samuel was a suspect. Seems Samuel didn't get along with the late unlamented Elbridge. There was some evidence the stepdad had been hitting the mom, maybe even molesting the kids. No charges were ever brought in the murder. A few years later, about the time your daughter knew Samuel, another one of Talia's boyfriends disappears—guy named Ali Muhammad, like the boxer, only backwards. Word was he was abusive to the kids, too.” Damarodas sighed. “Now you take all that into consideration, I might go for the idea that Samuel Montrose was holding you responsible for your daughter's suicide, maybe the Zedmans, too, because they were your best friends, and easier to get to than you. If he cared about Katherine the way he cared about his little brothers and sisters, maybe Samuel held a grudge. I'd buy that Samuel Montrose killed his own mother because she tried to strike a deal with John Zedman, then he punished the Zedmans by arranging the embezzlement. No need for Samuel to be a financial whiz kid—he just sticks a gun to Zedman's head and tells him to figure out the details. That were the case, I'd say now Samuel's got his hands on a lot of money and is having a good laugh while all the people he hates are at each other's throats.”
Chadwick stared into the sergeant's blue eyes. He promised himself that he would never make the mistake of underestimating this man.
“You say you might believe your scenario,” he told Damarodas. “So what's stopping you?”
“One little thing, my friend.”
Chadwick was silent.
“When I looked at Samuel Montrose's sheet,” Damarodas said, “there were only juvenile records. They'd never been sealed, because Samuel Montrose never petitioned for them to be. He has no adult sheet, though; as far as the Oakland PD is concerned, Samuel Montrose is still out there somewhere. Then I got the bright idea to check with some other municipalities.”
Damarodas' eyes burned into him. “Hayward, late 1993. A body washed up on the beach just in time for New Year's Eve. Three gunshot wounds to the chest. One in the mouth, which gave it the mark of a gang killing—the way gangs treat rogues dealing in their territory. The victim had been wrapped in a sheet, weighted down, thrown into the Bay, but the ropes had slipped and the body floated up. You want to guess who that body was?”
“A mistake,” Chadwick said. “It had to be.”
“No mistake,” Damarodas said. “Fingerprints. Dental. The mother herself ID'ed the clothing and personal effects. I checked everything. Samuel Montrose is dead. Has been for nine years.”
Chadwick barely remembered the pickup in Palo Alto, the parents looking scared and nervous about handing over their rebellious teen to a pissed-off black woman who'd had seven cups of coffee and a six-foot-eight zombie with blood on his shoe.
It was a long flight back on the Texas red-eye, but the trip went unexpectedly without incident. After sleeping like the dead for six hours, Chadwick stood on his dorm room balcony in the Big Lodge, listening to Mozart, watching the rain clouds crack open and admit a fleeting spill of afternoon light. He was trying not to think about John Zedman.
Down below, tan levels were stringing Christmas garlands from their art therapy class on the railings of the deck. A pair of armadillos scuttled their way toward the river on some armor-plated tryst.
Chadwick tried to think in numbers, but the only one that would come to him was his age, forty-seven.
Nineteen forty-seven, the 22nd Amendment. Eighteen forty-seven, the Mexican War.
He got stuck, thinking William Pitt and the colonies, not coming up with a good event.
Finally, he went back inside, rolled the glass door shut. On his desk, Katherine's picture smiled at him—an eight-year-old girl wreathed in morning glories.
A knock at the door. Asa Hunter came in without waiting for permission. Kindra Jones tailed him.
“She blames herself,” Hunter said tersely. “She's trying to cover for you.”
“It was my fault,” Chadwick answered. “Going back to Zedman's was totally my idea.”
“Goddamn it, Chadwick.” Hunter chopped the air in front of his face like he was trying to wake him up. “What happened to me being the first to know, huh?”
“I have to talk to Mallory.”
“AND you got the nerve to make a request like that. God Almighty.”
Kindra looked like she wanted to say something, but Chadwick caught her eye, gave her a mute warning to stay silent.
“I had to defend you,” Hunter fumed. “Marin Sheriff's Office called, asked what was your background before Cold Springs. Did you have some grudge against John Zedman? How did you handle your daughter's death? What was I supposed to tell them?”
“They say anything about the blood?”
“It's John Zedman's. They're treating his disappearance as a homicide.”
Chadwick felt the air particles slow, like a whirlpool changing direction. He thought about the fear that had been growing in the back of his mind—something about Pérez's phone message: Everything's cool. I'll call you. As if he'd been sent on a mission, maybe to retrieve Mallory. As if John had tried to preempt something his blackmailer was doing. The last time John had tried something like that, Talia Montrose had been butchered.