“Race saw this happen?”
“Nobody saw him. They start arguing, and the first guy pulls a gun, but he never gets to use it. The other guys shoot him three, maybe four times. They wrap the body in an old piece of canvas and drag it away somewhere—maybe to their car. Race didn't see. He never said anything to anybody. He was scared the killers would come back and get him. He made me promise not to tell.” She looked up, her eyes defiant. “I think he was talking about Samuel. Race watched his own brother get killed.”
Silence except for the river; Leyland's voice at the other end of the clearing, telling one of the black levels how to insulate with moss.
“What about Race's other brothers?” Chadwick asked.
“No way,” Mallory said. “He's only got two others—twins, go by initials, like TJ and JT or ET and TE or something. They're in jail—armed robbery, I think. Been there for years.”
Chadwick thought about what Norma had told him, Race's comment that the person to be afraid of was a she. “Any sisters?”
“One that I know—name's Doreen. I've met her. If you're thinking she's dangerous, you're crazy. She's like a year older than me and stupid as dirt. Lives in L.A. She's eight months pregnant.”
“That leaves Race.”
“Race wouldn't hurt my family. He wouldn't hurt my father.”
“Mallory, there was a video playing in your father's bedroom last night. The Little Mermaid.”
The meaning of his words seemed to sink in slowly. Her hand crept up to her throat.
“Did you tell Race about that video?” Chadwick asked. “Could he have told someone else?”
A tiny orange butterfly cartwheeled across her face, then floated toward the boulders. Mallory didn't even blink.
“Mr. Chadwick,” Olsen intervened. “I think that's enough questions.”
She tried to put her hand on the girl's shoulder, but Mallory pushed it away.
“You don't know everything,” Mallory said, her voice trembling. “None of you do. I was with Katherine the night she died. I know what happened. I swear to God, if my father is hurt . . .”
Chadwick waited. He felt as if the last decade of his life were being compressed into this moment—the sunset streaming into the woods; the cold thickening in the air; the black levels rustling in the clearing; and Olsen and Kindra Jones standing next to him.
Then the wind changed. He tensed, the hairs on his neck suddenly standing on end.
“What?” Kindra asked, bewildered.
The loud SNAP echoed off the rocks, like a tree branch cracking.
Black levels stopped working, puzzled faces turning toward the rocks—toward Chadwick.
Another frozen heartbeat, then he yelled, “Get down!”
He bowled into Mallory, crushing her against the side of the boulder as a second SNAP threw a spray of gravel into the air where Chadwick had been standing.
“What is it?” Mallory screamed.
“Quiet,” Chadwick ordered. “Don't move.”
In the clearing, kids were screaming. Leyland was barking orders, repeating Chadwick's command to get down. Kindra had scrambled behind a tree, pulling one of the black levels to the ground beside her.
Chadwick pushed Mallory further against the base of the boulder. Olsen crouched nearby, also trying to become one with the rock.
“Stay with Mallory,” he ordered.
“Just do it.”
Chadwick pulled Mallory's knife out of her leg sheath, rose to a crouch. He felt his pockets and realized he'd left his cell phone back at the lodge, two miles away.
He looked around the clearing. The young counselor, Baines, was thirty yards out, crouching behind a rock that provided him absolutely no cover. Baines was hugging the med pack—which meant he had the emergency phone, the group's only contact with the outside world.
Chadwick snapped his fingers, then put his hand to his ear, miming a phone. Baines just stared at him, pleading silently.
The young man, Chadwick realized, was in shock.
Yes, idiot, it's a gun. Someone is sniping at us.
Chadwick caught Kindra's eyes, gestured toward Baines, then made 9–1–1 with his fingers.
She understood immediately, started crawling in Baines' direction.
Another shot rang out, and down in the clearing, a small rock exploded into a dust cloud.
The sniper was on top of the boulder pile, about twenty feet above Chadwick's head.
Kindra got to the med pack, pulled Baines into better cover, began to search for the phone. In another fifteen minutes, they might expect some help—too late for any of them.
A fourth shot.
Whimpering, one of the black levels huddled farther into her newly made lean-to, as if the branches would hide her from bullets.
Bile rose in Chadwick's throat.
The sniper was using a high-powered rifle. He had picked his location perfectly, made sure the sun was at his back, in the target's eyes. And he was shooting at Chadwick's kids.
Chadwick gripped the hunting knife, made sure Olsen was still on Mallory, then worked his way around the boulder.
Another shot, and a black level yelped—a boy's voice, crying out in pain. Chadwick's stomach turned to a lump of hot coal.
He leapt from one rock to the next, keeping low, moving in the direction of the firing. Behind him, Leyland's voice barked, “Baines, med kit, goddamn it!”
Chadwick couldn't hear Kindra talking on the cell phone. He could only hope that was happening.
Finally, he'd circled enough so that the sun was at his back. He felt soundless, an enormous, silent shadow in the dying light.
He glimpsed the shooter—a camouflaged leg first, then a boot. He made out the shape of the man lying half hidden in a clump of grass atop the limestone ridge, the ideal vantage point over the entire riverfront. The sniper wore a ski mask. His rifle was scoped. Three clips of ammunition lay at his side. He could shoot any of them. They should've all been dead.
The man fired again into the clearing.
Chadwick reached for his knife. Twenty yards, over gravel and leaves and open ground. He weighed his options, remembering his combat training—hating that he knew exactly what must be done.
The shooter sensed his presence just as Chadwick gripped the knife by the point. The rifle barrel swung toward Chadwick, but the knife was already flashing, impaling itself in the man's abdomen. The man's gun discharged into the air, as Chadwick moved in with the speed of a truck.
The sniper tried to stand, but Chadwick ripped his gun away from him, kicked him in the face and sent him toppling over the ridge, onto a boulder below, from which he rolled out of sight. The rifle was now in Chadwick's hand. A streak of the shooter's blood stained his pants.
Chadwick scrambled down the side of the hill—his heart hammering, his breathing rasping loud in his ears.
Black levels were starting to come out of hiding, despite Leyland's commands to keep down. Kindra Jones held the phone, staring wide-eyed in disbelief at the thing that had fallen into their midst, but when she saw Chadwick she managed to say, “State troopers. On the way.”
The sniper was crumpled on a ledge of limestone like an altar. He was making wet noises as he clawed for the knife in his side. Chadwick looked down into the glazed brown eyes behind the ski mask. The sniper's arms were exposed—Latino skin, the edge of a tattoo on one forearm.
Pérez, Chadwick thought.
His vision went black.
He clamped one hand around the sniper's shirt, dragging him off the ledge, slamming him into the trunk of a tree. The man screamed, began pleading in rapid Spanish that Chadwick couldn't understand. He didn't want to understand.
Leyland was next to Chadwick, trying to pull him off. “Hey, man, wait—”
But not even Leyland had the strength to stop him.
Chadwick tore off the mask.
The sniper was not Pérez. It was no one Chadwick knew. He was young—maybe thirty, Hispanic, with the build and haircut and hardened face of an enlisted grunt. His eyes were glazed with pain, the knife still buried in his abdomen.
Chadwick held the man against the tree, staring at his face until Olsen snarled, “Chadwick—for Christ's sake. I need your help. Smart is wounded.”
Chadwick paused, then dropped the sniper. The man crumpled into a ball at the base of the tree and curled over to shelter the knife, as if anxious that no one should take it from him. There was blood—a lot of blood.
The boy named Smart lay on the ground nearby, two other Black Level kids hovering over him, Olsen putting pressure on his arm to stop the bleeding.
Chadwick yelled at Baines for the med pack, then ordered Leyland to watch the sniper, though it was obvious the man wasn't going anywhere.
“He shot me.” Smart was trembling. “He shot me.”
“Take it easy, son,” Chadwick told him. “You're going to be fine.”
Chadwick worked quickly, automatically. The wound was not bad—a small rivulet carved into the skin by the bullet's path. The high velocity of the weapon had helped, reducing the amount of damage.
By the time Chadwick had dressed the wound, Smart was actually smiling weakly at the humor the other black levels were throwing out. Smart-Mouth was going to be okay. The kid was tough. He was going to have a nice scar to show the girls back in Des Moines.
Sirens wailed in the distance.
Chadwick felt Leyland tug his sleeve, stepped aside to let Leyland take over. He walked back toward the sniper, only to find Olsen kneeling over the man. Seeing Olsen's eyes, Chadwick wondered if she would go into shock before the sniper did.
“He's going to die,” she said.
“No, he won't,” Chadwick promised, but when he looked down at the young sniper's pallid face, he was not at all sure about that.
The state troopers arrived, then a fire truck from Fredericksburg. While they waited for the ambulance for Smart, and the firefighters tended to the sniper, a state trooper finally asked the obvious question—a question that rage and shock and concern for Smart had completely driven from Chadwick's mind.
“Is everyone accounted for?”
Leyland started to say yes, but Chadwick put the back of his hand on the instructor's chest. A feeling like an ice pick cut through him, and he finally realized what had just happened.
“Everyone is not all right,” he said. “We have one missing.”
Mallory Zedman was gone.
“Get down here,” Chadwick said into the phone. “Now.”
“I can't . . . what time is it?” Ann Zedman sounded bewildered. “Chadwick, I can't. I have a meeting with my lawyer at eight in the morning. This time tomorrow night I could be in jail.”
“Maybe you didn't hear me,” he said. “Mallory's gone. A man came after her with a high-powered rifle.”
“Stop,” she pleaded. “Please—I can't be more worried than I already am. But if I leave town, I'll only make things worse.”
“I may have killed a man tonight, Ann.”
In the night sky, the Milky Way shimmered like frost. Chadwick wished he could shut down the lights of the Big Lodge, turn off the flashing police car lights at the front gate. He wished he could send inside the counselors and white levels who stood milling around, shivering in their nightclothes, hungry for news. He wanted to be alone with Ann's voice and the stars.