Cold Springs

Page 60

The fog drifted through the eucalyptus branches across the street. Beyond the green expanse of the Presidio, the orange spires of the Golden Gate Bridge marched off toward Marin.

Olsen broke off another piece of her sugar cookie, took a bite. “That night Katherine visited the Montrose house, to tell Kindra her suspicions. Katherine wouldn't have OD'ed if Kindra hadn't supplied her pure heroin.”

“It's still my fault.”

“Kindra didn't trust her chances at justice against Zedman and you. She opted for her own kind of revenge. She became Samuel—she began torturing John Zedman. And you.”

“Call Sergeant Damarodas. Or the press. Your decision.”

Olsen sighed. “No. Not mine.”

She pointed toward the little yard. Race Montrose was climbing over the ribbon, slipping into the shadows while his peers kept up their joking and jostling, cutting glances at Race only now that he had given up trying to be among them.

In a trance, Chadwick followed him.

The yard was canopied by a huge oak tree, wedged between a high wooden fence and the building, so it was always the darkest, coolest spot at school. The air smelled of wet sand and mulch and mud from class projects and butterfly gardens. Along the wall of the second-grade classroom, where a gravel path used to be, the newly poured sidewalk glistened gray as catfish skin, its wet surface already scarred with a hundred tiny handprints and childish signatures.

Race Montrose had hauled himself up on a sand table and was sitting cross-legged, bending a frayed pink plastic shovel in his hands.

Chadwick waited for the boy to see him.

Race looked up. His features were so much like his brother's, and his sister's—the angular jaw, the street toughness in his mouth, the fire in his eyes that said Back off. But there was something else, too—a look of expectation, of belief, like a child staring out the window on a cold night in a hot state, waiting for that seven-year snow—not caring that it might not happen, that it had never snowed in his lifetime. Still having faith it would tonight. Samuel and Kindra never had that look. Chadwick wanted to believe it was a capacity Race had inherited, alone among all his siblings, from his mother.

He imagined the determination it must've taken her, marching into Ann's office: I want an application for my boy.

“You were there that night,” Chadwick told Race, “nine years ago, when we shot your brother. You hid; you watched as we rolled his body in a sheet and carried him out. You've lived with that ever since.”

Race's eyes teared up—the eyes of a six-year-old child. “What are you going to do about it?”

“Apologize. But that seems pretty damn insufficient.”

Race bent the pink shovel. The handle was broken, so it looked like the link in a chain. “That day on the fire escape? I almost shot you.”

“Why didn't you?”

“Samuel used to hit me.” Race said it softly. “He used to make me carry his drugs for him, figuring nobody would arrest a little kid. Kindra was always telling me he was this great guy. He protected us. But he didn't. He scared me worse than anybody. That night you and Mallory's dad showed up . . . you were talking about how Samuel was destroying her, playing with her mind, making her think he loved her. But I didn't know who you meant. I was too young to get that it was your daughter. I thought you were talking about Kindra. You could've been.”

The breeze shook a leaf off the oak tree. It fluttered down to the new sidewalk, stuck in the wet cement like a tiny boat.

“Is that why you never told anybody?” Chadwick asked.

“I did tell someone. I told Kindra. You saw what happened.”

“I'm sorry. That isn't enough, but I'm sorry. I was trying to protect my daughter. I never meant to kill anyone.”

Race studied him fearfully, though fearful of what, Chadwick wasn't sure.

“What was it like,” the boy asked him, “knowing you killed somebody and got away with it?”

No one had ever asked Chadwick that. He had never talked to anyone about the murder—not even John. The question drew something out of him like a lightning rod, siphoning off emotions he didn't even know he'd been accumulating.

“I should lie to you,” Chadwick decided. “I should tell you I couldn't live with it. Or I should say the only reason it didn't bother me was that John Zedman pulled the trigger. The truth is, all I cared about was Katherine. Then and now. If I could have her alive again, I would change history, stop her from taking those drugs. But Samuel's death? I stood by while Samuel was murdered. I helped conceal a crime. And God help me, if Katherine hadn't died, I think I could've learned to live with it.”

Race set down the plastic shovel. He traced a figure in the sand with his finger—a picture or a word, it was hard to tell which. “What Kindra would say? You deserve to die. She would say if I didn't have the guts to kill you, I should at least tell on you.”

“Kindra could be persuasive.”

Race shook his head. “Who would it help—me? Ms. Reyes? Kindra turned into Samuel. She was Samuel. It scares me that I might wake up someday and hear voices, forget who I am. I'm not going to let it happen. I'm not going to do what she would've done.”

“So what will you do?”

Race glared at him, as if he'd just thrown down a gauntlet. “I'm going to finish Laurel Heights. I'm going to college. What's the best degree you got?”

“A bachelor's in history.”

“Then I'm going to get better than that. A Ph.D. And you're going to pay the cost.”

Despite himself, Chadwick felt a smile tugging at his lips. “All right, Dr. Montrose.”

“Now get the hell away from me,” the boy said. “This is my school. Those clowns out in the yard don't know it yet, but they're going to find out.”

Chadwick was gratified to realize it sounded very much like something Norma Reyes would've said.

He left Race Montrose on his sand table, small oak leaves fluttering down around him, some of them sticking in the sidewalk, making a permanent impression.

Race sat alone in the little yard, thinking about the day he and Mallory had first become friends in the second grade, right here at this sand table.

He hoped she knew what she'd done for him, how much he envied her courage. He hoped she'd find what she needed in Texas.

He got up, brushed the sand off his dress slacks. He took the key chain out of his pocket—a silver Mickey Mouse, a house key, a key to a Toyota SUV. There was a spot on the corner of the sidewalk, where the two boards met, that was as cold as a refrigerator, the cement unmarked, still almost liquid. Race knelt down and pushed the keys into the goop, then smeared the surface smooth. He pressed his hand over the spot, hoping his print would harden there—remain for years, for all time. He wrote his name with a stick—RACE MONTROSE, CLASS OF 2006.

Then he got up. He didn't care what the kids said about his jacket and tie, or the cement on his hand, or anything else. He had things to do. He had a future ahead of him. And God help him—he was going to learn to live with it.

“Well?” Olsen asked.

“I'm done.”

She stared at him, as if weighing the truth of the statement. Then she took one last look at Laurel Heights—the old building with its ivy-covered chimney, potato prints hanging in the windows.

“It's a good place,” she decided. “But for most kids? This isn't reality. Come on—let's make our pickup.”

She took the stairs quickly, and when she looked back up at him, a small challenge in her eyes, he realized that she had already forgiven him his sins. The young always forgave quickly, always came back eventually, because what other choice was there?—even for the most wayward child, even for the most flawed parent.

“You've got two bullet holes in you,” he reminded her. “Don't you dare run faster than me.”

In front of the school, azaleas were exploding in full spring color. Premature, but then again—this was San Francisco, his old hometown. There was no seasonal compass. Maybe the flowers had been blooming all winter.

Maybe Chadwick had only noticed when it was time to notice.

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