New York Toronto London Sydney Auckland Contents Title Page Dedication Acknowledgments Part One Chapter 1 Part Two Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34
About the Author
Also by Rick Riordan
To Kate Miciak
Every so often, one gets to work with a master teacher
Many thanks to Sergeant Derwin Longmire, Oakland Police Department Homicide Section; JamesDoebbler, CPA; Scott McMillian, Redstone Consulting; Brian Kaestner, science teacher andnaturalist; Dr. Pepi Klecka, DVM; Dr. John C. Klahn, MD; Dr. Michael Belisle, GS-09, LacklandAir Force Base; Kate Miciak and Gina Maccoby for their guidance and support; and Becky, Haleyand Patrick, without whom none of it would be possible.
Chadwick struggled with his bow tie.
He was thinking about what he would say, how he would break the news that would end hismarriage, when Norma came up behind him and told him about the heroin in their daughter'sunderwear drawer.
He turned, the bow tie unraveling in his fingers.
Norma wore only her slip, her bare arms as smooth and perfectly muscled as they'd been when shewas nineteen. Her eyes glowed with that black heat she saved for lovemaking and really hugearguments, and he was pretty sure which she was planning for.
“Heroin,” he said.
“In a Ziploc, yeah. Looked like brown sugar.”
“What'd you do with it?”
“I smoked it. What do you think? I flushed it down the toilet.”
“You flushed it down the toilet. Jesus, Norma.”
“It wasn't hers. She was keeping it for a friend.”
“You believed that?”
“She's my daughter. Yes, I believed her.”
Chadwick stared out the window, down at Mission Street, where the Christmas lights popped andsparked under the sudden weight of ice.
He'd lived in this house almost all of his thirty-seven years, and he couldn't remember aNovember night this cold. The glass storefront of the corner taquería was greasy with steam.
Lowriders cruised the boulevard billowing smoke from their exhaust pipes. Twenty-fourth Streetstation was swept clean of the homeless—all gone to shelters, leaving behind piles of summerclothes like insect husks. Next door, the Romos had turned up their music the way other peopleturn up the heater—the sorrowful heartbeat of narcocorrido pulsing through the townhouse's
Chadwick wanted to turn to steam and disperse against the glass. He wanted to escape from whathe had to do, what he had to say. And now this—Katherine.
“The Zedmans will be here in a few minutes,” he told Norma. “I've been home sinceyesterday.”
She tilted her head to put on an earring. “What? I should've told you earlier? Last week Ineeded your help, you ran off to Texas. Maybe I should've told you at the airport, huh? Let youget right back on the plane?”
Chadwick felt his throat constricting. His Air Force buddy Hunter used to tease him aboutmarrying Norma Reyes. Hunter said he wasn't getting a wife, he was getting a Cuban MissileCrisis.
He wanted to tell her why he'd really run.
He wanted to tell her that out there in the woods of Texas—for a few days—he had rememberedwhy he'd fallen in love with her. He'd remembered a time when he'd been excited to have a womanhalf his size take him on so fearlessly, grab his hand like a toddler's grip on a shiny new toyand pull him onto the dance floor with a look that said, Yeah, I want to marry an Air Force
man. You got a problem with that?
He had decided Norma deserved the truth, even if it destroyed them. But that had been at adistance of two thousand miles. Now, getting too close, the feeling was like a computer photo.Expand it too much, and it turned into pixels of random color.
He shucked his tuxedo coat, walked down the hallway to Katherine's room, Norma calling frombehind, “I've already grounded her, Chadwick. Don't make it worse.”
Katherine was on her bed, her back to the wall, her knees up to her chin—prepared for theassault. The Guatemalan fabric had fallen off her headboard, revealing the decorations Chadwickhad painted when Katherine was two—rainbows and stars, a baby-blue cow jumping over a beamingmoon. Kurt Cobain's picture sagged off the wall above, where Babar the Elephant used to be.
Sadness twisted into Chadwick's chest like a corkscrew. How the hell had Katherine turnedsixteen? What happened to six? What happened to ten?
He tried to see something of himself in her, but Norma had dominated their daughter's genescompletely. Katherine had her mother's fiery eyes, her defiant pout. She had the coffee skin,the lush black hair, the build that was both petite and combat-sturdy. As a child, Katherinewould clench her fists and lock her knees and she'd be impossible to pick up—as if she weremolded from stone.
“Heroin,” Chadwick said.
She rubbed her silver necklace back and forth over her lips, like a zipper. “I told Mom. Itwasn't mine.”
“You went back.” Chadwick tried to keep his voice even. “After everything we talked about.”
“Daddy, look, a friend asked me to keep the stuff. A friend from school.”
“It doesn't matter. It's over. Okay? I didn't want to piss him off. I was going to throw thestuff away, give it back, whatever. I didn't have time. Happy?”
Chadwick needed to believe her. He needed to so badly her words gained substance the more hethought about them, began to harden into a viable foundation. But goddamn it. After lastSaturday . . .
He wanted to grab Katherine by the shoulders. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and holdher until she went back to being his little girl. He wanted to take her away from here, whetherNorma liked it or not, put her on a plane to Texas, bring her to Asa Hunter's woods, teach herhow to live all over again, from scratch.
It had seemed so simple when he talked to Hunter. Hunter saw things the way a gun did—narrow,precise, certain. Hunter had coached him, prepared him on what to say to Norma. He'd letChadwick imagine Katherine walking those woods, free from drugs and self-destructive friendsand pictures of asshole rock stars on her wall. He'd even offered Chadwick a job as an escort,picking up troubled kids from around the country and bringing them to the ranch.
This school I'm starting— It is the future, man. Get your family out of that poison city.
“Katherine,” Chadwick said, “I want to help you.”
“How, Daddy?” Her voice was tight with anger. “How do you want to do that?”
Chadwick caught his own face in Katherine's mirror. He looked haggard and nervous, a hungrytransient pulled from some underpass and stuffed into a tux shirt.
He sat next to her on the bed, put his hand next to hers. He didn't touch her. He hadn't givenhis daughter a hug or a kiss in . . . weeks, anyway. He didn't remember. The distance you haveto develop between a father and a daughter as she grew into a woman—he understood it, but itkilled him sometimes.
“I want you to go to Texas,” Chadwick said. “The boarding school.”
“You want to get rid of me.”
“This isn't working for you, Katherine. School, home, nothing.”
“You're giving me a choice? If you're giving me a choice, I say no.”
“I want you to agree. It would be easier.”
“Mom won't go for it otherwise,” she translated.
Chadwick's face burned. He hated that he and Norma couldn't speak with one voice, that theyplayed these games, maneuvering for Katherine's cooperation the way a divorced couple would.
Katherine kept rubbing the necklace against her lips. It seemed like yesterday he'd given it toher—her thirteenth birthday.
“You can't baby-sit tonight,” he decided. “We'll tell the Zedmans we can't go.”
“Daddy, I'm fine. It's just Mallory. I've watched her a million times. Go to the auction.”
Chadwick hesitated, knowing that he had no choice. He'd been gone from work the entire week. Hecouldn't very well miss the auction, too. “Give me your car keys.”
“Come on, Daddy.”
He held out his hand.
Katherine fished her Toyota key out of her pocket, dropped it into his palm.
“Where's your key chain?” he asked.
“Your Disneyland key chain.”
“I got tired of it,” she said. “Gave it away.”
“Last week you gave away your jacket. A hundred-dollar jacket.”
“Daddy, I hated that jacket.”
“You aren't a charity, Katherine. Don't give away your things.”
She looked at him the way she used to when she was small—as if she wanted to touch herfingertips to his chin, his nose, his eyebrows, memorize his face. Chadwick felt like he wasmelting inside.
Down in the stairwell, the doorbell rang. John Zedman called up, “Candygram.”
“This isn't over, Katherine,” Chadwick said. “I want to talk about this when I get home.”
She brushed a tear off her cheek.
“Yeah, Daddy. Understood.”
She made the last word small and hot, instantly igniting Chadwick's guilt. He wanted toexplain. He wanted to tell her he really had tried to make things work out. He really did loveher.
“Chadwick?” Norma said behind him, her tone a warning. “The Zedmans are here.”
Little Mallory made her usual entrance—a blur of blond hair and oversized T-shirt making aflying leap onto Katherine's bed.
And Katherine transformed into that other girl—the one who could attract younger kids like anice cream wagon song; the natural baby-sitter who always smiled and was oh so responsible andmade other parents tell Chadwick with a touch of envy, “You are so lucky!” Chadwick saw thatside of Katherine less and less.
She tousled Mallory's hair. “Hey, Peewee. Ready to have some fun?”
“I got Candyland. I got Equestrian Barbie. We are set to party.”
Mallory gave her a high five.
Ann and John stood in the living room, cologne and perfume a gentle aura around them.
“Well,” John said, registering at once that Chadwick wasn't even half ready to go. “GrizzlyAdams, back from the wild.”
“The carnivores say hello,” Chadwick told him. “They want you to write home more often.”
“Ouch,” John said, his smile a little too brilliant. “I'll get you for that.”
Ann wouldn't make eye contact with him. She gave Norma a hug—Norma having dressed in recordtime, looking dangerous in a red and yellow silk dress, like a size-four nuclear explosion.
Chadwick excused himself to finish getting ready. He listened to Norma and Ann talk about theschool auction, John flipping through Chadwick's music collection, shouting innocuous questionsto him about Yo-Yo Ma and Brahms, Mallory setting off all the clocks on the mantel—her ritualreintroduction to the house.
When Chadwick came out again, Katherine sat cross-legged by the fireplace—his beautiful girl,all grown up, drowning in flannel grunge and uncombed hair. Mallory sat on her lap, winding thehands of an old clock, trying to get it to chime.
Chadwick locked eyes with his daughter. He felt a tug in his chest, warning him not to go.
“Don't worry, Dad,” she said. “We'll be fine.”
Those words would be burned into Chadwick's forehead. They would live there, laser-hot, for therest of his life.
When the front door shut, Katherine felt herself deflating, the little knots in her jointscoming loose.
She took Candyland down from the shelf. She joked with Mallory and smiled as they drew colorcards, but inside she felt the black sadness that was always just underneath her fingernailsand behind her eyes, ready to break through.
Katherine wanted a fix. She knew it would only make her depression worse—buoy her up for alittle while, then make the blackness wider, the edges of the chasm harder to keep her feet on.Her therapist had warned her. Ann Zedman had warned her. Her father had warned her. They wereall part of the educational team, all looking out for her best interests.
We're here to help you be successful again, Katherine.
If there was anything worse than having a dad who was a teacher, it was having your dad at thesame school as you. And not just for a couple of years. A K–12 school. A small K–12 school,
so you had thirteen years of absolute hell, no breathing space, no room to be yourself. And ifthat wasn't bad enough, have your dad be best friends with the headmistress for a gajillionyears—Ann Zedman always over at your house, peeking into your life.
That was why Katherine loved the East Bay. It was hers.
At least, it had been until last week—the stupid cops separating her out, scolding her, askingwhat the hell she was doing with people. She remembered the ride home from the Oaklandthose
police station, her wrists raw from the handcuffs, her anger building as her father glanced inthe rearview mirror, insisting that she tell her mother what she'd been doing at the partynot
because it would break her mother's heart. Katherine had snapped. She'd told her dadeverything—to hurt him, to prove it was even worse than he thought. She did have a life of herown. Friends of her own.
She hated herself even more than she hated him. She'd told him. She'd ruined everything. Now hewould send her away to goddamn Texas.
Mallory tugged at her sleeve. “Come on, Kaferine. You got a double red.”
Katherine looked across the game board.
Mallory had been her dress-up doll, her pretend child, her toy self she could slip intowhenever real life sucked too bad. But now that Mallory had started kindergarten at LaurelHeights, Katherine felt sad every time she looked at her. She never wanted to see them ruinthis little girl, the way they'd ruined her. She never wanted to see Mallory grow up.
She forced a smile, moved her double red.
Mallory drew Queen Frostine and squealed with delight.
It was an easy skip from Queen Frostine to King Kandy. Mallory won the game while Katherine wasstill back in the Molasses Swamp.
“What can we play now?” Mallory asked. “Horses?”
“I have a better idea.”
“No,” Mallory said immediately. “I don't like that.”
“Come on. It's our little secret.”
“Nah. For a brave kid like you?”
Katherine went to the secret panel in the wainscoting, the storage closet that her grandfatherhad constructed when the bottom level of the townhouse had been his shop. He was a clockmaker,her grandfather. He loved gears and springs, mechanical tricks.
The door was impossible to see from the outside. You had to press in just the right spot forthe pressure latch to release. Inside, the space was big enough for a child to crawl into, ormaybe an adult, if you scrunched. The back was still crammed with clock parts—copper coils,weights and chains, star-and-moon clock faces.
She remembered her grandfather telling her, “Never wind a clock backwards, Katie. Never.” Hehad always called her Katie, never Katherine. Her father said it was because he couldn't bearto think of his wife, whose smoker's lungs had shut down while she was waiting for her namesaketo be born. “Winding backwards will ruin the clock. Always go forward. Even if you only wantto go back an hour, always go forward eleven.”
She wondered if her dad had been made out of clock parts, like the latch on the cabinet. Shewished she could wind him backwards one week, to see if something would break.
She reached into the closet, to the little rusty hook only she knew about, and pulled out acopy of her Toyota key.
Ground me, Daddy. Go ahead.
She turned to Mallory, who was balancing Equestrian Barbie's plastic pony on her knee.
Poor little Mallory—the headmistress's daughter. She would have an even worse schoolexperience than Katherine did. So what if she liked kindergarten? It was only a matter of timebefore she felt the walls closing in on her, that chasm opening at her feet. It sliced into
Katherine's heart whenever she passed the lower school windows, saw Mallory wave a sticky helloto her, fingers covered in primary-colored gloop.
No, Katherine never wanted to see her baby doll grow up.
She smiled to cover the blackness. “Come on, Peewee. Let's go for a ride.”
Laurel Heights School blazed with light. Luminarias lined the sidewalk. Arcs of paper lanternsglowed red and blue over the playground, transforming the basketball court into a dance floornobody could use, thanks to the weather.
Inside, the two-story building was buttery warm with jazz music and candlelight, waitersbustling about with trays of champagne and canapés, parents laughing too loud, drinking toofreely, enjoying their big night away from the children.
For an outside party brought inside at the last minute, Ann had to admit the staff and thecaterers had done a great job. Cloths had been draped over the teachers' supply cabinets.Banquet tables had replaced school desks. A hundred tiny articles of lost-and-found clothinghad been taken off the coat hooks and stashed in closets, broken crayons and Montessori rodsswept off the floor. Fresh-cut flowers decorated the music teacher's piano. The kindergartenteacher's desk had been converted to a cash bar.
The school was too small for so many people, but the cramped quarters just proved Ann's point,the purpose for the auction—the school needed to grow. They weren't the neighborhood schoolthey'd started out as in the 1920s, with fifteen kids from Pacific Heights. They were bustingat the seams with 152 students from all over the Bay Area. They needed to buy the mansion nextdoor, do a major renovation, double the size of the campus. What better way to kick off thecapital campaign than cram all the parents together, let them see how their children spent eachday?
Despite that, despite how well the evening seemed to be going, Ann was a mess. The two glassesof wine she'd had to steady her nerves were bubbling to vinegar in her stomach.
She should have been schmoozing, but instead she was sitting in the corner of the only emptyclassroom, knees-to-knees with Norma Reyes on tiny first-grade chairs, telling Norma thatmarriage counseling was a great idea. Really. It was nothing to be ashamed about.
She prayed Chadwick would forget about their agreement—just forget it.
At the same time, she hoped like hell he had more guts than she did.
Norma kept crying, calling Chadwick names.
Parents streamed by the open doorway. They would start to greet Ann, then see Norma's tears andturn away like they'd been hit by a wind tunnel fan.
“I want to kill the pendejo,” Norma said.
Ann laced her fingers in her friend's. She promised that Chadwick was trying his best, thatKatherine would be okay. Her therapist was sharp. There were good programs for drugintervention.
“Bullshit,” Norma said. “You love this. You've been warning me for years.”
Ann said nothing. She'd had lots of practice, diplomatically saying nothing.
For years, she had been the mediator between the family and the faculty, who would ask her—nodisrespect to their colleague Chadwick—but why wasn't Katherine on probation? Why wasn't shetaking her medication? When do they decide that they just can't serve her at this school? Annendured the insinuations that if Chadwick hadn't been her friend for so long, if she didn'tknow the family socially, she would've jumped on Katherine's problems sooner and harder.
On the other hand, there was Norma, who had never seen the problem, not since seventh grade,when Ann had first pushed for psychological testing. Norma only saw the good in her daughter.Laurel Heights was overreacting. She'd never forgiven Chadwick for supporting Ann's
recommendations for testing and therapy.
“You know what he's planning, don't you?” Norma asked.
Ann's heart did a half-beat syncopation. “What do you mean?”
“Come on. Me, he keeps in the dark. You, never. Asa Hunter. The school in Texas.”
Ann's shoulders relaxed. “He mentioned it.”
She didn't say that Chadwick had obsessed on it at length, been impervious to her reservations.A boot camp? Wilderness therapy? What was she supposed to say—yes, lock your kid up with drillsergeants for a year? Turn your back on everything Laurel Heights stands for—the child-centered philosophy, the nurturing environment—and give Katherine a buzz cut? The whole ideaonly underscored how desperate Chadwick was to be out of a failing marriage.
But she'd agreed to let him take time off for his trip to Texas, despite how hard it was to geta substitute around Thanksgiving, despite the fact that the eighth-graders hated it whenChadwick—their favorite teacher—was gone. It was in Ann's interest to let Chadwick get histhoughts in order—about Katherine, about everything.
What bothered her most was that she had been tempted to endorse the idea of sending Katherineaway. In a selfish, dishonorable way, wouldn't it make things easier?
“We both know,” she told Norma. “He only wants what's best for Katherine.”
“He wants to use her as a fucking guinea pig.” Norma ripped another tissue out of her purse.“Christ, I must look like shit.”
Oh, please, Ann thought.
As if Norma ever looked like shit. She had that petite figure Ann had grown up hating. Shewished, just once, she could look like Norma. She wished she could cry in public and call herhusband a dickhead and not give a second thought how it would affect her public image.
Okay. She was jealous. She hated herself for it, spent hours at night thinking, That's not the
reason. That's not the reason.
John appeared at the door, a margarita in either hand. He surveyed the situation, smiledstraight through Norma's tears.
“You'll never guess,” he said. “The mayor thinks Mallory's panel is the best one on thekindergarten quilt. We're going to have lunch next week, go over some ideas for the Presidio.”
Ann fought down a surge of irritation. She hated the way John skated across other people'semotions—so completely incapable of sympathy that he made it his personal mission to pretendbad feelings didn't exist. You could always count on John to be the first to tell a joke at anyfuneral.
“Lunch with Frank Jordan,” Ann said. “Big prize, John.”
He raised his eyebrows at Norma. “I get a piece of the biggest development deal in the city'shistory—you'd think that would please my wife. Lots of money. Lots of publicity. But what do Iknow? Maybe it's nothing special.”
“Hey,” Norma said, dabbing her tissue under her eyes. “Tonight is supposed to be fun.Remember?”
John handed her a margarita. “Your husband got stuck with that pretty blond Mrs. Passmore—hada question about her daughter's history project. Can't take him anywhere, huh?”
Ann wanted to slap him.
“We're about to start, honey,” she said instead. “Why don't you go check with thecashiers?”
“Done, honey. Spreadsheet. Printer. Cash box. Don't worry about it.”
He gave her a smug smile that confirmed what she already knew—letting John chair the capitalcampaign was the biggest mistake of her life. It was a pro bono thing for him, a good taxwrite-off, and since the school could hardly afford a full-time development director, Ann truly
needed the help. But as she had been slow to figure out, the charity work made John feelsuperior, affirming his belief that Ann's career was nothing more than a hobby. Raising her $30million would be his equivalent to helping her power-till a tomato patch or driving her to yogalessons. My wife, the headmistress. Isn't she cute?
“I'll take Norma upstairs,” he told her. “You go ahead. The faculty is probably paralyzed upthere, waiting for your orders.”
Ann contained her fury. She gave Norma's hand one last squeeze, then went off to join theparty.
Upstairs, the removable wall between the two middle school classrooms had been taken down,making space for a main banquet room with an auction stage. Ann made her way toward the headtable, past parents and student volunteers, waiters with trays of salads. Chadwick was talkingto one of her sophomore workers, David Kraft, who sported a brand-new crop of zits. Poor kid.He'd been one of Katherine's friends until last summer, when Katherine gave up friends.
“Excuse us, David.” Ann smiled. “Duty calls.”
“Sure, Mrs. Z.”
“You going to spot those high bidders for us?”
David held up his red signaling cloth. “Yes, ma'am.”
“That's my boy.”
She maneuvered Chadwick toward the faculty table.
“How's Norma?” he asked.
“She's right, you know. Your idea stinks. Boot camp school? It absolutely stinks.”
“Thanks for the open mind.”
“Things aren't complicated enough right now?”
They locked eyes, and they both knew that Katherine was not the foremost question on either oftheir minds. God help them, but she wasn't.
Ann wanted to be responsible. She wanted to think about the welfare of Katherine and Mallory.She wanted to think about her school and do the professional thing, the calm and steady thing.
But part of her wanted to rebel against that. Despite her wonderful little girl, her successfulhusband, her ambitious plans for Laurel Heights, part of her wanted to shake off theaccumulated infrastructure of her life, the way she suspected Norma would, if their roles werereversed. Norma, who had become as much her friend as Chadwick was. Norma, the woman Annprobably admired more than anyone else.
Ann was thinking, Don't say anything tonight, Chadwick. Please.
And at the same time, she couldn't wait for the auction to end, for all four of them to getsomewhere they could talk.
Ann felt like two different people, slowly separating, as if the Ann on the surface were atectonic plate, sliding precariously over something hot and molten.
And right now, the Ann underneath wanted an earthquake.
Even blocks away in the dark, Katherine could see the trees—four huge palms, much too tall forOakland.
They made her think of Los Angeles—trips to visit the Reyes side of the family every otherChristmas, her father always looking for excuses not to go, her mother tossing dishes andslamming pots around the kitchen until he agreed.
Katherine used to think a lot about L.A., about escaping, moving in with her cousins. Hercousins knew how to have fun. They knew the best Spanish cuss words and where to score dope.Their fathers weren't goddamn teachers.