Read Grist Mill Road Online

Authors: Christopher J. Yates

Grist Mill Road (22 page)

 

MATTHEW

The year 1982 did, however, have something other than unpleasant surprises in store for me, because amid all the horror surrounding Randy McCloud's death, the first green shoots of something wonderful had sprung into being—and that something wonderful was you.

It all began outside Roseborn Police Department, my mom inside about to have her moment of inspiration—that I would enlist Tricky's dad to our cause—me still outside, hands in my pockets, kicking stones to pass the time and little Billy sitting snot-nosed and whiny in our car. That's when a green pickup truck pulled into the parking lot, and I went to sit down on a bench.

As the truck parked, I noticed the markings on its side, a gold maple leaf set in a gold triangle, the logo for the Swangum Conservancy. I also recognized the driver when he jumped out.

It was you, you who used to wave at us whenever you saw us in the mountains, you who had stopped us one time to tell us no fishing in the lake when we had Tricky's Red Ryder hidden in one of the fishing rod bags.

I'm sorry we lied to you about that.

You headed toward the station house, pausing by the bench to say hi to me. I responded in kind, and then you said, Hey, aren't you one of the boys who likes drawing water up in the mountains?

Yes, sir, I said. But it's Patch who's the artist, not me.

That's right, now I remember. So what do you do while he's sketching?

Look at the rocks, I guess. (I don't know why I said that, I never really cared much about rocks before I met you.)

Really? you said. And you know what's interesting about those rocks, right?

There's one shaped like a space invader? I shrugged.

You laughed, but in a kindly way. If you're interested in rocks, you said, I could tell you a few things about them sometime. For example, did you know there used to be a glacier right over the top of the Swangums?

What's a glacier?

You laughed again. Wow, there's a lot for you to learn … Sorry, I don't think I know your name.

Matthew, I said.

Pleased to meet you, Matthew. And you don't need to call me sir. I'm Pete, just plain old Pete.

Yes, sir.

Yes,
Pete
.

Sorry, I laughed. We both laughed.

How about it? You want to learn about the rocks and the glacier sometime?

Yes, sir …
Pete
, I said.

Sir Pete? Hell, he sounds like one of the knights from King Arthur's round table. You know the story about King Arthur?

No. I shook my head.

Well, that's another story about rocks for some other time. Probably we should stick to glaciers for now. Maybe the next time you and your friend Patch head up there?

The snow had recently melted, and Tricky and I were riding our bikes up there as often as we could, but I think I sensed something right at that moment, that I wanted to learn something Tricky didn't know anything about—just as I knew nothing about rolling up shirtsleeves. I suppose I thought I might impress him one day.

Next Sunday? I suggested. (Tricky always had to take part in something the McConnells called
Family Sundays,
a concept that seemed totally alien to me.)

Next Sunday? you said. That's great, just great. I knew you two were a pair of fine young boys when I saw you the first time.

Yeah, but Patrick can't do Sundays, I said. But that's OK, he mostly just likes sketching water.

Well, that's great too, you said. But once you learn about the glacier you'll change his mind, he'll want to do rocks as well. So how about I meet you at noon next Sunday? You happen to know the swim-hole at the edge of Lake Swangum?

Yeah, I know that spot. Tricky and me—sorry, that's my nickname for Patrick—we call it the beach.

The beach? I like that.

Uh-huh. But I guess it's just a slab of rock.

There's no such thing as
just
a slab of rock, you said, you'll see. So the beach it is then. Midday next Sunday?

I nodded.

That's when Mom came flying out of the station house to haul me inside so that I could make that phone call to Joe McConnell.

You nodded politely farewell, turned, and headed back to your truck.

 

NEW JERSEY/NEW YORK, 2008

Lindy, it's been too long, says Hannah as they hug on the porch, Lindy pulling her closer with a maternal squeeze.

I know, babe, says Lindy, and what's Mikey been saying about me in the meantime?

That you still have the patience of a saint. Well, to be honest, I deduced that myself.

No kidding, right? You're a better detective than he is.

Hey, I'm standing right here, says McCluskey, holding up Hannah's small bag. I got ears, OK? And a little something called feelings.

Hannah and Lindy exchange looks, and then laughter.

Everything all right, hun? says Lindy, Hannah responding by squeezing her eye shut, hunching her shoulders.

Don't worry, says Lindy, swiping the air. You can tell me everything later, babe. We got vodka.

Lindy, who has a head of gray curls, is as trim as McCluskey is huge, used to date Mikey back in high school, so the story goes, gave him the heave, took him back seven years later when he'd done some growing up (
not much, mind
), and weighed in at one-eighty, looked good in his uniform, McCluskey's coda to the tale always the same,
twice the man she married
.

She beckons Hannah inside, Let's get you settled, she says,
taking the bag from her husband who heads to the kitchen. Straight up there, first on the left. Hey, Mikey, she calls out, make yourself useful, Bloody Marys for the ladies.

And what about me?

There's a Green Goddess in the fridge, special kale flavor.

Goddammit, Lindy, it's the freakin weekend.

Exactly, it's the only time I can keep you in line. You know the choices, it's this or we plug in that treadmill in the basement. Sorry, Hannah, you think when your kids leave home your work's done, only that's when you notice you're living with
an overgrown toddler
. Lindy turns up the volume on the last three words, and then adds, dial still set to ten,
I know exactly what's in the fridge, Mikey, right down to the last slice of cheese
.

*   *   *

SHE UNPACKS HER THINGS AND
sits on the bed for a while, thinking about turning on her phone, the compulsion strong, but what could he say that would make her feel better?

Yes, I was there, and I lied to you, but
 
…

She heads downstairs, out onto the deck, where Lindy has arranged a spread on a low frosted-glass table, cheese and crackers, fruit plate, shrimp with a dipping bowl of cocktail sauce, and they sit in the shade of a canvas awning, Hannah managing only a few berries, Lindy allowing McCluskey
something for the weekend,
three pieces of shrimp, husband and wife bickering enjoyably as Hannah lets the summer heat mingle with her numbness, and then a second Bloody Mary, a third, and after that she switches to wine, and when Lindy starts to light candles, Hannah pulls out her phone, turns it on.

Sure you're ready, Aitch?

No, she says. But can you take a look, Mike, tell me what he says?

No problem, Hannah.

Lindy begins clearing the table as McCluskey takes the phone and starts thumbing through its screens. Thirteen new voice mails, Aitch … Seven emails, all from him … Twenty-one texts …

Start with those, she says.

OK, here we are. He's sorry … sorry, he loves you … he loves you … please forgive him … he didn't know what to do … always wanted to make up for it … He didn't lie to you, he just didn't tell you everything—yeah, I've heard that a few times in my life, buddy boy … can't live without you … same … same … you make him a better version of himself—nice, I might steal that myself sometime … OK, and here's the last one, it says he's going to prove how much he loves you, says he loves you again, he needs you, yada yada.

Hannah feels as if Patrick has stolen part of her away, something missing now, nothing to stop the cold winds.

You want the emails as well? says McCluskey.

Sure, why not? she says. But only if he has anything new to say.

Oh, wait, says McCluskey, I just noticed the words
extremely urgent
in a message from someone called Jen. She's the one that was calling you, right?

OK, I'll take a look, she sighs, McCluskey handing over the phone.

Hannah stands up. Just need to make a quick call, Mike, she says, stepping to the edge of the deck, the trees at the back of the property starting to blend together as the woodland fades into darkness, Hannah pressing the button to return Jen's call.

Jen answers right away—Hannah, thank God.

What's up, Jen?

Are you OK, Han? You sound odd. Is something going on?

Just tired, Jen. No, that's not true. But you go first.

Oh, Hannah, if there's anything wrong, I'm not sure …

Please, Jen, just … So what is it, they're going to knock down my old house and build a Target? Robert De Niro just moved in? What's so important?

A pause. And then Jen says to her, Oh, Hannah, please don't flip out. But Matthew Weaver bought it.

 …

Hannah? Are you still there, Han?

 …

Oh, Hannah? Please say something, honey.

What? Matthew? No!

It's true, Han, I'm so sorry. He changed his last name but it's definitely, definitely him.

 …

Hannah?

Uh-huh.

Is Patch there? Are you with someone?

Patch? No. No, I've left him, Jen.

What? Oh my God, Hannah, what the hell happened?

He was there.

What? He was where?

Oh, sorry, I'll explain later. Sorry, I think I have to go now, Jen.

Hannah, I'm heading down to be with you as soon as I can. I can drop the girls at my mom's, I'll be on the bus in an hour.

No, Jen, don't.

Come on, Han, I'm your best friend.

I know, Jen, that's why I'm coming up to see you.

What? You haven't set foot in Roseborn since your family's funeral.

Then it's long overdue, right? Look, I'll get back to you, I have to go.

Oh, Hannah, I'm sorry, but I had to tell you.

I know you did, I know. See you soon, Jen.

*   *   *

MCCLUSKEY IS SMOKING A CIGARETTE,
holding it between drags under the frosted-glass table like a schoolboy afraid of being caught by his parents.

I need you to take me to a car rental place, Mike.

He blows the smoke over his shoulder. What? he says. Are you fucking nuts, Aitch? Did something happen I don't know about?

Just take me, Mike, now. I'll tell you on the way.

Aitch, listen, you've been drinking like it's an Irish wake. Sit down, tell me about it and we'll work something out.

Then take me to the train station. Or call me a cab. I need to leave now, can you just fucking do it?

Whoa, whoa, Hannah, what's up? McCluskey hurriedly stubs out his cigarette and gets to his feet, but when he moves close, Hannah gestures for him to stay back.

Fine, take it easy, Aitch, all right? But you go anywhere, you got me for company, you understand?

OK then, OK, says Hannah, crossing her arms impatiently. But you need to bring your gun, Mike, she says.

Wait, was that your husband on the phone? says McCluskey. Did he threaten you, Aitch? McCluskey's body straightens as somewhere deep down his muscles start gathering.

No, nothing to do with him, Mike. Patch hasn't threatened me at all. It was an old friend. Can we just get moving?

McCluskey closes one eye and squints through the other. You're gonna have to help me out a bit more here, Aitch, he says, you know I'm a bit slow on the uptake.

Hannah starts raising her hand. We have to go and see the man who did this to me, she says, and when she points to her face, Hannah's finger is shaking.

And then Lindy comes out of the house, the noise of a sliding door puncturing the scene. Anyone for coffee? she says. Or we got Scotch if you wanna go in the other direction. Lindy turns quiet for a moment as she takes in the scene. Sorry, guys, she says, but did I miss something here?

*   *   *

SHOCK JOLTS HER AWAKE FROM
the dream, Hannah opening her eye, not knowing where she is, what she's doing, her body fighting a rope, something pinning her down, someone … and McCluskey places his hand on her thigh. Aitch, hey, Hannah, it's OK, you fell asleep, we just turned off the thruway, you're safe, everything's all right, he says.

The seat belt is bunched in her fist as she looks out of the windshield, confused blinks gradually subsiding, the sunlight at a morning slant, and now Hannah remembers McCluskey and Lindy talking her out of doing anything last night, waking up with a hangover in New Jersey, can still feel it now, like a hot wire being fed into her brain, the pain spearing itself deeper, and then ebbing away.

The road looks vaguely familiar, the shades of green skirting it, the styles of the houses. Are we there? she says.

Not far, says McCluskey, maybe … the voice on his GPS interrupting him with an instruction to turn right … A couple more miles, he says. Sure I can't talk you out of this?

Which part, McCluskey, the bit where I confront him or the bit where you play chaperone? Because part two is negotiable.

Jesus, Aitch, I'm not fuckin happy about this.

Me neither, Mike. But maybe you can redirect your anger at the man who shot out my eye and just moved into my childhood home.

Now that she's fully awake, Hannah warms to the sense of being glassed in, the air from the vents blowing cool, the morning sunlight etching the road with sharp shadows, wires strung overhead between wooden poles casting skipping rope patterns, a series of arcs strung together at the edge of the asphalt.

And now she knows exactly where they are, although the bridge over the river looks different, Hannah remembering it being an aqueous shade of blue, sun-faded, rust-spotted, but now the bridge looks warm, repainted an autumnal red, and just before they cross it, she sees a sign has been erected,
WELCOME TO ROSEBORN EST. 1843
.

McCluskey drives slowly past a strip mall of newly built stores,
the GPS again telling him where to turn, Hannah remembering the last time she was here, sixteen years ago, four holes and four coffins, the Swangum Ridge beaming miserably over the scene, Jen holding her up on one side, Max Reagan on the other.

OK, Aitch, says McCluskey, here are my conditions.

You don't get to make any conditions, Mike. You're the one who insisted on coming with me.

Hey, he says, louder, I'm going to say this in the nicest way possible. Fuck you, Aitch. Now listen up, because these are the
nonnegotiable
conditions.

Go on, then.

Numero uno, I'm the one talks to him. And numero two-oh, you stay inside the car.

No way, Mike, I have to be there, I have to hear what he says.

Goddammit, Aitch. Fine. Fine, then you stay at least ten feet behind me at all times, you understand?

Sure, Mike, she says.

Sure,
Aitch? What does
sure
mean? Tell me one more time, so I believe you.

When we get there, I'm saying nothing, you do all the talking.

Praise be.

And then you're going to shoot him in the eye.

Jeez, Aitch, are you fuckin kidding me here?

Right, it's a joke, Mike. I'm displaying my awesome ability to retain a sense of humor despite a difficult situation.

McCluskey forms the stiffest smile he can muster. That's funny, Aitch. You're a regular clown.

Make a left up here, she says, reaching over the dash to turn off the GPS.

And they swing past O'Sullivan's Dive Inn, Hannah surprised that it's still standing, the car coasting down Grist Mill Road, the last quarter mile of the hill, and she points to the driveway. It's this one, she says, the models of the Brooklyn Bridge arches gone from the gateposts, new paving on the driveway, her parchment-colored home newly pale blue, and a large millstone leaning next to the front door, right where her dad used to sit in his rocker.

This is where you grew up? says McCluskey, almost whistling.

It looks a lot different now, she says.

Right, says McCluskey, so you weren't raised in a nineteenth-century mansion set in its own park?

That's right, Mike, I've led a charmed life, she says.

And McCluskey feels it, a change in the air like a small crack in the windshield, he turns to see Hannah staring straight ahead, and all he can see is her eyepatch.

Fuck, Aitch, he says. Look, I'm sorry. Lindy's always telling me I gotta turn it off sometimes.

That's OK, Mike, she says, you can leave it on around me.

And then Hannah notices the car parked on the far side of the house, black Mercedes, McCluskey turning the wheel sharply as they reach the end of the drive, the car pulling up with his side of the vehicle facing the house.

Don't forget, I do all the talking, you stay behind, says McCluskey, reaching under the driver's seat for his shoulder holster, slipping it on outside the car before taking his jacket from the backseat, and pulling it on while he examines the house, window by window.

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