Read Grist Mill Road Online

Authors: Christopher J. Yates

Grist Mill Road (5 page)

 

PATCH

I was halfway down the trail to Jakobskill stream when I heard what I thought was a blue jay squawking, so it wasn't until I actually made out the word
help
that I realized Hannah was alive.

At this point I should probably describe the huge sense of relief I felt and how it had been like I was carrying a great weight, only now the burden was lifted. But exactly what that twelve-year-old boy was thinking and feeling is often a mystery to me. I'm not sure I know who he was beyond a bunch of things that happened to him.

You might as well know a calendar. A grocery list.

What I do remember is trying to run. But running was difficult, what with me holding a blood-soaked bandana clamped to the hole in my head. Plus, the trail was steep and strewn with sharp rocks and now the world was overlapping itself, like when you see a 3-D comic book without the glasses, so I went as fast as I could, stumbling down the scree, stones scraping and slipping under my sneakers.

As I crossed Jakobskill stream and scrambled uphill, the sounds she was making became clearer. Sometimes the word
help
or sometimes a strained scream, halfway between effort and pain. Other times just a horrible, feeble sound.

I pushed the bandana into my back pocket as I darted off the
trail. When Hannah heard me crashing through the last of the branches, she turned her head as best she could. Her face was twisted with a wild and desperate look. And seeing me, she screamed again and started fighting the ropes.

I can still picture the perfect angles of her face as she strained at those knots, the neat curve of her chin, a soft arc of jawbone rising up to her ear. Writing this now makes me think of turning over in bed Sunday mornings to see if she is awake, hoping she stays asleep so that I can wake her with coffee, bagels and newspapers in bed.

How am I supposed to reconcile any of these things?

I tried to say something comforting but Hannah was still crying and writhing and I don't think she heard. So I didn't move close right away but circled around to where she was facing, keeping my knees bent and hands raised.

Hannah, I promise I won't hurt you, I said, getting down into a kneel, still showing my hands.

Her head carried on twisting like she couldn't stand the sight of me. And then, slow to catch on as usual, I realized what she was doing—Hannah was trying desperately to see if Matthew was with me—and I yelled, He's gone, Hannah, Matthew's gone. I promise, he's not coming back.

Her body began to fight less and less.

When finally she faced me, I dropped my fists to the ground and started to cry. I'm sorry, Hannah, I didn't know he would … I'm sorry, I should never …

Hannah sniffed hard, her head shivering in disbelief. Oh my God, she said. Oh my God, Patch. What will my mom say? Patch, my mom's really gonna kill me.

I just stared at her. How was I supposed to respond to something like that?

Hannah clenched her teeth and cried out in pain,
Uuurgh,
my eye, he shot my eye and it hurts so much. And now I can't see from my eye, I can't see from it, Patch. I can't see from my eye, she said, her breathing starting to stutter. Patch, what does it look like? What's happened to my eye? Is it bad? I can't see from it. Is it really bad?

Hannah tilted her face, having no clue that I couldn't make out her mashed eye for all the blood-matted hair that was over her face.

I gulped. It doesn't look so bad, I said, still on my knees, which made the lie seem that much worse. I started to get to my feet.

But what's it like? Will my mom be able to tell?

No, it's kinda bloodshot, I said. There were dried leaves stuck to my hands. I wiped them away.

Why can't I see anything from it?

I started to kick lightly at the ground with my toe. Maybe it's kinda … shocked, I told her, like unconscious. And the next thing I said was something I actually believed. But if there's anything wrong, I'm sure the doctors will fix it.

Hannah's good eye just blinked.

I stood there uneasily, as if there existed a zone between us through which I wasn't allowed to pass, and said to her, Is it OK if…? Can I come over and help you, Hannah?

She nodded at me, so I walked forward gingerly and then leaned around the tree to eye up the knots. Hannah's breathing was loud. I have to go get a knife, I said.

The ropes creaked.
Nooo,
she pleaded. Don't leave me here, Patch.

It's not far, I said. We keep supplies over there, it'll take less than a minute, I promise. Don't worry, I'll whistle a tune so you'll know I'm still here, I said.

Heading deeper into the woods, I started to whistle. The only tune I could think of was
Whistle While You Work
. And I could whistle the singing bit pretty well but I wasn't so good at whistling the whistling bit.

We had this place where we kept all the stuff we'd take up there, everything hidden beneath a tarp kicked over with leaves. Weapons-wise, there was a slingshot, our spear and a load of BBs in tins and plastic bottles. We had soda cans for playing the game we called Rifle Range and sets of paper targets. We had a bunch of food in cans and a can opener, obviously. There were some bones and antlers we'd picked up here and there, although we
never really found a good use for them. A compass we didn't need, a pair of weak plastic binoculars, a hip flask that we'd fill up from the stream and take sips from like we were real men drinking liquor. There were pickle jars for frogs, a couple of cigarette lighters, a pair of toy handcuffs. And we had two knives, a little Swiss Army knife that was nine-tenths blunt and also a scrimshaw hunting knife, its bone handle etched with a grizzly bear marauding down a piney bluff. Matthew loved that hunting knife so much we hardly ever used it, which is why the Swiss Army knife was nine-tenths blunt.

When I got to the place, I saw the tarp pulled all the way back. And right away I could tell he'd used every single rope we had.

We used the thinnest ones for tripwires and the thicker ones to play Tarzan—which mostly involved swinging over streams—or to make lassos. Oh and also for an escape game we called Houdini. And I was definitely the best at Houdini. Not because I was the best at knots but because I had thinner hands and was the best at wriggling free.

Anyway, I knew exactly where the two knives were kept, so right away I could tell Matthew had taken the hunting knife. I wondered if he'd thought about cutting my throat when he had me pinned down thirty minutes earlier.

That's when I heard Hannah screaming my name and realized I'd stopped whistling. So I started to run back, not pulling the tarp back over our supplies, calling out that everything was OK.

Sorry, I said, getting back to the tree, using my least-chewed-upon fingernail to ease the blade from the Swiss Army knife.

Patch, hurry up, said Hannah, shivering now in the near-hundred heat.

That blade was so blunt it probably would've been just as quick had I gnawed through those ropes with my teeth.

 

NEW YORK, 2008

He waits for Hannah to call again, watching the story as it sprouts fresh limbs on the television news channels. By eleven most of the details are in, the story playing on loop.

 
… worked for two years at the jewelry store in the West Village. But Johnson was sacked after the store owner, Elias Petridis, received several complaints about Johnson's behavior toward his customers. Tonight, it seems Michael Johnson followed his former boss from the store after Mr. Petridis locked up for the night, and what happened next, in nearby Washington Square Park, took place in the full view of hundreds of witnesses. Again we want to warn our viewers about the graphic nature of this shocking crime. More details from our reporter at the scene, Dan.

Yes, thank you, Michelle, at around 6:00
P.M.
, just around the corner from here in Washington Square Park, the snow still falling, Michael Johnson, having followed his former employer, Elias Petridis, owner of the jewelry store you can see behind me on Eighth Street, screamed out for his ex boss to stop, yelling the instruction several times with the addition of several expletives. At this point, turning and seeing Michael Johnson, Mr. Petridis started to quicken his pace, at which point Johnson pulled out a handgun and shot Elias Petridis, the bullet apparently striking him in the leg and Mr. Petridis falling to the ground. What came next horrified the hundreds of shocked onlookers. Witnesses have
described how Johnson then ran at his ex-boss like a madman—with a crazed look in his eyes, as one witness told me—and then from a backpack pulled out what's been
 
… there are some suggestions it was a meat cleaver or perhaps a large carving knife
 
… and then, with this big, big knife, Johnson tried to
 
… again, please be aware that some of you might find this extremely disturbing
 
…
Michael Johnson attempted to
decapitate
Elias Petridis, all the while yelling the words, Now who's losing his head, now who's losing his head? Witnesses to this grisly crime, many of them clearly traumatized by what they've seen here today, have described how the park, at this point, became a scene of great panic, many witnesses speaking about a sense of hysteria, hundreds of people in the park screaming and running, but not everyone it would appear was sure what they were running from or where they should be running to. And it was during this frenzied, chaotic stampede that police officers Michael Karp and Anthony Lorenzo, having heard the gunshot, arrived on the scene, drew their weapons, and instructed Johnson to drop the knife. Now, here's where we have a number of conflicting reports, Michelle, some witnesses saying that Michael Johnson dropped the knife and then stood up, turning toward the police with his hands raised and empty. Other witnesses, however, stated that when Johnson stood up, he was waving the knife at the police officers and looking as if he was about to run at them. Yet others recalled that Johnson was still holding his handgun, that he jumped to his feet and then turned, pointing his weapon in the direction of the cops, leading to suggestions that this might have been a case of suicide by cop.

Let me stop you a moment, Dan, could you explain to any of our viewers who haven't heard the phrase exactly what you mean by suicide by cop?

Certainly, Michelle. Suicide by cop describes an incident in which an individual provokes the police into shooting them, for example, by pointing a gun at them, knowing that the police will then employ lethal force, as may have been the case today. But just to reiterate, the details are still not completely clear. What we do know for certain is that what
ever it was Johnson did after being instructed by the police to drop the knife, the two police officers then opened fire, some witnesses describing Johnson, who died at the scene of multiple gunshot wounds, as being
taken down in a hail of bullets. Now, Michelle, as I say, there are conflicting reports about this, we don't know for example if Johnson was holding the handgun the whole time, if he maybe even discharged the gun, what we do know is that during this terrible incident, seven bystanders were hit by stray bullets and/or debris and that, unfortunately, one of those innocent bystanders, a man in his twenties, as yet unnamed, died on his way to the hospital after sustaining a gunshot wound. Now, was that from a shot fired by the police officers or a shot fired possibly by Johnson? It's too early to say, but obviously what took place here today was truly a brutal crime, just a ghastly spectacle, something that none of the witnesses present here today will ever forget, and a terrible, terrible tragedy. Back to you, Michelle.

Thanks, Dan, and for more on this incredibly shocking story we join
 
…

*   *   *

WHEN THE PHONE RINGS IT
is almost eleven.

Patrick hadn't realized that Jorg
é
's shift ended at ten, so he is unprepared when Hannah comes into the apartment. No wedding jacket, no Pol Roger, only a tired hug and Hannah's apologies. She needs to take off her shoes right away, she says, but she doesn't take off her shoes, she sits in the armchair, closes her eye and covers her face.

Patrick goes into the kitchen and pulls on his jacket.

But the champagne is good and the salad is fine. Gradually Hannah slips away from her long day at work and back into the home around her, the romantic meal. Most nights are the same, as if some part of Hannah has remained back at the day's crime scene and has to be reeled in. Only tonight this takes longer than usual.

She doesn't talk much about the incident in Washington Square Park, he doesn't ask, but she does say that McCluskey could tell her almost nothing more than Patrick has seen on the news.

So pointless, she whispers to herself.

Hannah takes her champagne to the bedroom. When she
emerges, she unclips her hair and lets it fall over her shoulders. She adjusts the elastic of her eyepatch and then the thin straps of the dress into which she has changed.

Patrick has to turn the potatoes and by the time he returns, Hannah is almost restored, memories of their wedding day beginning to flower on her lips. He kisses her forehead and she pulls the silk handkerchief from his breast pocket as he leans over, twisting it quickly and wrapping it around her wrist. You wore this on our wedding day, no? she says, Patrick nodding. Do you remember how you couldn't get the words to come out? she asks him. Ahd … I duh … I do.

The air was so dry in there, he says.

More like you were so choking up, she laughs.

He leaves her with a Bordeaux to uncork as he sears the steak, which crackles as it hits the fierce cast iron, the smoke so sweet Patrick can taste hints of caramelized meat in the corners of his mouth.

While the steak rests he checks the potatoes, which have crisped to a golden shell, and then checks on his wife, who has warmed and now looks almost relaxed at the candlelit table. She swirls her wine and insists on another anniversary toast. When he comes close, she grasps his tie and pulls him down into a kiss. The kiss is insistent, Hannah's mouth pressing hard against his, the breath loud from her nose. She bites his lip gently and draws back, not letting go, the lip unfolding in the pinch of her teeth. It starts to hurt and, sensing his pain, she growls and lets him go.

Now bring me my meat, knave, she says, slapping her thigh.

The pleasantly lingering pain of the kiss stays with him as he bastes their steak with melted butter.

When he brings the food from the kitchen, she claps, just as he'd hoped she would clap upon arriving home, and when he cuts into the steak, it is perfectly pink from one thin edge of the dark crust to the other. The potatoes are perfect as well, first a quick smack of salt and then the crisp shell shattering down into light,
pillowy flesh. Hannah takes a bite of the meat and as she groans and sighs, he says to her, I cooked steak because …

You wanted to remind me of the first night we kissed, says Hannah, reaching under the table and touching his knee. But back to our wedding day, she says. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to remember you looked like a soldier standing to attention. She makes her body stiff and widens her eye. Oh, it was so romantic, she says, exactly how I always imagined it.

I was concentrating, he says, waving his fork in circles. I was taking my vows very seriously, Hannah. I still do.

Aha! she says, reaching up to wipe his cheek with the handkerchief she has knotted around her wrist. Now I understand why you needed this thing.

He gives her a doubtful look at first. But then he says, I honestly thought every cell of my body was about to dissolve into tears.

Her head tips down, she smiles and when she looks back up at him, Hannah says, So, tell me about your day, Patch, what's going on?

My father called again, he says. Same thing, wants to set me up for a chat with this guy from Goldman who owes him a favor.

You should do it.

Come on, Hannah, you know I don't want anything from him.

I know, I know. And I get it, I do. I just want to see you happy.

I am happy, aren't I? I have you, Hannah.

That's sweet, she says. But think about it, Patch.

OK. But I can do this myself, you know, I can find another job.

I know you can, of course you can, she says, touching the back of his hand. When she looks into his eyes, Patrick blinks at her as if he is empty in a place that only she can fill. You know what? she says, a fresh tone in her voice, a change of topic. I think I'm definitely going to need more wine.

He picks up the bottle to pour but she covers her glass.

No, I mean another bottle.

Is there something wrong with this one?

No, she says, I just need another one.

He holds the bottle up to the candlelight. Half full.

Please go and get some more wine, Patch, she says. I want the one at the far right end of the rack that's on top of the cabinets.

He looks confused.

Do it, she says.

He has to use the step stool to climb to the wine rack above the kitchen cabinets. But he can't reach all the way to the right so then he has to clamber up onto the granite counter. When finally he pulls out the bottle at the far end, he sees it is white. Are you sure you meant the far right, Hannah? he calls out. This is Chablis.

Oh, maybe I meant the far left. Bring any bottle you like, that's OK.

He looks through the reds and picks out a Malbec, wiping the dust away. Do you want me to open it? he calls out.

No, just bring it here.

Shaking his head, Patrick returns to the room.

When he gets there, he sees that everything has been pushed to the far end of their dining table—plates, bottle, candlesticks, cutlery, wineglasses—while Hannah's head rests at the other. She lies on her back, looking past her shoulder at him, stretched out and naked, her body shining where it is lit by the small flames of candlelight. Breast, belly, flank.

Sorry I was late, Patch, she says.

Her dark hair feathers the tops of her breasts. And between her breasts, as if at the neck of an hourglass, is where she has nestled the first slice of meat.

I thought you might like to start at the top and work your way down, she says.

The meat, like small steppingstones, descends invitingly, its slices running down past her navel, bisecting her pelvis, pink flesh bright against her eggshell skin, the beef rising and falling where it rests on her belly. His gaze trails down, farther down, until the pink and bloody path disappears between her legs.

Will this be enough? she says.

The red juices streak her hips and her ribs.

He swallows and nods.

Well, don't let everything go cold, Patch, she smiles, crossing her hands behind her head.

He puts down the bottle of wine and undresses quickly.

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