Authors: James Patterson
The night before.
I THREW EVERYTHING
I had at Grandmother, queen of the manor, if you could call Atwood Farm a manor.
I reminded her that I’d been told my whole life that we weren’t in the horse business for the money. That if it were only about the money, she wouldn’t have basically mortgaged her whole life to have enough money to get a share of Coronado. She’d done it because she loved Mom enough to give her this chance. And this horse.
“We keep talking and talking but arriving back at the same damn place,” she said. “And that means
place. Your grandfather and I built it up from nothing. It’s been the last fifty years of my life. First with him, then with you and your mom. You know how much I hate to do this. But there will be other horses.”
“Not like this one.”
“Maybe not,” she said. “Maybe not. But your mother was on her way to the Olympics with Lord Stanley before he went lame.”
By then I only had one bullet left.
horse,” I said.
“Sell Sky?” Mom said. “You don’t mean that.”
“Yeah, Mom,” I said. “I do.”
She knew how much I loved the horse. So did Mom and Grandmother. We’d all known it from that first day I’d ridden her. And even though I hadn’t done nearly enough with her last year, nobody was blaming the horse. We all knew that every year when WEF would start up again, there was an Irish trainer named Dermot Morgan who’d try to buy her. I’d always give the same answer. She wasn’t for sale.
“I’d never let you sell that horse,” Grandmother said.
Like we were back on the same side all of a sudden.
“It’s my horse,” I said. “And even though she won’t command nearly what Coronado would, I know what Dermot has offered in the past.”
“You’re coming off your worst year,” Mom said.
“Wasn’t Sky’s fault,” I said.
“You’re willing to place that kind of bet on yourself?” Grandmother said.
At least I had her attention. Still had her talking. Even I wasn’t sure whether I was bluffing.
“Damn straight,” I said. “Dermot writes me a check, I hand it over to you, and we all get ready for the Grand Prix.”
“Have you spoken to your father about this?” Mom said.
“He says it’s my horse and I can do what I want with her,” I said.
I actually hadn’t spoken to him since the night after Mom had been thrown.
Grandmother was staring at me.
“You’d seriously be willing to do this to get one more chance on Coronado?” she said.
“One hundred percent,” I said. “Daniel’s right. I can win on this horse. I should have won today.”
The living room windows were open to let in the night air. One of the horses in the barn gave a loud whinny, but no one spoke.
It was Mom who finally did.
“Becky’s right,” she said. “It was never about the money with you, any more than it was with Dad.”
She gave her mother a long look and said, “What would Dad say if he were around?”
“Now who’s not being fair?” Grandmother said.
“Me,” Maggie Atwood said. “Because we both know the answer.”
“Clint Atwood would have poured himself another whiskey and then said we were going to let it ride,” Grandmother said.
She slowly and deeply breathed in, let it out even more slowly.
“God forgive a fool like me,” she said now, then looked directly at me. But she was smiling.
“We let it ride,” she said.
“WHAT DO YOU
mean the old bat changed her mind?” Gorton heard now on speakerphone.
He was driving east on Southern Boulevard, on his way to the bridge that took him from mainland to island and finally his home on Ocean Boulevard. What he and his friends jokingly called “the hood.”
“That’s what the little wiseass just informed me,” Gorton said.
“Our Becky,” the man said. “You’re telling me that they passed up the money?”
He thought he was going to make the light before the bridge, didn’t, saw it go to red and the drawbridge begin its slow rise toward the sky.
My morning just keeps getting better.
“So what are you going to do?” the man said.
“I know what you’re going to do,” Gorton said. “You’re going to win the goddamn Grand Prix.”
“If it’s not me, it’ll be somebody else, but never her,” the man said. “That was a total choke job yesterday. As easy a distance as there was on the course. It would have been like Secretariat’s jockey finding a way to lose.”
“Long shots have hit before,” Gorton said. “Not just horses. Even my Jets won a Super Bowl once.”
A silence settled between the two men. Bridge was still up.
“You saved yourself some money today,” the man said. “You take complete control of the horse in two weeks, correct?”
“But that little punk talked to me—to my face—like I was one of her grooms,” Gorton said, then paused. “Remember that movie with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson where Nicholson lost his shit in the courtroom?”
“A Few Good Men.”
“Those people screwed with the wrong Marine today,” Gorton said.
He sat there drumming his fingers on the steering wheel as the bridge finally started to come down. Still seeing the look on Becky’s face. The one who’d landed on her ass the day before acted like she won something today. Now every member of that family had treated him like some sort of schmuck.
“Like I said, you just need to stay cool.”
“You know what makes me lose my cool?” Gorton said. “People telling me to stay cool.”
“Hey, I’m on your side,” the man said.
“Then call me back with something I can use against them,” Gorton said, “just in case I need to.”
He was about to end the call when the man said, “Wait, I just thought of something.”
IT WAS SUNDAY
morning, less than a week to go until the Grand Prix qualifier, Daniel and I in the tack room, Emilio outside putting a saddle on Coronado.
Daniel wouldn’t have Sky and me jump at all when we were close to showing. He’d only had me jump Coronado at Atwood Farm after Mom got hurt to give me a chance to know the horse.
“I keep thinking that if I win, I win more than a hundred thousand,” I said. “If I lose, we all lose a million bucks.”
“Ve con dodo,”
“That one I don’t know.”
“Let it ride,” he said.
I didn’t have to win on Thursday. Just needed to go clean and be in the top forty riders and make it to Saturday.
I went around the long course clean now, then waited on Coronado while Daniel set up the kind of jump-off course we’d encounter next week in the International Arena. Get around clean on the long course, in the time allowed, and you qualified for the jump-off. Half as long and twice as tricky, like riding full speed through a maze.
I nearly made a mistake today on the second-to-last jump, when I didn’t support Coronado enough, and felt his hind legs clip a rail. But the rail stayed up. It was all Coronado. In moments like that, you were supposed to imagine you were riding with your arms, helping to carry the horse over the jump.
This time I pictured myself nearly dropping him.
“You relaxed,” Daniel said.
“I’m about as relaxed these days as a hummingbird,” I said.
“Then you lost concentration,” he said.
I can do,” I said.
“A boxer drops his guard and gets knocked out,” he said.
“Boxing is dumb,” I said.
“Losing concentration on this horse is much dumber,” he said.
“Your motivational speaking needs some work, have I ever mentioned that?” I said.
I trotted Coronado then. Emilio helped me down and walked the horse back to the barn. Daniel and I watched the video he’d taken of both rounds on his phone. He pointed out a couple of other technical mistakes, especially a rollback early in the jump-off where I’d taken the safe route and not made as much of an inside turn as I could have.
“A half second,” he said, “could make all the difference between qualifying and not qualifying.”
“At least I went clean,” I said.
“Barely,” he said.
“Come on,” I said. “You know I did good today.”
He smiled. “How about I reward you by buying you a burger later?” he said.
“Sure,” I said, hoping I didn’t answer too quickly and sound too eager. “But no drinking. I’m in training.”
“In that case, you drive,” he said. “Pick me up around seven.”
look at him. Asking me out on a real date.
I’d said yes before really thinking about it. He could make the next move, if there was ever going to be a next move.
I wasn’t even sure I
there to be a next move.
Then why are you even going?
I knew that answer, too. Because I was curious to see if he
bring up that night.
Daniel was good and good-looking. And kind. Definitely kind. But still my trainer. It was probably inevitable that if some kind of romantic relationship did start, any awkward twist would mess up my relationship with him
And given my short odds with long-term boyfriends, it
get messed up. Maybe that’s what I ought to tell him if he brought up the kisses we’d shared.
bring it up, well, then screw it and screw him.
Not that I was on edge.
I didn’t need Daniel telling me to relax right now, like I was going into the ring. Needed to do it myself.
You’re going out for a burger, not looking to make things official.
I was about five minutes late arriving at the small ranch house on Pierson. Becky Standard Time. I’d thought about getting my hair done but had decided I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard, going all girly-girl on him.
Your move, Daniel.
But when I pulled into the driveway, his used Kia, which he liked to say had a million miles on it, wasn’t there.
Maybe for once he was running even later than me. Or he’d loaned his car to one of his carless friends from the other barns.
I checked my phone to see if I had missed a text. Nothing. Got out of the car and went and rang the doorbell.
Pulled out my phone and texted him.
where the heck are u?
No response. I called his number and was sent straight to voicemail.
I went back to the car and sat there waiting.
Now I was worried, not about him standing me up, but that something might have happened with what he called the
Texted him again.
I waited until eight o’clock and drove home. The other two Atwood women were out to dinner. I cooked up some pasta, ate it. Texted and called again.
Nothing from Daniel.
Around eleven o’clock I couldn’t take it, got back into the car and drove back over to his house. No car in the driveway. No lights.
The next morning, he didn’t show up at the barn.
DANIEL USUALLY BEAT
the grooms to the barn. I didn’t hear from him on Monday. He didn’t show up for work on Tuesday morning, either.
“We need to call the police,” Mom said. “Something has obviously happened to him.”
“We can’t,” I said.
“What do you mean, we can’t?” Grandmother said.
“Daniel is more afraid of the government than ever,” I said.
I didn’t feel as though I’d betrayed his confidence.
“So what are we supposed to do?” Grandmother said.
“Wait,” I said.
“Not my strong suit,” she said.
“You know it’s not mine,” I said.
Mom watched me in the ring with Coronado both days that Daniel had been gone. She said that as concerned as we were about Daniel, we all had to be practical. Coronado and I were competing in the International Arena on Thursday afternoon. With or without Daniel. As long as Mom and I stayed inside the ring, things still felt normal.
After I fed Coronado a carrot, Emilio took him back inside the barn. Grandmother had left for a doctor’s appointment, saying she wanted her blood pressure checked, “for obvious reasons.”
Where was he?
Why hadn’t he even called?
“Don’t you have that Find My Friends app on your phone?” Mom said.
“He won’t let me use it with his phone,” I said.
“Because he’s Daniel,” I said.
“Say he is in trouble with the government, even being detained somewhere, wouldn’t he have called us for help?” she said.
“He doesn’t ever ask anybody for help,” I said.
“What can we do, besides wait?”
“Try to find him,” I said.
I’d waited as long as I could. But we were moving up on forty-eight hours since I’d heard from him last. Emilio had already sworn to me that he hadn’t heard from Daniel and didn’t know where he might have gone.
At the horse show I had met Daniel’s trainer and groom friends from the other barns. Most but not all of them were immigrants. So they had their secrets, too. But maybe one of them knew Daniel’s secrets, where he’d gone, when he might be coming back, and if he was safe.
By the midafternoon, Emilio and I’d made a tour of eight barns in our general area. We spoke to trainers and grooms and some riders, giving them my cell phone number but trying not to sound any alarms. Trying not to let them see that I was worried out of my skull.
But nobody we spoke to had seen him. Nobody had heard from him.
Totally off the grid for two days now.
Where was he?
I told Emilio, who was as afraid of the government as Daniel was, that my own worst fear was that he was at some detention center and they hadn’t even allowed him a phone call.
“He will explain when he returns,” Emilio said.
“If he returns,” I said.
I kept calling Daniel’s phone. Kept texting. We took one last swing by Daniel’s house. Nobody home. He knew how much the qualifier on Thursday meant to all of us. Something bad
to have happened.
Please don’t let it be bad.
We were back to that.
By five o’clock we returned to Atwood Farm, exhausted.
Mom and Grandmother invited me to dinner. I told them I’d be terrible company.
“You’re going to sit at home and worry yourself sick,” Mom said.
“Sounds like a plan,” I said.
They didn’t leave until a little after eight, later than I preferred to eat. I was up in my room by then, anxiously texting and calling Daniel again and again. I went downstairs, poured myself a glass of white wine, brought it back up to the room. Tried and failed to follow a book and then a Netflix movie. Realized I hadn’t touched my wine. Picked up the glass, put it down hard enough that I spilled some.
I was going to take one last drive over to his house. Picturing myself pulling off Pierson and seeing the house lit up and the Kia parked in his driveway. Picturing myself ripping into him for disappearing this way.
I stuffed my phone into my back pocket, grabbed my car keys, took the stairs two at a time.
When I opened our front door, there he was.