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Authors: James Patterson

The Horsewoman (30 page)

BOOK: The Horsewoman
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I WAS HAVING BREAKFAST
with Dad at TooJays, a Wellington deli he liked because it reminded him of New York. He wanted to bring me up to speed on Daniel. It had been a week since he’d gotten arrested.

“Finally, some good news,” he said. “Later today I’m going to get the assault charge tossed.”

“Shut up!”
I said. “That fast?”

“I needed help from a decent assistant DA and an even more decent judge,” he said. “But yeah.”

“This is
way
cool,” I said.

He held up a hand.

“But I need to explain why it’s not
all
the news,” he said.

“Will this explaining make my head hurt?”

“Immigration law for dummies coming right up,” he said.

“Hey.”

He took me through it as quickly as he could, reviewing how Daniel’s late DACA renewal application had started him down an immigration rabbit hole even before he threw his punch at Steve Gorton and enabled ICE to slap what Dad called a “detainer” on Daniel and throw him into custody. But now with him confident the assault rap was about to go away, they could eventually restore Daniel’s DACA status and, with a little help from some friends, get the immigration case against him dropped, and get Daniel released.

“What kind of help?” I said. “And what kind of friends?”

“Working on that,” he said. “Lots of moving pieces still.”

“How long is all that going to take?” I said.

“That’s the bad news to go along with the good news,” he said. “It can take up to six months.”

“Shit!” I said, too loudly, getting the attention of the old people at the closest tables, and maybe those in line at the cash register. “Even if you get him off, he’s still screwed in terms of making it to Paris.”

“But getting him out of that hellhole is job one,” Dad said, “and two, and three. Then the line can really get moving. And as much as you want him to get to Paris, I just want to get him back to Wellington, Florida.”

“How
are
you vaporizing the assault charge?” I said.

He grinned.

“I persuaded Gorton to drop it,” he said.

“You must be joking,” I said.

“I joke about a lot of things,” he said. “But not about something as important as your boyfriend.”

“Told you before,” I said. “Not my boyfriend.”

“This is me you’re talking to,” Dad said. “I see the way you look when you talk about him. He looks the same way when he talks about you. I don’t need to be a lawyer to figure that one out. Just your father.”

Then he slid his phone across the table. He said the video was ready to go, just to make sure the volume was low before I hit Play.

“Got this from one of the waiters who was working the tent that night,” he said. “He’d gone out back to have a smoke. Heard some loud voices from the road leading down to the parking lot. Recognized our friend Gorton and decided to shoot some video for his own amusement.”

“How’d you find him?” I said.

Dad shrugged. “When you’re good,” he said, “you’re good.”

And there were all the good parts: Gorton calling Daniel
“chico”
and objectifying me for all the world to hear. Gorton putting his hands on Daniel and throwing the first punch. Finally, there was Steve Gorton nearly bursting into tears when he saw all the blood on his clothes.

“What did he say?” I asked. “Gorton, I mean. When you showed this to him.”

“Tried to be a tough guy,” Dad said. “Told me he had lawyers to make things like that go away. I had to tell him at that point that Daniel’s lawyer was better.”

“You.”

“Me.”

“My hero,” I said.

“Many people might say superhero,” he said.

He dipped some toast into what was left of his eggs over easy, drank his coffee before waving at the waitress that we needed more.

“Anyway,” he said, “that’s pretty much all of it, at least for now. Still a long way to go.”

There was something about the way he said it.

“Pretty much all of it?” I said.

“Well, I might have mentioned something to Gorton about the video, just in case I needed him to do us a favor someday,” he said.

“Don’t make me beg,” I said.

“Actually, it was just three letters,” Dad said. “TMZ.”

MOM HAD GOTTEN HER
MRI results back that afternoon, Dr. Garry informing her that she’d suffered an “incomplete” tear of the ligament he’d repaired when she first got hurt. He told her that in a non-Olympic year, he’d recommend arthroscopic surgery, and she’d be as good as new in a month.

“Not good enough,” she said.

Then she asked if she could hurt it more by continuing to ride. He said that he wouldn’t recommend it but he couldn’t stop her.

“But he warned me there were going to be days when it hurt like hell,” Mom said. “I told him not going to Paris would hurt a hell of a lot more.”

We’d just finished dinner at the house and had brought our drinks into the living room. Wine for Mom and me. Whiskey for Gus. Before her fainting spell, Grandmother had never been much for drinking, maybe an occasional glass of wine. Since the fainting spell she’d stopped completely. Mostly her drink of choice was strong black tea.

“Then he told me not to get into any ass-kicking contests for a while,” Mom continued. “I told him that’s what the Olympics were.”

We were getting ready to watch the announcement show on NBCSN for show jumping, the sport’s first time presenting it this way. By now, I’d had nearly a full week to convince myself that I was going to be the alternate and that Mom and Tess and Tyler would be the ones riding in Paris, in both events, individual and team.

“I’m prepared for it, I really am,” I said, not speaking to anyone in particular, more stream of consciousness. “Mom and Tyler have done it longer. They’ve got results going back years, not a couple of months. It’s going to be them. Totally. I get it. I do.”

“Who are you,” Grandmother said, “and what have you done with Becky McCabe?”

“Consider yourself lucky,” Gus said to her. “I’ve been listening to this crap all week in the ring.”

“Then we get it when she gets home,” Maggie said, “on what feels like a continuous loop.”

“You guys know I’m right,” I said. “Especially you, Mom. Both you and Tyler were already short-listed coming into the year. And the last thing the selectors saw was Tyler dusting me in the Hamptons when I had a great chance to win. If I’d done that, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, I’d already have punched my ticket to Paris.”


We
aren’t having this conversation,” Grandmother said. “
You
are.”

“The show’s coming on,” Gus said. “Can we turn up the volume on the set and mute Becky at the same time?”

I sipped some wine, still working on my first glass. I’d briefly considered walking down to the barn after we finished dinner and not coming back until the announcement had been made. But in the end, I knew I couldn’t
not
watch, as Mike Tirico welcomed everybody to the show. His cohost was Bitsy Morrissey, one of the all-time great American riders, who’d competed until last year before finally retiring from competition at the age of sixty-five.

Right away they started to drag things out, milk the drama for all it was worth. Mike Tirico let Bitsy explain the selection process to the audience, and how some of the best riders wouldn’t be going to Paris, starting with Tess McGill, whose horse had been diagnosed with cellulitis after the Hampton Invitational, Bitsy pointing out how it was the same thing that had stopped Lord Stanley when Maggie Atwood was sure she was on her way to the Olympics in London.

And Bitsy talked about how it was about more than just numbers, and how that made it much more difficult for the people picking the team, especially in a year like this when the top riders were grouped so closely at the top of the rankings.

“Blah blah blah,” I said.

“Hush,” Grandmother said.

On the television screen Bitsy Morrissey then said, “And Mike, it’s worth reminding the viewers, especially on a night like this, that the enduring beauty of our sport never changes: Men competing against women, men and women my age competing against riders a third of our ages, men or women. Nick Skelton, from England, won the gold in Rio at the age of fifty-eight. If Becky McCabe makes the team tonight, she’ll get her chance at the gold medal at the age of twenty-one.”

“Big if,” I said.

“And she might get a chance to do it alongside her mother, Maggie Atwood,” said Mike.

“Hush!”
Grandmother said, even louder than before.

They took everybody through the rankings then, right before showing some of the interview NBC had done with Mom and me a few days ago at the barn, on the chance that we both did make the team for Paris.

“In truth, Mike,” Bitsy Morrissey said, “it’s Becky McCabe who’s the outlier. Her and her horse, Sky. At the start of the year, neither one of them was supposed to be here.”

“Becky McCabe the alternate, she means,” I said.

Gus said to my mom, “Can you send her to her room?”

“It never worked,” Mom said sadly.

Ten minutes from the end of the half-hour show, after they’d tortured those of us in the room that long, they finally got to it, Mike Tirico actually holding up an envelope as they did at the Academy Awards. The riders’ names would be read in the order they’d been chosen, first to fourth, including the alternate.

“But first,” he said, “one more message from our sponsors.”

“Kill me now!”
I yelled.

At least they didn’t kill more time when they came back from commercial.

“First is Tyler Cullen,” Tirico said. “No surprise there. He’s been at the top of the rankings for the past three years, and now qualifies for his first Olympic team.”

When Gus and I would watch videos of my rides, he’d sometimes point out that I wasn’t breathing. I wasn’t breathing now.

“The second name on the list, and we’ve just told you about her inspiring comeback story, is veteran Maggie Atwood,” Tirico said.

A cheer exploded in the living room. Roof raiser. Everybody shouting except Mom. I looked over at her. She just sat quietly in the chair she’d moved over next to Gus, still staring at the TV set motionless. I started across the room from the couch to give her a hug. She held up a hand.

“Let him finish,” Mom said. She smiled now. “And by the way? Veteran just means old.”

Mike Tirico turned to Bitsy Morrissey now.

“Any prediction on who’s next?” he said.

“It has to be Rich Grayson and Becky McCabe,” she said. “It’s just the question of who’s the alternate.”

“Out with it!”
Grandmother yelled.

I hid my face behind a pillow, knees up to my chest, the way I would when I was watching a scary movie in this room when I was a kid.

One more pause from Mike Tirico.

Then he smiled and said, “The third rider on the team is…Becky McCabe.” He smiled. “The young woman Bitsy called the outlier is
in.
And she’s going to compete alongside her mother!”

More cheering in the room, even louder than before. We never heard Mike Tirico announce that Rich was the alternate.

Now I got off the couch and went over and hugged my mother.

“Damn,” I said, “we did it.”

“Didn’t we, though?” she said.

MOM AND I
scored a two-bedroom apartment at the Olympic Village, which had been built in the Seine-Saint-Denis area outside of Paris. Mom had said that at her age, she was too old for dorm life. But the place was new, clean, spacious, even quiet, despite the fact that there were fifteen thousand athletes from all over the world living in the Village. And when we weren’t riding, we were hanging out at the Hotel Pont Royal downtown, where Grandmother had booked rooms for her and Gus.

We’d been in Paris a full week before marching with the United States team in the Opening Ceremonies. Me and Mom, along with the NBA players and tennis players and America’s best golfers, swimmers, and track and field stars filed into the Stade de France, which became the selfie capital of the world.

When we weren’t riding, we’d all eaten well and seen as many of the obligatory tourist sights as we could. Mom had occasionally gotten Gus to go along with her and Grandmother and me, even though he kept saying that the only tourist attraction he cared about was the inside of the ring where our competition would be held, about twelve miles outside of central Paris, at the Chateau de Versailles. That’s where they’d built the horse park for equestrian events. The ring, the far end of the property near the Grand Canal, had officially been named Etoile Royale. Gus just called it “The Royal.”

As much as he liked to be a professional grump, though, he was clearly enjoying himself. He was even working well with an old competitor of his, Charlie Benedict, the official show-jumping boss for the US team. His title was “Chef d’Equipe.” Gus said that made him sound like he should be cooking at one of the fancy restaurants where we’d been eating. Charlie and Gus were the same age and had come up through the ranks together. Everybody had figured Charlie as an alternate on the team that went to Beijing in 2008. That was before Gus got hurt. But now they’d made it to Paris together, with our team, enduring the wait for the first day of competition.

Which had now blessedly arrived. There were still two hours before the competition would begin. But we were all out walking the course. You got out there a lot earlier at the Olympics.

“Long way from Wellington, right?” Charlie said to me.

“I keep looking around for Marie Antoinette’s horse,” I said.

Mom said, “Here’s hoping things work out better for us in the end than they did for her.”

Seventy-five riders today, from all over the world, in the qualifying round. By the end of the afternoon, that number would be cut down to the thirty who’d compete for the individual gold medal two days from now, on Friday night. After that there would be a two-round competition for the team gold medal, beginning Sunday. It meant that after everything that had happened over the past few months, it all came down to these six days and nights. Yeah.
Charlie Benedict was right,
I thought.
We are one hell of a long way from Wellington
.

If there was any kind of favorite here, it was the Irish team, just because both Matthew Killeen and Eric Glynn had had such tremendous years, not just in the States but all over the world. But the draw for the qualifying was random. I was going forty-eighth in the order. Mom was going tenth.

We had moved over to the schooling ring, waiting for Seamus to arrive with Coronado. Gus was with Mom and me.

“Listen,” he said, “I’m not going to tell you that this is just another ring. You’re not idiots and neither am I. But once you get out there, then this does become every qualifier you’ve ever ridden in. You’ve got one job: Get to the next round. Today that means getting into the top thirty and living to fight another day.”

“Sounds easy when you put it that way,” I said. “Piece of cake, really.”

“French pastry,” Mom said.

“But you need to know something else,” Gus said. “Everything is going to feel bigger when you get out there. Look bigger. The jumps will probably look higher. Just the way it is, for you and the horses. So you gotta be ready for anything. And everything. It’s the Olympics. Shit happens.”

Seamus came walking into the ring with Coronado. Gus spun his chair around, heading over to where the ring announcer sat. When he was out of earshot Mom said, “I want this for him.”

“Not as much as he wants it for you,” I said.

“Hey,” she said. “He’s your trainer, too.”

“He likes me,” I said. “He’s in love with you.”

“As somebody I know likes to say,” she said, “blah blah blah,” before Seamus helped her up.

Gus was out in the middle of the ring by then, next to one of the practice jumps, his focus on her so intense as she began to canter Coronado, I was surprised she wasn’t bursting into flames. I knew how excited and scared she was. Probably more scared than excited. I felt the same way. But she looked happy that the waiting was almost over, and she was up on her horse. For once, she was probably thrilled that she was going early in the class.

Before long, they were calling out the names of the first six riders in the ring. I knew by now that Gus wanted to watch alone, from his usual spot to the right of the gate. I had my competitor’s badge around my neck—at the Olympics the badge only came off when it was time to compete. Or went to bed. And maybe not even then. I knew I had plenty of time before Emilio brought Sky up here. So I made my way down to the opposite end of the ring, in the grassy area between the outside fence and the stands. Struck one more time by the size of the place, and how everything inside seemed to be perfect, from the different-colored rails to the fresh white paint on the oxers and skinnies to the shrubbery, which looked as if it had been planted that morning. Even the footing, which had just been dragged in anticipation of the first horses and riders, looked brand new.

I kept taking in the whole scene in front of me, thinking,
It isn’t just the stakes that are as high as they’ve ever been and might ever be for Mom and me. Gus was right: even the damn jumps look higher
. My heart suddenly made me feel as if I’d run all the way here from the Village.

I’d been in college eight months ago. Now we were both here. I found the small, roped-off area where competitors could watch, past where the photographers were set up. I heard someone shouting my name from the stands, realized it could only be the voice of Steve Gorton, with whom we’d had to endure one drink a few nights ago at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz. I ignored him. Maybe he thought we were about to have a moment. We weren’t. In the end, he didn’t know anything about us, or what was about to happen in the Royal.

About twenty minutes later, having watched the first riders into the ring, I looked down at the in-gate and saw Mom and Coronado. The PA announcer told the crowd who she was and where she was from and who owned her horse. There was a polite cheer for them. Then it was briefly as if the sound had been turned off. I stared at Mom. For one last moment, she and Coronado were completely still, before she moved the big horse away from the gate and out into the middle of the ring.

She’d finally made it to the Olympics.

Then, as she waited for the buzzer to sound, Coronado suddenly spooked and reared up.

BOOK: The Horsewoman
6.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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