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Authors: James Patterson

The Horsewoman (33 page)

BOOK: The Horsewoman
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I WALKED ACROSS
the schooling ring toward Tyler Cullen, about to do something I could never have imagined. But knowing I had to do it.

Tyler was roughly fifteen minutes away from being part of the jump-off that would decide who won the team gold medal. Five riders had qualified for the jump-off, and Tyler was one of them.

I wasn’t.

Sky had finally gotten her first Olympic rail, on the last day of the team competition. But that was all it took to keep us from continuing. After everything my horse had done, she finally got tired. It was a cheap rail, at the third fence. It had shocked the hell out of me, just because of the way she’d performed every time we’d been in that ring, even in the rain. Didn’t matter. She still had enough in her, and enough heart, to finish strong. We had come that close to going clean for the Olympics, giving ourselves a chance to throw what Gus called a perfect game. And had put more pressure on Mom and Tyler.

They were our team now. We’d all still win gold if their combined score took first in the jump-off. But all I could do now was watch, which wasn’t how this part of the story was supposed to end:

Mom needed Tyler to get a gold medal.

And Tyler needed her to get one of his own.

I needed both of them.

The team competition had started out with twenty countries, cut to ten after the first round on Sunday afternoon. And after the final qualifying round tonight, only the five riders who’d gone clear remained. All of them would start even in the jump-off.

Teddy Milestone, from England, took the ring first. His horse knocked down two rails, one early, one late. Matthew was next in. He got one. But Eric had just gone clear. Now for the US—
us
—to win the gold medal, both Tyler and Mom had to go clean. Or, if one of them did get a rail, the other one had to beat Eric’s time of 38.8.

That was the margin for error.

By now they were extending the time between horses entering the ring, maximizing the drama on the last night of the show-jumping competition. Tyler had complained after his first round that his back was seizing up, and he was worried about spasms. The slowdown allowed him a few extra minutes after Eric’s round to get down and do some stretching.

It was right before he was ready to get back up on Galahad that I went over and gave him a hug, thinking it might be the craziest thing to happen in this whole crazy year.

“Not too hard!” he said.

“Sorry.”

“Kidding.”

I waved off Tyler’s trainer then and helped him up myself.

“Sure,” he said, “now you love me.”

I grinned. “Love is kind of strong, frankly.”

“Is this some insane shit or what?” he said. “It coming down to me and your mom, I mean.”

The announcer in the schooling ring told him it was time.

Tyler winked at me.

“Don’t worry, kid,” he said. “I’m gonna kill it. Then tell your mom to do the same.”

I gave him a fist bump, like he was my best friend. And for the next couple of minutes, he was going to be, if Mom was going to get one last shot at a gold medal, and I was going to get another. Insane shit indeed.

I gave Mom her space as she was getting ready for the jump-off. A good look at her revealed the nearly visible force field she put around herself in big moments. Even Gus gave her room. Now it was her turn to be the one who hadn’t come this far to finish second.

Gus watched from the in-gate. I walked outside the fence, maybe twenty yards from him, and got ready to watch from there. Tyler Cullen. The guy with the rep for being better than his horses. But we didn’t need that today. We just needed for him to be as good as his horse, on this day when he needed Mom and she needed him, after everything that had happened between them for months.

Couldn’t make it up.

At breakfast Grandmother had said, “I can’t believe that I have to root this hard for that little bastard.”

“Get over it,” Mom had said.

I’d laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Grandmother had said.

“Inside joke,” I’d said.

While Tyler waited for the buzzer in the middle of the ring, I heard a familiar voice calling my name from the stands.
Steve Gorton.

Tyler had told us the other day about how he felt Gorton had strung him along just to mess with him, until he’d finally screwed him over. Tyler, being Tyler, had no sense of irony about the fact that they’d both tried to screw over Mom.

I turned around and found where Gorton was standing, saw him pointing at Tyler.

“My guy!” he shouted.

I just nodded and thought:
We finally have something in common
.

The two rollbacks on the short course were the places where you could win or lose. Rails could go down anywhere on the course. But to me, those were the two biggest trouble spots.

The weather was perfect today. The footing looked absolutely perfect after they dragged the course following the first round. Some sun, but not too much.

And then Tyler was out there riding a seamless course, with good pace, but not a reckless one. His technique, I thought, was pretty damn impressive considering what was on the line, all the way through the first combination. Then the second. With three fences left, I knew he was faster than Eric had been at this same point in the course. If he could stay clear and beat Eric’s time, then Mom wouldn’t need for Coronado to break the land speed record. She could even get a rail and still win.

Second rollback coming up now for Tyler, the tighter of the two. He went inside. Everybody before him had. His Olympics were over in three jumps. No reason to leave anything out there. Had his horse perfectly lined up after he came out of the turn, flying.

Galahad touched the rail with his left hind leg. I could see the fence clearly from where I was standing not more than twenty yards away. I could barely
hear
him touch it. All I saw was this ripple, like it had been hit by a strong breeze.

The rail ended up on the ground.

Now Mom didn’t just have to go clean, she also had to be faster than Eric Glynn, or Ireland would win the team gold medal.

Our team would end up with silver.

And Mom would walk away with a second silver.

MAGGIE’S LEFT KNEE,
the bad one, the one she was going to get fixed when she got home, had been killing her all afternoon.

Nobody to blame but herself. She’d walked too much since she’d gotten to Paris, the past couple of days walking the city alone, getting herself ready for this moment, for the whole thing coming down to her, in case it actually did. She’d spent hardly any time with Becky. Or Gus. Even her mother. Just walked. Even lit a candle at Cathedrale Notre-Dame. Now she was paying a physical price, at the worst possible moment. It wasn’t just her knee hurting. It was her neck and back, too. If her horse wasn’t slowing down this close to the finish, Maggie Atwood sure as hell was.

And now the whole thing
had
come down to her, and this ride. Tyler came out of the ring, head down, cursing loudly at himself. Maggie ignored him. She wasn’t just thinking about going clean. She was clearing her mind. If she thought any more about what was on the line, how much this all meant to her, she might feel as sick as Becky said she had before her first round in the individual.

In all ways, she wanted this so much that it hurt. Becky had her gold medal. Now Maggie wanted her own. She didn’t think she was owed one, or deserved one, because of her own crazy journey, and everything she’d gone through to get here.

She just wanted to nail this one last ride.

No issue with speed at the start. None with the rollback. Her knee was killing her now, even worse than it had in the schooling ring. How much time did she have left at the Olympics? Twenty seconds?

But as they came out of the combination, next fence, Coronado over-jumped, landed harder than he should have, and jarred her enough that her left foot came out of the stirrup.

Again.

Seriously?

This time there was no surprise or hesitation. After everything that had happened in this ring, to her and to Becky, Maggie was ready for anything and everything by now. She jammed the foot right back in. But as she did, she felt as if it sent a shock wave all the way up her left leg.

Focus.

Last rollback now. She went inside, no hesitation, she hadn’t come this far to finish second again. She knew this was the fence that had just gotten Tyler. Such a cheap rail. Just a touch.

Now Coronado touched it with a hind leg. No idea which one. But Maggie heard it, felt it, and for one split-second felt herself die a little.

Waited one final time to hear it from the crowd. Up or down?

It had stayed up. Then Coronado was over the next jump, coming up on the last vertical.

He was over that, and clear.

Maggie didn’t even wait to slow him down, just whipped her head around as soon as they were through the timers. It only made her neck and back hurt even more.

Maggie didn’t care.

Her time was 38.3. Half a second better than Eric.

Feeling no pain now.

She’d won her gold medal.

Last week at the individual medal ceremony, when Becky had gotten her gold, it was her daughter who had stood a little higher on the platform. There was a bigger platform today, room enough for her and Becky and Tyler, all three of them standing higher than the other two teams.

The woman from FEI placed one gold medal around each of their necks. Maggie got hers last, right before the national anthem began to play. She was fine, totally fine, with sharing the gold medal. She knew what she’d just done, with what felt like her career on the line.

She wasn’t just sharing the gold medal. She was sharing the Olympic ceremony moment with all the athletes, in all the sports, when the camera came in close to show them mouthing the words to the anthem.

She felt Becky reach over and take her hand. She looked over and saw their faces on the huge screen, saw the tears on her cheeks and the smile shining through them.

Once and for all:

For this one day, she’d been the best horsewoman in the world
.

GRANDMOTHER WAS NEVER ONE
to invite a jinx but had booked a private room at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, the restaurant connected to her hotel. After we’d done our interviews, we’d gone straight there, changing in her room.

Gus was there, too. And the grooms. Tyler Cullen and his trainer. Charlie Benedict. And Rich Grayson, our alternate, and his trainer. The private room, though, was just off the main room and it didn’t take long for us to get very loud, almost ugly American for a classy room like this. Champagne toasts preceded wine flowing in waves as our party turned up the volume. Even Grandmother allowed herself a glass of champagne.

About an hour in, the maître d’ asked us to please keep it down, citing complaints from other customers. At this point Charlie Benedict, who spoke fluent French, had a word with the guy.

When Charlie came back to the table, I asked what he’d said.

“Tu peux redevenir calme demain soir,”
he said.

“I hope that means go screw yourself,” Gus said.

“I told him he could have quiet again tomorrow night,” Charlie said.

Then Gus was clinking his fork against his glass and telling everybody to quiet down for one second. When we did, he raised his glass of whiskey and said, “To the Atwood women, for giving me the greatest goddamn week of my whole goddamn life.” Right before Mom leaned over and kissed him.

It was about the time when we thought we should at least think about ordering some food to go with the wine that I saw Grandmother smile as she picked her phone up off the table and walked out the door toward the front room.

She came back a couple of minutes later and stopped in the doorway, wearing a much bigger smile now as she was the one asking for everybody’s attention.

“These
are
the Olympics, right?” she said.

“Last time I checked,” Gus said.

“Well,” she said, “I think we might be taking part in the best miracle since that hockey team in Lake Placid.”

I thought she was talking about all the medals we’d won and the way we’d won them, and how it might be her turn to make a toast. But she wasn’t.

She stepped aside to make way for Dad and Daniel.

WHEN ALL THE YELLING
and hugging had subsided and we’d made even more of a spectacle of ourselves, Dad apologized for being late, then asked if somebody could go get him a real drink.

“We finally caught a cab after the medal ceremony,” he said.

I turned to Daniel and said, “How did this happen?”

“Your dad should explain,” he said. “But your grandmother is right. It is a bit of a miracle.”

He looked much thinner than the last time I’d seen him, and tired, and more than a little overwhelmed. But he was Daniel. And was here. All that mattered.

“But you got to see us ride?” I said.

“We barely got there in time,” he said. “But, yes. Both of you.”

He turned to Mom then.

“See,” he said. “You didn’t need me after all.”

“Now you tell me,” she said, and hugged him again.

“You are aware,” I said to him, “that you saw me knock down the only rail I knocked down all week.”

He shrugged and smiled.

“What do I always tell you?” he said. “Don’t get ahead of your horse.”

“So I’m still not perfect,” I said.

He smiled again. “There’s still time.”

One of the waiters produced two more chairs. Grandmother walked across the room and told the maître d’ that dinner would have to wait. He was not pleased. By now it was his permanent state. The two of them then seemed to go at each other pretty hard until Dad walked over there. As he was talking and smiling, I saw him discreetly hand the guy a fistful of cash.

He came back, still smiling, and sat down next to Daniel and me.

“Money,” he said, “the international language of love.”

“If
I
pay
you
will you now tell us how you two got here?” I said.

“How we got here,” he said, “is that the system finally worked the way it should for guys like Daniel, and not the way it usually does when somebody like me doesn’t come over the hill like the First Army.”

“He said modestly,” Mom said.

“Tell your mother she doesn’t need to give me a gold medal,” Dad said to me.

Then Dad took us through it. The room got quiet for the first time. He told us he couldn’t have done it without the immigration lawyer, Gleason Connors. Said he’d actually tried to hire him when it was all over, but Connors had told him that the Daniels of the world needed him more than Dad’s firm did.

“Goddamn, the system really is messed up,” Dad said, and drank.

By the time we’d arrived in Paris, Daniel’s DACA application had been renewed, even though he was still in detention. Then Dad, being Dad, fast-tracked his way to a meeting with an immigration judge who realized pretty quickly that the whole case, including ICE putting a detainer on Daniel, was total bullshit, including the original criminal case. By then Daniel’s new paperwork, minus the criminal case, had been moved along to another judge.

“The second judge was with the United States Something and Something,” Dad said.

“Customs and Immigration Service,” Daniel said.

Everything happened quickly after that. The removal proceedings on Daniel really were stopped before they began, and Daniel got released.

“That was Friday,” he said, “when my baby girl was winning her first gold medal. By then he’d refiled his DACA renewal, adding the part about getting arrested but the charges being dismissed. Which we did. Then the last piece to the puzzle was getting his parole application approved, the one that allowed him to leave the country now that his Dreamer rights had been restored, so he could watch the fabulous Atwood women become the darlings of the Paris Olympics.”

He sighed so loudly it sounded like a jet engine.

“Everybody got all that?” he said.

“Barely,” Mom said.

“You told me the parole application was the biggest long shot of all,” I said.

“Well, it should have been, even for your brilliant father,” he said. “Which is why I had to call in a favor, from somebody who’s practically besties with the governor of Florida.”

“Wait for it,” he said.

He paused for dramatic effect.

“Mr. Steve Gorton himself,” he said.

“What!”
Grandmother yelled, loud enough I was afraid the artwork was going to fall off the wall behind her.

“There is no way you got that jerk to help you!” Mom said, and even slapped Dad on the arm.

I laughed.

“TMZ,” I said to him.

“What the hell does that mean?” Grandmother said.

“My daughter will explain it later,” Dad said. “Right now, it’s time to really get this party started.”

Mom said, “He means because
he’s
here.”

The night only got louder after that. Dinner eventually was served, not that anyone had much interest in it by that time. Daniel wanted to know all about the jump-off for the individual, and about the storm, and about how Sky had managed at the last second not to fall down.

It was near midnight by then. There was one last raucous conversation about whether we might need to have a few more bottles of wine when the door to our room opened and someone shouted, “Hey, is this the gold medal party I heard about?”

Steve Gorton.

Dad leaned over and whispered, “I might have told him where we’d be, just for my own twisted amusement.”

“Thanks so much,” I whispered back.

Gorton stood there in the middle of the room as if just by showing up he’d immediately turned into our host.

“Well,” he said, “it wasn’t easy, but we all managed to end up with gold medals in the end.”

“We?” Tyler Cullen said to Gus.

Gus lowered his voice for once and said, “A horse’s ass to the end.”

Mom sighed, breaking a silence that was beyond awkward. Gorton stared at us. We all stared back at him, until the smile had completely disappeared from his face.

Finally, after what felt like an hour had passed, he said, “I get it, okay? I get it,” and turned and walked out.

The noise level shot right back up to where it was before, and maybe beyond, before more bottles of wine appeared, as if by magic. Grandmother then stood up one last time, raised her water glass, and announced that she wanted to make one more toast, which was why nobody noticed Daniel and me as we slipped out.

BOOK: The Horsewoman
12.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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