Authors: James Patterson
DANIEL AND I
were in a back booth at La Fogata. Bad Mexican food was better than none, Daniel always said.
After we’d ordered dinner, a plate of nachos and Dos Equis on draft, he said, “We have to believe that the horse is going to be all right.”
“And on what do you base that belief, Dr. Ortega?”
to be all right,” he said.
“What a long day,” I said. “About to become an even longer night.”
“Amen,” he said.
“Speaking of freaks,” I said. “How about Steve Gorton? That you agree he’s a world-class jerk is written all over your face whenever you’re around him.”
“I need to do a better job of hiding it,” he said.
“He dishes out crap to people as if it’s ice cream,” I said. “But I’m onto his act, and I’m not taking it from him anymore.”
Daniel did not hesitate.
“Yes,” he said, his voice barely carrying over the din of the place, “you
going to take it. We are all going to take it. And
He somehow made his eyes seem as quiet as his voice, and in that centered space I tried to sort through my feelings for him. I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit that I did wonder if we could ever be more than friends.
And every time I
with him away from the barn and the horses, on the other side of a table or seated next to him at the bar, I always had the feeling that he was studying me as much as I was studying him. His life away from the barn was such a mystery to me that I thought of it as his secret life. It was difficult for me to accept that he probably did know me better than I knew him. Every time I tried to get to know him better, he would smile and hold me off, keeping me as much at arm’s length as he did the rest of the world.
“Anyway,” I said, “Screw Steve Gorton and the Porsche he rode in on.”
I raised my glass in a toast. Daniel raised his.
“Very funny, the part about the Porsche,” Daniel said. “Remember, though, an attitude like that could cost us this horse.”
“But you keep telling me I’m riding him now the way you want me to ride him,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter to him,” he said.
“It’s all that’s supposed to matter!”
I said, suddenly slapping my palm on the table and rattling the dishes and glassware. “This guy doesn’t know a bridle from a bridesmaid. Why should I listen to him about anything having to do with Coronado?”
“Because he is looking for a reason to fire you,” Daniel said.
The restaurant kept getting louder and more crowded. Daniel leaned forward, as if protecting our conversation. He seemed to go through life worried that somebody might be listening to him. Or watching him. Or both.
Now he said, “A man as rich as Gorton takes control, even in an area, like our sport, about which he is almost completely ignorant. In his mind, he only made a deal for your mother to ride Coronado. He feels that this deal is now
He stopped, as if searching for the right word.
he said finally. “Void.”
I started to answer, but he put a finger to his lips and continued.
“He wants to go over to the horse show, look at the standings on the leaderboard, pick a name, and get him to come ride the horse,” Daniel said. “It is really as simple as that.”
“Wait,” I said, “I know he doesn’t like me. But you’re telling me he wants me to
“Without any doubt,” he said.
“In his mind he wins if I lose, just like Grandmother says.”
Daniel nodded now. “He does not like the way your grandmother talks to him. She has no respect for him and he wants to be rid of her.”
I noticed Eric Glynn, an Irish rider and good guy who was even better company, waving at us from the bar, margarita in hand like a trophy. Normally I would have waved back and asked him to join us, but tonight I just gave him a quick shake of the head. He nodded his understanding, turned back toward a couple of other riders.
“Eric’s here,” I said to Daniel. “But we haven’t finished our conversation.”
“Mr. Gorton gave us a month,” Daniel said. “So he only wants the horse to lose for this one month, and
have a reason to get another rider, many months before the Olympics.”
“Is that why you wanted us to have dinner tonight?” I said. “To make sure I understand all this? Because if that’s what you were looking for, mission accomplished. I get it.”
He hesitated then. I studied his face now the way he always seemed to be studying mine, and felt he was trying to make up his mind about something.
“No,” he said finally. “There is more.”
“Please don’t give me any more bad news,” I said. “Not sure I can handle any tonight, especially if we might be looking at more in the morning with Coronado.”
Neither one of us had eaten much. He’d only finished half his beer. I watched him now as he pushed tortilla chips around his plate, as if buying himself some time.
“Don’t make me order you a margarita to get you to talk,” I said. “What are you not telling me?”
“That neither one of us might make it to the Olympics with this horse, even if we find that his leg is sound,” Daniel said.
“What does that even mean?” I said.
“That I am afraid I might get deported before we ever get near Paris,” he said.
FROM THE TIME
they had arrived at the restaurant, every time he felt the words starting to form, he pulled them back. But then he had been doing that for weeks.
Becky had asked him once if he liked talking about anything other than horses and he had said, “What else is there?”
So much else.
There was so much about himself he kept from everyone, including those with whom he worked most closely, and cared about the most. Becky was the one to whom he felt closest of all even as he tried to hide that from her.
But Daniel had finally decided to share something with her he had not even shared with his parents, both of whom were back in Mexico now, working for the rich owner of the Hipódromo de las Américas, the thoroughbred track in Mexico City. Every time he spoke with them by phone, they made sure to tell him that whenever he wanted it there was a job waiting for him as a trainer.
“Ven aqui antes de que venga por ti alli,”
his father had said just a couple of days before.
Come here before they come for you there.
“They are not coming for me,” Daniel had said.
“Liar,” his father had said.
He had not been lying to Becky, except perhaps through omission. But he had still decided to tell her the truth.
“Tell me everything,” she said now at La Fogata.
“Not here,” he said. “We need to talk in private.”
“Then let’s get the hell out of Dodge,” she said. “And right now.”
He called for the check, determined to beat Becky to it for once. When the waiter came with it, Becky tried to take it out of his hand, but Daniel was quicker and paid in cash.
Daniel gave the Uber driver the address of the small ranch house Mrs. Atwood had rented for him on Pierson Road, a short walk from the horse show. But as they were approaching the entrance, Daniel suddenly told the driver to stop.
“We can have all the privacy we want right here,” he said.
“You didn’t want to talk at the restaurant, or in front of the driver,” Becky said to him as they walked up the hill toward the main entrance. “I’ve waited long enough.”
He took in a deep breath and let it out. “I like to come here at night sometimes, walk the place like it’s a small, empty city.”
They passed the place called Hunter Island, where the youngest riders competed on lower jumps, judged for style and not speed, the grace of the horses sometimes more important than the skill of the riders.
“I believe they are watching me,” Daniel said now. “Me and all the other undocumenteds who work at this show.”
“Define ‘they,’” Becky said.
” he said.
“They sound like bad guys in a movie,” she said.
“They are much worse,” he said, “and not just putting people in danger here, but at Deeridge, and at Global right across the street.”
Global was the annual dressage festival, an event that Daniel had always classified as horse dancing. Daniel had always preferred show jumping. Nothing was subjective. Clock and course. Get around fast, no rails down. He wished the world were as simple and as clear cut.
“I’m an idiot,” Becky said now, “but I thought Dreamers like you were safe.”
“So did we, once,” Daniel said. “But now it is as if the government keeps making up the laws as it goes along. And even though I have spent most of my life in America, I am still as undocumented as my parents were when they came here. We have to renew our DACA status every couple years, and mine is due. I just have to find the time.”
Becky had told him once that she had studied the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, known as DACA, in her political science class, and knew the bare bones of it, that it was intended to provide protections to people in the United States without immigration status, children brought to the country when they were young by undocumented immigrant parents.
“Gotta admit,” Becky said, “I don’t think I could pass a test on the policy now.”
“I’m not sure the politicians fighting about Dreamers could pass one, either,” Daniel said.
By now they had walked through the archway of the International Arena, past the old-fashioned carousel, and were passing all the tents that sold saddlery and jewelry and clothing and leather goods and even paintings.
“Do you have a lawyer?” Becky said.
“I have spoken to an immigration lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, yes,” he said. “He told me what to do and what to say if the
from ICE ever come looking for me at the barn or the show or even at my house with what they call their administrative warrants. You know ICE, right?”
“I know what they do, just forget what it stands for,” Becky said.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” he said. “All undocumenteds live in constant fear of them. Now more than ever before.”
He felt as if he were giving her a different kind of training now, about a subject that did have him living in constant fear, especially as ICE raids became more and more aggressive, and so often violent. He had spoken to Becky tonight about losing the horse, when he feared losing everything.
“How can I help?” Becky said.
The only sound they could hear now, other than their own voices, was an occasional security golf cart patrolling the barn area.
“You can’t help,” he said. “Too much else has changed with the government and the courts since my parents brought me here. It is why they finally gave up and went back. My father said it would be his choice, not theirs.”
Daniel looked around at the halo of lights shining over the International, the horse show that reminded him of a theme park after hours.
“So what can
do?” Becky said.
“The same thing I have been doing,” he said. “Watch and wait. And pray that the blue vests do not come and try to arrest me one day.”
“Arrest you for what?” Becky said, her voice suddenly angry. “For being a good person?”
“For not being American enough,” he said. “Then they send me back to the other side of the wall.”
“Grandmother has lawyers, too,” Becky said.
“Mine told me that sometimes trying to stop the deportations feels to him like shouting at the ocean,” Daniel said.
“Let me at least ask Grandmother, or Mom, to help,” Becky said.
It came out much sharper than he intended.
“You have to promise me that you will keep this secret for me,” he said. “The fewer people talking about this and knowing about this the better.”
He turned to look at her.
“Promise,” he said.
“I promise,” she said.
They had made their way past some of the outdoor restaurants, over the bridge between the International Arena and its schooling ring, finally down a short stairway through some of the luxury boxes down to the in-gate. The jumps were stacked against the wall. The gazebo where the public address announcer sat was empty. Lit from overhead, the rings stood as quiet, Daniel thought, as a cathedral.
They stood and stared silently at the ring where in a couple of weeks Becky and Coronado would ride, with so much at stake, for all of them.
“I can’t do this without you,” Becky said. “I can’t lose you.”
He turned to her now, the expanse of the arena behind them. Wanting to comfort Becky, Daniel moved into a moment he had often imagined. He put his arms around her, neither one of them moving. Daniel did not know if anyone might be watching them, nor did he care.
Becky smiled and turned her face toward his as if to speak.
he said softly, knowing she knew what the word meant in his language.
And then before he had time to think, Daniel was pulling Becky close to him and she was letting him and then his arms were around her, and they were kissing.
DANIEL HAD NEGLECTED
to yell “Incoming!” before he dropped two bombs tonight, one after the other.
Dinner at La Fogata hadn’t started out as a date. But it had sure ended up as one. Dinner with a friend—or the friend who was your trainer—didn’t end with a kiss.
It ended with two, actually.
We didn’t talk about the first one as we walked to meet my Uber on Pierson Road.
When the car showed up about ten minutes later, Daniel opened the back door for me. But before I got in, I was putting my arms back around him and initiating a good night kiss, one that lasted even longer than the first, neither of us caring that the driver was sitting right there. Certainly not me.
“We’ll get through this,” was all I could think of to say when we finally pulled back from each other.
“Who ever said any of this was going to be easy? For now, let’s hope for good news tomorrow about the horse.” Then he smiled at me and said, “Those were very pleasant kisses, by the way.”
“Pleasant?” I said. “That’s all you got?” I shook my head, then said,
The car dropped me home, and it took me a long time to get to sleep. I was way too jazzed, as I kept reviewing the whole day and night, start to finish, like I had them on a continuous loop: The injury to Coronado. The scene with Steve Gorton. The first bomb Daniel had dropped, the big one, about the possibility of deportation.
Then the kisses, especially the first one, the one that transported me back to teenage me and Joey Wolfe making out for the first time in the back seat of a car.
I would have been lying if I told myself I’d never wondered what it might be like, Daniel holding me and me holding him right back. But the last thing I needed right now was another complication in my life. Or a boyfriend. Especially as bombs kept dropping, not just by Daniel Ortega, all around me.
Morning came and Doc Howser didn’t call. He might be treating another horse, or in surgery. I came downstairs for coffee and found a note from Mom on the kitchen table.
Might as well do some real sweating while we sweat this out. Should be at the Wanderers Club awhile if you want to join me.
When I got to the gym, I saw Mom before she saw me. She was seated at one of the machines, under the watchful eyes of Todd, who was as much her physical therapist as her trainer.
Right after Mom’s fall, I’d done some reading about pelvic injuries, and learned that the recovery time varied from person to person, depending on how long after surgery it took for the fracture to heal enough to safely sustain weight-bearing exercises.
She was doing arm pulls. Even using the lightest possible weight, her face was red with strain and she was sweating through her workout gear.
“We can stop anytime,” I heard Todd saying to her.
“No,” Mom said through clenched teeth.
“This isn’t a competition,” he said.
“To me it is,” she said.
Todd shrugged. “Okay, then,” he said. “Five more.”
how many reps in a set,” she said.
It was when she finished the five that she saw me standing just inside the door.
“Any word?” she said.
I shook my head. “Not yet.”
“You have your phone with you? I left mine in my locker.”
I produced my phone from my back pocket.
“Can you keep it with you while you work out in case he calls?”
“That’s the plan,” I said.
“I keep telling myself that no news doesn’t mean bad news,” she said, as if trying to convince herself. Then she added, “On a more pleasant note, how’d dinner with Daniel go?”
I paused and then said, “Interesting is the word I’d use.”
“Good interesting or bad?”
“Little bit of both,” I said. “Tell you about it later.”
“That sounds mysterious,” she said.
“No shit, Sherlock,” I said.
She tried to stand, rose halfway, sat back down hard. Todd extended a hand to her. She waved it off. Then got to her feet the second time and without her crutches limped toward the next machine. Over her shoulder she said, “Wanna arm wrestle?”
“I’d need to work up my strength,” I said, heading to the exercise bike.
“Ha,” she said.
She and Todd went over to one of the leg-press machines, which she worked with her left leg until she’d done three sets of fifteen reps each. I kept sneaking looks at her, seeing the same fierceness on her face that I always saw in the close-up photographs Grandmother paid to have taken of her up on her horse.
No, I thought. This was another level up from that, a look that bordered on obsession. I couldn’t lose, or lose this horse, because of what losing would do to her, forget about the rest of us.
Every couple of minutes I’d look at Mom and then look at my phone.
Still nothing from Doc Howser.
After doing a couple of miles on the bike I began my usual weight circuit, alternating upper body and legs, three sets at each machine, feeling a little obsessive myself, feeling pissed off at Steve Gorton all over again, angry that even if I did win on Coronado, he won, too.
I was finishing my last set with free weights when I saw Mom, a towel around her neck, taking a rest on one of the benches.
“Still nothing?” she said.
“I’m fixing to call him myself,” I said.
“No,” she said. “When he knows something, he’ll call.”
“How can you be so calm about this?”
“It’s just a cruel deception,” she said. Then she grinned. “I’ve been watching you,” she continued. “You look like you’re in the ring already.”
“Sometimes I wish it were a boxing ring,” I said.
“Fight fight fight,” she said.
I grinned back at her.
“You sound like a cheerleader.”
“About all I can handle these days,” she said.
Just then I saw the double glass doors to the fitness center open, and Dr. Richard Howser walked through them, looking around until he spotted Mom and me.
He walked over to us, his face, as usual, showing nothing. He also never screwed around, even when he was Dr. Doom, about to deliver some particularly shitty news.
Please don’t let it be bad.
Then he smiled.
“The horse is fine,” he said.
Now he was the one I wanted to kiss.