Authors: James Patterson
I’D NEVER RIDDEN
any horse in competition and ended up on the ground. Had come close a few times, once hanging on for dear life in Kentucky. But I’d never found myself in the dirt when I was going for a ribbon until now. Definitely not here.
At least Coronado didn’t bolt. Horses often did when a rider came off them, started galloping around the ring at full speed. Daniel and Emilio had gotten him under control the day he came back from the trail ride without Mom. Sometimes in a ring as big as this one it would take a half dozen or more people.
Coronado just stayed where he was between the two jumps, as if waiting for me to tell him what to do and where to go.
Three more jumps.
I got to my feet, did a quick physical inventory, realized I wasn’t hurt. Apart from my pride.
Emilio was now taking control of Coronado, walking him around the second jump and slowly back to the in-gate. Daniel was still there. I’d waved him off, signaling him that I’d take what I’d always considered a rider’s walk of shame alone.
“It was all my fault,” I said when I got to him.
“At least nobody was hurt,” he said.
“He’s all right?” I said.
“He seems to be fine,” Daniel said.
“Makes one of us,” I said.
We exited the in-gate so that the next horse could enter, then headed for the schooling ring. I could feel the eyes of the spectators up there in the expensive seats, looking down on me.
Looking down on me in every way.
I just needed to get around clean, whatever my time was, whether I ribboned or not. Show everybody I belonged. Then we were into it, Coronado and me, feeling it, and the speed round was nearly over, and I thought we really
But the only thing I could absolutely not do, one hundred percent could not do, was have my horse leave the ring without me on it.
I looked down at my jacket and breeches and saw they were covered in the dirt I hadn’t stopped to clean off in my push to get out of the ring. Screw it, I thought. I’ll clean up later. How long since Daniel and I had walked the course? Ninety minutes? Two hours?
Now this kind of walk.
“You want to talk about it?”
“There’s nothing to talk
” I said. “I know exactly what happened and why it happened and what I did.”
“It was a mistake,” he said. “A mis
Not the end of the world.”
Before I could answer I heard Steve Gorton shouting. He was standing with Mom and Grandmother outside the schooling ring, his voice loud enough that riders had stopped their horses to watch.
Daniel and I stopped, too. When Grandmother tried to speak, Gorton started shaking his head like a horse shooing away flies.
For once, I thought, Grandmother didn’t have the loudest voice in the room.
“I’m not here to listen to you. You’re here to listen to me.”
I started to move in their direction then, but Daniel gently put a hand on my arm.
“No,” he said.
“Why not? They weren’t riding the horse. I was.”
“Trust me,” Daniel said. “In this moment you cannot help them. Or yourself.”
Then everybody near the schooling ring and maybe all over the grounds heard Gorton say,
“I want her gone now.”
Mom tried to argue, but he waved her off.
“What I’d really like to do?”
“Fire her right now and then call her in a hour and fire her again.”
He turned to walk away from them and saw Daniel and me standing in the ring. Gorton, big as he was, managed to squeeze himself through the fence, only to risk getting kicked by the horses around him.
His chest was heaving, his face clenched as tight as a fist and the color of a stop sign.
“Did you hear what I just told them?” he said.
“Everybody heard,” I said quietly.
“You know who could have ridden that horse better than you did today?” he said, spitting out the words.
Then he turned to Daniel.
“Remind me again why this girl was the one to ride this horse now that her mother can’t?” he said.
Before Daniel could answer, Gorton walked past us unscathed by the horses. We both turned and watched him go.
“He is a bad man,” Daniel said.
“Yeah,” I said, “he is. But when he’s right, he’s right.”
RIGHT AFTER STEVE GORTON
walked out of the schooling ring, Becky disappeared for a few hours. She didn’t answer any of Maggie’s calls or texts. She’d finally taken a call from Daniel, who told her that Caroline was convening a family meeting at the house, at eight.
Becky came through the front door on time, still in her dirty riding clothes.
“Are you okay?” Maggie said to Becky.
Becky said in that contrary way she’d had since she was a little girl.
“Honey,” Maggie said. “You’ve lost before.”
“Not like that, I haven’t,” Becky said.
“We all lose more in this sport than we win,” Maggie said. “Matthew Killeen. Tyler Cullen. Rich Grayson. Georgina Bloomberg. Tess McGill.
“Mom,” Becky said, “I love you to death. But the last thing I need right now is a pep talk.”
“It’s the truth,” Maggie said.
“My whole life you’ve talked about people’s truths,” Becky said. “Trust me, tonight yours isn’t close to being mine.”
Little did she know.
They heard Caroline coming down the steps then. She had changed out of the riding clothes she always wore to the show, as if still a competitor herself.
“Well, well,” she said. “The gang’s all here.”
In jeans and sneakers, she crossed the room, rolling up the sleeves on her Atwood Farm sweatshirt before sitting down in her rocking chair. Daniel was standing near the front window. Becky stood next to him. Maggie had taken the couch. She’d been on her feet enough today. Her bad knee felt as if someone had stuck a needle in it.
She was all talked out by now. Or shouted out. This was her mother’s show.
“Before you say anything,” Becky said to her grandmother, “if this is about the way I rode, I
. I thought I could get him to make up the distance. All of us saw what happened after that.”
“Everybody makes mistakes, kid,” Caroline Atwood said.
Didn’t see that one coming,
“I couldn’t afford to make one like that today,” Becky said.
“Like we say all the time around here,” Caroline said, “shit happens. And today, all of us stepped in it.”
Maggie watched as her mother rose painfully to her feet. Like mother, like daughter.
“Not the kind of night I was hoping for,” she said.
“None of us were,” Maggie said.
“It is like I told Becky,” Daniel said. “It was a mistake, not the end of the world.”
“Thank you,” Becky said. “I mean that. But nobody’s talking me down tonight.” She grimaced. “Or back up. All I can say is I’m sorry.”
“I didn’t ask you here to get an apology out of you,” Caroline said. “I’ve told you since you were a little girl. Sorry doesn’t fix the lamp.”
“Can I say what I’ve been thinking about since I walked out of the ring, Grandmother?” Becky said. “If you and Mr. Gorton want to find another rider, I’m totally down with that. I did this to myself.”
“No,” Caroline said.
Maggie was watching her daughter now, seeing the surprise on her face. Or maybe relief.
Knowing it wasn’t going to last long. All afternoon Maggie had been arguing Caroline’s decision, but her mother insisted it was final.
“No,” Becky said, “meaning…”
meaning I’ve decided to cash out,” Caroline Atwood said.
“Cash out?” Becky said, as if she hadn’t heard correctly.
“Sell our share of the horse.”
AFTER ALL THE
bombs I’d had dropped on me lately, this was the big one.
“You’re joking,” I said to Grandmother.
“Do I sound as if I’m joking?”
I gave Daniel a quick sideways look. If he’d known this was coming, he was a better actor than DiCaprio. Then I looked over at Mom, frozen in place on the couch.
Her reaction was no reaction at all.
“Gorton and I had a long talk on the phone after he got back to Palm Beach,” Grandmother said now. “He admitted that he’d given us a month, but after what he saw today, if Becky rode Coronado in the Grand Prix, any possible outcome was bad. We’d lose time that we really don’t have. Or the horse could get hurt, at which point he’d be worth a bucket of spit. And if
happened, I might as well have burned the money we put up for him.”
“And you agreed with him,” I said.
My dear grandmother sighed.
“I told him I couldn’t
agree,” she said. “I’m the one who’s sorry, I guess.”
“You don’t have to apologize, either,” I said.
“Like you say,” she said. “It is what it is.”
“But it doesn’t have to be!” I said. “It was a crap ride. But it was one crap ride. I thought I had a month, not one damn day.”
“I haven’t told you all of it,” she said.
“We’re all listening,” I said.
“He offered a million dollars, right now, to buy me out,” she said. “Buy us out and give him what he wants, which is full control of the horse.”
I heard a sharp intake of breath from Daniel.
“I’m going to accept,” she said.
I looked over at Mom now.
“Jump in anytime,” I said.
“There’s more to this,” Maggie said. “Mom showed me the books today. She’s afraid that we’re going to lose the barn. She gambled when we bought Coronado that once I started winning on him, that would attract new riders and new families to the barn. But it hasn’t happened. And now I
Grandmother said, “Listen, I know that the value of the horse could go sky high if he does make it to the Olympics, whether we end up with a gold medal or not. But I did gamble everything once. I can’t afford to do it again. None of us can. Not with an offer like this in hand.”
Daniel took a step forward.
“We only had a week to get ready,” he said. “You know this world as well as anyone,
A week is not enough time to make a serious decision.”
He paused and said, “I promise things will be different in the Grand Prix.”
“You can’t make a promise like that,” Grandmother said. “And neither can my granddaughter.”
“Things will be better,” Daniel said.
worse,” she said.
“I know you have a deal with that slug,” I said. “But forget about that.
had a deal, Grandmother. You and me.”
“Deals get broken all the time in this business,” she said. “The days when my late husband operated on a handshake are long gone.”
” I said. “You’ll be giving him exactly what he wants, before we get anywhere near the Grand Prix. We lose. He wins.”
“And gives us a parting gift of a million dollars,” she said. She steepled her hands together, almost like she was praying.
“I met with Andy yesterday,” she said.
“And Andy told me that we’ll be lucky to make it to the end of the year if we continue trying to live on the margins,” she said.
“What’s the word you always use to describe Steve Gorton?” I said. “Transactional? You sound as transactional as he does.”
“Becky, that’s not fair,” Mom said.
“Yes,” Grandmother said, “it is.”
“We’re just asking for a little more time,” Daniel said.
“He told me to take the offer or leave it,” Grandmother said. “If there’s another disaster at the Grand Prix, we’re out a million, and he takes complete control of the horse. It will be as if we lost Coronado twice.”
It wasn’t a fair fight, from either side. Grandmother looked beaten down already.
So I turned to Mom.
“How much is first place in the Grand Prix worth?” I said.
“Honey, you know I love
to death,” Mom said. “But you can’t think we’re going from what happened today to first place.”
“I can tell you,” Grandmother said. “It’s a five-star event. First prize is two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Our cut would be more than a hundred.”
“Let’s say I do shock everybody and win on a horse we all know is good enough to win,” I said. “Wouldn’t our finances get better in the short run?”
“You’re being silly,” Grandmother said.
“Just asking,” I said to her.
“In that scenario,” she said, “yes, an infusion of cash like that would feel as if we’d won the lottery.”
I was just pulling stuff out of my butt now.
“And in that moment, at least hypothetically, the value of the horse would be as high as ever, correct?” I said.
“Hypothetically, yes,” Mom said.
“Without the one mistake,” Daniel said in a voice even quieter than normal, “they would have won today.”
“If the queen had balls, she’d be king,” Grandmother said. “And I can’t bet a million dollars on what almost happened today. Like an old friend of mine used to say, what could’ve happened
She sighed again.
“The answer is still no,” she said.
“There must be something I can say to change your mind,” I said.
“Not when it’s made up,” she said. “You should know that as well as anyone.”
ATWOOD FARM WASN’T
close to business as usual when Mom went to the gym in the morning.
The only glimmer of good news was that she was getting better. Starting to get her appetite back, if not regaining much weight. She’d already tossed the knee brace and only a slight limp remained as an indicator of what had happened to her, how badly she’d been injured.
Grandmother had a nine o’clock appointment with Andy, the accountant. Before she left, I’d said to her one last time, “Are you sure?”
“I’d better be,” she said.
By nine thirty Steve Gorton was due to arrive at the house to close his deal with Grandmother. She’d decided he could talk to me instead.
“You can handle him,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said, “the way I would a python.”
I’d never really been alone with Steve Gorton, but riding Coronado had made him more mine than anybody else’s, so I should be the one giving Gorton the official word.
As I sat at the kitchen table with a fresh cup of coffee, I wondered if he’d be on time for once. Hoping he would be, so I could quickly get this over with, go down the hill, and ride my horse.
When I heard his car in the driveway, I checked my phone. Nine forty-five. Not bad for him. Gorton’s version of Becky Standard Time.
I walked into the living room and parted the drapes enough to see that today he was in the red Porsche, looking shiny and showroom-new, the sun reflecting off the windshield, like the car was giving off a beam of light.
He walked toward the house nodding his head at a caller on the phone he carried in one hand, a legal-size envelope in the other. A descriptive line about a mouse who’d grown up to be a rat surfaced from one of my writing classes.
Get it over with.
When I answered the front door he said, “Where’s your grandmother?”
“Not here,” I said.
“Where is she?”
“She had an appointment,” I said.
“What the hell?” he said. “Her appointment was with me.”
“Would you care to come inside?”
“I have to be somewhere.”
“Same,” I said. “But my family has decided that whatever you needed to say, you can say to me.”
I showed him into the front room, asked if he wanted coffee, at least making a pass at sounding polite.
“No coffee. No screwing around,” he said. “You know why I’m here.”
“I do,” I said, taking the rocking chair.
He sat down on the couch, tossed the envelope on the coffee table, pointed at it.
“I’ll leave this agreement for her,” he said. “I’ve already signed it. As soon as she countersigns, I’ll transfer the money into her account.” He made a snorting noise. “I can’t believe I wasted a trip.”
“Sorry,” I said, as if feeling him.
“Time is money,” I said.
“Is that supposed to be some kind of smart remark?”
“Not if you have to ask,” I said.
“I know I’m supposed to be the bad guy here,” he said.
“Actually, in this case, you’re not.”
“But none of this is my fault,” Gorton said. “You had your chance and you blew it. We need to stop jacking around with the notion that you should be riding this horse. Or ever should have been riding this horse.”
“You made that pretty clear yesterday,” I said.
“The guy who tells people what they want to hear?” he said. “I’m not that guy.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“I’ll send somebody to pick up the signed papers,” he said.
“You can actually take them with you,” I said.
“She needs to sign them first,” he said.
“Well, see, here’s the thing,” I said. “She’s not signing. And we’re not selling.”
“We had a goddamn deal,” he said.
“And now we don’t.”
“That’s it?” he said. “Care to explain?”
“You wouldn’t get it.”
I got out of the rocking chair and walked across the living room and opened the front door for him. He walked past me, close enough for me to smell his cologne, turned when he got to the driveway.
“You’re telling me that she’s walking away from a million dollars now, even though you all know I get control of the horse in a couple of weeks?” Gorton said.
“You really don’t care to tell me why?”
“She changed her mind,” I said.
“If it’s any consolation to you, Mr. Gorton?”
“What?” he snapped.
“Shocked the hell out of me, too.”