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Authors: Richard North Patterson

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BOOK: Escape the Night
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But to Peter, who did not know these things and could not have understood them, she remained frightening and surreal, her touch as fleeting as the kisses she gave him before she fled to Maine.

Of course she seemed happier there, everyone did; his father, grandfather and even Uncle Phillip. The Careys' summer house near Prouts Neck was gabled and rambling, sitting proud and whitewashed in the sun, overlooking the sea. Its railed porch fronted on a wild, rocky beach; in the evenings the Careys would have drinks there, Peter sipping Coke from a bottle, cool beads of condensation grazing his hand, the day's sunlight still warm on his skin. Before that, before the afternoon sun fell behind the stand of slim, menthol-smelling pines where Peter hid from imagined Indians, his father would take him for long walks on the beach. They skipped stones on the water, rolled up their pants legs to run in its brisk iciness, looked for rocks or sand dollars worn smooth by its waves. On windy days they would fly the red cloth kite Phillip and Charles had made for him, until the soaring patch of red merged in Peter's mind with the feel of sun and wind, the flat, faintly laughing tone of his father's voice. Peter loved the breezes smelling of salt, the steady, lulling beat of the surf, the way it glinted like mica in the dying sun which struck it and spread in sudden splashes of light, the gulls frozen in their downward course like slivers of steel, the feel of his father's hand. To Peter, his father smelled like Maine.

They never talked about the dark-haired woman. Prouts Neck was unhaunted.

“I love our house,” Peter told him.

Seemingly endless, it seemed everyone's house, with rooms for all of them—a cheerful country kitchen and spacious dining room; his grandfather's library with its leather chairs next to Grandmother Carey's white-wicker-furnished sunroom, where his mother now read poetry; five bedrooms with overstuffed brass beds and down quilts and windows cracked open to crisp night air in which he and Dewey would fall deeply, dreamlessly asleep. The house seemed to make his Uncle Phillip more lighthearted; sometimes he and Peter even played together, and one morning Phillip let Peter watch him shave before they all went on a picnic, squinting as he flicked shaving cream from the corner of his mustache. “It's all in the wrist, Prince Charming—someday I'll show you the ropes.” His mother, tanned and girlish-looking, might describe sailing with her father at their place on Lake Champlain, suffused in a childhood where she could imagine her future without having lived it. Even his grandfather seemed less inclined to push himself or others: relaxing over drinks, he spoke little of current business, preferring long, digressive stories of his salesman days. Like Uncle Phillip, his father listened peaceably enough, and if his father's eyes would narrow at some passing mention of Grandmother Carey, or if they both seemed detached from nostalgia and still watchful of each other, there was less sharpness in their words and glances. Peter did not know that part of what the brothers felt was the shadow of surveillance passing: as the days closed behind him in the lulling sameness of surf and sunshine and easy talk, he dared to dream of a complete and loving family, until he wished it with the fierce, full heart of a young boy's imaginings.

The dream vanished in his parents' home.

It echoed with his mother's shattered crystal, its heedless luxury shadowed by the alien, dark-haired presence whose nakedness and seeking mouth had dyed him, heart and memory, with the knowledge of his own guilt.

As if to compensate for this hurt in Peter, Charles Carey taught his son to love Manhattan.

They went to Radio City Music Hall, watching the Rockettes and eating popcorn amidst its baroque and golden vastness. In December, they skated at Rockefeller Center—a picture-book rink dropped wondrously into a cement-and-glass canyon—and then shopped along Fifth Avenue, taking in the holiday wreaths and mandarin-collared policemen whistling down traffic, the brisk purposeful stride of New Yorkers marching toward Christmas. They went to F.A.O. Schwarz and bought a red kangaroo to be Dewey's friend. There were more stuffed animals when they entered Rumpelmayer's—lions, zebras, wolves, cats, dogs, bears, and horses—and the room behind that had colonnades and chandeliers, and clattering tables of people scooping ice cream from glass dishes, and someone famous named Marlon Brando who knew his father and liked Rocky Road. Next door, at the St. Moritz, his father found a special map and, buying two hot, salty pretzels from a man with a metal wagon, showed him how to ride the subways. They came into the station like metallic thunder; Peter was amazed at how long and crowded they were, and how before you knew it you were someplace you'd never been.

Weekends became an adventure. Sometimes, as summer heat bore in, they might leave the city, driving his father's sports car through the rolling lushness of Connecticut to visit Phillip's home in Greenwich, passed down by John Carey as a weekend retreat. “Go faster, Daddy,” Peter would urge, and Charles, grinning, stepped on the gas. Peter enjoyed the freshness, the feeling of escape, but then would grow restless. His favorite place had become Manhattan, and Central Park.

It was green and safe and filled with people. On Sundays, they might plan brunch, the zoo, and a band concert: Charles would have two Bloody Marys at the Plaza while Peter, drinking milk and orange juice, absorbed the plaintive cry of violins, the smell of bacon and citrus and the perfume of women passing, the smooth, fresh-minted look of men with white handkerchiefs in the breast pockets of crisp, gray suits, until, a little before one, his father would say, “Time to feed the seals, Peter,” and they would leave to walk through Grand Army Plaza with its iron statue of Sheridan on horseback and then down into the park along the path leading toward the zoo, the city falling behind them, to see the uniformed man throw fish to the seals. Passing through the wrought-iron gateway, they would reach what Peter thought of as a magic village: a cobblestone square dominated by an old-fashioned clock tower and the shingled roofs of low brick buildings with cages full of gorillas, monkeys, bears and lions, all surrounding a smaller square of gaslights and thick green hedges neatly trimmed and split on each side by steps down to the seal pool, the steps guarded by two fierce stone eagles, their eyes, beaks and talons perfectly defined, the seal pool inside flanked by four blue-painted aviaries shaped like giant bird cages and backed by a long cement snack bar with a red-and-white-striped awning beneath a mural of cows and elephants and buffalos and apes miraculously grazing in a single glade. At 1:15 a uniformed man would appear with a bucket of smelly fish and flip them to the yawping, leaping seals as Peter laughed from atop Charles's shoulders, and then they would buy two hot dogs and examine the zoo for changes before his father asked, “Like to hear some music, Peter?” and they would move on, toward the Band Shell.

Their path rose from the zoo and wound north to a wide cobblestone mall flanked by green benches and trees which swept in two straight rows to a large, open square, where the Band Shell was, a cement half-dome, whitewashed and immaculate, perched close to a hill on the square's eastern edge. Old people, families and nannies pushing babies in English prams strolled along the mall to cluster there on summer afternoons to hear band music or symphonies; Peter liked to listen to the “1812” Overture, which reminded him of his soldiers. After the concert, Charles would take Peter's hand and lead him across the low traverse to Bethesda Fountain, and the lake.

It was another world, one that Peter liked most of all.

A broad flight of steps fell steeply to a brick plaza marked by gaslights and inlaid with a Roman pattern of cement lines and circles. A winged, cast-iron fountain rose from the cement pool at its center, where small boys splashed and played with boats. Behind the plaza a long lake lined with dense green trees and speckled with rowboats and single sculls swept toward a green-roofed boathouse on the far side. Except for the cries of children the plaza was utterly still. Charles would let Peter wade in the fountain. The water was cool on his feet, his father's laugh bright with summer, the sculls moving on the shimmering lake so slowly that they seemed like special moments captured in a photograph. There, the summer of Peter's sixth birthday, came his special moment with Charles Carey.

Charles had just bought a red Jaguar convertible and they drove it to Sutton Square, Peter grinning at the wind in his face. Parking alongside a neat row of town houses, they walked to its end, a brick courtyard with green wooden benches that overlooked the East River. The Queensboro Bridge loomed above and to their left, bright tan in the midmorning sun, running toward Roosevelt Island. An oil tanker swept beneath it, past a long white yacht with its mainsail down, puttering from Florida to Long Island Sound, for the summer. To Peter it looked lonely without its sails. “Will it stay here?” Peter asked.

They were sitting next to each other on the bench, hands in the pockets of their windbreakers. “No,” Charles answered. “It goes where the sun is.”

“Doesn't it want to stay?”

“It can't. Its owner decides.”

Peter watched it move away. “I wish it were mine.”

“Why?”

“Because then it would have a home.”

“What would you do with it?”

“I'd sail to where it was quiet.” Peter felt his father's arm curl around his shoulders. He moved closer, smelling the aftershave and tobacco that would be his father anywhere. “I'd take you with me, Daddy.”

Charles smiled. “Anyone else?”

Peter grew thoughtful. “Sometimes Grandpa.”

“What would we do?”

“I'd let you drive the boat. Grandpa would rest so he doesn't get too old. I could read his books to him.” Peter looked down at his tennis shoes. “Maybe
you
could, until I learn to read.”

Charles glanced curiously at his son. “Do you think he'd like that?” he asked softly.

Peter nodded, still looking down. His father's arm closed around him. It felt warm.

They sat like that for a long time.

When Peter looked up, the yacht was gone. His throat felt tight. “Where did it go, Daddy?”

Charles watched him closely. All at once he sprang up, pulling Peter by the hand. “Come on, little guy.”

Peter's eyes strained after the vanished yacht. “Come on,” his father urged. “I've got something to show you.”

In the window of F.A.O. Schwarz was a rubber pond filled with water and cabin cruisers and floating ducks. In the middle was a trim white yacht, fully two feet long.

Charles stood grinning by the window. “There's your boat, Peter.”

They took it to the park, winding through the crowded zoo and mall and past the Band Shell, until they crossed the traverse and stood above the lake and fountain, bright with noontime sun and the noise of children playing.

Peter felt utterly free. “You can't catch me,” he shouted, “I know where to hide,” and ran down the steps with his boat.

Reaching the bottom, he veered left in an abrupt half-circle away from the fountain, the beat of his tennis shoes slapping in his ear as he ran toward the middle of three arched entrances to the tunnel which cut beneath the traverse, and rushed in.

All at once he was enveloped in blackness.

Peter stopped, disoriented. The tunnel was long and too dark: the row of stone arches along each wall made it seem like a ruined church. Turning, he blinked at the three semicircles behind him. The children's voices seemed to come from some great distance.

A shadow entered the tunnel.

Frightened, Peter felt suddenly cut off from his father, unsure now whose shadow he saw or whose steps were coming closer, confused as to whether Charles were pursuer or thwarted rescuer, deceived by Peter's foolishness. The shadow came nearer. Peter skirted beneath an arch, back pressed desperately to the moist stone, eyes screwed shut. His heart pounded.

Something nudged his shoulder.

Next to him, Charles Carey was leaning against the wall. “Maybe I can hide with you,” he whispered. “My zipper's down.”

Peter ran laughing toward the fountain.

He took off his shoes, rolling up his pants legs as Charles perched on the fountain's edge and readied the sail of the yacht. Stepping in, Peter gripped the slippery bottom with his toes. The water felt pleasantly warm on his calves. A breeze blew in from the lake.

He placed his boat in the water.

It skimmed past the fountain, sails stiff and hull glistening in the sun, cutting ripples that flowed behind it like thin ribbons. Two dark-haired boys picked up their motorboat and watched. His father smiled.

“Get in, Daddy—please. It's sailing fast.”

Smiling wider, Charles Carey kicked off his loafers and stood on the edge, considering.

Peter caught the boat and held it out toward his father …

He slipped, heard Charles call out, felt himself pitching forward and his stomach flip as his head hit cement, and water flooded his shocked, open lungs. Then there was nothing but wet, swirling darkness, squeezing his ribcage …

He could hear Charles Carey's heartbeat, feel his chest and arms. It was still dark. His throat was raw. His shirt felt wet, or maybe his father's shirt—it had his father's smell. His eyes fluttered open.

“I decided to get in the water,” his father told him.

He was cradling Peter beside the fountain, arms supporting his legs and torso. “You all right?”

Peter nodded shakily. “Where's my boat?”

Charles pointed toward the statue. “Out there.”

He grasped Peter by the waist and stood him facing the direction of the boat, steadying his shoulders for balance. Peter tottered out to retrieve the boat under his father's watchful eye. “I'll sail it with you,” Charles called.

He stripped off Peter's shirt, rolled up his own pants, and got in. He said nothing more about the accident.

They sailed the boat for hours.

BOOK: Escape the Night
5.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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