Authors: James Patterson
I DIDN’T CELEBRATE
with Grandmother that night, or with Mom. I celebrated with Mom’s trainer. In our family, it made about as much sense as anything else these days.
“Just to be clear,” I said to Daniel, “I did invite Gus to join us, so this isn’t technically me asking you out on a date.”
“What did he say?”
“He said he didn’t need a third wheel,” I said. I grinned. “Said he had enough wheels in his life on his Zinger.”
We were out on the back deck at the Clubhouse, the restaurant at Palm Beach Polo. Dinner was over. Our waiter brought out my bottle of champagne, which he’d kept on ice for us.
The conversation during our meal had mostly been about my round, the whole weekend, what it meant to be going forward. Daniel had said it was the best he’d ever seen me ride. I told him I could still do better. He smiled and told me I was right.
Now we were back to talking about the scene with Mom and him in the stands, even though Daniel had announced when we sat down that he didn’t want to talk about that on such a happy occasion. I’d told him that just off what I’d heard, they could have sold tickets to it. Being Daniel, he’d tried to deflect, saying again that it wasn’t as heavy as it sounded, or might have looked from a distance.
“I honestly believe that it came down to how badly she felt about the way she rode,” he said, “especially after she had put herself into position to win if you got one rail.”
“She’s always upset when she loses,” I said. “Except when she’s trying
An unreadable expression settled on his face. Not the first time.
“I thought we had made a deal to stop talking about that,” he said.
I smiled. Smiling came easy tonight. Even now. There hadn’t been all that many nights like this for us lately. When it was just the two of us.
“The only thing I really heard was saying something about it being her fault,” I said. “What did she mean by that?”
“She was still upset about her round,” he said.
“Why do I think it’s more than that?”
“Becky,” he said, his voice firm suddenly. “You have to be aware enough to know that anything she feels is making her dream slip away is going to make her angry right now.”
He took a small sip of champagne. At the rate Daniel Ortega drank champagne, he’d finish his glass sometime late Tuesday afternoon.
“You have to know what a chip she has on her shoulder,” he said, “despite the career she’s had. It is something that drives her. As much as she has done, she feels she should have done much more. I have never known someone so talented and filled with regret. Now she has convinced herself that if she doesn’t make the Olympics, she is a complete failure.”
“And on top of everything else, I’ve passed her,” I said. “For now, anyway.”
“Yes,” he said. “That is a part of this.”
“Did she say that to you?”
“Not in so many words. But, yes.”
He shifted his chair slightly so he could face me more fully.
“The two of you should be having this talk,” he said.
“No,” I said.
“Because I’m only focused on one thing right now,” I said. I drank some champagne. “Winning.”
“This should be an adventure for the two of you, this journey,” he said. “Not ultimate fighting.”
“It is what it is,” I said.
We sat in silence and looked out at the setting sun.
“Change of subject?” I said.
“It’s so weird, us not being a team,” I said.
“Agreed,” he said. “But it is best for everyone, even if your mother is not seeing it that way.”
I finished my champagne. His glass was still half-full. I said, “Nice night for a walk?”
We went down the back steps, toward what used to be one of the two golf courses at Palm Beach Polo, now featuring walking trails and spots for bird-watching and bicycle paths and water hazards that had been turned into fishing holes. Daniel reached over and took my hand.
“I still think I could have gotten to exactly where I am with you still training me,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “You’re where you are supposed to be with things as they are.”
We walked in silence for a few minutes, still holding hands, finally got to the top of a hill, saw a wooden bench there and sat down.
“Well,” I said, “the good news is that we can still all make it to Paris together if things break right. Because I am announcing right now that even if I’m the one who makes it and Mom doesn’t, you are still coming.”
He leaned over then and kissed me lightly on the lips.
“I never thought I’d make it to Paris,” he said.
GORTON HAD A LUNCH
appointment in Wellington about buying the golf property at Palm Beach Polo, which used to have two golf courses but now only had one. A potential gold mine, if he could turn it into one of those high-end clubs. He didn’t like golf, particularly. Too much of your day wasted if you played a full round.
He’d always heard about how much business got done on a golf course. Gorton had never seen the upside to spending four or five hours with people who’d worn your ass out after one.
At least you didn’t have to waste the whole goddamn day at horse shows. Where he was right now.
“Coronado isn’t jumping today,” Caroline Atwood said to him. “Are you lost?”
They were standing outside the old lady’s barn, at the far end of the property from the arena and the side rings and the shopping and the tent.
“We still need to have a chat about Coronado,” he said.
“What about him?” she said.
Her riding pants were pretty tight for someone her age. She had an Atwood Farm ball cap pulled down over her eyes and a long-sleeved shirt despite the heat. Gorton had to admit, she still had a pretty decent figure. Probably was something to look at about a hundred years ago. He wondered if she used to give people as much shit when she was young. Men, especially.
“Not the horse so much as the rider,” he said.
“Oh, for chrissakes,” she said. “Are we back to that?”
He sipped some iced coffee. Starting to think about his first Bloody. Hell, it was already past noon.
“I’m thinking about making a change,” he said. “And if I’m going to do it, sooner is better than later. It’s late enough already.”
“What, you just show up here and put that back on the table?” she said to him. “We dealt with this months ago. And besides, there’s no issue with Maggie.”
“She just got passed by her own kid,” Gorton said, “and even I know the kid doesn’t have nearly the horse that we do.”
There were other people inside the barn. A groom. A girl rider. The old woman walked across the path to a fence and leaned against it. He followed her.
“Even if I would ever consider a switch, which I’m not,” she said, “it’s already too late.”
She took off her hat and wiped the back of her hand across her forehead. Gorton took a close look at her face, tanned to the color of a saddle.
“Coronado is Maggie’s horse, win or lose,” she said. “You don’t have to believe me. Maybe you don’t want to believe me. But she’s going to make this team.”
“Or,” Gorton said, “she could keep going one way while your granddaughter is going the other.” He grinned at her. “I mean, how crazy is this shit? The granddaughter is the one I wanted to pull off the horse. Go figure.”
She started to answer. Gorton held up a hand to stop her.
“Not finished,” he said.
“But I am,” she said. “I’ve got another horse going into the ring in about forty-five minutes.”
Gorton looked over his shoulder. One of his go-to moves. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Did you confuse me with somebody who gives a rat’s ass about that?”
Then he said, “She slips one more spot, she’s gone. I’m through screwing around here.”
“You have no legal right to do that,” Caroline Atwood said.
“Watch me,” he said.
Gorton laughed then.
“When are you going to get it into your head that this isn’t about her, and it isn’t about you,” he said. “It’s about me.”
“For the last time,” she said. “We have a contract.”
“And for the last time,” he said, “I will do whatever I need to do to get this horse to the Olympics, including folding that goddamn contract into a paper airplane.”
“My daughter will never give up that horse,” Caroline said.
“Won’t be up to her,” Gorton said. “So we can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
“There’s an easy way?”
“Yeah,” he said. “She quits now and saves all of us a lot of aggravation and I give the horse to Tyler Cullen.”
The old lady told him what he could do with that idea, and where he could put it, and that it would happen over her dead body.
“Not the first to tell me that,” he said. “Sure you won’t be the last.”
He turned and left her there, looking like a fighter hanging on the ropes. It was always the same, no matter what the business. They all thought they knew Gorton, how far he’d go to actually get what he wanted. They had no idea. He heard her curse him one more time. He just laughed even louder than before, waved without turning around, and kept walking. He had somebody else to screw with now on the other side of town.
MAGGIE KNEW WHY
she’d wanted Daniel back as her trainer, why it worked, having him back, until it didn’t. But she had never understood, not really, why he had agreed to leave Becky. He didn’t just love training Becky. He loved her, whether he admitted that to himself or not. And she loved him.
The other day when Gus was leaving Atwood Farm, she’d asked him whose idea it had been, really, to swap trainers.
“Mutual,” he said. “Best for everyone to keep feelings out of it.”
“Whose feelings?” she said.
“Like I just said,” he told her. “Everyone’s.”
worked, until it had stopped working.
It wasn’t Daniel’s fault.
she told herself,
this one I have to own
. Daniel had been right today, of course. She
ridden that badly. Just not well enough. Before she had got hurt just before the New Year she’d had six whole months to raise her level, with all the open ring in front of her. That time was gone. And was in the process of blowing an even better shot at the Olympics she’d had all those years ago on Lord Stanley. When she was a lot younger than she was now.
was what had her scared now, not the fear she’d been feeling before on Coronado. It was why she was angry so much of the time. Only when she was alone on Coronado, not even Daniel around, did she really feel any peace. Not jumping the horse. Just hacking. Making one leisurely trip after another around the ring at Gus’s barn, usually when he was over at Atwood Farm working with Becky.
What if she did make it and I didn’t?
What if everything had changed when I didn’t make one inside turn because I thought Becky needed the win more than I did that day?
What if that had been a wrong turn in about a hundred different ways?
She cursed loudly as she slammed her hands down on the steering wheel, again and again, before getting out of the Range Rover and walking into the Trophy Room.
It was still early, so just a few people at the bar, and at a handful of the tables in the front room, one populated with riders she recognized from the show. Maggie gave a quick wave, not stopping to say hello, just grabbed a seat at the bar, the two next to it empty. She never went to bars alone. Or hadn’t in a very long time. She was making an exception tonight. Becky was out to dinner with Daniel. Caroline had driven down to Coral Gables to spend the night with her oldest friend from high school.
Maggie had made a decision that left her feeling a sudden need to get out of the house. She’d officially entered herself and Coronado in a three-star event next weekend at Deeridge. The reason was simple: she needed points.
More than that, she needed to remember how to win before she lost everything.
The bartender was a big young guy in a crew cut, weight-room muscles straining against his tight T-shirt, arms sleeved with tattoos. When he came over, she ordered a pinot grigio, after briefly considering something a lot stronger.
The bartender set the glass down on the coaster in front of her. Maggie took a sip then heard, “This seat taken?”
HE SAT DOWN BEFORE
she could say she was waiting for someone. Or make up some other lie. Cullen was already ordering a dirty vodka martini, some brand she’d never heard of, and four olives, and further instructions about exactly how little vermouth he wanted, as if he were telling the kid how to build a rocket ship.
The guy’s a jerk even ordering a drink.
“I don’t mean to offend you, Tyler,” she said. “But I just wanted to have one quiet drink here. Alone.”
“No offense taken,” he said.
But he didn’t leave or change seats after the bartender brought him his martini. Maggie wished she could ping her own phone with a false emergency.
Tyler took a loud swallow, and sighed, almost blissfully.
“You know,” he said to her, “I can remember a time when the two of us used to get along.”
“Good one,” he said.
“So how you doing, really?” he said, with his usual self-awareness of a fence post.
“Can’t believe you’re out of the top four,” he said. “I figured you’d have locked up your spot on the team already.”
She turned to him.
“I don’t want to talk about riding right now,” she said. “Mine, yours, anybody’s. I just want to finish my drink and head home.”
“Ask you something before you do?”
She sighed. “Sure,” she said. “Why not?”
“You ever worry that the parade might be passing you by?” he said. “When you’re young and in a slump like yours, you’re just in a slump. When you’re old and in a slump, you’re old.”
“Thanks so much for that,” she said.
“It’s no crime to lose it,” he said. “Have the parade pass you by.”
Did he just say that?
“Never happen to you, I’m guessing,” Maggie said.
Cullen snorted out a laugh.
“Hell, no,” he said. “You might not like me. But you know how I can ride. I’m the guy who stays up there even without the million-dollar horses. You know that’s what they say about me.”
“And what are they saying about me?” she said. “I have a feeling you’re dying to tell me.”
“Can I be honest?”
“No,” Maggie said. “Lie to me, Tyler.”
Why am I still here?
“They’re saying that you’re not up to this anymore,” he said.
“Is that so.”
“You asked,” he said. “It happens to everybody eventually. And it might happen to me someday.” He plucked an olive out of his martini and ate it. “When I’m the one getting up there.”
She had a sudden urge to slap him.
Then his phone pinged. He showed impressive speed getting it out of his pocket.
“Gotta run,” he said. To the bartender he said, “Her drink’s on me,” before throwing down what Maggie saw was a fifty.
As he began to walk away, Maggie grabbed him by the arm, more roughly than she’d planned. It seemed to startle him.
“You’re not getting my ride,” she said.
Maybe it was the way she said it. Or what he saw in her face. Or both. But he shook his head, shook loose his arm, and kept going, never looking back.
She had come here to be alone. Mission accomplished, she thought, as she looked out the front window and saw Tyler get into his Mercedes convertible and pull out of the lot. Because she felt as alone as she ever had.
The bartender came over and said, “I couldn’t help but hear some of your conversation with that guy. He was talking
“Only because he is one,” Maggie said.
When she was back in the Range Rover, she pounded the wheel again, harder than before, as if trying to drive it through the dashboard.
In that moment, she knew where she was going. Where she needed to be. Drove over there fast. Pulled into the driveway, up the walk, rang the doorbell.
When Gus Bennett opened the door she looked down at him and said, “I don’t want to go home tonight.”