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Authors: James Patterson

The Horsewoman (28 page)

BOOK: The Horsewoman
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BECKY AND MAGGIE
had to stay around to take pictures with some of the Mercedes people, with the other riders, with each other for the
Palm Beach Post,
to go with the story the newspaper was running about them on Sunday.

Before Daniel left, Becky said to him, “What happened between you and Gorton the other day?”

“Nothing,” he said.

“Something,” she said.

“We can talk about it later,” Daniel said, before saying good-bye to the others, telling Maggie he would see her in the morning.

Then he was walking toward the door.

“Don’t let that guy get to you,” Gus said to him. “He freely admits that he screws with people because he can.”

“Thank the Good Lord that he only has a piece of one of our horses,” Caroline said.

“Still the biggest piece, Mother,” Maggie said.

“Don’t remind me,” she said.

Daniel was finally outside then, happy to be breathing fresh air. Happy to be out of that tent. But he had once again kept himself and his temper under control. Now he just wanted to get home. As usual for sponsor events, there were golf carts lined up to drive the patrons back down the hill to the VIP parking lot. But it was still early, so Daniel was the only one leaving right now. He was happy this part of his night was over and that he could be alone. He breathed deeply, looked up at the stars, and started walking toward the parking lot. He looked over his shoulder and saw the lights from the back of the tent, and heard the voices from inside, as the party continued without him.

He saw Gorton coming right at him.

“You don’t walk away from me like that, especially not with people watching,” Steve Gorton said.

Even in a tent full of people,
Daniel thought,
Gorton had probably imagined that everyone was looking and that all of the cameras were trained on him.

“I thought we were finished after I wished you luck on Sunday,” Daniel said.

“We’re done talking when I say we’re done talking,” Gorton said. “That’s the way it works for guys like me and guys like you.”

Guys like you.

Gorton smiled. It was, to Daniel, a particularly ugly sight. As if he had put on a clown mask.

“I was not comfortable with you talking about Becky that way in front of her,” Daniel said.

“Get over it,” Gorton said. “I was paying you a compliment. Don’t think I haven’t thought about what she might be like in the sack.”

Breathe in, breathe out.

“You need to stop talking about Becky now,” he said.

Gorton still had the ugly smile on his face. He hadn’t moved any closer to Daniel. Still, Daniel felt the distinct sensation that Gorton was crowding him.

For now, it was just the two of them out here.

“What, you gonna marry her?” Gorton said. “Do one of those green card things? Way to go, dude. Win-win.”

“Shut up,” Daniel said.

Gorton’s smile disappeared.

“Excuse me?”

“I told you to stop talking about Becky,” Daniel said.

“I don’t think so,” Gorton said.

Daniel hadn’t gotten into a fistfight since he was a boy. Once they got here from Mexico his father had told him that he must walk away, no matter how much he was provoked, no matter how much the other man wanted to fight.

Walk away.

He turned to leave and Gorton spun him around.

“No shit,” he said. “If I was the one hitting that I’d be telling everybody.”

“I won’t tell you to shut up again,” Daniel said.

“Or what,
chico
?” Gorton said. “You gonna defend your girlfriend’s honor by kicking my ass? Well, here I am, you dumb bastard.”

He was like the drunkest man in the bar, Daniel thought. Only he wasn’t drunk. Just being himself. Mean as a rattlesnake. Just much louder.

“Please lower your voice,” Daniel said.

Gorton, taller and heavier than Daniel, shoved him then.

The move surprised Daniel, staggered him back a couple of steps. He nearly went down.

Suddenly Gorton was completely out of control, throwing a wild punch, one Daniel could see coming from a mile away, giving him plenty of time to snap his head back and out of the way. Gorton hadn’t come close to connecting.

Suficiente.

Thinking in Spanish in that moment.

Enough, he told himself.

Enough.

When Gorton stepped in to throw a second punch, Daniel stepped slightly to the side and set himself and threw a punch of his own, hitting him in the middle of his face with a straight right hand, heard the crack of Gorton’s nose and felt it at the same time as Gorton went down.

Daniel watched now as Gorton got himself to a sitting position, put his hand to his face, pulled it away, stared at the blood on his hand, then looked down and saw the splash of blood on his white dress shirt.

“You broke my nose!” he screamed.

His voice had risen a couple of octaves.

“Yes,” Daniel said. “I did.”

Gorton sat there, seeming to be in no hurry to stand up. Or come at Daniel again.

“Do you realize who you just hit?”
Gorton screamed, at an even higher pitch than before, even more volume, the blood still streaming from his nose, down across his chin and back onto the shirt.

Daniel leaned forward and looked Gorton in the face. Gorton recoiled, as if Daniel were about to hit him again.

“Yes,” he said. “I realize exactly who I just hit.”

He turned and walked away.

Daniel was nearly to the parking lot when Becky, out of breath, caught up with him.

“What happened back there?” she said.

“I finally had enough,” Daniel said.

DANIEL WAS ARRESTED
after Gorton called the police, charged with assault, taken to the county jail in West Palm Beach. There was no way for him to get a court appearance until Monday morning. It meant he would spend the weekend in jail.

If Daniel were an American citizen we could have gotten him released on his own recognizance over a bullshit charge like this, for a fight he didn’t start. But he wasn’t a citizen.

Early the next afternoon, Grandmother and Mom and Gus and I gathered in our living room to figure out our next move. Grandmother’s lawyer, Paul Gellis, had gone to see Daniel, first thing in the morning, but said he really couldn’t do anything until Daniel’s arraignment. He also relayed a message from Daniel that he didn’t want any of us to visit him at the jail.

Grandmother had put me on the phone with Mr. Gellis. I asked how much trouble Daniel might be in with the government now that he’d been arrested.

“He’s DACA,” Paul Gellis said. “So unless he’s got priors he’s not telling me about, this shouldn’t affect his status. He should be fine.”

“This whole thing is totally bogus,” I said.

“Steve Gorton doesn’t think so,” Gellis said. “And not gonna lie: his lawyers are bigger than your lawyer.”

We had already decided that Gus would train both Mom and me tomorrow at the Mercedes. None of us much wanted to talk about riding right now. But they weren’t going to cancel the event just because Mom’s trainer was locked up.

When I’d gotten home, I’d called the office of Mr. Connors, Daniel’s immigration lawyer, gotten his out-of-office. I left one message, then another, told him it was about Daniel Ortega, and it was important. Hadn’t heard back yet. But it was a Saturday.

“I’m starting to get that you should never break a rich guy’s nose on a weekend,” I said.

“Never break a rich guy’s nose
ever,
” Gus said. “Even though this guy has been begging for a good smack since you all went into business with him.”

“Or his whole life,” Mom said. She closed her eyes, shook her head. “Of all the owners in all the world…”

“Forget about the government,” Gus said. “Just wait. It’s Gorton who’s gonna try to make a federal case of this now that the picture of him holding that bloody handkerchief to his nose has gone viral.”

People had heard him screaming out curses and had come running down from the tent, snapping away with their cell phones when they saw Gorton’s face and shirt full of blood.

“Is he too thick to understand that by pressing charges and taking Daniel away from Maggie he’s only hurting himself in the end?” Grandmother said.

“Sure he does,” Gus said. “He just doesn’t care. He’s not gonna let somebody pop him and get away with it.”

“He’s the one always talking about doing anything to win,” Mom said.

“The only thing he cares about more is not looking bad,” Gus said. “Or getting laughed at.”

Gus looked at Mom.

“You ready to do a little work in the ring?” he said.

“No,” she said. Forced a smile. “But I will.”

“I’ll come back here after and watch you,” Gus said to me. “This situation sucks. But you both gotta find a way to turn the page tomorrow.”

He looked at Mom, then me, then back at Mom.

“The only thing you can do for Daniel right now, both of you, is ride your damn horses,” Gus said.

“Don’t say it’s what Daniel would want us to do,” I said.

“Wasn’t going to,” he said.

I felt my phone buzzing then. Pulled it out of my back pocket and felt myself smiling for the first time since Daniel had put Steve Gorton on the ground.

Heard the car pulling into the driveway then. Heard the knock on the front door. Said I’d get it.

I opened the door and my dad walked in.

“Heard somebody might need a lawyer,” he said.

AFTER I’D LEFT
the message for Mr. Connors, I’d called Dad, trying to explain everything that had happened, and what I was afraid might happen to Daniel. My words were flowing like a faucet I couldn’t turn off.

Dad had let me babble for about a minute.

“Tell me the rest when I get there,” he’d said.

“You’re coming?” I’d said.

“In the afternoon,” he’d said. “Just to even up the sides.”

Now he hugged Mom and did the same with Grandmother before she could pull back.

He walked across the room then and shook Gus’s hand.

“Heard a lot about you,” he said. Grinning, he continued, “Unfortunately, you’ve probably heard a lot more about me.”

Mom smiled.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Jack,” she said.

I made him a cup of coffee and then took him, step by step, through every detail.

When I finished, Dad said, “Let me guess: Nobody outside the tent saw anything.”

“It was down the hill and around the corner from where the golf carts are parked,” I said. “Daniel said that he didn’t see anybody else around.”

“So for now it’s his word against that asshat Gorton’s,” Dad said.

“Daniel’s not going to get deported because of this, is he?” I asked.

“Oh, hell, no,” he said. “The assault charge is bullshit. If it had been Gorton who popped Daniel and not the other way around the closest he would have come to jail is if he’d taken a wrong turn on the way back to Palm Beach.”

He got up now.

“Nice to see all of you,” he said.

Grinned at Gus.

“You’re even braver than I heard,” Dad said.

Mom made a sound that was half-sigh, half-groan.

I walked Dad to the door. He gave me another hug, and whispered “I got this” in my ear.

“Gorton’s a bad guy,” I said.

“Kind of my thing,” he said.

I walked him to the car, then hugged him again, just because it made me feel better about things every time I did. He said he was dropping his bag at the Hampton Inn and then heading over to the jail. Then I watched him gun the rental car out of the driveway, spraying rocks everywhere, mostly for Grandmother’s benefit, I was certain.

He called me two hours later, after I’d ridden Sky.

“There’s a problem,” he said.

MOM AND I WERE WALKING
the course early Sunday afternoon, Gus alongside us. As we counted our distances, he was talking to us, nonstop. Just not about distances.

“I’m gonna say this for the last time,” he said.

“I wish,” I said.

“Very funny,” he said. “But this isn’t about Daniel today. It’s about the two of you. You help yourselves today. Not him. There. Now I’m done.”

“It’s not going to be easy,” Mom said.

“Well, you need to figure it out fast,” Gus said. “If you don’t, you’re both going to get knocked out of this ring with all those points sitting there for the taking. And an awful lot of money.”

We finished the walk. Seamus and Emilio still hadn’t brought our horses up from their stalls. Mom was going twelfth in the order. I was going twenty spots later. Still plenty of time for both of us to start getting our minds as right as Gus wanted them to be.

Mom and Gus and I stopped to take one last look at the Grand Prix show grounds, starting to fill up with spectators, and also fill up with the electricity that always crackled inside and outside the ring this close to a big event. I looked up at the flags flying, heard the music from the live band, even saw Grandmother waving at me from the grassy area between the ring fence and the tent. This was supposed to be a great day for all of us.

But Daniel wasn’t here.

Somehow in that moment it was as if Gus were reading my mind.

“Focus,” he said. “Good’s not good enough today, for either one of you. You both need to be great. And you can’t do that worrying about what’s going down with Daniel tomorrow.”

I knew he was only talking to me in that moment.

Then he went over the course one more time, for both of us. Distances and combinations and opportunities to slash some time and rollbacks and how the water jump, where it was positioned, might be the greatest challenge of all. We could make mistakes, but not there. A bad landing, he said, and good-bye.

“Fourteen jumps,” he said. “Go clean. Get to the jump-off. Go clean there and go fast. Both of you get pretty ribbons. Go home.”

Now I grinned at him.

“You’re going too fast for
me,
” I joked.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Gus said.

“Anything else?” Maggie Atwood said to him.

“As a matter of fact, there is,” he said. “Think how good I’ll look if the two of you look good.” Then he spun his chair around and headed for the schooling ring. I watched him and wondered what was really going through his head today, training the woman he was involved with and probably in love with, and training me. With the stakes the same for both of us.

Mom went to get her horse, saying she’d decided to walk him up to the ring today. Gus watched her go. Smiling. I saw him do that sometimes when he didn’t know I was watching him, looking at her as if it were the first time he’d ever seen her here, when they were both in their twenties.

Then he turned to me.

“You want to know the truth about all the shit that’s going on?” he said. “That ring behind us will be the best possible place in the world for you to be today. Maybe the easiest.”

“And why is that?”

“Because it’s the only place where you’re in charge of things,” he said.

I went up to the pedestrian bridge to watch Mom’s round, her first in weeks without Daniel, thinking that maybe what was happening this weekend, and then tomorrow with Daniel’s arraignment, had brought Mom and me even closer together. The Atwood women against the world.

But once she was in the ring, she didn’t need me, or Daniel, or Gus. She rode Coronado like a dream. There was one close call, almost not putting enough air underneath him on the water jump, clearing the water by less than a foot. No hesitation today on the rollback. She took the inside turn, even with that big horse, like a champ. Finished strong. Still early in the class, of course. But for now, she had the best time. More important, she was in the jump-off.

So far, so good.

I walked down from the bridge and got on my horse in the schooling ring. Only rooting for me now, and Sky. And from the time the buzzer sounded, it seemed as if
both
of us were in charge.

We didn’t need to break any records. Just needed to go clean. When we finished, we were a half second behind Mom’s time of 71.6. Didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were in the jump-off, too. By the time the round was over, there were five riders who’d gone clean. Tess, Jennifer, Matthew, Mom, and me.

Back in the schooling ring, there was no conversation between Mom and me as we leisurely flatted our horses to keep them warm. Tess McGill pulled up alongside me at one point and said, “You and your mom riding like this in the same event and the same ring? Crazy.”

“You have no idea,” I said.

Tess was beautiful, talented, rich, never big-timed anybody because of who her dad was. Always had great horses. As great as
she
was, she still hadn’t made the Olympics yet. It meant she wanted it as badly as Mom and I did.

Maybe more, if that was even possible.

Mom went first in the jump-off, went clean, came in at 35.5. Sky and I went next. She was fast, but somehow Coronado had found an extra gear today. We came in at 36.2. Mom was still in second by the time Tess McGill was in the ring. I was fourth.

Then Tess proceeded to blow everybody away. Her ride, Volage du Val Henry, pretty name for a pretty horse, went around the jump-off course at what looked like the speed of light, finishing clean in 34 flat.

Still not a bad Sunday for the women of Atwood Farm, all in all.

Monday wasn’t anything like that at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach. As soon as the judge in Daniel’s assault case had released him on his own recognizance, ICE was waiting for him outside the courtroom.

BOOK: The Horsewoman
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