Read Grist Mill Road Online

Authors: Christopher J. Yates

Grist Mill Road (4 page)

Patrick has opened his laminated tourist map, half-covering his face, but keeps his eyes on his quarry, Trevino heading right and Patrick following, fifty yards back on the opposite side of Forty-Seventh, Trevino's head bobbing along on the yellow surf of taxi roofs.

And Patrick begins to picture it again, bumping into Don Trevino by chance on the street only a week after Trevino had fired him. He remembers the prickle in his shoulders. Even his nose had buzzed with a sense of the moment. Hit him. Hit him. Hurt him.

Hello, Patrick, Trevino had said, looking perfectly unfazed, as if he were doing nothing more than greeting a neighbor.

Patrick had said nothing, his actual assault on Trevino no more than a brief snort, a look of disgust.

Over the several weeks since, Patrick has replayed this scene in his head numerous times, picturing the details of the street, pasting them into various fantasies.

The brass poles of an apartment building's awning. Patrick could have grabbed Trevino beneath the chin and pushed him up against the metal before making him gasp and cough with a punch to the gut.

The window of an Irish bar. He should have grabbed Trevino by the collar and driven his fur-hatted head through the plate
glass, whereupon a neon sign would have shattered and crackled with approval.

A blue mailbox. He imagined smashing Don Trevino's face into the metal studs on its side. Or sometimes he pictures the mailbox open, Trevino's head and shoulders stuck inside, his legs wheeling away, the last desperate kicks of a flipped bug.

There are intricate variations of each scenario, some comical, some grotesque, and when lost in these thoughts, Patrick barely has to remember his actual inaction that day several weeks back—an impotent snort, his pointless disgust, another one of life's great passive-aggressive victories.

But maybe today is the day.

Trevino turns right and Patrick skips over the street, through the knee-high fog of taxi fumes, around the corner. Patrick's eyes follow Trevino's hat above the jostle of Fifth Avenue. Trevino turns right, opens a door and disappears.

The same door as last week, three times. And the week before, twice. Trevino will reemerge in five minutes, his leather-gloved hand holding the string handles of a white paper bag. Sandwich, soup, drink.

But Patrick waits anyway, a little farther down Fifth Avenue, and when Trevino reappears, strolling back toward the office, Patrick follows, just in case.

Yeah? Just in case what, Paddyboy?

And the sky, now swollen, starts dispensing its snow.

 

PATCH

Without having to look, I knew Matthew was behind me. I could sense his rage in the heat, another harmonic alongside the electrical hum of the bugs.

The summer before, challenging each other to Trail Races, I'd managed to win most of the time. I had natural pace. And because I was smaller than Matthew, I was nimble over the rough ground. But Matthew must've grown an additional foot since then.

On our very first day at school, getting changed for gym, every boy in the locker room had stolen a look at the small nest of hair between Matthew's legs, something noticeably absent from our own bodies. And now that hair was thicker still, not only between Matthew's legs but below his knees as well. There was even a hint of mustache above his top lip, Matthew's whole body bursting with the strength of Samson.

Which meant now I wasn't sure whether I was faster than Matthew. I was running flat out through the stifling heat, hoping that my advantage still held, pushing my smooth hairless legs as hard as I could.

The trail to our secret spot carried you on a thin path that ran along the top of Swangum Ridge. To my right the ground fell away steeply to a valley with Sunset Ridge on the other side but that
was nothing compared to the sheer drop to my left, a cliff face that ran straight down to the Hudson Valley. It must have been more than a thousand feet, the valley floor below nothing but haze.

Even walking that path was tricky, so running was downright dangerous. The topsoil was thin, the trail a tangle of tree roots, an assault course of half-buried rocks. But I sprinted as fast as I could and despite the danger and my fear of Matthew, I remember feeling exhilarated, my lungs sparkling with life, my body performing at its absolute peak for that first quarter mile, when suddenly a bad thought leapt into my head.

Maybe I could get to Hannah first but even if I won this race, what then? Matthew wasn't going to offer me a gentlemanly handshake. You win, Tricky, well done. We play by your rules now.

Now I was thinking too hard about this problem and the overthinking was hindering my movement. My stride was losing its focus and I could feel my uncertainties mixing together, frothing up like the insides of a bottle rocket. How close was he now?

I believe I can actually remember thinking the words
don't turn around
but it's like that old thing about being told
not
to think of a white cat. Instantly you go ahead and think of a damned white cat.

It was only a glance, a quick peek over my shoulder, but one glance was enough. I went down hard like the sprung bar of a mousetrap.

I don't know what it was my skull thudded into, tree or root or rock. All I remember is the sense that my head felt made of stone in the moment of impact.

*   *   *

EVERYTHING WAS A BLUR WHEN
I awoke. And then blur turned to treetops and sky sliding by. Matthew was pulling me off the trail by my arms.

At the point where I'd tripped, the path ran maybe thirty feet in from the edge of Swangum Ridge but I'd fallen close to a spur, one of several along the way that would bring you right up to the
edge of the cliff for the panoramic view. He was dragging me along one of those spurs.

Everything hurt. I let out a moan and Matthew let go of me, the pain shooting higher as my hands smashed down against rock and my head hit the ground. That's when I noticed a sharp damp pain in the back of my head, my skull singing high notes.

Now Matthew was on me, pinning my wrists, straddling me the way he sometimes did if he wanted me to cry uncle in a play fight, threatening to make me eat grass or dirt or a live frog. As he glanced around, wiping his mouth, I thought I could see all the thoughts spinning behind his eyes like the wheels of a slot machine.

All you ever do is watch, Tricky, he said, not sounding mad at me, just weary. You stand to one side, watching and watching like a statue. You think because you didn't join in, that's OK? You're off the hook?

I didn't say anything, staring at him as I tried to think away the pain.

So you're telling me the first time you ever decide to do something is when it's too late? When it screws me over and screws you over and Hannah's still just as dead? Matthew's voice had shifted from weary to bitterly amused. It's too late, Tricky, he said. You didn't even say anything.

He gave me a hard look, daring me to disagree, but I didn't speak. I don't know why but something told me I had to lie there playing possum, the grand tactic of my life.

Matthew's eyes fixed on my hands. Quickly he moved one of my wrists on top of the other so that he could grip them both at the same time. I had slender wrists but even so, and as weak as I felt, maybe I could've wrenched free of his grip but I was in a lot of pain.

Matthew began to rise, pulling me up with him.

Once we were standing, he started backing me up. I didn't look around or fight him. I was trying hard not to cry out in pain as we moved together like awkward prom dates stumbling across a dance floor.

When we stopped, I think I felt an updraft from the valley floor. If I were an eagle I could have soared away. The screech of the pain was so loud that I let my body surrender to him, like the moment when the lady in old movies collapses into the hero's arms.

Him Tarzan. Me Jane.

I let my eyelids fall as Matthew took his hand away from my wrists and then my shoulder. Open your eyes, Tricky, he said.

But I couldn't, it was as if I were standing on a high-wire and even the slightest movement might be enough to overbalance me.

Matthew yelled at me, I said
open your eyes
.

Still I didn't do what he said, thinking instead about the time we found a fat timber rattlesnake and when Matthew shot it, it moved like a whip and we ran for our lives screaming and when we stopped running we laughed so hard we thought we were more in danger of dying from the laughter than we ever had been from that snake.

Tricky, I swear … Just open your goddam eyes right now.

I thought about lake-swimming, deer-stalking and can-plunking. We'd had a lot of fun together in the Swangums.

My chest felt like it was painted with a bullseye.

I thought I could sense something moving, only the breeze perhaps, but then after a long pause, I heard Matthew speak, the sound of his voice having moved farther away. OK then, OK, he muttered. OK, Tricky.

I opened my eyes. Matthew was ten paces back, his shoulders slumped and a look of defeat on his face. He smiled bitterly at me. By the way, your head's cut pretty bad, Tricky, he said, reaching into his back pocket, pulling out his red bandana and draping it over a rock. You know, he said, you realize no one ever needs to find out you were actually there. Really it was nothing to do with you at all. I'm sorry, Tricky.

And with that, Matthew turned around, giving me a dejected wave as he headed off into the trees, back toward the bikes.

*   *   *

I FELT FAINT IN THE
heat, the sickly pine resin air. Stepping away from the drop, I wanted to sit down and sleep but the pain in my head flared again. I reached back and started pushing my fingers timidly through my wet hair. I had a huge thatch of hair back then—people said I looked like a young version of Bobby Ewing from the TV show
Dallas
—and maybe that proved to be lucky, as if my head were wrapped in layers of gauze. The hole was right at my crown and all sticky. My fingers moved down and just kept on moving, down, farther down.

And then I swear I heard a squelching sound, like a boot landing in mud, and yanked my hand away in shock thinking I must've touched my brain. Looking at my hand it was almost as if the blood couldn't be mine. Too bright, too thick, too much. I wiped the hand on a rock, picked up Matthew's bandana and pressed it to the back of my skull.

I had to get to Hannah but my head was all swirly in the sick-making heat as I started to wonder how long it would take for a corpse to rot in this weather. When would her body start to smell? And now I couldn't stop thinking about Hannah hanging there, meat for the vultures, blood dripping from the milky white hooks of their beaks.

 

NEW YORK, 2008

The griddled zucchini lie in a bowl banded with faint stripes of char, flecked with pepper and basil, soaking up olive oil and sherry vinegar, while the steak cooks slowly in water and the potatoes, parboiled and dusted with rice flour, dry off in the fridge.

Rice flour, don't ever tell anyone your secret, Patch.

All the better to crisp them with.

He sits at the kitchen table reading the comments on his blog as he waits. He will begin preparing the salad as soon as Hannah calls to say she is heading home, his signal to start peeling asparagus into a pile of pale ribbons, trimming the sugar snaps, acidulating apples.

Jorg
é
, the doorman, has been enlisted to help with Patrick's plan to make everything perfect tonight. When he sees Hannah coming through the door, he will buzz their apartment, three quick blasts their agreed-upon signal, and then Jorg
é
will delay Hannah, complimenting her hair, tutting over the weather, the snow, her poor shoes.

Please, how long do I keep her, gentleman? A minute would be great, Jorg
é
. No problem, gentleman. Thank you, Jorg
é
.

And action. Deep greens and pale greens will be tossed in the lemony dressing. He will make a wreath of tangled pea shoots on the plate and scatter everything else from above, seemingly at
random. The composition of a salad always makes Patrick feel like Jackson Pollock dripping paint.

No delusions of grandeur in that whatsoever, Paddyboy.

Once the salads are plated he will begin crisping the potatoes in duck fat and heating his large slab of cast iron on which the steak will be seared to a crust. A half hour of preheating and the metal will take on the appearance of charcoal, hints of white ash in the shimmering iron.

By the time he carries the salads to the table, Jorg
é
will have released Hannah, a thirty-second elevator ride to their penthouse floor.

Patrick will slip off his apron and fetch champagne. When she walks through the door he will be standing by the table in his wedding suit, the same tie as four years ago, the same silk handkerchief in his breast pocket and a white napkin wrapped around a bottle of Pol Roger.

Soft pop. Happy anniversary, Hannah.

Hannah will clap and kiss him.

Everything must be made to happen just so, with perfect timing. Everything for her.

And then Patrick wonders if the salad needs some crunch.
What about pistachios?
he thinks. There is a bag in his pantry, vivid green nuts speckled with patches of dusty violet skin.

*   *   *

HANNAH TRIES TO INITIATE HOME-HANNAH
mode, anniversary-Hannah, leave-the-streets-for-the-day-Hannah as she rises from her desk in The Shack.

NYPD in the elevators, NYPD in the corridors, NYPD in uniform, NYPD in suits, the ugliest fourteen-floor stack of stone you ever saw, all clay-colored bricks, little blocks piled high to form a squat square building, all shithouse glam and checkerboard curves, address 1PP, looks exactly like a cubist giant has lain a terra-cotta turd (Detective McCluskey liked that one, she'd heard him steal it more than once, only he dropped the
cubist giant
and
terra-cotta
motifs), the most important building in the city, at
least if you value not being slain in your bed on a nightly basis, 1PP, One Police Plaza, the headquarters of the NYPD—Major Crime Squad, Real Time Crime Center, Police Commissioner—the place that Hannah calls (among other scatological names) her office, or when she's talking to anyone in the know, The Shack, because they all call it The Shack, the crime reporters who work there, 1PP's second floor set aside for the journalists of eight news organizations, rivals fraternizing, hanging out in the same small space, the thin schmear of mustard in the fat pastrami sandwich of the NYPD HQ.

NYPD in the elevators, NYPD in the corridors, NYPD in uniform, NYPD in suits, the rub of it, The Shack in the 1PP stack, Hannah loves it, she lives it, she breathes it.

So that leaving it behind is bittersweet every night—a news day low on blood is a good day for the city, it's true, but red streets at night, tabloids' delight. And today? Just a light shade of blush, a good thing, probably, for her anniversarial mood. Is that a word,
anniversarial
? Possibly not, probably she's confused it with
adversarial,
and then she thinks to take the stairs, only a single flight down, not the elevator, because enough cops already, she will see more on the way out anyway, and she does, Officer Kohn (Jets, Mets, Nets, hates hockey, two daughters).

Four and twelve, Brian? she says. Four and
twelve
? Unbelievable.

Yeah, well, we stank up the whole season. But what can I do? When you're a Jet you're a Jet, right? Thanks for reminding me, Hannah.

Would I do that to you, Brian? No, I meant your daughters, four and twelve, right?

Oh, I see, playing smart, Hannah, huh? You know, we could do with some of that, maybe you could coach the Jets instead of Mangenius—dumbest nickname I ever heard. The girls? Seven and nine. Gang Green? I'd take seven and nine in a heartbeat.

Come on, dream big, Brian, turn that frown upside down—nine and seven! You know, nine and seven could sneak you into the playoffs next season.

Right, dream big, sure. Look, I love my kids, Hannah, but I'd sell both their sweet little souls for nine and seven. You have a great weekend now.

You too, Brian. Maybe take up watching hockey instead. And give Jasmine and Kaylee big hugs and kisses from me.

Out into the night, the day's snow no more than a haze in the plaza lights now, and incoming Daniel Ochoa (Knicks, Yanks, fianc
é
e) and Marty Russell (Devils, Springsteen,
seven
boys).

Still don't have my invite, Officer Ochoa.

Still don't have a wedding date,
New York Mail
.

What gives, Danny? Marty's sons will have seven brides for seven brothers before you make an honest woman of Isabel. (Hannah's phone starts to ring.)

She has like twelve thousand cousins. And they all eat, you know? I'll be saving up till Judgment Day.

Now Marty wants in. Hannah, why leaving so early? Come on, Friday night's just getting started.

Maybe I was born to run, Marty.

They wave her away like a bad smell, but laughing, as she picks up the phone, Jen's number on the screen, best friends from the first day of kindergarten, and she answers, Hey, Jen, you got snow up there?

Snow? No. I called to say happy anniversary, Hannah.

Hannah hangs back from saying anything more for a moment, her marriage to Patrick still one of the sore points between her and Jen, not that Jen openly disapproves, would never voice disapproval, but Jen hadn't
understood why,
and four years ago, Hannah had felt hurt by nothing worse than a pause after she told Jen the news of her engagement, and then they hadn't spoken in almost a year, all because of a pause not much longer than this one ballooning now … Thanks, Jen, she says. Four years already, I can't believe it.

You have plans?

Patch. He's cooking something special.

Lucky you.

(Another call coming through.) Yep, lucky me. (Hannah looks
to see who it is, the news editor.) Oh shoot, I have to take this other call from … Sorry, it's work, Jen. Let's talk over the weekend. Tell the girls
arrrrr
from their Aunt Hannah.

I will. You have a good night, Han. Love you. Say hi to Patrick.

Hannah hangs up the call and pauses a moment before taking the next, noticing the sound of helicopters in the distance, a sense of fourteen floors behind her beginning to hum, sirens winding up everywhere, and she knows she should let the call from her news editor drop to voice mail, she can say she was stuck underground, delays on the subway, and that's what she absolutely should do, their fourth anniversary, because if she waits thirty minutes before talking to work it will probably all be too late, whatever it is, the news will have broken, and Hannah will be into her first glass of champagne, Patch always buys them the same one they drank in a restaurant, before that first night she had spent in his apartment, so very sweet, Patrick is so very good to her.

But she answers.

Other books

Peeps by Westerfeld, Scott
Momentum by Imogen Rose
The Christmas Wish by Katy Regnery
Kingmaker: Broken Faith by Clements, Toby
The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker
A Little Night Music by Andrea Dale, Sarah Husch
The Master's Wife by Jane Jackson
Running by Calle J. Brookes