Read Grist Mill Road Online

Authors: Christopher J. Yates

Grist Mill Road (7 page)

 

PATCH

I was unconscious until Wednesday ticked over to Thursday, so I don't know exactly how everything played out, but I suppose that initially, as far as the police were concerned, all they had to go on was this—

One 13yo girl, Hannah Jensen, brought to the hospital with a BB gun pellet lodged in her left eye, recovering from emergency surgery. One 12yo boy, Patrick McConnell, suffering from blood loss and head trauma. One witness after the event, Alice Welcher, 62, who stated that said boy, unknown to her, had cycled into her driveway with said girl, also unknown to her, on the back of his bike. Situation—the injured parties were seemingly the only two people who could explain what had happened and yet both said boy and said girl were, for the time being, unconscious.

Meanwhile my father, Joe McConnell, Ulster County's chief assistant district attorney, rising Democrat and would-be New York State assemblyman (the election was little more than two months away), did not hesitate for a moment before telling the police as much as he could. Yes, his son owned a BB gun, a Red Ryder. No, the gun could not be found at home. Following this my brother, Sean, having been swiftly hooked out of soccer camp, told the police that I was best buddies with Matthew Weaver and
that we often cycled up into the Swangums with the BB gun concealed in a fishing rod bag.

So now, at least, I was not the only suspect.

Next, I presume, someone was dispatched to find Matthew, only to discover that he wasn't home. In fact, Matthew had ridden over to Mannaha State Park, concealed his bicycle in a large patch of ferns and begun living survivalist-style somewhere near Jakobskill Falls, hoping to stay alive on a diet of wild blueberries. Possibly, were it not for his close encounter with a large black bear four days later, an encounter that sent him running almost directly into the arms of a park ranger, he might still be there now, the Mowgli of Mannaha.

Meanwhile, back to the hospital, approximately an hour after I awoke, an hour after my mom had soothed me and informed me of my fractured skull but explained that I was going to be fine, my father and two police detectives entered the room.

If I told them I didn't remember anything, touching my shamed and bandaged skull as I did so, it was not intended as any kind of deliberate tactic. And yet, as it turned out, my temporary amnesia was a masterstroke, because it quickly became clear that Hannah had regained consciousness a few hours before me and the police detectives had already spoken to her. Shaking their heads, they took out their notebooks and that's when I learned, from the mouths of others, the story of everyone's role, my own included, in the tragic loss of a thirteen-year-old girl's left eye. And it went like this—

Matthew Weaver, Hannah Jensen and I had ridden up to the Swangums together on our bikes the previous morning, setting out from the parking lot of O'Sullivan's Dive Inn at or around 11:00
A.M.

Matthew had led the three of us to a spot in the woods where he and I often hung out.

Arriving at the spot, Matthew sent me away.

I departed.

Matthew tied Hannah to a tree.

Matthew proceeded to shoot at Hannah for several minutes with my BB gun.

Hannah passed out from shock when one of the BBs struck her left eye.

It was unclear how long she was unconscious but a few minutes after Hannah awoke, I returned to the scene.

At this point I was stumbling and faint, bleeding from a hole in the back of my head.

Nevertheless, I cut Hannah down from the tree and helped her back to civilization.

At which point, I passed out.

Yes?

Oh, just spectacular.

You see, sometimes you do nothing at all and everything turns out just peachy.

Next the detectives asked me what put the big hole in my head and I paused, as if waiting for a fog to clear, and told them I was strolling around killing time after Matthew sent me away but had gotten spooked by a snake. Fearing it was a rattler, I turned around and ran but, panicking, tripped and fell. No, I had no clue where Matthew might be now. Yes, I certainly could describe to them the spot where the shooting had taken place and tell them what it was we did up there. I was happy to help as much as I could.

Dad grasped me warmly by the shoulder. Good work, Patch, good work, he said. And now that I think about it, I'm fairly sure that was the last time in my life that my father ever looked proud of me.

*   *   *

ALTHOUGH HANNAH WAS JUST ALONG
the corridor from me, I didn't get to see her at all in the hospital.

In fact, it would turn out that our family's time in Roseborn would soon come to an abrupt end and I wouldn't set eyes on Hannah Jensen again for another two decades, until our accidental meeting on the concourse of Grand Central Station. So I never did get to ask her why she didn't mention anything to the police about the fact that I was there and did nothing—not that I would ever have asked such a question at that age. Instead I became
haunted by the thought that one day the police would find out about my cowardice and I would be sent to jail where, with good reason, my fellow prisoners would abuse and torture me for my role in such a despicable crime. If I had thought about Hannah's silence as to my presence, I probably would have guessed it was some kind of tit for tat situation. OK, so I had done nothing to stop Matthew from shooting out her eye. However, I did go back for her. I did cut her down and help her get out of that place. Perhaps Hannah thought we were even.

Only it would turn out that the explanation for why Hannah Jensen had said nothing to the police was something completely different. But I wouldn't learn this new side to the story for many years to come, several weeks after seeing her at Grand Central, a revelation that I overheard accidentally as she spoke on the phone. And now this revelation has become the monstrous secret that paces the perimeter of our marriage, like something that prowls in the shadows, a dangerous creature awaiting its moment, the right time to strike.

When it comes to our relationship, we have only ever stated one rule out loud, a rule made at Hannah's request. We don't talk about that day. Ever. And if Hannah doesn't want to talk about it, then certainly neither do I.

So if I haven't shown this account to you, Dr. Rosenstock, perhaps this is the reason why. Because to have kept the truth to myself for so long feels like a crime in itself, a terrible secret I couldn't bear for anyone to learn.

Hannah least of all.

*   *   *

I TURNED THIRTEEN ON THE
following Tuesday, one day after my return from the hospital and two days after Matthew's arrest and immediate confession, which I found out about because, being Ulster County's senior prosecutor, my father had privileged access to all the information on the Weaver case, despite the potential conflict of interest, his son being, to use his increasingly desperate phrase,
only very loosely associated with the matter
.

Summer birthdays were never riotous affairs—half of my school friends would always be away at camp or off on family vacations when the day fell. If you were lucky you might rustle up a half dozen boys for a trip to McDonald's, followed by a matinee at the local movie theater. We'd watched
Raiders of the Lost Ark
for my twelfth birthday but this time around, on the day I officially became a teenager, there was an especially conspicuous lack of festivity. No school friends, no Happy Meal, no Ark-stealing Nazis and melting of faces by God-fire.

When I woke up, instead of having a present to unwrap, my mom handed me a card with some money folded inside. My parents had never given me money for my birthday and I would find out later from my brother they'd actually bought me
Asteroids
for my Atari but that, all things considered, the game being a shoot-'em-up in which the object was to blast apart objects of a roughly circular nature, my father had deemed the gift inappropriate and returned it to the store.

Anyway, what I'd really wanted was
Pac-Man,
so a few days later, that's what I bought, Mom taking me to the store, although I told her I could easily cycle there on my own. But no, she insisted on driving. And then, seeing the looks cast at us from the faces of our fellow townsfolk, looks that suggested there was a foul smell in the air, quickly I understood why. Something was rotten in the state of Roseborn. Over the past several days, rumors had started to circulate and something had soured.

The looks on everyone's faces? That foul smell in the air? It was me.

 

NEW YORK, 2008

The dark rump of the Lower East Side, seventeen minutes after McCluskey's message, a rare day of Manhattan work (Brooklyn her bread, the Bronx Hannah's butter), homicide two floors above the Chinese car service, brick tenement building with red-painted fire escape, body still inside, probably nothing, probably drugs, but not much happening elsewhere, and besides, she likes to keep in with Manhattan South Homicide. The sound of screaming children issues from the schoolyard at the corner of the block, another same-old day about to start at the sound of the bell, and fifty yards up the street, outside the crime scene, more of the same-old as well, street gift-wrapped in yellow-black tape, two uniforms on the door, crowd milling about, the neighborhood starting to stitch its own story into the breeze, and McCluskey comes out, losing the gloves, clapping the first uniform on the back, shaking hands with the second, his eyes reaching for the distance, long breath as he buttons his suit jacket, rubs his nose back and forth, and then, eyes returning, sees Hannah there, waves. Smoothing his gray crest of hair, McCluskey stoops to climb through the tape—
POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS
—
surprisingly nimble for a ten-ton truck of a man.

Hey, Aitch, how's tricks?

Detective McCluskey. Detective Col
ó
n not with you today?

What, I'm not good enough for you now? He's off procuring vital supplies.

Glazed or jelly?

Jeez, Hannah, you freakin hacks, you're so full of clich
é
s. That's what you think, after what I just feasted my eyes on?

Sorry, Detective.

Yeah, well, at least whoever did this was good enough to take the
bath
part of bloodbath to heart.

So the body was in the tub, right?

Sure. Nine-tenths of him. But look, Col
ó
n can fill you in. I gotta go make a call, says McCluskey, pulling his phone from his jacket, but then looking at the screen as if he's forgotten how to turn the thing on, tilting his head back to her, Oh, one more thing, Hannah—did someone tell me you were writing a book?

Supposed to be. True crime. Apparently that's my wheelhouse.

You got a particular case in mind?

A couple of thoughts, nothing fixed.

You know what I think? You should do the Angie Bell homicide.

Sure, only I need something with an ending, McCluskey.

Oh, I've got your ending. It's the psychic, no-brainer. The facts that little creep knew? What, from the magic fairy vibes in the air? No way, Hannah, that guy's about as psychic as my big Irish balls.

McCluskey stands there, looking at her as if, after the gentle toss of a softball, Hannah has failed to go deep, hasn't even taken a swing.

Hey, what gives, Hannah? Something up?

No … Go make your call.

McCluskey puts his phone back in its pocket. Come on, Aitch, this is me.

It's just … Patrick, you know, my husband? He still can't find another job. So … I don't know. I don't know what to do.

Tough freakin economy, Hannah. My neighbor, young go-getter, something in banking, the guy gets canned four, five months
ago, now he lives out of his Lexus, trunk full of fancy suits, shaves every morning in Burger King … But Patrick? You know, I only met the guy once but I remember he cooked us the best brisket I ever ate. So maybe I was high on the meat vapors or something but he seemed kinda solid to me.

He is. Patch is. Solid.

And he's not taking it out on you. Because, you know …

No, nothing like that.

Any money worries? If there are, just say the word, Aitch, I can …

On a cop salary?

What? I'm living the Miller High Life now. The boys are all packed up and gone. Hey, Lindy just started a business, she does this tai chi massage thing.

Tai chi?

Yeah, something like that. So anyway, shit's good, Aitch. It's like a Cinderella story, only this one's Aladdin.

Go on then.

Rubs to riches.

She smiles. Cute, McCluskey, how long have you been holding on to that one?

It's been stinking up the locker a few days, I won't lie to you.

Thanks, she says. Moneywise everything's good. But thanks.

Whoa, then that means you were talking about emotional stuff … Wait, about that phone call I gotta make … But McCluskey doesn't reach for his phone.

Emotions? she says. I wouldn't do that to you, Detective.

And he turns his head, eyes reaching for the distance again. Look, Hannah, he says, I'm sure you tell your husband you … whatever, you love him and everything, right? But make sure he knows you've got his back. No matter what.
No matter what
. Me? I'll take loyalty every time. McCluskey nods as he looks up the street, squinting, and then lifting one of his double-big fingers. Hey, here he comes now, he says.

Hannah turns and sees Detective Col
ó
n, paper bag in one hand.

Just in time, says McCluskey.

So those are your vital supplies? Inside the Dunkin' Donuts bag?

McCluskey snorts. Freakin hacks, he says. You know, Aitch, it just so happens they make excellent coffee, OK?

*   *   *

EVERY MEAL AT RED MOOSE
Barn could begin with free snacks to nibble, popcorn served in brown paper bags. Sometimes the popcorn would be covered in salt caramel, on other nights buttery and dusted with flecks of crispy chicken skin. Or customers might be greeted with a mixture of nuts freshly roasted that day and flavored with an herb-scented sea salt. Rosemary, chives, sweet basil. Miniature pretzels, right out of the oven, cheddar and black onion seeds studding their crusts.

He writes it all down, saving it for later before clicking onto his email. And then, seeing the message and opening it in a hurry, Patrick stares in excitement at his computer screen, this new arrangement of pixels—

TribecaM        Thu 6/5 9:58 a.m.

Re: Contact Form submission from Red Moose Barn

Dear Patrick,

Congratulations on your stunning website. Since stumbling across it several weeks ago, it has become by far my favorite place to spend an hour. I'm a terrific admirer of your blog.

Listen, I don't want to waste anyone's time—particularly yours—so why don't I come out and say it:

I have a small business proposal for you. I promise you this could be very interesting indeed, and I'd value the opportunity to put my case face-to-face if you think that
might be possible. Even if nothing were to come of it, I'd appreciate the opportunity to meet.

However, I realize that a message such as this one, coming out of the blue, could come across as creepy. (What if I'm some kind of weird food blogger stalker?) I don't wish to make you uncomfortable, so here's my suggestion. Allow me to buy you lunch at an exceedingly expensive and perfectly public restaurant. At the very least you receive a good meal and some fine wine in return for your valuable time.

Now, forgive me if I'm wrong about this, but some of your recent recipes/techniques have hinted to me that you might be familiar with the cuisine of Jean-Jacques Rougerie (I loved the close-up of you spraying melted chocolate from a paint gun), and I just happen to be able to score a reservation at Le Crainois. Jean-Jacques is a very close personal friend of mine.

What do you say? How about one o'clock sometime? I can do tomorrow and Saturday. Or otherwise any day next week?

Yours,

A fan (TribecaM)

It feels like something is flowering in Patrick's chest, the air blooming inside him. He reads it again. He reads it again. He feels the tears trying to push their way out.

Perhaps TribecaM works in publishing and wants to suggest a Red Moose Barn cookbook. He starts to think about test kitchens, photo shoots, book signings, cooking demonstrations on daytime TV …

Sure, Paddyboy, don't go leaping too far ahead of yourself.

But food bloggers get offered book deals all the time. He sees
them interviewed in magazines, on morning TV. They even made an entire movie out of one woman's food blog.

Although what if it all means nothing? What if nothing comes of this?

At the very least you receive a good meal and some fine wine in return for your valuable time.

He wipes his eyes, checks the website for Le Crainois and discovers that the next available lunchtime slot is over seven weeks away. To snag a dinner reservation requires taking part in an online lottery. In April, Le Crainois was voted the number one restaurant in the world by a food magazine, and ever since Jean-Jacques Rougerie has been featured in every newspaper and magazine that has ever breathed a word about food. Several that have not.

This is what the wait has been for,
thinks Patrick. This is it. The point at which everything changes.

*   *   *

OUT OF THE SUBWAY AT
Twenty-Third, daylight surrendering to taillights and headlights, the walk home one long block, one short, a few golden minutes, Hannah's workday slipping away, and then into the building, fresh flowers in the lobby, and the doorman Jorg
é
there to greet her, Hello, lady, I hope you had a pleasant day, Thanks, Jorg
é
, you have a good night, and she makes it into the elevator with no neighbors in tow, thirty seconds of peace, a few golden breaths, not exactly a wildly successful day, not really much point.

A man was found dead in his bathtub yesterday on the Lower East Side, hacked to death in an apparent drug-related attack, police sources said.

The victim, whose name was withheld pending family notification, was found at 8:43 a.m. in an apartment at 47 Ludlow Street.

Police responding to an anonymous phone call recovered drug paraphernalia including scales.

And that's it, ten hours' work reduced to fifty-eight words for the
New York Mail
's
CRIMINAL RECORD
column, page sixteen or so, maybe as high as twelve, now that Obama v. Hillary is mostly
played out, but when they go big they go big, Hannah missing the thrill of her weeks after the bloodbath in Washington Square (
Jeez, what a job
) when it was she who broke the news that the innocent bystander had been killed by a bullet from the gun of a cop (
But oh, what a week
), because it is she, Hannah Jensen, who cracks wise with the Manhattan South Homicide squad.

Open door, kiss husband, sit down, kick off shoes, maybe he seemed brighter, Patch stepping back into the kitchen, tiptoeing away as he does every night after their kiss and a confirmation of okayness, a few more golden minutes, which, for some time, she has been needing more and more, not that her life spent with Patch has become dark, but he is saddened and hurt, and she can't fix him, but she loves him, and sometimes after a hard day at work, a tough job, she just wants to …

McCluskey would take loyalty every time. And she's loyal, surely Patch knows that she's loyal. She throws her shoes in the closet and steps into the kitchen.

You seem in a good mood, she says. Did something happen?

His back to her, stirring risotto. No, he says. Well, an email. But it might not mean anything.

Tell me about it.

I'll tell you if anything comes of it.

Good,
she thinks,
good, then everything's taken care of,
and she tells him about her morning on the Lower East Side, the body in the bathtub, details McCluskey passed on to her that didn't make the story, because just another drug homicide, another humdrum New York murder, not really much point.

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