Read Grist Mill Road Online

Authors: Christopher J. Yates

Grist Mill Road (28 page)

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin
. Who in the world can't offer an amen to that?

You closed your Bible, held it in your lap and smiled at me. You are the greatest of God's creatures, you said, and your father will be punished, Matthew, I promise you. I promise you that from the heart. By God's holy means, he will be punished.

*   *   *

minutes or so. At some point it occurred to you that I was almost the same size as you, and you pulled a long-sleeved T-shirt from your dresser. It was only slightly loose on me. After that you started to usher me politely out of your cabin—surely it was my dinnertime soon, what if my poor mother was worried? Briefly there grew a sense of unease between us. Outside of my immediate family, you were now the only person who knew my shameful secret, the things my daddy could do with a belt buckle, and even though you thought you'd passed God's test, there was still a sense of apprehension behind your words and your movements.

Then, as I was heading out the front door, you made a face as if a thought had just come to you in a flash, and you said something about owing someone a favor, changing shifts with a guy at the Conservancy, meaning you wouldn't be able to see me on Sunday this week. That left me feeling hurt, and probably I was a little ashamed of you having witnessed my tears—I'd never cried like that before, not even when my daddy mustered his worst. So you ushered and I shuffled and you didn't linger at the door to wave goodbye when I left.

I rode my bike out of town and checked behind the pallets when I got home. My daddy's car wasn't there, he was out at O'Sullivan's, already in pre–July Fourth celebration mode, so I stepped into the house without having to tiptoe.

My mom didn't notice the T-shirt I was wearing wasn't my
own. She offered to microwave some dinner, spaghetti Bolognese.

The tray spun around in the oven as my mom spoke about her day at the diner. Little Billy was in the living room pretending a screwed-up piece of paper was a football and he was throwing touchdown after touchdown for the Giants. Then my mom said to me, Oh, wait, I nearly forgot, a girl came looking for you today, Matthew. Real cute and with these pretty blue eyes.

Oh yeah? I said. Sounds like Hannah. What did she want?

Hannah, that was it. Not much, asked if you were in. I told her no and she headed away on her bike. Now, honey, do I need to have the talk with you?

You already gave me the talk, Mom.

The microwave pinged. Yeah, well, I heard how she asked for you, all breathless and goo-goo eyes. Maybe you need the talk one more time. Mom opened the microwave and took out my dinner. Here you go, handsome, she said, sliding the tray of spaghetti toward me over the kitchen counter.

Right then, none of this meant very much to me. Hannah had come, Hannah had left, so what? For almost a whole day I would remain blissfully ignorant of the greater significance of this fact. That earlier in the afternoon, riding back home after failing to find me, Hannah had seen me in the distance waiting for Tricky to disappear from view, which also meant I had no idea that Hannah had followed me to Pete's, and that from the end of Tall Pines Road she'd even called out my name, that Hannah had seen me kneeling by a window, as if at an altar, an act that must have looked odd enough that she stopped in her tracks and just watched what I was doing. And I certainly had no idea that, after I went inside, Hannah had taken up the same kneeling spot as me.

What did she actually see? I can tell you she saw nothing because there was nothing to see, but only you and I know the truth, Pete, even if it's buried too deep for you to remember. Anything else is a lie.

Anyway, not knowing any of this, I went ahead and finished
my spaghetti, licking up the last of the sauce from the tray. After that, I caught a couple of touchdowns for little Billy. I'm not sure what I did for the rest of the night, only that I made it to bed well before my daddy came home, and probably slept well, usually did. I guess that was all about to come to an end.



Matthew arrives first at the parking area, gets out of his car, and heads across the trodden-down grass to take in the view over the Hudson River, has always liked looking down from high places, experiencing that sense of wonderment, the vastness of a planet. Off in the far distance, Manhattan is nothing more than a pale huddle of sticks, and he thinks it through again, how he doesn't understand, doesn't
understand, why it has come to him at this point in life, the urge to tell someone the complete story of 1982. Perhaps it has something to do with turning forty, although forty is nothing more than a number, another one of life's less interesting labels. More likely it has something to do with Pete. There is something life-changing about bearing witness to Pete's deterioration. When he came across Patrick's food blog three months ago, that was when it had struck him, that Pete would probably never be able to take any of it in, but Tricky was someone he could tell the whole truth to, someone who might hear his confession. Yes, maybe Tricky would understand.

He glances down at his watch, two minutes to twelve, two hours after Patrick's message.

Matthew's thoughts slip back to the morning, the police detective at his breakfast table, Hannah on his lawn, and then he thinks about the one thing that he didn't tell Detective McCluskey—that he knows about their marriage, he knows Hannah and Patrick are husband and wife.

How absurd.

Not that he knew they were together when he first contacted Patrick with his confessional urges, or even when he invited him to lunch to talk about his Red Moose Barn business proposal.

Tricky's odd reaction, the way he said no without even hearing the proposal, makes a lot more sense to him now. At the time, because of the strangeness of that brief meeting in Le Crainois, when he got back to his office that day, Matthew had asked his assistant to look into Patrick, see what she could find out about him. A few days later she had come back with little of interest, apart from something she'd printed out from the internet, a newspaper article that Patrick had linked to on one of those websites people use to share the minutiae of their lives—he has never seen the appeal—a travel piece that had appeared in the
New York Mail
about a married couple on vacation in Tokyo, where to go, what to eat, that sort of thing. He had to look twice at the photo of the couple outside a temple, husband and wife surrounded by Japanese schoolchildren making peace signs. Even then, it was only when he saw the byline he believed it. Hannah Jensen. Hannah and Patrick were married.

How absurd.

There is something about this marriage that isn't right. How
can she forgive Tricky for being there and doing nothing—and more than forgive him,
marry him
no less?

Matthew swivels his foot back and forth in the grass. How many times has he acknowledged that what he did was wrong? To the police, his attorney, the court, the judge, the parole board, Pete … Guilty, guilty, guilty—and not only guilty, but sorry. That's the only reason he said as much to Hannah this morning. He said sorry because he is sorry.

What has she ever said to anyone? Did she ever tell
the whole story, the true story? Did she tell her best friend from school? (Fran? No, Jen.) Did she tell her mother, her father, a priest? Her
? Anyone?

Matthew knew the answer to this question as soon as he saw her outside his house on the lawn this morning, standing twenty feet behind police detective McCluskey in the morning sunlight, her eye burning at him.

She has never told anyone.

Can it be right that she hasn't acknowledged what happened that day, what happened six weeks before that day? Because she might be guilty of nothing, but she isn't innocent of everything.

So let her come to him and talk and he will apologize all over again. Let her talk about what happened back then and he will sell the house, he will even sign it over to her. Yes, perhaps that would make her understand how genuinely sorry he is. What need is there for the house anyway? If Pete is lost in the world, does it matter anymore where they live? He thinks he would like to spend some time in Argentina, Patagonia perhaps, a land of high places, where he once saw the Perito Moreno glacier rupturing, vast shelves of blue ice calving off into the waters of Lake Argentino, a huge wave rushing forth.

Now, below him, the river sparkles, sunlight winking from its surface, and Matthew glances down at his watch, two hands in perfect alignment, and then hears a voice—


Turning around, he sees him, Patrick standing a dozen paces back, shielding his eyes from the sun.

Good to see you, Patrick, says Matthew, right on time, he says, tapping his watch.

So where is it you're taking me? says Patrick, lowering his hand.

It's a surprise, says Matthew. Are you sure you don't want to ride up in my car? he says. I thought by meeting you down here, it would give us some time to talk.

No, perhaps we'll talk later, says Patrick.

Matthew points to the parking area. Which one is yours? he says.

Blue Audi, says Patrick.

Great, says Matthew. Follow me, black Mercedes. I'll do my best not to lose you.

*   *   *

behind Matthew, the same road he had driven up early that morning.

It surprised him how easy it was, the internet good for such a wild variety of things, so much more than food blogs, ingredients and recipes. Plugging his search into Google Maps he'd found plenty of places within easy reach of the city, many of them with pleasantly homey-sounding names—Bob's Guns, Dave's Sports, BJ's Gunworks—as if you might be heading over for coffee and some neighborly chat.

Bob's Guns was open on Sundays from six in the morning. At the end of the hour-long drive some light form-filling was required, followed by a quick phone call. The whole transaction took little more than ten minutes.

Even before they pull onto the thruway, Patrick can guess where they're headed. And then they begin the drive north, the rocks pushing steadily harder through the earth as they head upstate, passing road signs familiar from childhood

A little over an hour later they leave the thruway at the New Paltz exit and he thinks about the art supply store where he and
Matthew bought the plastic carry tube, their story about sketching the lake, the BB gun concealed in the other fishing rod bag.

Just before they head right to skirt town, he sees the ridge looming large on the horizon. And then they make the two turns that will take them all the way to Roseborn. He hasn't seen his hometown since he had just turned thirteen. He'd thought about heading up there once or twice but by the time he had a car, he was married to Hannah and he'd promised her they'd never even talk about
that place

They coast past apple orchards, the trees growing heavy with fruit, almost picking season now. The crowds from the city will be arriving soon, the sort of crowd he'd imagined for Red Moose Barn.

Good land up here,
thinks Patrick, wondering if Roseborn has changed much, but before they reach its outskirts, Matthew pulls off the road onto a dusty spot beside an apple orchard.

Matthew's car looks no more than a year old and this makes Patrick angry all over again. How exactly does he deserve it? After what he did to Hannah, how does Matthew deserve any of it? The expensive car, the huge loft in Tribeca, friends with Jean-Jacques Rougerie?

He pulls up behind the black Mercedes, the conspiracy clear to him now. Obviously Matthew had Don Trevino fire him from his job at Idos. And why? Because Matthew is coming for Hannah, of course, coming after her because of some twisted sense of bitterness, resenting her for the time he spent in prison. And how has Matthew chosen to come for her? Through him. Matthew is coming for Hannah through him.

Not if I come for you first, Matthew, not if I get to you first.

Patrick looks up and down the road. Too much traffic here. But it doesn't matter, he will wait for his moment, everything prepared, the shotgun in the trunk already loaded and next to it a roll of duct tape, a hundred feet of rope and a kitchen knife, in case he needs to cut the rope, in case he needs to cut anything.

Conspiring with Trevino to have him fired from his job—surely this alone would deserve some sort of punishment. And
yet there is so much more, motives piling higher and higher, compelling him, urging him forward. Justice, retribution, protection. And even greater than all of these reasons to act, this has become the only way to make up for what happened twenty-six years ago, to make up for what he didn't do. Because now Hannah has left him.

Go take a look at your computer.

Matthew steps out of his car, handsome smile, loose sense of ease.

Look at him. Exactly how has Matthew been punished for what he did? And even more than anything else, now this has become the only way to win back his wife, the only way to earn back Hannah's love.

I never want to see you again.

Patrick opens the car door and steps out onto the dusty shoulder at the side of the road, the sun pushing down on his back with the weighty insistence of great sheets of rock, compelling him, urging him forward. Because what other choice does he have?

Nothing. There is no other choice. There is only one way.

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