Read an Excerpt
At just past ten on a cool summer night, Andrew Patti nestled with his eleven-year-old son on a worn blue sofa in the living room of their Vermont vacation home. Burning logs hissed and popped in the red-brick fireplace as Patti read aloud to Andy Jr. from an adventure story about a hunter pursuing a wise and elusive buck.
Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam. A staccato burst of pounding on the front door interrupted him in mid-sentence.
Startled, Patti rose to his feet, silently motioning to Andy to stay put. It was too late for visitors, and the knocks were too sharp, too insistent to come from the hand of a friend. Someone must be in trouble or looking for trouble.
As Patti stood, he reached under the untucked hem of his work shirt for the nine-millimeter Glock pistol he always wore on his right hip. With a quick flip of his thumb, he unsnapped the safety latch and slid the matte black gun from its leather holster. Patti walked slowly to the door, holding the Glock out of sight, tucked close against the right rear pocket of his faded jeans.
With his empty left hand he pushed aside the blind covering the nine small windows on the upper half of the door. On his front porch stood a young man Patti had never seen before. He was about six feet tall, lanky, dressed in a white T-shirt, black cargo pants, and black military boots. The young man maybe in his late teens, Patti thought leaned in close, his hot breath leaving vapor clouds on the glass. His hands were half-clenched like bear claws, his eyes wide and intense. The weak rays of a bug-yellow porch light cast a sickly glareon his pale skin.
"What's up?" Patti asked roughly.
"I have car trouble. Can you help me out?" the stranger answered just as roughly.
They stood for a moment face to face, inches apart, separated by only a pane of glass, each waiting to see what the other would do.
Andrew Patti was forty-seven, a trim, good-looking man of medium height, with thick, dark hair flecked with gray. He was a lifelong New Yorker with the accent and toothpick-chewing habit to prove it. Though raised in a cookie-cutter suburb of tract houses and strip malls, as a teenager Patti had grown enchanted by the mountains and forests of Vermont. As his only child and namesake approached manhood, Patti wanted Andy to know the embrace of untamed woods, the snap of a fish latching onto a hook, the smell of fresh-cut trees, the ping of a tin can pierced by a well-aimed bullet.
Patti and his wife, Diane, also forty-seven and a native New Yorker, lived and worked on Long Island, running an agency that provided services for infants and toddlers with special needs. It was successful enough to allow them to purchase their getaway home in the town of Vershire, on the eastern side of Vermont, halfway between Massachusetts and Canada. Vershire's name was an amalgam of Vermont and New Hampshire, owing to the abundance of hills offering views from the former to the latter, some fifteen miles away across the Connecticut River.
One of the hills was called Judgment Ridge, named for a defunct ski area once located there. Judgment Ridge was less than a mile from the Pattis' house, just off the main road that connected the neighboring town of Chelsea to Interstate 91. Once on the interstate, it was a short drive south to Hanover, New Hampshire, home of Dartmouth College, and from there to the world beyond.
Vershire was best known to outsiders as home to The Mountain School, a private school that doubled as a working farm, allowing high school students to combine traditional studies with lessons on sustainable rural living. Vershire also was a magnet for second-home owners like the Pattis, many of them New Yorkers searching for solitude, serenity, and bargain property. Locals called them "flatlanders" during civil, if occasionally dismissive, conversations. Some natives called the outsiders much worse in private.
The Pattis first saw the cedar-shingled house next to a postcard-perfect pond in September 1999, and then spent eight months struggling to get clear title and overcome a maddening series of obstacles to their purchase. It finally became theirs two months before the stranger came to the door. Locals knew the place as The Sugar House, and indeed, the home on Goose Green Road was a symbol of the changing community. It was built in 1993, replacing a landmark wooden shack where generations of Vershire residents had marked each spring by boiling maple sap into sugary syrup.
During their first weeks in the house, Andrew and Diane tried to make it homey without Long Island-izing it. Their signature decorative touch was a mounted head of a six-point buck Diane's father had shot years earlier, hung high on a living-room wall next to the fireplace. The deer's limpid eyes stared down at anyone who entered the front door, above which a plaque read: home is where the heart is.
Soon after they moved in, the Pattis got a taste of life in a house built close to a country road: twice, just weeks apart, two strangers came to the door late at night seeking help with broken-down cars. The first was a young man who tentatively tapped on the door, then stepped briskly, submissively backward when Andrew Patti answered. The stranger's solicitous air convinced Patti there was no danger, and in a display of new-neighbor helpfulness he hitched the stalled car to Diane's SUV and towed it to the man's home. The second uninvited guest was a young woman who politely asked to use the phone to call Ward's Garage, a half-mile up the road ...Judgment Ridge. Copyright © by Dick Lehr. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.