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          part  #11 of  Myron Bolitar Series  by  Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
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"It can't hurt to try," Brooke agreed.

"But more than that, we have to get Patrick to open up."

"Yes."

"Nancy's text before we boarded--what did you make of it?"

"I'm not sure."

"Chick doesn't seem to trust her. How about you?"

Brooke thought about that. "She's a mother."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning, in the end, she'll do what's best for her kid. Not mine."

Mee brought over waters and warmed nuts. She set them down and turned away.

"You don't think she wants to help?" Myron asked.

"No, Nancy gets the pain. She gets it more than anyone, I suppose. But self-interest is a powerful motive. So is a mother concerned for her child. She said in her text, 'I'm doing what's best for my son. And yours.' She didn't type, 'I'm doing what's best for our sons.' Do you see?"

"I do."

"So what do we do about it?"

"We do what's best for your son," Myron said. "And hers."





Chapter 12


When they landed, there was another message from Nancy to Brooke: We'll come by your house tomorrow at 9 AM, okay?

Brooke read the message to Myron and Chick.

"Who the hell is 'we'?" Chick asked.

"I don't know."

"Ask her."

"I think we should wait," Brooke said. "I feel like maybe it'll spook her."

"Spook her how?" Chick asked.

"I don't know. Myron?"

"I think you wait," Myron said.

Brooke typed the reply: Ok, see you tomorrow.

There were two limos waiting, one for the Baldwins and one for Myron. Brooke stopped before she got in and turned to Myron.

"You should be there tomorrow. You saved their son. They're in your debt."

Myron wasn't so sure about that, but he said, "Okay."

He waited until Brooke and Chick and the limousine were out of sight before heading toward his. When he slid into the back, the driver said, "It's all been arranged. I'm to stay with you all night."

"Great."

"So to the high school?"

Myron checked his watch. "Yeah, that should work."

He sat back. The world would probably fall apart tomorrow, but tonight would be, if not life affirming, somewhat normal. It was six thirty P.M. when they hit the town oval in front of the high school. The oval, a half-mile perimeter where the townsfolk liked to jog or take brisk walks or share some gossip, had been cleverly dubbed "the Circle" because, hey, close enough. The town police station was across the street. The town library was on the bottom right as you entered the Circle. The town recreation center was on the top right. The town church took up a lot of the left, and there on the top of the oval, front and center, if you will, was the expansive town high school.

Key word: "town."

The driver pulled up to the gym. Myron opened the heavy metal door and stepped inside. The gym was empty, dark. That surprised him, but then he remembered that they had built a new facility back behind the football field. This one, the one that had meant so much to Myron, was now the "old gym." It looked it. It looked a hundred years old. It looked like something that should have peach baskets instead of basketball hoops.

Myron took a few steps, his shoes echoing against the old parquet wood floor. He stopped and stood at center court for a moment. The familiar smell of sweat still hung in the air. They probably still held gym classes in here, or was that a smell, mixed with some sort of heavy-duty janitorial cleaner, that would always be embedded in the woodwork? To some the smell was probably horrid. For Myron it was something closer to celestial.

Smells brought you back. "Deja vu" was too weak a term for what Myron was experiencing now. He slowly spun, taking it all in. He looked up at the concrete-and-brick wall above the door. The sign was still there.


TOP BASKETBALL SCORERS OF ALL TIME

1. MYRON BOLITAR

The memories rushed at him so hard and fast he nearly fell back. The old rickety stands were pushed into the wall, but in Myron's eyes they were accordion-pulled-out and full. His mind's eye saw his old teammates and coaches, and for a moment he tried to calculate how many hours he had spent in this gymnasium, how it had all gone so well here, on this floor, in the confines of the basketball court. Sports were supposed to be a reflection of life, a life lesson, a test of endurance and strength, a great preparation for the real world. That was what they always told you. But that wasn't the case for Myron.

Everything came easy to Myron on the court. In real life, not so much.

He walked back outside and into the sunlight. He got back into the limo. "Wrong gym," Myron said. "I think the new one is around the other side of the football field."

The driver took him toward the new facility. When he opened the door, he heard the comforting echo from a dribbling basketball and the familiar squeak of sneakers on the playing surface. Mood music. The new gymnasium was state-of-the-art, whatever that meant. It had bright lights and cool scoreboards and comfortable seats with backs. Everything glistened. But the smell--the combo of sweat and chemical cleaners--was still there. That made Myron smile.

The high school boys' team was scrimmaging, half the team wearing white, the other half green. Myron sat in the front row and watched and tried not to smile too broadly. They were good players, in better shape and more physical than in his day. The Lancers were undefeated so far this season, and rumor had it that they had a chance of breaking the winning streak set more than twenty-five years ago when the last basketball All-American graced this court.

Yep, you guessed it.

There were good players running up and down this court, some even great, but one stood out among the rest.

A sophomore named Mickey Bolitar. Myron's nephew.

Mickey circled to the corner, juked, got the pass, faked the three, drove hard to the hoop on the baseline. The kid was poetry in motion. It was damn near impossible to take your eyes off him. You could see it right away. The greatness. Myron studied his nephew's face and saw that look of what they called "being in the zone," focused yet relaxed, on edge yet laid back, whatever terminology you wanted to use, but really it could all be summed up in one word.

Home.

When Mickey was on the court, like his uncle before him, he was home. The court made sense. You could control life on the court. You had friends; you had enemies; you had the ball and those two hoops. You had rules. You had consistency. You were yourself. You were safe.

You were home.

Coach Grady spotted Myron and came over. Some things might change. Others didn't. The coach still wore a polo shirt with an embroidered logo on the pocket and shorts that were a hair too tight. He gave Myron a handshake and followed it with a hug.

"Been too long," Myron said to him.

"Yeah." Coach Grady spread his hands. "What do you think of the new gym?"

Myron looked around for a moment. "I kinda miss the old one, you know?"

"I do."

"Then again, maybe we are just being old and grumpy."

"Could be that too."

"Maybe I should stand on the porch and yell for the kids to get off my lawn."

They both turned to the court and watched. Mickey faked a three-pointer, drawing the defender toward him, and then threw a pass down the middle to his teammate for an easy layup.

"He's special," Grady said.

"Yep."

"I think he may be better than you."

"Hush, now."

Coach Grady laughed and blew the whistle. The game stopped, and for the first time, Mickey let up on his focus and spotted his uncle. He didn't wave. Neither did Myron. The coach called them into the circle at center court, said a few words of encouragement, told them, "Hands in." They all put their hands in and shouted, "Team!" before breaking for the showers.

Mickey jogged over to Myron. He had a towel around his neck. Myron stood. Mickey was sixteen years old, a little taller than Myron, maybe six five. He didn't smile often, at least not around his uncle, but, then again, their relationship, brief as it was, had been strained until recently.

Mickey was smiling now.

"You got the tickets?" Mickey asked.

"They're at will call."

"Let me just quickly shower. I'll be right back."

He jogged off. The gym emptied. Myron picked up a stray basketball and headed out onto the court. He stood at the foul line. He bounced the ball three times. His fingers found the grooves without conscious thought. He released the ball with perfect backspin. Swish. He did again. And again.

Time passed. Impossible to say how much.

"Myron?"

It was Mickey.

They headed outside toward the parking lot. Mickey stopped when he saw the limousine.

"We're taking that?"

"Yep. Problem?"

"It's a little showy."

"Yeah, it is."

Mickey looked around to make sure none of his friends was in sight. When he was sure the coast was clear, they both slipped into the back. Mickey leaned forward and stuck his hand out to the driver. "I'm Mickey."

"I'm Stan," the driver said. "Nice to meet you, Mickey."

"Same here."

Mickey sat back and fastened his seat belt. The car started up. "So I thought you were traveling and we weren't going tonight," Mickey said.

"I just got back."

"Where were you?"

"London," Myron said. "How's Grandma and Grandpa?"

Grandma and Grandpa were Ellen and Alan Bolitar, Myron's parents. They were staying with Mickey for the next few days.

"They're good."

"When will your parents be back?"

Mickey shrugged and looked out the window. "It's supposed to be a three-day retreat."

"And then?"

"Then if it goes well, Mom can be an outpatient."

Mickey's tone told Myron to leave it alone. For once, Myron did.

The ride into the heart of Newark took half an hour. The Prudential Center arena is known as the Rock, a reference to the Rock of Gibraltar on Prudential's logo. The New Jersey Devils hockey team played here, and that was about it for the pro teams. The Nets ended up moving to Brooklyn, abandoning their roots, but Myron had seen a lot of college basketball games here, and Springsteen twice.

Myron picked up the tickets at will call. They also got laminated backstage passes.

"Good seats?" Mickey asked.

"Ringside."

"Sweet."

"Your aunts take care of us. You know that."

Tonight's entertainment: professional wrestling.

In the old days, before the Internet made images of scantily clad women readily available, adolescent boys watched titillation in the guise of women's professional wrestling on Sunday morning local television. The undercard for tonight's main events featured a return to those days, to the days of FLOW, the Fabulous Ladies of Wrestling (originally they wanted to call themselves the Beautiful Ladies of Wrestling but the local networks had issues with the ensuing acronym), and some of the organization's all-time favorites.

FLOW had gone out of business many years ago, but somebody, mainly Myron's friend and former business partner, Esperanza Diaz, had resurrected the organization. Nostalgia was in, and Esperanza, known back in her FLOW days as "Little Pocahontas, the Indian Princess," hoped to cash in on it. She didn't hire hot young female wrestlers to dazzle the adolescents. That market was already satiated.

Welcome instead to the "cougar tour" of pro wrestling.

It was the "senior tour" of professional wrestling. And why not? Golf's senior tour was a big draw. Tennis had one. Those autograph conventions with old actors from seventies TV shows were hotter than ever. Just take a quick gander at the schedule of rock performers at your favorite venues--the Rolling Stones, the Who, Steely Dan, U2, Springsteen--and you realized that either youth was out or maybe they just had no disposable income.

So why not capitalize?

Tonight's Tag Team Championship in the Cougar Division featured the team of Little Pocahontas and Big Chief Mama.

Aka Esperanza Diaz and Big Cyndi.

When they entered the ring--Esperanza still teeth-meltingly rocking a skimpy leopard-print suede bikini with a hair lasso; Big Cyndi, all six six, three hundred pounds of her, squeezed into some kind of leather merry widow and a full feather headdress--the crowd erupted.

Mickey turned to his right to see the opponents coming out of the tunnel. "What the . . . ?"

The crowd began to boo.

Here was where FLOW really tested the boundaries. If Esperanza's and Big Cyndi's ages might qualify them as "MILFs," their evil opponents--"Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for the Axis of Evil, Commie Connie and Iron Curtain Irene!"--would fit more into the "GILF" category.

For those who might be a little slow in the area of acronyms, the G would stand for "grandmother."

Still, Commie Connie proudly (or defiantly) wore the same supertight, revealing red costume with Chinese stars and pictures of Mao that had made her famous, while Irene sported a two-piece that formed an old Soviet sickle across her cleavage.

Mickey started playing with his phone.

"What are you doing?" Myron asked.

"I'm looking something up."

"What?"

"Hold on." Then: "According to this, Commie Connie is seventy-four years old."

Myron smiled. "Looks great, doesn't she?"

"Uh, yeah, I guess."

Mickey didn't get it. Then again, he was sixteen. Myron had been ten when he watched Connie, so maybe he was still seeing her through his childhood goggles the same way we hear our favorite bands through childhood earphones. Whatever. As they sat back and watched the match unfold, Myron downed popcorn.

"So Aunt Esperanza is supposed to be Native American?" Mickey asked.

"Yes."

"But she's Hispanic, right?"

"Yes."

"And Big Cyndi is?"

"Anyone's guess."

"But she's not Native American."

"No, she's not." Myron glanced at him. "There isn't much about pro wrestling that's politically correct."

"More like downright insensitive."

"Yeah, I guess. It's a role. We can be outraged about it tomorrow."

Mickey grabbed some of the popcorn. "I told a couple of my teammates I knew Little Pocahontas."

"I bet they were impressed."

"Oh yeah. One says his dad still has her poster in his weight room."

"And that's probably politically incorrect too."

In the ring, Big Cyndi wore enough makeup to put a Kiss concert out of business. Then again, she wore the same in real life too. Big Cyndi made a quick move near the turnbuckle, grabbed Commie Connie in a headlock, and then, with her free hand, she blew Myron a kiss.

"I love you, Mr. Bolitar," she shouted.

Mickey loved that. So did the crowd. So, well, did Myron.

Again, the "senior tour" for the "cougar division" title was all about memories, which was tantamount to wanting your favorite band to play its old hits. So that was what the four wrestlers gave the crowd.

Little Pocahontas had always been a fan favorite. She would always be winning on skill, all lithe and tiny and beautiful, dancing around the ring, darting to and fro, earning high marks and cheers from the crowd, when suddenly her evil opponents would cheat to turn the tide. This cheating usually took the form of either jamming sand in Little Pocahontas's eyes (Esperanza was great at acting out "burning eyes") or using the dreaded "foreign object" to render her helpless.

Tonight Commie Connie and Iron Curtain Irene did both.

With Big Chief Mama being distracted by the crooked referee, who had been seduced by Commie Connie's promise of sexual favors, Iron Curtain Irene used the sand in the eye while Commie Connie jabbed Esperanza in the kidney with the foreign object. Little Pocahontas was in trouble! The two evil wrestlers now teamed up on Little Pocahontas--something else that was illegal!--pounding her mercilessly, the crowd begging someone to help the poor beauty, when finally Big Chief Mama saw what was happening, pushed the referee out of the ring, and rescued the hot heroine, and together Little Pocahontas and Big Chief Mama faced down the Axis of Evil.

Massively entertaining.

The crowd, including Myron and Mickey, stood and roared.

"So why were you in London?" Mickey asked.

"I was helping an old friend."

"Do what?"

"We were trying to locate two missing kids."

Mickey turned to him, his face suddenly serious. "Wasn't one found?"

"You saw that?"

"It was on some news alert. Patrick something."

"Patrick Moore."

"He's my age, right? Disappeared when he was six?"

"That's right."

"What about the other kid?"

"Rhys Baldwin." Myron shook his head. "We're still looking for him."

Mickey swallowed, turned back to the match. In the ring, Little Pocahontas had just swept the leg of Iron Curtain Irene, knocking her to the mat. Commie Connie was already on the ground and--gasp--Big Chief Mama was standing on the top rope.

"The big finale," Myron said with a grin.

Seemingly defying gravity, Big Chief Mama bent at the knees and leapt off the top rope and high into the air. The crowd held its collective breath as, almost in slow motion, she began to hurtle back toward earth, landing on both of her opponents with a clearly audible splat.

Neither opponent moved.

When Big Chief Mama rose, you half expected her two adversaries to be pancake flat on the canvas, like Silly Putty or something out of a cartoon. Big Chief Mama rolled over Connie. Pocahontas rolled over Irene. Together they pinned their opponents and the bell rang and the ring announcer shouted, "The winner and still Cougar Tag Team Champions, from the reservation straight to your heart, let's hear it for Little Pocahontas and Big Chief Mama!"

With the entire arena up on its feet, Big Cyndi lifted Esperanza onto her shoulders. They waved and blew kisses as the applause rained down on them.

And then the next match began.





Chapter 13


An hour later, Myron and Mickey flashed their passes and headed backstage. Big Cyndi, still in the leather merry widow and headdress, ran over to Myron and shouted, "Oh, Mr. Bolitar!"

Big Cyndi's makeup had started to run, so that her face resembled a box of crayons left too close to the fireplace.

"Hey, Big Cyndi."

She wrapped her tree-trunk arms around Myron and pulled him close, lifting him ever so slightly off his feet. Big Cyndi was still covered with sweat, and when she hugged you, it was all consuming, like being wrapped up in damp attic insulation.
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