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          part  #11 of  Myron Bolitar Series  by  Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
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Myron smiled and enjoyed the ride. When she finally put him back down, he said, "You remember my nephew."

"Oh, Mr. Mickey!"

Big Cyndi bear-hugged him the same way. Mickey looked a little confused--it was a wild ride for the inexperienced--but he hung in there. "Hey, Cyndi, you were great out there."

She gave Mickey a funny look. "Cyndi?"

"Sorry. Big Cyndi."

That pleased her. Big Cyndi had been Myron's receptionist when he and Esperanza had their sports agency. She preferred formalities, so Myron was always Mr. Bolitar and she had always insisted others call her Big Cyndi, not just Cyndi. She had even legally changed her name so that official documents now read, last name: Cyndi, first name: Big.

"Where's Esperanza?" Myron asked.

"Doing a VIP meet-n-greet," Big Cyndi said. "She's very popular, you know."

"Yeah, I know."

"Most of the VIPs are men, Mr. Bolitar."

"Right."

"They pay five hundred dollars per ticket. The perk is they get a photograph with Little Pocahontas. Not that I don't have my own fan base, you know."

"Oh, I know."

"I charge a thousand, Mr. Bolitar. I'm more discriminating."

"Good to know."

"Care for a green smoothie? You don't look good, Mr. Bolitar."

"No, thanks."

"Mr. Mickey?"

Mickey held up a hand. "I'm good."

Two minutes later, Esperanza entered the room wrapping a bathrobe around the suede bikini costume. Mickey quickly stood when she entered. There were no two ways about it. Esperanza had the kind of looks that made all men and boys react. She had the kind of beauty that reminded you of sunsets on the Caribbean or moonlit strolls on the beach.

"Oh, that's sweet of you to stand, Mickey."

Esperanza frowned at Myron, who remained seated just to prove his point. She gave Mickey a quick kiss on the cheek. Mickey congratulated her on a great show. Myron sat and waited. He and Esperanza had been close friends for a long time. She'd worked with him at the sports agency, going to law school at night, and ended up being his partner. He knew her. She knew him.

So he waited.

After a few minutes of chatter, Esperanza took Mickey's hand. "Do you mind if I talk to your uncle alone for a few minutes?"

"Oh, sure thing."

"Come on, Mr. Mickey," Big Cyndi said, beckoning him to follow her. "Commie Connie spotted you in the first row and said she wanted to meet you."

"Uh, okay."

"She said that you looked--and I quote her directly--'delicious.'"

Mickey blanched, but he followed her out of the room.

"He's a good kid," Esperanza said.

"He is."

"He stop hating you yet?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"And how are his parents?"

Myron lifted his hand, tipped it left, then right. "We'll see."

Esperanza closed the door. "So you were in London."

"Yep."

"You didn't tell me you were going."

"It was last-minute."

"And I saw on the news that a missing boy was found in London."

"Yep."

"But not Win's cousin."

"No," Myron said. "It was the other kid. Patrick Moore."

"I also read about some big explosion where the kid was found. It took out an entire wall."

"You know Win," Myron said. "He isn't much for subtlety."

Esperanza met his eye. "So it's true? You really saw Win?"

"Yes. He called me for help."

"Is he okay?"

"Was he ever?"

"You know what I mean."

"He seems fine."

"So all those rumors about Win losing his mind and being a recluse . . . ?"

"He started them."

Myron filled her in on everything that had happened. Esperanza sat across from him and listened. It brought him back to better days, when they were younger and starting out and they would discuss contracts and endorsement deals for hours on end. For so many years, Esperanza had been a part of Myron's everyday life. He missed that.

When he finished, Esperanza shook her head. "Something isn't right here."

"I know, right?"

"And tomorrow you meet with the boy you rescued?"

"We hope."

"Big Cyndi and I can help with this, you know."

"I can handle it. You two are busy."

"Don't do that, Myron."

"Don't do what? You have a business to run."

"A business I run. Big Chief Mama and Little Pocahontas get rotated in and out of the lineup. We can be free anytime you need us." Esperanza leaned forward. "This is Win's cousin. I want to be a part of it. So will Big Cyndi. Don't shut us out."

Myron nodded. "Okay." Then: "Where's Hector, by the way?"

Her face darkened. When she spoke again, the words came out in an angry spit. "He's with his father."

"Oh. I take it from your tone that the custody battle is not going well."

"Tom has an in with the judge. A golfing buddy, believe it or not."

"You can't get a venue change?"

"My attorney says no. Guess what Tom's claiming."

"What?"

"I lead a"--Esperanza made quote marks with her fingers--"'prurient' lifestyle."

"Because you're a wrestler?"

"Because I'm bisexual."

Myron frowned. "For real?"

"Yep."

"But bisexuality is so mainstream now."

"I know," Esperanza said.

"Practically a cliche."

"Tell me about it. I feel so passe."

She turned away.

"So it's bad?"

"I may lose him, Myron. You know Tom. He is one of those master-of-the-universe, take-no-prisoner types. It isn't about what's right or wrong or the truth. It's all about winning. It's all about beating me no matter what the cost."

"Anything I can do?"

"Answer one question."

"What?"

"You knew he was a twat waffle, didn't you?"

Myron didn't reply.

"So how did you let me marry him?"

"I didn't think it was my business to interfere," Myron said.

"Whose business was it, then?"

Boom. Drop the mic. Esperanza just stared at him for a second. She had no family. She had only Myron and Win and Big Cyndi.

"Would you have listened to me?" Myron asked.

"No more than you listened to me when I told you how awful Jessica was."

"I eventually saw the light."

"Oh yes, you saw the light. Right after she dumped you and married another man." Esperanza held up her hand. "Sorry, that was stupid. I'm just pissed off."

"Don't worry about it."

"Besides, now you have Terese."

"And you approve of her."

"I love her. If I could get her to switch sides, I'd steal her from you."

"Flattering," Myron said.

"Wait."

"What?"

"If Win is back, does this mean I'm not your best man anymore?"

"You never were," Myron said. "It's the 'man' part that gives him the edge."

"Sexist."

"But Terese and I wanted to ask you something."

"What?"

"We want you to officiate the ceremony."

Esperanza didn't often look stunned. She did now. "Really?"

"Yeah. You have to get ordained online or something, but we really want you to be the one who marries us."

Esperanza said, "Bastard."

"What?"

"I have to do another meet-n-greet and now I'm going to start crying."

"No, you won't. You're too tough."

"True." She rose and started for the door. "Myron?"

"Yeah."

"How many times has Win asked for help?"

"I think this is the first."

"We need to find Rhys," Esperanza said.


*

Mickey was quiet on the ride home.

Uncle and nephew didn't always see eye to eye. Mickey blamed Myron for a lot of what had happened to his father and mother. In a way, that was fair. Esperanza had wondered why Myron had never butted in to warn her about Tom. The reason involved Mickey. Way back when, Myron had butted in when his brother (and Mickey's father) Brad had wanted to run away with troubled tennis wunderkind (and Mickey's mother) Kitty Hammer.

That decision, made with the best of intentions, had led to disaster.

"The missing boy," Myron said. "He's your age."

Mickey was looking out the window. He had been through a lot for someone so young--his unstable upbringing, his mother's drug addiction, his father's bizarre return from the grave. Mickey had also, it seemed, inherited the Bolitar "hero complex" gene. He had done a lot of good in a very short time. That made Myron equal parts proud and worried.

"I was thinking maybe you could give me some insight into what he's thinking," Myron said to his nephew.

"For real?"

"Yes."

Mickey made a face. "So when I'm dealing with a guy in his forties, should I get insight into everything about him by asking you?"

"Fair point," Myron said.

"He was kidnapped, what, ten years ago?"

"Right."

"Do you know anything about where he was all this time?" Mickey asked.

Myron shook his head. "Just that we found him working as a street hustler."

Silence.

"Myron?"

"Yeah."

"Tell me everything, okay?"

Myron told him the story. Mickey listened without interrupting.

"So Patrick is home now," Mickey said.

"Yes."

"And you're supposed to see him tomorrow."

"That's the plan."

Mickey rubbed his chin. "If that doesn't go well, let me know."

"What makes you think it won't go well?"

"Nothing."

"And what will you do if it doesn't go well?"

Mickey didn't reply.

"I don't want you involved in this, Mickey."

"It's a missing teen, Myron. Like you said, I might have some insight."





Chapter 14


Myron's car climbed up past the nouveau riche mansions, so expansive they appeared to have been taking some sort of growth hormone. The lawns were overly manicured, the hedges cropped with too much precision. The sun shone down as though someone had pressed a button and cued it up to do so. The brick was perfectly faded, too perfectly, adding to the faux-Las Vegas-Disney effect of the surroundings. No one had a tar driveway. They were made of some kind of fancy limestone that you didn't want to ruin by driving over it. Everything reeked of money. Myron rolled down the window expecting to hear a fitting soundtrack to this ideal setting, maybe Bach or Mozart, but there was only the sound of silence, which, come to think of it, was the ideal soundtrack.

The homes were beautiful and picturesque and had all the warmth of a chain motel.

There were several news trucks on the street, though not as many as you might think. The gate was open, so Myron pulled into the Baldwins', yep, limestone driveway. It was eight thirty, half an hour until the meeting with the Moores. Myron stepped out of the car. The grass was so green he almost bent down to see if it'd been freshly painted.

A chocolate Labrador sprinted toward him. Her tail was wagging so excitedly that her butt could barely keep up. She half slid the last few yards to him. Myron got down on one knee and gave the dog a good scratch behind the ears.

A young man--Myron guesstimated his age at twenty--came up behind her. He had the dog's lead in his hand. His hair was long and wavy, the kind of long and wavy where you keep throwing back your head to keep it out of your eyes. He wore a black Lycra jogging ensemble with navy blue sleeves that exactly matched the navy blue in his sneakers. Myron thought that maybe he could see a little of both parents in his features.

"What's your dog's name?" Myron asked.

"Chloe."

Myron stood. "You must be Clark."

"And you must be Myron Bolitar." He took a step and extended his hand. Myron shook it. "Nice to meet you."

"Same," Myron said.

Myron did the math quickly in his head. Clark was Rhys's older brother. He'd been eleven when the kidnapping occurred, making him twenty-one now.

For a moment they both just stood there awkwardly. Clark looked to his right, then his left, then forced up a smile.

"You in school?" Myron asked, just to ask something.

"Yeah, I'm a junior."

"Where do you go?"

"Columbia."

"Great school," Myron said, just to say something. "Do you know your major, or is that an annoying question only adults ask?"

"Political science."

"Ah," Myron said. "That was my major."

"Great."

More awkwardness.

"Any idea what you want to do when you graduate?" Myron asked because he couldn't think of something more hackneyed and inane to ask a twenty-one-year-old.

"None whatsoever," Clark said.

"No rush."

"Thanks."

Was that sarcasm? Either way, more awkwardness ensued.

"I should probably go inside," Myron said, pointing toward the front door, in case Clark didn't know what he meant by "inside."

Clark nodded. Then he said, "You're the one who saved Patrick."

"I had help." Which again was a stupid thing to say. The kid wasn't looking for humility right now. Then: "Yeah, I was there."

"Mom says you almost saved Rhys."

Myron had no idea how to reply to that, so he started to glance around, and then it dawned on him.

This was the crime scene.

The path he was now standing on had been the one Nancy Moore took when she first rang the bell to retrieve Patrick from his playdate. It was the one Brooke would take a little while later when they couldn't reach Vada Linna, the au pair.

"You were eleven," Myron said.

Clark nodded. "Yeah, that's right."

"Do you remember anything?"

"Like what?"

"Like anything. Where were you when it happened?"

"Why does that matter?"

"I'm just taking another look at the whole thing, that's all."

"So what do I have to do with it?"

"Nothing," Myron said. "But that's how I do it. Investigate, I mean. I stumble in the dark. I ask a lot of dumb questions. Most go nowhere. But sometimes even a dumb question creates a spark."

"I was in school," Clark said. "Mr. Dixon's class. Fifth grade."

Myron considered that. "Why weren't Rhys and Patrick in school?"

"They were in kindergarten."

"So?"

"So in this town, kindergarteners only go for a half day."

Myron mulled that over for a moment. "What do you remember?"

"Nothing really. I came home from school. The police were here." He shrugged.

"See?" Myron said.

"See what?"

"You helped."

"How?"

The front door opened. Brooke stepped out. "Myron?"

"Yeah, sorry, I was just talking to Clark."

Without another word, Clark put the lead on the dog and started jogging toward the road. Myron headed toward Brooke, not sure if he should kiss her cheek or shake her hand or what. Brooke pulled him in for a hug, so he went with it. She smelled nice. She wore blue jeans and a white blouse. They looked good on her.

"You're early," Brooke said.

"Do you mind showing me the kitchen?" Myron asked.

"Getting right to it, eh?"

"I didn't think you'd want me to ease into it."

"You thought right. This way."

The floor was marble, so their footsteps echoed in the three-story foyer. There was a grand staircase, a look you didn't often see in real life. The walls were light mauve and covered in tapestries. There were steps to move from the living room into a rectangular kitchen the approximate size and dimensions of a tennis court. Everything was either white or chrome, and Myron wondered at the effort it must take to keep a room like this clean. There were floor-to-ceiling windows offering a rather breathtaking view of the backyard, a swimming pool, and a gazebo. Farther out, Myron could see the start of the woods.

"So if I remember the police report right," Myron said, "your nanny was by the sink."

"That's right."

Myron spun to his left. "And the two boys were sitting at the kitchen table."

"Right. They'd been out playing in the yard."

Myron pointed out the windows. "The backyard?"

"Yes."

"So they're playing outside. Then your nanny brings them in here for a snack."

Myron walked over to the sliding glass door and tried it. It was locked. "They would have come in this door?"

"Yes."

"And then she left the door unlocked."

"We used to always leave it unlocked," Brooke said. "We felt safe back here."

That quieted the room.

Myron broke it: "According to your nanny, the kidnappers were wearing black and ski masks and all that."

"Right."

"And you don't have any surveillance cameras or anything like that?"

"We do now. But then, no. We had a camera by the front door so we could see who rang the bell."

"I assume the police checked it out."

"Nothing to check. It didn't record. We only used it for live viewing."

There was a round kitchen table with four chairs. Rhys had only the one sibling--Clark--so Myron wondered whether it had always been like that, the four chairs, and after what happened to Rhys, no one had the heart to move it. Did they sit there at dinner every night for ten years, at that table, the one chair empty?

He looked at Brooke. She knew what he was thinking. It was all over her face.

"We sometimes eat on the island too," she said.

There was a large rectangular marble island in the middle of the kitchen. A variety of upscale brass pans hung from the ceiling above it. One side had storage. The other had six barstools.

"One thing," Myron said.

"What?"

"Everything faces the windows. I mean, except for one of the chairs at the kitchen table. The sink has a view. The stove has a view. The barstools and even the table."

"Yes."

Myron walked over to the sliding glass door. He looked to his left, then to his right. "So three men in ski masks get all this way--all the way to this door--and no one sees them?"

"Vada was busy," Brooke said. "She was preparing the snack. The boys, well, they wouldn't be looking out the window. They were probably playing some kind of video game or messing around."

Myron looked at how wide open the yard was, how big the windows were. "I guess that's possible."
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