Part #3 of Mickey Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
"I don't understand."
"It's been exposed. The police know about it now."
"It was hardly a secret," I said. "Luther knew about it."
"Of course he did."
"I don't understand," Ema said. "Where are we going?"
"You're both going home."
She raised a hand straight in the air. Suddenly headlights came on. A car came up the road hidden in the woods. I wasn't surprised when I saw it. It was the same black car that had tailed me since I moved in with Uncle Myron. The passenger door opened.
Shaved Head stepped out. He was dressed, as always, in a black suit. Even at night, he still wore the sunglasses.
"Hello, Dylan," I said to him.
He ignored me.
"Go home," Bat Lady said to us. "Don't ever come back here."
"What are we supposed to do?" I asked.
"I told you already. You remember, don't you?"
I nodded. "You want us to find Jared Lowell."
Bat Lady looked at Ema as though she were seeing her for the first time. She stepped toward her and put her hands on her shoulders. "You're stronger than you know, Ema."
Ema glanced at me and then back at Bat Lady. "Uh, thanks."
"You love this boy."
"Well, I don't know about that. In a way I don't even know him."
"It will hurt."
"What will?" Ema asked.
Ema and I stood perfectly still.
"Go home. Both of you. Don't ever come back here."
Lizzy Sobek looked over her property as though seeing it for the first time--or, more likely, the last. I wondered what she saw, how much history lay on these grounds, how many rescued and terrified children had come through here.
"None of us," she said, "should ever come back."
Bat Lady seemed to float toward the car. Shaved Head/Dylan opened the back door of the car. She slipped inside without another word. Dylan got into the front passenger seat.
The black car drove off.
That night I dreamed about my mother.
I don't remember the specifics. The dream was pretty surreal. Mom was young in the dream, really young, like before-I-remember-her young. Sometimes my dream mom was wearing tennis whites. Other times not. She was healthy, though, smiling the way she used to, the way she did before my dad died and the demons moved in and took her away from me.
Why did she have Dad cremated and not tell me?
I didn't have a clue.
Why would she bury an urn of ashes as though it were his body? Again no clue. But I had seen the authorization form. That was her signature.
Or was it?
I had already been dumb enough to be fooled via common Photoshopping that Luther was an old Nazi from World War II. Maybe the answer here was just as simple. Maybe Mom hadn't signed the document. Maybe someone had simply forged her name.
Again the obvious question: Why?
Answer: Take it a step at a time. See if Mom signed the papers. If she didn't, then we check on the notary. We see where that leads. But first things first.
I needed to see my mom.
"You're up early," Uncle Myron said a little too cheerfully.
"I'm going somewhere with Ema."
I didn't want to get into my trip to the Farnsworth School. "Just somewhere."
He didn't like it, but he didn't push it either. Uncle Myron was eating a bowl of unhealthy kid cereal and reading the back of the box. He did this every morning.
"Can I pour you some?"
He also asked this every morning. I'd rather just pour sugar down my throat. "No, thanks. I'll scramble up some eggs."
"I can do it for you."
He also made this offer every morning. Once I let him make them. They were terrible. Myron couldn't cook. He has trouble reheating a pizza without messing it up.
"I'm good, thanks."
I broke the eggs, added a dash of milk. Uncle Myron had purchased some truffle oil for me. That was a secret I had learned from my mother. It was expensive, but when I could get it, a dab of the oil made the eggs a lot tastier.
"I need to see my mom," I said.
Uncle Myron looked up from the cereal box. "You can't."
"I know she's in rehab."
"And you know the doctors said we had to stay away for at least two more weeks."
Myron stood. "You want to ask her about the cremation."
"It won't help," he said. "I mean, think about it. What's she going to tell you, Mickey?"
I stayed silent.
"If your mom says she didn't do it, maybe she was just so high she doesn't remember. If she says she did it . . ." Myron stopped, thought about it. "Well, okay, maybe that would end whatever quest you're on."
"I'm going to call the rehab," I said. "But I'm going to need you to back me up on this."
Uncle Myron let loose a long sigh but he nodded. "Okay, sure. But we need to do what's best for your mom. You get that, right?"
Of course I got that. He sat back down and started eating the kid cereal again. I moved to the stove. I had forty minutes until I was meeting Ema at the bus station. Then I remembered something.
"I saw you at Schultz's gym. You were talking to Mr. Schultz and Randy."
Myron took another bite of cereal. He may have nodded, I wasn't sure.
"What was that all about?" I asked.
"I've known the family for a long time. Mr. Schultz grew up in this town."
"Did he go to Kasselton High?"
"No," Myron said. "Your father's."
I wasn't sure how to take that. "Did they know each other?"
"Your father and Mr. Schultz? Sure. They knew each other since grade school."
I tried to imagine that--a world where Buck's father and my father played at recess or whatever as little kids. It was hard to see. "So yesterday you were talking to him and Randy."
He took another spoonful of cereal, jammed it into his mouth, chewed too loudly for all the time it had sat in milk. "Do you know what I do for a living?"
"I thought you were retired," I said.
"Temporarily, yeah. I mean, I sold my business. But do you know what I used to do?"
"You were a sports agent, right?"
I was using a wooden spatula to work my eggs.
"So that's why they wanted to see you?" I asked.
Was Uncle Myron being intentionally thick? "Did Randy want you to be his agent?"
Myron's words came out slowly. "I don't think so."
"When I was training to become an agent, I went to law school."
I knew about that. After Myron's basketball career came to an abrupt end, he ended up at Harvard and became an attorney. "So?"
"So what people tell me is confidential."
"When you're acting as a lawyer."
"So you're Randy's lawyer?"
"I don't get it, then."
Uncle Myron started fidgeting. "Why are you so interested?" he asked.
"No reason," I said, trying to sound nonchalant. Then: "Do you know he has a brother, Buck?"
"Yeah, I know. He's a senior. He's given you some trouble, right?"
Myron nodded. "Mr. Schultz told me. Buck moved back in with his mother. Something about a custody dispute. He was pretty upset about it."
"So was that what he wanted to talk to you about?" I asked.
"I'm not a divorce lawyer," Myron said.
"Is that a no?"
"It's a no."
I waited. Uncle Myron started reading the back of the
He didn't bother glancing up. "No, Mickey, I'm not."
"Could you tell me if it had anything to do with Buck?"
Uncle Myron weighed that request before saying, "It doesn't."
"So," I said, "the fact that Randy wanted to talk to you and Buck all of a sudden had to go live with his mom--that's just a big coincidence?"
"Yes," Myron said.
But I could hear in his tone that even he didn't believe it.
I met Ema at the bus stop. "It isn't a VCR tape," she said.
"What is it, then?"
"Something called a Betamax. Sony made them. I guess they were popular in the eighties, but they're obsolete now."
"So how do we watch it?"
"I don't know. We could look online, I guess. See if anyone is selling a machine on eBay or something. Or we could go back to Bat Lady's house and use the one in the tunnel."
"You heard her."
Ema nodded. "Never go back. She was pretty adamant about that."
The bus hit some traffic near the Tappan Zee Bridge, but still made it in less than three hours. There were three Farnsworth students on our bus--all wearing jackets and ties--so we followed them. Campus was closer than we'd expected, less than a half-mile walk.
We stayed a step behind the three boys. Every once in a while they would turn around and look at us, wondering, I guess, why we were following them. Sometimes they stared openly at Ema. There may have been derision in their eyes, I couldn't say for sure. Ema was decked out in her customary black--black clothes, black hair, black nail polish, black lipstick. Tattoos ran up and down her arms and across her neck.
I could almost feel her growing uncomfortable next to me, so I decided to break the tension by speaking: "Hey, guys."
They all turned now and squinted at us.
"Do you know Jared Lowell?" I asked.
"Yeah, sure," one of them said. The kid had a big mop of blond hair. "Why, you guys friends?"
I looked at Ema. She looked at me. Man, I hadn't thought this through. "Uh, sort of."
Under her breath Ema muttered, "Smooth."
Blond Mop said, "What's that supposed to mean?"
But now Blond Mop looked at me with suspicion. We passed a place called Wilke's Deli. A bunch of students were lined up to get lunch.
"Uh, I'm his cousin," I said lamely.
Ema looked on in horror.
"I guess height runs in the family, then."
"If you're his cousin," Blond Mop said, "why did you say 'sort of' when I asked if you knew him?"
Ema folded her arms. She wanted to hear this too.
"Did I?" I fumbled. "Oh, I thought you asked if we were friends. We're cousins. That's 'sort of' friends. You know what I mean?" I smiled like the local TV anchorman. Up ahead I saw a tall white steeple that I recognized from the Farnsworth School website. We were getting close to campus. "Hey, nice meeting you."
We quickly veered right. Out of the side of her mouth, Ema said, "Wow, you're good."
"I was being sarcastic."
"Yeah, me too."
She stopped. "Mickey?"
"How do I look?"
"Don't patronize me."
Ema started to bite a nail.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"I really care about this guy, okay? I know you want to dismiss it because it was online. But I have feelings for him. I miss him. We shared in a way that . . ."
I felt a small pang. I waited for her to continue. Then I said, "In a way that what?"
She shook her head. "Never mind. Let's go."
On the website, the campus looked beautiful; in person, it looked even better. The perfectly aged brick buildings lined the perimeter of an expansive circle of pure golf-tournament-green grass. The grass has been cut in perfect strips. The circle was big enough to house two soccer fields and a baseball diamond. The fields were all empty now, the entire campus still. I checked the clock on my phone and then I looked at the class schedule.
"Jared is in his Comparative Lit class," I said. "He gets out in twenty minutes."
"So what do we do in the meantime?"
I noticed two security guards standing in a booth. One of the guards stared at us. I realized how out of place Ema must look to him.
"We should probably get out of sight," I said. "It's an all-boys school, and, well, you probably stand out."
I meant her gender, of course, but it was more than that. This campus seemed pretty straitlaced and old-school. Ema looked anything but.
I had spoken a few seconds too late. The words had come from yet another campus security guard. He was a small man with a mustache so thick, it looked like someone had glued a guinea pig under his nose.
"Hi," I said.
"Are you a student here?" he asked me.
I was going to lie and say yes, but that wouldn't work. The guard would ask me for my student ID or look up my name or something like that. I was debating how to handle it when Ema enthusiastically stuck out her hand.
"Hi!" she said in this fake golly-gee voice that was nearly the polar opposite of her normal affect. "My name is Emma."
The guard hesitantly took her hand. "Uh, nice to meet you."
"And your name?" Ema asked, still holding the handshake.
"Well, nice to meet you too, Officer Bohuny! Oh, and this is my brother Mickey."
She gestured toward me. I nodded because I'm fast on the uptake.
"Say hi to Officer Bohuny, Mickey."
Officer Bohuny and I shook hands.
Ema gave us both her biggest-wattage smile. Who was this girl? "Officer Bohuny, my brother is visiting the campus as a prospective student, and I thought I'd walk around with him. Is that a problem?"
"Well, see, you need visitor passes," he said.
"We do?" She frowned at me. "Mickey, did you know that?"
Me: "No. I didn't know."
"So you two don't have visitor passes?" Bohuny asked.
"I'm so, so sorry," Ema replied--and she looked more than sorry, almost crushed by this indiscretion. "What should we do, Officer Bohuny?"
"The admissions office is that building on the left." He pointed with both his finger and, it seemed, that bushy mustache. "The entrance is on the other side of the circle. You can get a pass there. I can walk you over there, if you'd like."
"Please don't bother," Ema said, shaking his hand again. "We've taken up enough of your time. Thank you so much, Officer Bohuny."
We started toward the admissions office. Officer Bohuny kept watch. Under my breath, I muttered to her, "Who are you?"
She gave a small laugh.
"Now what?" I asked.
"Do you have a plan?"
"I do," Ema said. "You're going to have to talk to Jared on your own."
"We will go to the admissions. You tell them your name and that you're a prospective student interested in seeing the campus. You'll get a visitor's pass."
"What about you?"
She shook her head. "I can't play the sister card in there. They might ask for ID. It will look too weird. You go on your own. Find Jared. I'll wait for you two at that deli we walked past."
Ema didn't hesitate or look behind her. She headed off campus while I continued to make my way to the admissions office. I had hoped to just get a pass and move on, but that was not about to happen. I had to fill out forms. I had to show my current ID. I had to schedule a campus tour at three o'clock and an interview at four.
The lady behind the desk frowned at me and then said, "Come with me a moment."
Uh-oh. I followed her down a wood-paneled corridor. Oil portraits of stern men, former headmasters, looked down on me disapprovingly. They seemed to say, "You don't belong here," and today, at least, it was hard to argue.
The receptionist stopped by a door and took a long look at me. "You're tall," she said.
I wasn't sure how to reply to that, so I didn't.
She opened the door and pulled out a blue blazer. "The school has a strict dress code. Didn't you read that in the literature?"
"I must have missed it," I said.
"Luckily you're wearing a collared shirt. Here's a tie."
I thanked her. The jacket was a little snug, but it would do. I threw the tie around my neck and began to tie it as we headed back to her desk. She gave me a visitor's pass and told me to wear it on my lapel. I did.
I checked the time. Jared's Comparative Lit class would be letting out in two minutes. I grabbed a more detailed campus map from the admissions office and tried not to hurry outside. Jared's class was in room 111, Feagles Hall. That was four buildings down on the right.
I hurried over, doing an awkward walk-run, and arrived with a few seconds to spare. The bell in the steeple chimed. I could hear the scuff of chairs on wood. The students started to exit. I leaned against the wall near room 111 and waited. Mr. Casual. Mr. Just Minding My Own Business.
Twelve boys exited the classroom. I had seen a picture of Jared Lowell. None of the faces matched. Jared had also been described as my height, but none of the students were over six feet tall. I still waited, still leaning against the wall as though I was holding it up, hoping that maybe he was just a straggler.
A few minutes later the teacher came out. By now the corridor was empty except for Mr. Casual. The teacher turned to me. "May I help you?"
I was going to ask him whether Jared Lowell had been to class, but I already knew the answer. If I asked where Jared was, well, hadn't I learned my lesson about asking questions haphazardly? I said no thank you and moved on my way.
When I stepped outside, I was struck anew by how spectacular this campus was. How cool it must be to go to school here. The campus's green was one thing, but down the hill, the water sparkled in the sunlight. I wasn't sure what waterway that was--the Atlantic Ocean maybe?--but students were in crew boats rowing in perfect symmetry. The whole place felt upper class and rich. I expected a foxhunt or polo match to start up.
Maybe Jared was sick today. He lived, I knew thanks to Spoon, on the second floor of Barna House. I could go and see if he was there. The other option was to . . . to what? I could go find Ema at the deli, but then it might be harder to come back on campus without a lot of questions.
Found by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Young Adult / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes