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         Part #11 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben  
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  "What else would it be?"

  No reason to answer that quite yet. "Clark told me he was in school when the boys were taken."

  "Right. So?"

  "Most kids finish school around three in the afternoon. The kindergarteners in this town only go half a day, right?"

  "Right. They were let out at eleven thirty."

  "And the kidnappers knew that too."

  "So?"

  "So nothing. It suggests some planning on their part; that's all."

  "The police figured that. They figured that they probably followed Vada or Rhys and knew their schedule."

  Myron thought about that. "But Rhys didn't come home after school every day, did he? I mean, I assume sometimes his playdates took him to other kids' homes. I assume he went to Patrick's sometimes, for example."

  "Right."

  "So on the one hand, this looks carefully planned out. Three men. Knowing the schedule. And then on the other, they rely on your au pair leaving this sliding door unlocked and no one seeing them as they approached."

  "They could have known she never locked it."

  "By spying on how she entered the kitchen from the yard? Unlikely."

  "They also could have smashed the window," Brooke said.

  "I'm not following."

  "Let's say Vada had spotted them. Do you think she could have gotten to the door and locked it in time? And then what? They could have smashed the glass and grabbed the boys."

  It was all possible, Myron thought. But why wait? Why not grab the boys when they were out in the yard? Were they afraid someone would see?

  It was too early to theorize. He needed to gather more facts.

  "So here they are, the kidnappers, stepping inside right where we are now," Myron said.

  Brooke stiffened for a moment. "Yes."

  "That was kind of abrupt, I'm sorry."

  "Don't patronize me."

  "I'm not. But it doesn't mean I have to be insensitive either."

  "Let's get this out of the way," Brooke said.

  "Get what out of the way?"

  "You're probably wondering how I do it," Brooke said. "How I come into this kitchen every day and walk right past where Rhys was taken. Do I block? Do I cry sometimes? I do a little of both, I guess. But mostly I remember. Mostly I come in this kitchen and what happened is my companion. And I need that. Everyone wondered why we didn't move away. Why we invite this pain. I'll tell you why. Because this pain is better. This pain is better than the pain of giving up on him. A mother doesn't give up on her child. So I can live with the pain. I can't live with giving up."

  Myron thought about what Win had told him, about how the lack of closure was eating at Brooke, making it all the more unbearable. There comes a time when you have to know the answers. Maybe you can live with the pain, but the not knowing, the purgatory, the limbo, had to eat away at your bones.

  "Do you understand now?" Brooke said.

  "I do, yeah."

  "Then ask your next question," she said.

  Myron dove right in. "Why the basement?" He pointed to the sliding glass door. "You break in here. You've grabbed the boys. You have the nanny. You decide to leave her alive. You decide to tie her up. So why not do it here? Why bring her down to the basement?"

  "For the reason you just stated."

  "That being?"

  "If they tied her up here, you'd be able to see from the backyard."

  "But if the backyard is that exposed, why go that way in the first place?"

  Myron heard heavy footsteps coming down the steps. He checked his watch. Eight forty-five A.M.

  "Brooke?"

  It was Chick. He hurried into the room and pulled up when he saw Myron. Chick wore a business suit and tie and sported a fancy leather tote, the modern-day equivalent of a briefcase. Was Chick planning on talking to Patrick, and then, what, catching a few hours at the office?

  Chick didn't bother with hello. He held up his mobile phone.

  "Don't you check your texts?" he asked his wife.

  "I left my phone in the foyer. Why?"

  "Group text from Nancy to both of us," Chick said. "She wants us to meet at their house, not here."

  Chapter 15

  They took Myron's car. Myron drove. Chick and Brooke sat in the back. They held hands, which somehow seemed out of character for them.

  "Turn left at the end of the road," Chick said.

  Left started them back down the mountain. The area was slightly less affluent, but you were just talking about varying degrees of high rent. Chick told him where to make the right and the next left. The journey was a short one. The two houses were less than a mile apart.

  When they made the final turn onto the Moores' street, Chick looked up ahead and muttered, "Crap."

  News vans, lots of them, lined both sides of the road. That made sense, of course. After a ten-year absence, Patrick Moore was home. The press wanted pictures and video of the missing boy and the happy parents and the big reunion. So far, only one image of the recently rescued Patrick had surfaced in the media. An orderly at the hospital in London had taken a somewhat blurry picture of the sleeping teen from a distance and sold it to a British tabloid.

  There was an obvious hunger for more.

  The media began to swarm the car, but Myron kept moving so that no one could get in front of them. There was a town cop at the foot of the driveway. He waved Myron in and stopped anyone from following. The media obeyed, choosing instead to rely on their zoom lenses. Myron noticed a FOR SALE sign in the yard. In front of him, the garage door slid open. He pulled inside, the electric door beginning to close behind him. Myron turned off the engine. They waited for the door to close completely, cutting off those probing lenses, before all three of them opened their car doors and stepped out.

  The garage fit two cars. The car parked next to them was a Lexus sedan. There was no clutter in the garage, not so much because the owners appeared to be orderly but because there simply wasn't anything here. Nothing about this place felt "suburban family," but then again why would it? Patrick too had an older sibling, a sister, Francesca, who'd be about Clark's age if Myron recalled correctly, and no younger siblings. Hunter and Nancy were divorced, so up until a few days ago, that was it--single mom, one college-age daughter. Nancy had probably been ready to move out and start the next chapter of her life.

  The door between the house and garage opened. Hunter Moore leaned his head out. He seemed surprised to see Myron with them, but he shook it off. "Hey, guys, come this way."

  They took the two steps off the concrete and onto the tile. The kitchen was quasi-homey, done up to look rustic with stone veneers and wood-paneled cabinetry. Nancy stood by the kitchen table with a man Myron didn't recognize.

  The man smiled at them. The smile made Myron cringe a bit. He was balding, wiry, probably in his early fifties, with the kind of glasses you call spectacles. He wore a denim shirt tucked into faded jeans. His whole persona had an emcee-at-an-outdoor-folk-festival vibe.

  The six of them all stood there for a moment, as though both couples had brought surrogates who would duel it out. Myron tried to get a bead on Nancy and Hunter. He came up only with nervous. Mr. Folk Festival, on the other hand, seemed in his element. He spoke first.

  "Why don't we all have a seat?" he said.

  "Who the hell are you?" Chick asked.

  He turned his cringingly gentle smile toward Chick. "I'm Lionel."

  Chick looked at Myron, then at his wife, then at the Moores. "Where's Patrick?"

  "He's upstairs," Lionel said.

  "So when can we see him?"

  "In a bit," Lionel said. "Why don't we all just sit down in the living room, where we can be more comfortable?"

  "Hey, Lionel?" Chick said.

  "Yes?"

  "Do we look like we're in the mood to be comfortable?"

  Lionel nodded in the most understanding, compassionate, phony way possible. "Point taken, Chick. Is it okay if I call you Chick?"

  Chick looked at Myron and Brooke as though to say, What the eff?

  Brooke stepped toward Nancy. "What's going on here, Nancy? Who is this guy?"

  Nancy looked helpless, but Lionel stepped between them.

  "My name is Lionel Stanton," he said. "I'm a doctor looking after Patrick."

  "What kind of doctor?" Chick asked.

  "I'm a psychiatrist."

  Uh-oh. Myron didn't like where this was headed.

  Nancy Moore took Brooke's hand. "We want to help."

  "Of course we do," Hunter added. He swayed a little bit, and Myron wondered whether he was sober.

  Chick said, "Why do I think I hear a 'but' coming?"

  "No 'but,'" Lionel said. And then: "I just need you to understand. Patrick has been through a tremendous ordeal."

  "Really?" Chick said, his voice thick with sarcasm. "We wouldn't know anything about that, would we?"

  "Chick." It was Brooke. She shook her head for him to stop. "Go on, Doctor."

  "I could dance around this for a bit," Lionel said, "but let me just tell you this right from the get-go. No stalling. No fancy words. No excuses. Just the flat-out truth."

  Oh boy, Myron thought.

  "At this juncture, Patrick can't help you."

  Chick opened his mouth, but Brooke silenced him with a wave. "What do you mean, he can't help us?"

  "I understand that last night Mrs. Moore suggested you meet at your house."

  "Yes, that's right."

  "I overruled that decision. That's why you're here. To bring Patrick back to the place where it all began, the scene of the crime, if you will--it could be devastating to his already fragile psyche. Patrick is nearly catatonic. When he does speak, it is to say he's hungry or thirsty, and even that only occurs when he's prompted."

  Myron spoke for the first time. "Have you asked him about Rhys?"

  "Of course," Lionel said.

  Brooke: "And?"

  Lionel again gave her the most understanding, compassionate, phony expression possible. "He can't tell us anything about your son. I'm sorry."

  "That's BS," Chick said.

  Nancy stepped toward Brooke. "We're trying our best," she said.

  "You have your son back," Brooke said. "We don't. Don't you get it? We are no closer to finding Rhys than we were before all this."

  "I don't think there is much he can tell you anyway," Lionel said.

  Chick was having none of that. "Excuse me?"

  "Don't get me wrong. I am with him constantly. We are doing all we can so that Patrick opens up. But right now he remembers very little. It's as though he remembers being a child here, and that's it. Even if he could tell you about the actual kidnapping, I don't think that would help very much. All we know for now is that your son was being held by the same man who held Patrick."

  Myron said, "Patrick confirmed that?"

  "Not in so many words. The key is to get him acclimated. Patrick is spending a great deal of time with his sister, Francesca. I think he finds Francesca to be a comfort. We want to let him start hanging out with people his own age, start to socialize a bit, but we need to take baby steps."

  Chick: "What the hell is going on here?"

  Hunter said, "Calm down, Chick."

  "Like hell, I'll calm down. Your kid knows what happened to mine. He has to talk to us."

  "I'm afraid that's impossible," Lionel said.

  "Are you for real? This is a kidnapping investigation. I'm calling the cops."

  "That won't do any good," Lionel said.

  "Why the hell not?"

  "The police have been here, of course. But as Patrick's doctor, I've advised the family against allowing him to be questioned at this time. My job is to worry about my patient and my patient only, but in truth, I think it's best for all. Again, I want to assure you that we are doing all we can to put Patrick in a space where he feels comfortable opening up."

  "And when might that be?" Chick asked.

  "Chick," Nancy said, "we are all trying our best here."

  "So what do you expect us to do?" Brooke asked, the edge in her voice now. "Should we, what, go home and wait for you to call us?"

  "I know how difficult this must be," Nancy said.

  "Yeah, Nancy, I'd think you would."

  "But I have to worry about my son too."

  "Your son"--Brooke's hands formed two fists--"is home. Do you not get that? He's home. You can hold him. You can feed him and make sure he's warm at night. My son . . ."

  And for the first time, Myron saw the chink in Brooke's armor. So did Chick.

  "The hell with this," Chick said. He stormed out of the room and toward the front of the house.

  "Where do you think you're going?" Lionel asked.

  Chick didn't answer. He headed for the stairs. "Patrick?"

  "Wait," Hunter said, "you can't just go up there."

  "Stop," Lionel said. "You'll traumatize him."

  Chick didn't even bother glancing behind him. He started up the stairs. Hunter hurried after him. Not sure exactly what to do, Myron moved his body a little, just enough to throw Hunter off the straight path.

  Chick called out, "Patrick?"

  Myron heard a door open, then close. Hunter and Lionel rushed up the stairs. Myron stayed right behind them, ready to intervene further if he needed to. Brooke and Nancy were behind him. Everyone, except Myron, was shouting. When they got to the top of the stairs, Chick was in front of the final door.

  "No!" Hunter shouted. He dove toward Chick, but he was too late.

  Chick opened the door. When he looked inside, he froze.

  Myron was a lot bigger and stronger than Lionel. It didn't take much to block him out so Myron could get to the door first. When he got there, he followed Chick's gaze to the far corner of the bedroom.

  There, huddled into the corner as though he was trying to burrow into the wood, was Patrick Moore.

  The room had clearly not been changed in the past decade. It was the room of a six-year-old. The bed was shaped like a race car. There was a poster for an old superhero movie on one wall. Three modest-sized sports trophies sat on one shelf. His name was spelled out in big wooden letters above his closet. The wallpaper was a lively blue. The carpet was designed to look like a basketball key.

  Patrick wore flannel pajamas. There were headphones on the floor in front of him, but right now, he had his hands covering his ears. His eyes were shut. His knees were up against his chest, and he rocked back and forth.

  He started muttering, "Please don't hurt me, please don't hurt me," as though it were a mantra.

  Nancy Moore pushed past Myron and ran across the room. She dropped to her knees and took her son into her arms. He buried his face in her shoulder. Nancy turned toward the door with a baleful look. Hunter stepped into the room behind her. Lionel did the same. The three of them were lined up now, almost in a formation, to protect the crying teen.

  "We tried to explain it to you nicely," Hunter said. "Now I want you to get out of our house."

  Chapter 16

  I love Rome.

  I always stay in the Excelsior hotel's Villa La Cupola, a suite that takes up the top two stories of this former palace. I like the outdoor sundeck overlooking the Via Veneto. I like the frescoes on the dome, painted in such a way as to match the horizon out the window. I like the private theater, the sauna, the steam bath, the Jacuzzi.

  Who wouldn't?

  Back in the day, Vincenzo the concierge knew and handled my, shall we say, entertainment likings. It would be his task to have what they politely referred to as a "lady of the evening" or "courtesan" awaiting my arrival. Sometimes two. On rare occasions, three. The Villa La Cupola suite had six bedrooms. This made it easy for whatever company was hired to spend the night, if she so desired, but not with me. This was my way. This was how I preferred it.

  Yes, I have hired prostitutes on many occasions. I will pause while you gasp out loud in indignation and then tsk-tsk your moral superiority.

  Done? Terrific.

  I would point out that these escorts were "high-end" or "upscale," but in truth that makes it no better or worse and it would make me even more of a hypocrite to pretend otherwise. For me it was a business transaction that worked both ways. I like sex. Alert the media. I like sex--and by sex, I mean strictly the pleasures of the flesh--a great deal. I like sex in its purest form, meaning I do not like strings or attachment or other common distractions. Myron believes that what he labels "love" or "feelings" enhances sex. I do not. I believe that those things dilute it.

  Do not look into that too deeply. I do not fear commitment. I just have no interest in it.

  I have never pretended otherwise. I do not lie to the women I have been with, those hired or those I've met and with whom I engage in what might commonly be called a one-night (often two or even three nights) stand. They understand the situation. I explain the limitations and, I hope, the joy. Many have, of course, thought that they could win me over, that once I experienced their skills in the bedroom, once I got close to them and saw how fantastic they were, I would be smitten and it would lead to more than what one might refer to as bedroom romps.

  Fair enough. Give it your best shot, my sweet. I will not discourage you.

  My dearest friend, Myron Bolitar, though "friend" seems an inadequate word to describe our relationship, worries about this aspect of my personality. He feels there is something "missing" inside of me. He traces it back to what my own mother did to my father. But does the origin matter? This is what I am. I am quite content this way. He claims that I don't get it. He is wrong. I do understand the need for companionship. My favorite times are when he and I sit around together and simply discuss life or watch television or dissect a sporting event--and then, when we are done, I go to bed with a gorgeous body and, uh, gorge.

  Does that sound like "something is missing" to you?

  I have no interest in defending myself to the judgmental, but for the record: I am for equal rights, equal pay, equal opportunity. Feminism, by dictionary definition, is the "theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." By that definition, and almost every definition I encounter, I am a feminist.

  I don't lie to women. I don't cheat on them. I treat every guest or employee well and with respect. They, in turn, reciprocate. Except, of course, during those inflamed moments when neither one of us wants to be treated well or with respect, if you get my obvious drift.

  You may be wondering, then, why I have stopped the practice of engaging in said professional services that has worked so well for so long. The simple truth is, I worked off an illusion of consent, of a fair business practice, of a contract without duress. I have been educated to the fact that this is not always the case. Recent history, especially when you consider the plights of Patrick and Rhys, has just reiterated this point for me. There are those who feel I should have realized this many years ago, that I should have seen the abuses earlier, that I turned a blind eye due to self-interest.

 
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