Part #11 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
"It's hard on so many levels, but it's like we've been living in purgatory for ten years. You have to keep yourself busy or you lose your mind. So I came into my office this morning. Then I met with my lawyers to see what we could do."
"Do about what?" Myron asked.
"About Patrick not talking. I was looking for some legal recourse. You know, to make him cooperate." Chick looked up from the laptop. "What did you want to see me about anyway?"
Myron wasn't sure how to raise the subject of the texts with Nancy Moore yet. Should he go the direct route or ease into it?
"Hold up," Chick said. "It's about to air."
The modern era. La Sirena had a good blend of the art world, Village hipsters, and Wall Street masters of the universe. The place was lively with the arriving lunch crowd, and here, at the bar, two men were huddled over a laptop watching a news program. No one looked twice.
"Wait, where are they?" Chick asked.
Myron recognized the room. "That's the Moores' living room."
"They're not doing it in a studio?"
On the screen, Anderson Cooper sat in a plush leather chair. Nancy and Hunter sat on a couch across from him. Hunter wore a dark suit and dark tie. Nancy wore a light-blue dress that was stylish yet conservative.
"Where's Patrick?" Chick asked. "Myron?"
"I don't know. Let's watch, okay?"
The interview began without Patrick. Anderson started with some background--the kidnapping, the ransom drop, the strain of no answers, the long wait for this day. He raised the fact that Nancy and Hunter were now divorced, clearly implying that the breakup was a direct result of what had happened. Neither Nancy nor Hunter bit, though.
"We share custody of our beautiful daughter," Nancy said by way of explanation.
"We raised her together," Hunter added.
After a few more minutes, Chick shook his head and said, "Unbelievable. They're giving him nothing."
It was somewhat true. Anderson wasn't pushing them, which was understandable under the circumstances. These weren't politicians running for office. These were parents who had suffered greatly and were now trying to comprehend their sudden . . . Would you call it luck?
Nancy did most of the talking. She explained to Anderson how grateful they were to have Patrick home again. "Our son has been through a terrible ordeal," she said, biting her lower lip. When Anderson tried to get some details, they deflected by talking about Patrick's need for privacy and "space for recovery and transition."
This was the message, repeated in various forms: Please give Patrick and the Moore family privacy to recover from this terrible ordeal. They used the phrase "terrible ordeal" to the point that Myron wondered whether they'd been coached to say it.
Anderson pressed on. He asked about the kidnapping, if they were any closer to catching the perpetrators. The Moores offered no real answer, deferring questions "about possible apprehensions" to the "authorities."
When Anderson raised that "horrible day," Nancy said, "It was a long time ago. You need to remember he was only six years old."
"How much does he remember?"
"Very little. Patrick was moved around a lot over the years."
"What do you mean, 'moved around'?"
Tears flooded her eyes. Myron waited for Hunter to take her hand. He didn't. "Our son nearly died from a stabbing."
"That was during his rescue in London, correct?"
"How long had he been in London?"
"We don't know. But he went through"--Myron mouthed the words with her this time--"a terrible ordeal."
Myron watched Nancy and Hunter on the screen, looking for any clues or body language that might suggest . . . What exactly? Deception? Did he think that they might be lying here? Why? What would they be hiding, if anything? He also sneaked glances at Chick, as though that might tell him something too. How was Chick reacting to Nancy? Did Myron sense a wisp of--again, what?--longing, regret, guilt?
Conclusion: Studying body language was tremendously overrated.
Myron had so often heard of people wrongly convicted (or wrongly exonerated) because jurors felt that they could "read" the perpetrators, that they didn't show enough (or showed too much) remorse, that their reactions were not in what the jurors considered the range of normal. As though humans came in one size and shape. As though we all react the same way to a horrible or stressful situation.
We all think we can spot the tell in everyone else, but ironically, no one can spot it in us.
Finally, Anderson got to it: "What about the other boy who was taken that day?"
Chick sat up.
"What has your son been able to tell you about Rhys Baldwin, who is still missing?"
"Finding Rhys is our number one priority right now," Nancy said.
Chick muttered something under his breath.
"This will never be over," she continued, "until we know the truth about Rhys."
Hunter nodded his vigorous agreement. "We are cooperating as much as possible with law enforcement . . ."
Chick sat back. "Do you believe this crap?"
". . . but unfortunately there is little that Patrick knows that can help."
"They're cooperating? That's what they're claiming?" Chick was nearly apoplectic. "I should hold my own press conference."
Like that would do any good.
Toward the end of the segment, Nancy and Hunter rose from their seats and turned to the right. Chick quieted down as the camera pulled out. A woman of about twenty years old appeared.
"This is our daughter, Francesca," Nancy said.
Francesca gave the viewers an awkward nod. Then she looked off camera and mouthed the words "It's okay." Three seconds passed.
When Patrick stepped into view, he was holding his sister's hand.
"And our son, Patrick," Nancy said.
It was the same boy Myron had rescued, the same boy he had seen huddled in the corner of his bedroom. He wore a Yankees baseball cap, a blue hoodie, jeans. The camera zoomed in tight on his face. He kept his eyes down. Nancy and Hunter moved to either side of their children. For a moment it looked as though they were posing, albeit clumsily, for a holiday photo. Hunter and Nancy tried to look strong and defiant. Francesca looked overcome with emotion, her eyes brimming with tears. Patrick kept his eyes down toward the ground.
Then Anderson thanked them for "opening up their home" before going to commercial.
Chick stared at the blank screen for a few seconds.
"What the hell was that?"
Myron didn't reply.
"What's going on, Myron? Why won't they help us?"
"I don't know that they can."
"You too? You're buying this?"
"I don't even know what they're selling, Chick."
"I told you I went to my lawyers today, right?"
"So I asked them what we could do. You know. To make the kid talk."
"What did they suggest?"
"Nothing! They say there's nothing to be done. Can you believe that? Patrick doesn't have to say a damn thing. You can't compel him to tell you. Even if he knows something crucial. Hell, even if he knows where Rhys is right now. It's nuts."
Chick signaled to the bartender, who poured him some Johnnie Walker Black. The bartender looked over at Myron. Myron shook his head. Too early in the day.
When Chick got his drink, he huddled around it as though it were a fire providing warmth. "I appreciate your help here," he said, a little calmer now. "Win, well, I know Win doesn't like me. No surprise really. We are from two different worlds. Plus he thinks Brooke walks on water. No one would be good enough for her, you know?"
Myron nodded, just because he wanted him to keep talking.
"But Brooke and me, we have a solid marriage. It's had its problems, sure. Like any other. But we love each other."
"Those problems," Myron said, spotting the opening. There was no reason to wait any longer. "Was Nancy
Chick had been bringing the whiskey to his lips. He hesitated, debating whether he should reply first or take a sip. He chose the sip. He placed the drink back on the bar and turned to Myron.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Myron just stared at him. He tried to wait it out.
"Well?" Chick said.
"I know about the texts."
"Ah." Chick rose, took off his suit jacket, hung it neatly over the back of the barstool. He sat back down and fiddled with the gold cuff link on his left wrist. "And how do you know about the texts?"
"Does it matter?"
"Not really," Chick said, shrugging it away too casually. "They're nothing."
Myron tried to stare him down again.
Chick was trying to sound nonchalant, but it wasn't holding. "Does Win know?"
"But you'll tell him?"
"Yes," Myron said.
"Even if I ask you not to?"
Chick shook his head. "You don't get my life."
Myron said nothing.
"The rest of them, they got everything handed to them. I worked. I scraped. I got nothing easy. News flash, Myron"--he leaned and cupped his hand around his mouth--"the game is rigged for the rich. It ain't a level playing field. I started with nothing. My father owned a barbershop in the Bronx. You want to get up there with them? You need to cheat a little."
"Wait, let me write this down." Myron mimed a pen and paper. "Cheat. A. Little." He looked up. "Great tip. Are you also going to tell me that behind every great fortune there's a great crime?"
"You mocking me?"
"Maybe a little, Chick."
"You think, what, this country is a meritocracy? That we all start in the same place, all have the same chances? That's crap. I played college football. I was a running back. Was pretty good too. One day I realize that every guy who is trying to tackle me is on steroids. And every guy who is trying to take my position? Steroids. So I have a choice. I can take steroids too. Or I can stop competing."
"This is an odd argument for cheating on your wife," Myron said.
"I didn't cheat." He leaned in close. "But my point is, either way, you're leaving this alone."
"Is that a threat, Chick?"
"Those texts have nothing to do with my kid. And I get your motive here."
"My motive is finding your kid."
"Right, sure. You want to hear something that still haunts me? Brooke wanted to call Win as soon as Rhys was taken. Day one. But I talked her out of it. I thought the cops could handle it. I wanted to--and this is funny after what I just told you--I wanted to play by the rules. Do things by the book. Funny, right? So I live with that."
"You're not making any sense, Chick."
He leaned in close. Myron could smell the whiskey. "Whatever happened between me and Nancy," he said through gritted teeth, "it has nothing to do with my son. You hear me? You need to step off before someone gets badly hurt."
Myron's cell phone sounded. He looked at the caller ID and saw that it was Brooke Baldwin calling. He showed it to Chick before bringing the phone to his ear.
"Chick told me you two were meeting," Brooke said. "Is he with you now?"
Myron looked at Chick. Chick nodded and leaned into the phone. "I'm right here, hon."
"Did you both see CNN?"
"Yes," Myron said.
"I taped it," Brooke said. "I've been watching it freeze-frame."
Chick said, "So?"
"So I'm not convinced that boy is Patrick Moore."
Just seeing Terese's name on his caller ID made Myron's bunched shoulder muscles unknot. He hit the answer button as he headed to his car and without preamble said, "I love you so much."
"No knock on Win," Terese replied, "but that's a much cooler way of answering the phone than 'Articulate.'"
"I may not use it for everyone," Myron said.
"Oh, why not? Make someone's day."
"Where are you?"
"In my hotel room," Terese said. "Hey, remember the last time we were in a hotel room together?"
Myron couldn't help but grin. "How many calls did we get complaining about the noise?"
"Well, Myron, you were awfully loud."
Myron switched the phone to his other ear. "My toes were numb for a week."
"I don't get that reference."
"Me neither, but somehow it sounded right."
"It did," she agreed. "I miss you."
"If I get it--and that's a big if--but if I get it, they may want me to relocate to Atlanta or DC."
"Okay," Myron said.
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"I mean, I could commute at first," she said.
"No commute. We move."
"God, you're sexy when you're bossy."
"And even when I'm not."
"Don't push it." Then Terese said, "Are you sure? I can back out. There will be other job opportunities."
Myron had lived his whole life in this area. He had been born here, raised here, spent four years in college in North Carolina, returned here. He was so attached to this area that he had even bought his childhood home rather than let go of the past.
"I'm sure," Myron said. "I want you to have the career you want."
"Ugh, don't sound so PC."
"I also want to be a kept man."
"That might require performing sexual favors on demand," Terese said.
Myron sighed. "I give and I give."
She laughed. Terese didn't laugh often. He loved the sound. "I better get ready," she said. "The second interview is in an hour."
"Where are you headed?" Terese asked.
"After this call? To a cold shower. Then I'm going to see my parents and Mickey."
"I saw that press interview on TV."
"What you said."
"You're missing something."
They got off the phone then with a minimum of mushiness. Myron started driving toward his hometown. Could he really do it? Could he move out of the area he had always called home?
The answer, for the first time in his life, was a resounding yes.
Win called him during the drive.
"Tell all," Win said.
"Did you see the Moore family interview?" Myron asked.
In the background, Myron could hear men shouting in a foreign language. "Where are you exactly?"
"No. Rome, Wyoming."
"No reason for sarcasm."
"Who needs a reason?"
"Brooke is not positive the boy is Patrick," Myron said.
"Yes, she texted me that."
"I called PT down in Quantico. He has a friend who might be able to help us. She does stuff with forensic facial reconstruction or something."
"I did my own cursory check," Win said. "Comparing a still shot of what we saw today with Patrick at age six and via age progression."
"No," Win said. "But I ask myself two questions. If it isn't Patrick, then who is it? If it isn't Patrick, what possible motive would Nancy and Hunter have to lie about it?"
Myron thought about it. "I don't know."
"A DNA test would help."
"It would," Myron agreed. "But again, suppose we find out it isn't Patrick. What would that mean? You got a second?"
"So let's look at all the possible angles, even the most outrageous."
"Such as?" Win said.
"Such as, suppose Nancy and Hunter killed both boys and hid their bodies. I know, I know, outrageou
"So maybe to throw suspicion off themselves, they set out to bring a fake Patrick back. They find a teenager who's the right age and right look. They send you those emails leading you in that direction. You find the teen at King's Cross or whatever. You with me?"
"Not fully," Win said.
"Right, because even the most outrageous scenario makes no sense. That's my point. There was no heat on any suspects--not after all these years. No one was starting to suspect them. If they had killed the boys--again I'm just talking here; I don't think that's the case--they'd gain nothing by pretending Patrick was found."
"True," Win said. Then: "Of course, it could be another sort of con."
"Let's say the boy isn't Patrick."
"Let's say, though," Win continued, "that someone is setting up Nancy and Hunter. They arrange to have this fake Patrick found. They know that Nancy and Hunter want it so much to be their son that they'd be easily fooled."
"The desire for resolution," Myron said.
"Precisely. It can be blinding."
"But again: What's the motive? Is this fake Patrick going to steal money or something?"
Win considered that. "No, I don't think that would be it."
"And the boy's injuries were real. He was stabbed. We're lucky he didn't die."
"At the hands of Fat Gandhi," Win said. "Myron?"
"We are doing it again."
"Ignoring Sherlock's axiom. We need more data."
Win was right. They often quoted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved Sherlock Holmes: "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."
"What else is wrong?"
Myron let loose a deep breath. "You're not going to like this."
"Oh, then please stall and sugarcoat it for me."
Myron dove straight in, telling Win about his visit to Neil Huber and the texts between Chick Baldwin and Nancy Moore. When he finished, Win went quiet for a moment. Myron could still hear the men shouting in a foreign--he assumed Italian--tongue.
"Why are you in Rome?" Myron asked.
"I'm getting close to Fat Gandhi."
"He's in Italy?"
"Doubtful." Then: "Do you believe Chick when he says those text exchanges were innocent?"
"No," Myron said. "But that doesn't mean they have anything to do with the kidnapping."
"True," Win said.
"You want me to take a run at Nancy? Confront her about the texts?"
"I do, yes."
"And what about Brooke?"
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