Part #3 of Mickey Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
"Anyway, that's where I stayed for the first two weeks. There was so much attention that they couldn't move me. The room has all this canned food and a toilet and a shower. It's soundproof so if, say, a scared child started crying, the police or a nosy visitor wouldn't hear. Two other boys were down there with me too. One was already there when I arrived. One came a few days later. Eventually we were moved."
"Someplace safe. We never find out where they go. That's part of how Abeona works. We compartmentalize. So I don't know what happened to those boys."
"In my case, I was sent to England. I grew up in the town of Bristol."
That explained the accent. This all made sense. No one knew about that tunnel. You could approach it hidden, from the woods and into the garage. "I blew it, I guess."
"You can't use that secret room anymore," I said. "Now I understand what Bat Lady meant. The police know about it now. If more kids go missing, it will be the first place they look."
"True," he said. "But the house is gone anyway. We had been using the tunnel. But that secret room . . ." A shadow crossed his face. "We stopped using that room a long time ago."
"I don't understand."
"We sealed it shut. It hasn't been open in years."
Dylan didn't answer right away.
"Why did you stop using that room?"
"That's what I need you to understand, Mickey."
"You watched the tape with Luther and your father?"
It felt as though a cold hand had caressed the back of my neck. "Yes."
"Those boys were the last ones to ever use that secret room."
Dylan started walking faster.
"Wait," I called to him. "What happened?"
"We rescued a little girl once. I won't tell you the horrors she had to endure. Her mother had done things to her that would boggle the imagination. But the little girl still thought that woman was her mother. She didn't know any better. She thought that she loved this evil woman. That's what happens. You get attached to your abuser, especially when you're a young child who doesn't know any better."
Spoon had said something like this. Something about Stockholm syndrome. I remembered how defiant Luther had been on the tape.
"And that was the case with Luther?"
"So what happened?"
"Your father made a mistake that night."
"What kind of mistake?"
"Someone had seen him."
Again I thought about what we had seen when we watched the video in Spoon's room. There had been a sudden interruption. "They followed him back to the house," I said.
"That's when you all started panicking. I saw it on the tape."
"So who was it?"
"The state police."
"Did they search the house?"
"But they didn't find the boys."
"No. They were in the secret room. We had the false wall covering the door. Luther was calling for help."
"But the police couldn't hear him."
Dylan looked pained again. "Exactly."
"So what happened?" I asked.
"You noticed the smaller boy on the tape. The one Luther had his arm around?"
"His name was Ricky."
Was. He said "was."
"He wasn't Luther's biological or even adopted brother. But in most ways, Ricky meant more to Luther than that. Those two had gone through hell and back together. Luther had always protected him."
"What happened to him?"
Dylan took a breath and let it go. "He died."
I felt my throat clench. "How?"
"You have to understand. The police were watching us. They even brought Lizzy Sobek to the police station to ask her questions. We have a powerful lawyer on the Abeona team. She came and helped us get through it. But that was the thing about that room. We didn't have wires. We didn't have a sound system. We wanted to make sure that there was no way anyone could get in or out of that room. Like I said, it was soundproof. All of those precautions had saved many children over the years. But it also meant that if something went wrong, it might be a while before we knew about it."
"So what happened?"
"Ricky was a sickly child. He often suffered seizures. When your father rescued them, it had been chaos. He had to rush. Luther told him that they needed to go back and get the boy's medicine. But your father didn't have a chance. That wasn't his fault, of course. Normally we would have taken care of it right away. We would have gotten our hands on the medications. That was part of our protocol. We always ask about that when they arrive."
"But not that night," I said.
"No. That night, when the police came, we didn't have time. Ricky had a seizure. A really bad one."
"And he died?" I asked.
"Yes." Dylan Shaykes looked into my eyes. "Can you imagine it? Watching the only person you ever loved die on the floor in front of you. Pounding on the big metal door. Screaming for help."
"And no one could hear," I said.
Dylan nodded. "We sealed up the room after that. No one has been in it since."
We walked some more.
"Luther never forgave, did he?"
"He pretended he did. But that was just to get placed. As soon as he was out, he ran away. I don't know where he's been. He blamed all of us, but your father most of all. He swore that he would get revenge."
"What did he do to my father?"
"I don't know."
"I saw him there. Eight months ago. He was dressed as a paramedic. He took my father away."
He nodded. "I know."
"Bat Lady thinks my father's alive."
Dylan looked at me and I saw the answer before he said it. "No."
I swallowed. "You think . . . ?"
"That Luther killed your father. Yes. I saw him, Mickey. I saw his rage. So, no, I don't think he spared him. I think he took him away and killed him."
"Is that why he burned down the house? For revenge?"
"I assume so."
"And he's still out there."
"So you're still not safe."
"None of us are, Mickey. None of us are safe."
I came home exhausted.
I figured that I would text Ema and start filling her in on my encounter with Dylan Shaykes, but as soon as my head hit the pillow, I started drifting off. It could wait, I thought. In fact, it would probably be better to go over this with her face-to-face.
I fell into a deep sleep.
When I walked to school Monday, I took a slightly different route to avoid the Bat Lady's house. I was not sure why I did that. Or maybe I knew but I didn't want to think about it.
In the past I had thought about all the children who were rescued in that house. Now, for the first time, I started thinking about one specific boy who ended up dying trapped in a room. I hated Luther. I hated what he did to me and my family. One day, I hoped to meet up with him and exact justice.
But part of me now understood. Part of me wondered what it must have been like to be locked in a room, watching the only person you love die--and there is nothing you can do about it.
Bat Lady had explained it to me right at the beginning. The good guys don't always win. We rescue as many as we can. There is an old Arab expression that when one person dies, an entire universe dies. The opposite is true too. If you save a life, even one, you save a universe.
But you can't save them all.
I was about three blocks from the school when I heard the car. It was a red sports car. Troy was driving. He pulled up alongside me and said, "Want a ride?"
I slid low into the passenger seat. The car sat way down. It fel
"Uh-huh," I said. "And?"
"I'm trying to think how to say this." He put his hand through his thick mane of hair, keeping his eyes focused on the road. "Part of the reason I gave you a hard time when you first showed up has to do with your uncle. Myron and my old man don't get along."
"So I gathered. Do you know why?"
Troy shook his head. "It dates back to high school. My dad was the senior captain on the basketball team when Myron was a sophomore."
Neither one of us had to say just like us because we were both thinking it.
"So what happened?"
"I don't know. Do you?"
"No idea," I said.
"Yet they still hate each other all these years later," Troy said.
"I don't want that to be our fate," Troy said.
I wanted to say something like me neither or it won't be, but it all sounded so stupid in my head. I let it pass. I watched Troy driving. He had been looking troubled a lot lately but not like this.
"What aren't you telling me?" I asked.
His jaw clenched as though he was willing himself not to say anything.
"Troy, if you want me to help you . . ."
He turned the wheel sharply to the left and then slowed to a stop. We were still a block away from school. "Buck has been my best friend since we were six--since we had Mr. Ronkowitz in first grade." He stopped the car and turned to me. "Do you have any friends like that, Mickey?"
I felt a deep pang in my chest. "No," I said. "No one."
"You and Ema. You're tight, right?"
"Imagine if you'd been that way since you were six. I mean, I'm not saying friends have to know each other a long time. But since we were six. You get what I'm saying?"
"I think so," I said.
Troy closed his eyes and let out a deep breath. "Buck was taking steroids."
For a moment we just sat there, two guys in a car parked on a side street, not saying a word. We let the revelation hang between us. Finally I asked, "When did he start?"
"I don't know. Last spring."
"He just admitted it?"
"Not at first. I asked him about it, though. I could see he was getting bigger. He said I should do them too. I said I didn't need to. Then after you showed up, he started pushing me a little harder. He started saying that I'd always been the leading scorer, but if I didn't get a lot better, you'd take over. Stuff like that. He started getting angrier too. Roid rage, I think they call it, right?"
Roid rage, I knew, was one of the many side effects of steroids. You start losing your temper easily. You grow dark and violent and even suicidal.
Troy shook his head again. "I should have stopped him. I mean, I saw the changes but I didn't do anything, you know? And then . . . then I saw the changes in how Buck was with me."
"What do you mean?"
"My dad once told me that relationships are never fifty-fifty. He said the key was to understand that. Sometimes it's ninety-ten, sometimes ten-ninety. But if you're thinking it's always fifty-fifty, you're going to get yourself in trouble."
"With Buck and me, look, I was the leader, he was the follower. That's just the way it was. I didn't think anything of it. But the last few weeks, it was, like, suddenly that bugged him."
"That you were the leader?"
"Right. I think it was the steroids. Buck started directing his anger toward me too."
I thought about that for a few moments. "Buck wanted you to take steroids too."
"Was he upset when you didn't?"
"Yeah. I mean, he said something like, you think you're too good for them or something. I don't remember his exact words."
"So how was Buck getting the steroids?" I asked.
Troy closed his eyes and said, "Oh man."
"I don't want to say."
"Troy, I'm trying to help here."
"It stays between us, right?"
"Where did he get them?"
Troy's eyes opened. He turned toward me and looked me straight in the eye. "His brother."
I think I gasped out loud. "Randy?"
Troy nodded. "He deals out of his father's gym. A lot of people know that."
"But Randy has a huge career ahead of him. Why would he risk that?"
"Are you serious?"
"How do you think he got that huge career? Do you know how many athletes do it--pro, college, and yeah, even high school? It's practically an epidemic. Some get caught, but most of the time they know how to cycle or take some kind of masking agent. Everyone is looking for an edge, Mickey. The other guy is doing it, so they do it. The other guy is going to get that college scholarship, so you do it so you can even the score. After a while, they don't even see it as cheating. They see it as leveling the playing field."
I swallowed. "Is that how you felt, Troy?"
"What?" He put his hand against his chest. "No. Look, I'm telling you the reality. Truth is, I don't need it. I'm a point guard. My game is more finesse. But I get it. Don't you?"
"No," I said. "I wouldn't cheat."
"Really? I've seen how much you love basketball. Suppose everyone else was taking a pill that made them bigger and stronger and you got left behind. You got cut from the team. You weren't any good. And the only reason is, they were taking this pill and you weren't. Are you saying you would never, ever take it? That you'd just settle for getting cut and watching others take your spot?"
I shifted in the seat. "That's not the reality."
"But that's how some guys start to see it," Troy said. "You're a special talent. You don't have to worry about that. Or maybe, look, maybe I'm trying to justify what a friend did. I don't know."
I tried to let all of this sink in. According to Troy, Randy Schultz dealt steroids. Was that true? How could I check on that?
Uncle Myron might know.
I thought now to the tense scene I'd witnessed a week ago at Schultz's gym. What was going on between Uncle Myron and Randy? What help did he and his dad want from him that, as a lawyer, Myron couldn't share with me?
"There's something else," Troy said.
"I didn't think much of it before all this happened and even after, I mean, whatever I was saying, Buck is still my best friend. I wouldn't believe . . ."
"Wouldn't believe what?"
"Do you know the shed behind the town circle?"
Kasselton had a town circle. On one side of it was the high school. On the other was a bunch of municipal buildings and the YMCA. "No, not really."
"It's behind town hall, near the Y."
"Anyway, a few days before they ran the tests, I was supposed to meet Buck at the circle. We were going to take a couple of laps."
The circle was exactly half a mile in circumference. It was a popular jogging spot.
"I got there early," Troy said, "and I spotted something weird."
"I saw Randy and Buck going into that shed."
I was getting confused. "The one behind town hall?"
"What kind of shed is this?"
"Well, that's just it. I looked it up. The property is owned by Schultz's gym."
"So it's theirs?"
"I guess. So I followed them to it. When they saw me, they freaked out."
"Freaked out how?"
"They pulled down the shades and came out and acted like it was nothing. But I saw something."
Troy took his time. Then at last he said, "Test tubes."
I tried to make that compute. It wouldn't. "Did you ask Buck about them?"
"I figured . . . well,
"You don't think that anymore?"
"I don't know. But that was the last time Buck and I talked. Nothing was ever the same. Now he's gone, and I got thrown off the team. So now I'm thinking about what you said. I'm thinking about that shed. And I'm thinking there's some secret in there that could give us all our answers."
Troy and I agreed to meet up that night at the town circle and check out the shed under the cover of darkness. I'd hoped to talk to Ema during lunch because I really needed her take on Luther and my father, not to mention what Troy had told me about Buck and his brother, but Ema had to meet with Mrs. Cannon, her math teacher, during lunch for extra help. She had a big test coming up.
Schoolwork waits for no teenager. Schoolwork doesn't care about your problems.
Around 2:00 P.M., I got a text from Spoon: Found something huge. When can you get here?
Ema and Rachel had been copied too. I texted back that I would go right after practice. Ema wrote that she had some homework and would meet me there. Rachel said that she had play tryouts--she was going for the role of Eponine in the school's production of Les Miz--so she wouldn't be able to make it, but hoped someone could fill her in later.
I thought about the four of us and wanted to shake my head. What chance did we have against guys like Luther? On the one hand, none. On the other hand, we had done pretty darn well so far.
As soon as practice was over, I showered, changed, and hurried to the hospital. The lady behind the desk had gotten to know me by now. She handed me a pass with a minimum of fanfare. I took the elevator up to his floor.
When I walked past the hospital lounge for visiting family members, I spotted Mrs. Spindel, Spoon's mother, sitting in the corner. She stared out the window. Her eyes looked like shattered marbles. I stopped and swallowed. We had not spoken since my first visit after Spoon had been shot. She told me in no uncertain terms that she blamed me: Oh, I know it's your fault . . .
As though sensing my presence, Mrs. Spindel turned toward where I was standing. For a moment she just looked at me. I wasn't sure what to do. Waving hello seemed foolish. I prepared for another dose of her deserved wrath. But she surprised me this time.
"Thank you, Mickey."
"For what?" I asked.
"For being here. For being his friend."
I shook my head. Her earlier anger had stung, but somehow this hurt more. I was Spoon's friend? If so, some friend. "How is he?" I asked.
I wanted to say something encouraging, but that felt like the exact wrong thing to do. I nodded and waited.
Found by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Young Adult / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes