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          part  #11 of  Myron Bolitar Series  by  Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
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"What about her?"

"Do we tell her about the text exchanges?" Myron asked.

"Not yet."

Myron remembered her reaction in London to not being told about the emails Win had received. "She'll be angry you're holding out on her again."

"I can live with that," Win said. There was a pause. "Are we done, Myron?"

"I think so."

"Good, I need to go."





Chapter 21


The team name popped up just as Myron was noting that Cousin Brooke would be angry that I was holding out on her again.

SHARK CRYPT I.

"I can live with that," I tell him, completely distracted now. It is time to get off the phone. "Are we done, Myron?"

"I think so," Myron says.

"Good, I need to go."

I end the call before Myron replies. I am in that same back room with Carlo, Renato, and Giuseppe. They are all still geared up, but their mood is more serious today, more somber, as the Muzzles of Rage challenge has begun. My plan is a simple one: Draw out Fat Gandhi.

From everything I know about him, Fat Gandhi is a competitive bastard in this techno-video-whatever world. His biggest rival is ROMAVSLAZIO, which is, thanks to my anonymous largesse, hosting this brand-new prestigious event. The question we need to answer: Even if Fat Gandhi is somewhat underground, even if he is at least temporarily in hiding, will he come out if challenged to a high-stakes, heavily sponsored quasi-military first-person-shooter tournament?

The answer, I now know, is yes.

I point to the new name, SHARK CRYPT I, on the leaderboard. "That's Fat Gandhi," I say.

"You can't tell," Carlo shouts at me, still clicking the keyboard. "He hasn't started to play yet."

"But once he plays for a few minutes, we'll know," Renato adds. "Half hour tops. He's got a distinct style of play. He never uses machine guns or automatic weapons--only a sniper rifle, and he never misses."

"There's always a distinct system," Carlo says.

"Like any sport, you don't have to see the face to know the players," Renato agrees.

"Don't wait," I say. "That's our target."

"How can you be so sure?"

It is simple, really. "Shark Crypt I" is an anagram of "Patrick Rhys."

My plan here is obvious. The challenge for ROMAVSLAZIO has nothing to do with winning the Muzzles of Rage championship. The challenge for them is to pretend that there is a match so that they can figure out via some hacking method I have no interest in understanding exactly where Fat Gandhi is currently residing.

Referee Giuseppe says, "Let's go, boys. Find him."

My car and private plane are at the ready. I have the pilots and a key associate waiting. The moment they find Fat Gandhi's location, whilst the Muzzles of Rage contest continues, we will speed to the location and take Fat Gandhi down.

At least, that is the plan.

"I still don't know if we should do this," Carlo says.

Again he is facing one wall, Renato the other.

"Me neither," Renato agrees.

"We aren't cops."

"You heard Mr. Lockwood," Giuseppe says. "The man pimps out underage boys."

"How do we know he's telling the truth?" Carlo asks.

"Yeah," Renato adds, turning to Win, "how do we know you're not the pervert?"

"You know," I say, "because you already researched it."

Silence.

Then Carlo says, "We researched you too."

"I'm sure you did," I say.

"You're rich."

"I am."

"They also say you've gone crazy. They say you're a weird recluse now."

I spread my arms. "Do I look like a recluse?"

"So why do they say that?"

"I made it up."

"Why would you do that?"

"Because," I say, "some bad people have been trying to kill me."

"So you've been, what, hiding?"

"Something like that."

"So why are you here now?"

"We've rescued one boy," I say. "I need your help to rescue the other."

That seemed to satisfy them.

"It shouldn't be hard," Carlo says. "To join the game you have to log in to our server."

"This will give us his IP address."

"Damn," Carlo says, "he's using a VPN."

"Of course he would," Renato replies, "but we can get around it with . . ."

They slip back into Italian, which is fine with me. I don't speak tech-ese anyway. Their voices are loud and angry. They start cursing at each other. I hear the names of players on Roma and Lazio and I'm certain now that they are starting with the team-rival insults. That, Giuseppe warned me, was how they worked.

"The angrier they get," he assures me, "the closer they are to getting you an answer."

So I wait. They are trying, it seems, to keep up with both the game on their screens and finding the location of SHARK CRYPT I.

"You're right," Carlo says to me, still typing furiously. "It's Fat Gandhi."

"He's trying to cover up," Renato adds.

"Hide his identity now that we know his moves," Carlo says.

They start screaming again in Italian. Ten minutes later, I hear a cheer. Giuseppe nods at me as a printer starts whirring. He heads over and picks up a sheet of paper. "The address," Giuseppe says, handing it to me.

I look at it. The location is in the Netherlands.

"How much time do I have?"

Carlo takes that one. "If we try our best, we will be done in about two hours."

I start for the door. "Then don't try your best," I tell him.


*

Myron pulled up to the aging split-level home.

He had been raised in this dwelling. Well, more than raised. He had lived here with his parents up until, well, recently. In fact, when his parents, Ellen and Al ("People call us El Al," Mom would explain, "you know, like the Israeli airline?"), finally decided to sell the house and retire to Florida, Myron had purchased it from them.

In the old days, whenever Myron would be dropped off or pull into the driveway, his mother would run out the door and throw her arms around him as though he were a just-released hostage she hadn't seen in five years. That was her way.

It had, of course, embarrassed him. And then--equally, of course--it pleased him to no end. When you're young you don't get how great it is to be loved unconditionally.

Now, as the front door opened, Mom's steps were a slow shuffle. Dad helped her, holding her by the elbow. Mom, the still-fiery feminist, shook from the cruelty of Parkinson's. Myron waited a moment in his seat, letting her get closer to the car. She finally shrugged away Dad's hand, not wanting, he knew, for her son to see that she was older and frailer.

Myron slid out of the car as Mom reached him. She still threw her arms around him as though he were a just-released hostage. He hugged her back. Dad came up behind her. Myron kissed his cheek. That was how he greeted his father. With a kiss. Always.

"You look tired," Mom said.

"I'm fine."

"Doesn't he look tired, Al?"

"Leave him alone, El. He looks fine. He looks healthy."

"Healthy." She turned to her husband. "What, you're a doctor now?"

"I'm just saying."

"He needs to eat more. Come inside. I'll order more food."

Ellen Bolitar didn't cook. Not ever. There had been an attempt at a meat loaf involving Ragu sauce sometime during Myron's high school years. They'd had to repaint the kitchen to get rid of the smell.

Myron offered her his hand. His mom gave him the stink eye.

"You too? I'm fine."

She started back toward the house with a discernible limp. Myron looked over to his father, who just gave him a small shake of the head. They followed behind her.

"I'll tell Nero's to throw in another veal Parmesan. He needs to eat. And your nephew, he eats like he's a building with a tapeworm." She made a shooing gesture with her hand. "You two boys go in the den and do whatever manly bonding stuff you guys do."

She grabbed the handrail and made her way into the kitchen. Dad nodded for Myron to follow him. Myron just stood there for one moment and let the feeling rush over him.

He loved his parents.

Yes, we all do, but rarely is it so uncomplicated. There was no confusion, no remorse, no resentment, no hidden rage, no blame. He loved them. He loved with no buts or stipulations. They could do no wrong in his eyes. There were some who claimed that he just looked at them through rose-tinted glasses, that Myron was prone to both fits of nostalgia and familial historical revisionism.

Those people were wrong.

Myron and Dad sat in the same spots in the den or TV room, whatever you want to call it, that they had sat in for more years than Myron cared to remember. When Myron was young, experts warned about the dangers of too much television watching, which might or might not be true, but this particular father and son had bonded in this room sharing mutually loved programs. Prime time was eight to eleven P.M., and back then, before everyone watched on demand or via streaming, a father and son would sit and laugh at a stupid sitcom or discuss the cliches in a detective series. You'd watch and you'd be together, in the same room, and that meant, whatever else you want to say about it, some concept of bonding. Now parents went to their rooms and kids went to theirs. They all stared at smaller screens--laptops, smartphones, tablets--and watched exactly what they wanted to watch. The experience now was entirely solitary, and Myron couldn't help but think that was a terrible thing.

Dad grabbed the remote, but he didn't turn on the TV.

"Is Mickey here yet?" Myron asked.

His parents had come up to stay with Mickey while Mickey's parents went on their retreat.

"He should be here any minute," Dad said. "He's bringing Ema to dinner. You know her?"

"Ema? Yeah."

"She always wears black," Dad said.

Mom from the other room: "Lots of women do, Al."

"Not like that."

Mom: "Black is slimming."

"I'm not judging."

Mom: "Yes, you are."

"I am not!"

"You think she's a big girl."

"You're the one talking about wearing black because it's slimming, not me." Dad turned to Myron. "Ema wears black nail polish. Black lipstick. Black mascara. Black hair. Not naturally black. I mean, like ink black. I don't get it."

Mom: "And who are you to get it?"

"I'm just saying."

"Look at Mr. Haute Couture over there. What, you're suddenly Yves Saint Laurent with the fashion tips?"

"I thought you were on the phone changing the order!"

"The number was busy."

"So call back."

"Yes, master. Right away."

Dad sighed and shrugged. This was their way. Myron just sat back and enjoyed the show.

Dad leaned toward Myron and spoke in a low voice. "So where is Terese?"

"In Jackson Hole. On a job interview."

"As an anchorwoman?"

"Something like that."

"I remember when she was on the air. Before you two . . ." He brought his hands together and separated them and then brought them back together. "Your mother and I would really like to get to know her better."

"You will."

He leaned a little closer. "Your mother worries," he said.

"What about?"

Dad was not one to hold back, and he didn't now. "She worries that there is a sadness there."

"With Terese." Myron nodded. "And what about you? Do you worry?"

"I don't interfere."

"But if you did?"

"I see the sadness too," Dad said. "But I also see strength. She's been through a lot, hasn't she?"

"Yes."

"She lost a child?"

"A long time ago, when she lived overseas, yeah."

Dad shook his head. "I'm sorry to raise this."

"It's okay."

"And you still don't want to tell me why she was in Africa for so long?"

"I can't," Myron said. "It's not my place to tell."

"I respect that," Dad said. He smiled now. "Terese was probably on a secret mission."

"Something like that."

"A secret mission," Dad repeated, "like you in London?"

Myron said nothing.

"What, you think we didn't know? You going to tell me what that was all about?"

Mom from the other room: "It was about that Moore kid who was rescued."

Dad turned toward the kitchen. "How long have you been listening in?"

"I just started," Mom said. "I totally missed the part where you threw me under the bus with that whole sad-fiancee thing."

The front door burst open in a way that signaled a teenager was entering. Mickey stomped through the door with Ema close behind him. He looked at Myron. "Hey, what are you doing here?"

Mickey was a terrible actor.

"Nice to see you too," Myron said. "Hi, Ema."

"Hey, Myron," Ema said.

Ema, the girl Dad described using the color black, was what they used to call goth and then they called emo (ergo the nickname), and Myron wasn't hip enough to know what they called it now. Everything was indeed in black against the palest white skin achievable. Mickey and Ema had started out as friends, best friends even, but somewhere through their bonding, Myron now wondered whether the friendship line had been crossed.

Mickey gave his grandfather a kiss on the cheek. He turned to his grandmother and said, "You look beautiful, Grandma."

"Don't call me that."

"Call you what?"

"Grandma. I told you. I'm too young to be your grandmother. Call me Ellen. And if anyone asks, tell them I'm your grandfather's second, much-younger trophy wife."

"Got it," Mickey said.

"Now give your Ellen a kiss."

He hopped up the step into the kitchen. Whenever Mickey moved, the house shook. He gave her a kiss and a hug. Myron watched, swallowing hard. Then Mickey turned toward Myron.

"Are you crying?" Mickey asked.

"No," Myron said.

"Why is he crying?" Mickey turned to his grandmother. "Why is he always crying?"

"He's always been an emotional boy; pay no attention."

"I'm not crying," Myron said. He looked around the room and found no solace. "I got something in my eye."

"I need someone to help me set the table," Mom said.

Mickey said, "I got it."

"No," Mom said. "I want Ema to help me."

"I'd love to, Mrs. Bolitar," Ema said.

"Ellen," Mom said, correcting her. "So are you and Mickey a thing now? What do the kids say? Dating? Hooking up?"

Mickey was mortified. "Grandma!"

"Oh, never mind, Ema, his reaction tells me all. Isn't it cute when they turn red?"

Ema, who looked equally mortified, shuffled her way into the kitchen. Dad said, "I better stay with them. Just in case."

He left Myron and Mickey alone in the den.

"I got your text," Mickey said.

"I figured. Do you think you can help?"

"I do. I think Ema can help too."

"How?"

"We have a plan," Mickey said.





Chapter 22


The press was gone from Nancy Moore's house.

Myron didn't know if that came from a media decision to respect the family's request for privacy or from news cycles being so short or from the fact that there was no new kindling for the coverage fire. Probably a combination of all three, but either way, Myron was grateful. It was eight P.M. when he pulled into the driveway and knocked on the door.

Nancy Moore opened the door with a glass of white wine in her hand. "It's late," she said.

"Sorry," Myron said. "I would have called."

"It's been a long day."

"I know."

"I wouldn't have even opened the door except . . ."

He knew. She still felt obligated. "Look, I need to talk to you for just a few moments." Myron looked past her into the house. "Is Hunter here?"

"No. He drove back to Pennsylvania tonight."

"That's where he lives?"

She nodded. "He's been there since the divorce."

Myron looked at the FOR SALE sign. "You're moving too?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

"Same."

"Pennsylvania?"

"I don't want to be rude here, Myron."

He held up a hand. "Can I just come in for a moment?"

She grudgingly moved out of the way. Myron stepped inside and pulled up when he saw the young woman standing by the foot of the steps.

"This is my daughter, Francesca," Nancy said.

Myron almost made the standard "you mean sister" line, but he bit back the flattery. He hadn't really noticed the strong resemblance during the TV interview, but he had been otherwise distracted. If a potential spouse wanted to know what Francesca would look like in twenty-five years, Nancy left very little to the imagination.

"Francesca, this is Mr. Bolitar."

"Call me Myron," Myron said. "Hi, Francesca."

She blinked away tears. Had the tears been there before?

"Thank you," she said with sincerity that almost made him turn away. Francesca hurried over to Myron. She gave him a brief albeit fierce hug. "Thank you," she said again.

"You're welcome," Myron said.

Nancy rubbed her daughter's shoulder and gave her a gentle smile. "Do you mind going upstairs and checking on your brother? Mr. Bolitar and I need to talk."

"Sure," Francesca said. She took Myron's hand in both of hers. "It was really nice to meet you."

"You too."

Nancy watched her head up the stairs. She waited until she was out of sight before she said, "She's a good kid."

"She seems it."

"Very sensitive. Cries at the smallest thing."

"I think that's a good quality," Myron said.

"I guess. But when her brother disappeared . . ." Nancy didn't finish the thought. She shook her head and closed her eyes. "If Patrick had died in that tunnel, if you hadn't gotten to him in time . . ." Again there was no need to finish the thought.

"Can I ask you something straight out?" Myron asked.

"I guess."

"Are you positive that the boy upstairs is Patrick?"

She made a face. "You asked me that before."

"I know."

"So why do you keep asking me that? I already told you. I'm certain."

"How can you be?"

"Pardon?"

"It's been ten years. He was a little boy when he was taken."

She put her hands on her hips. There was a hint of impatience in her tone now. "This is why you're here?"

"No."

"Then you better get to it. It's getting late."

"Tell me about your texts with Chick Baldwin."
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