Part #3 of Mickey Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
"I'm sorry," she said. "I was being too hard on you. I hope you understand . . ."
"You were right," I said.
"No, Mickey, I wasn't. It wasn't your fault. I can see how much you care about him--and how much he cares about you. That's rare and special. It's just that since you've come to town . . ."
Her words faded away. She didn't have to finish the thought. I got it. I had wanted to move back to the United States. I wanted to make roots in a town like Kasselton. I wanted to be in a real high school and play on a real team, and while I loved my life of travel with my parents, I had craved some normalcy.
So my loving parents had abided my wishes.
Now my father was dead. My mother was a drug addict. And my new friend was lying in a hospital bed, unable to move his legs.
I thought about what Bat Lady said, about how Spoon was meant for great things. I wanted to tell this woman about that, but I knew how stupid it would sound. I didn't get Bat Lady or Elizabeth Sobek or whatever she was called. I always expected my old mentor to be kinder or sweeter or someone I could relate to. Bat Lady was none of those things. I always felt more puzzled after I left her than before. Sometimes I thought that she had special powers, but then something would happen that would bring me crashing back to reality.
There was no destiny here. No already-determined winner. We could indeed win. And we could indeed die.
Still, Bat Lady had told me Spoon was destined for greatness. She had told me that my father was still alive.
Did she know something?
Did she have some special powers? Or was she just a crazy do-gooder who saved some and lost others?
Mrs. Spindel turned back toward the window, dismissing me, I guess, or giving me permission to visit her son now. I stood there another second and felt a hand on my back. I turned. It was Ema.
"Hey," she said softly.
We started down the corridor and opened the door to Spoon's room. Two doctors walked out with grim expressions. It was another dose of reality.
Spoon looked distracted.
"You okay?" I asked him.
Spoon didn't answer right away.
"Your text said you found something huge?" I said.
"You first," Spoon said.
"Tell us about Luther."
So I did. I told them about Dylan Shaykes, about how he'd been rescued as a child, about how my father had rescued Luther, about the death of the little boy Ricky, about how Luther blamed my father. Ema listened in shock. Spoon stayed distracted.
When I finished, before Ema could say a word, Spoon said, "Now tell us about Jared Lowell."
That question puzzled me. "What do you mean?"
"Tell us about your visit to Adiona Island."
"I did already."
Spoon looked up at me. "Tell us again. Everything. Everything that happened from the moment you arrived on that island to the moment you left."
But Spoon just looked at me. He didn't have to say more. So I went through it again--the ferry ride, the walk down the street, the narrow road where Jared lived. I recounted as best as I could the entire conversation Rachel and I had had with Jared Lowell. Spoon interrupted several times, asking for more details, most of which seemed completely irrelevant.
After I was finished, Ema followed up with the first question, but it wasn't for me. It was for Spoon. "What was that all about?"
"You really care about this guy, don't you?" Spoon asked her.
I had never seen him so serious.
"So do you buy it?"
"That Jared Lowell was just flirting with you online and decided not to do it anymore for no reason and, oh, decided to go back to Adiona Island?"
Ema looked at me, then back to Spoon. "No, I don't buy it."
"Because his feelings for you were real."
"Well, I could have been fooled--"
"You could be fooled a million different ways, Ema," Spoon said, a hint of impatience in his voice, "but not in this case. Not with the feelings. You could be fooled by the outer trappings. But not by your heart."
We both looked at Spoon, dumbfounded. Who was this guy? As if to show us he was still the same, Spoon arched an eyebrow and said, "I've been reading romance books on the side."
"I still don't see what you're getting at," I said.
"Adiona Island," Spoon said.
"What about it?"
I tried not to look as confused as I felt. "What about it?"
"You know who Abeona was, right?"
"Abeona, the Roman goddess of outward journeys."
"What does that have to do with--"
"Adiona is her sister," Spoon said.
"Adiona is the Roman goddess of safe return. They both protect children. That's their roles. They are partners. They watch over children--Abeona on their departures, Adiona on their return."
Ema and I stood there, not saying a word.
"Either of you think the name is a coincidence?" Spoon asked.
We didn't answer.
"Neither do I," Spoon said. "You need to go back to that island. You need to go back as soon as you can."
Ema and I started home.
"I'm going this time," Ema said. "I want Jared to look me in the eye and say it was no big thing."
I nodded. "Okay."
"We leave in the morning?"
I nodded again.
"What else?" she asked.
"What do you mean?"
Ema just frowned. "Aren't we past that, Mickey?"
She had a point. "We are," I said.
"It's about Troy."
Ema sighed. "Are you still trying to prove he didn't do steroids?"
"I think he was set up."
Ema shook her head.
"What?" I said.
"Buck doesn't put ketchup on his French fries without asking Troy first."
"Buck's brother might have been involved."
I filled her in on what I'd learned so far. We kept walking. We reached the road where Ema would--before I knew the truth about where she lived and who her mother was--peel off and walk on her own.
"So that's what you're doing now?" Ema asked, when I finished. "You and Troy are going to break into this shed."
"I could use help," I said.
Ema shook her head. "No."
"Why not? This is what we do, Ema. We help people."
"I don't want to help Troy Taylor."
"But this could lead to the truth."
"I don't care, Mickey. You don't get it. He's been cruel to me my whole life."
"Okay, then," I said.
"I won't help him either."
"Oh no," Ema said. "You don't get to put that on me."
I stopped. We turned and looked at each other. I was far taller, so she tilted her head up. I knew that it was maybe wrong to think this, but she looked so vulnerable, gazing up at me. Young and innocent, and the idea that those eyes would see something that would hurt her made my heart ache.
Darkness had set in. Her face glowed in the moonlight.
I wanted to protect her. I wanted to protect her always.
"People change, Ema."
She blinked and looked away. "I don't think so, Mickey." Ema took a step back and started toward the woods to the right. "I'm going home," she said. "Don't follow me."
"You're really not going to help me?"
"I'm really not going to help you," she said. "But, Mickey?"
"If it all goes wrong, I'll still be there for you."
"It won't all go wrong," I said.
The town circle was bustling with late-night joggers of all ages, genders, and persuasions. The track was well lit and had no car traffic. It was safe, comfortable, and for those who liked to be seen working out, it offered something of an audience. I stood by a statue of Robert Frost in front of the library on the southern tip of the circle. The municipal buildings and YMCA, not to mention, I guess, the Schultz family shed, were on the other side of Kasselton Avenue.
My phone rang. It was Troy.
"Where are you?" I asked him.
"Look toward the Y."
I did. It was too dark to see much.
"The right side," he said. "Toward the back. I'm holding up my phone."
Now I saw the glow of a phone, a pinprick of light in the dark.
"I see you," I said. "I'm on my way."
I hung up the phone and followed the light. Kasselton Avenue is the town's busiest road. I waited for the light and crossed at the walk. No reason to jaywalk and break any extra laws tonight, thank you very much. I veered toward the YMCA and met up with Troy near the back of the building.
"Thanks for coming," Troy said.
"No problem. Where is this shed?"
"It's down that path. Come on, I'll show you."
We walked on a concrete pathway into the darkness. I glanced behind me. The circle was lit up almost like a distant dome. It provided a modicum of illumination, enough to see the faint outline of a small building maybe thirty yards in front of me.
All the lights were out in the shed.
"Mickey?" Troy whispered.
"Yeah?" I whispered back.
"Buck wouldn't set me up. I don't care what he was taking or doing. He wouldn't do that to me."
"What about Randy?" I asked.
"Maybe," Troy allowed. "But why would he do it?"
"Why would Buck? Why would anyone?"
That question kept coming back to me. Why would anyone want to set Troy Taylor up for a positive drug test? Who gained from it? Who hated him enough . . . ?
Uh-uh, I told myself. No way.
I said that to myself because when I thought about who hated Troy, the first name that popped into my head was Ema.
I pushed the thought away. This sadly was sometimes how my mind worked. It went places that it shouldn't go.
"I don't know," Troy said.
"So let's see how this plays out."
"Okay," Troy said. "What do we do now?"
I took the lead. We crept down closer to the building. I wasn't sure exactly how to describe the size. When I think of a shed, I think of a place to store tools in the backyard. This was bigger than that, closer to the size of a one-car garage. It was oddly situated too, behind town hall, not far from the police station, the library, and the high school. One would think that this was public land, owned by the town, but for some reason, Buck's father had decided to purchase it.
I moved toward the shed and tried to look through the darkened windows. I cupped my hand against the glass and leaned in close. Part of me almost expected to see a face jump into view, like a big clown's face with a big smile, and then I'd startle back, screaming.
Stop it, I scolded myself.
There was nothing to see. It was too dark.
Troy was trying to peer into the window too. "Make out anything?" he whispered to me.
We circled the building. I could see why you might call it a shed. It was flimsier than a real building, made out of some kind of prefab material you'd find in the lot of a hardware store. There were two more windows in the back, but the shades were drawn.
"So now what?"
I spotted a back door. Good. From this angle, no one near the circle could see anything. Come to think of it, even in the front, which more or less faced the circle, no one could really see anything.
"We check the door," I said.
Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you put a hand on a doorknob and turn it and the door is unlocked. That wasn't what happened here. Locked. I checked the area around the knob. The lock looked pretty cheap.
Not long ago, Ema and I had tried to break into Bat Lady's house. I had taken a credit card from my wallet and tried to open it via the way I had seen a thousand times on television. It hadn't worked. That lock had been old and so it simply gave way. But after that I got curious, so I started searching the Internet to learn how to pick locks. In truth, it isn't easy. If there was a deadbolt, it was impossible, but if this was a standard spring bolt, I could maybe get away with it.
It was a spring bolt.
I took out my credit card and started to work it. You don't really pick a lock with a credit card. You jimmy it open. I stuck the card in the crack between the door and the frame and slid it down to the lock. I bent the card toward the knob, hoping to slide the corner underneath. Nothing much happened. I put my shoulder against the door. The key is, open it fast when you feel the pop. That's what the websites said.
It wasn't working.
I pushed a little harder with my shoulder. The cheap material gave way. I could feel something bend. I looked back at Troy. He shrugged and said, "I can do it if you want."
I shook my head. I was already there. My fingers might not be nimble, but there was nothing like a strong shoulder. I rocked back, hit the door a little harder with my shoulder, and the door flew open.
Breaking and entering. Again.
I was already cooking up various excuses, just in case we got caught. Example: We had heard someone calling for help maybe. Or we just tried the door and it was already open, so we just came to check and make sure everything was okay.
Right. Like either one of those would fly.
But at least I had a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card with me: the police chief's son. I slowly stepped into the shed. Troy followed me inside. There was a wall right in front of us dividing the space into two rooms. The lights were out, so we couldn't see much more.
"You take the room on the left," I said to him. "I'll take the room on the right."
"Should we use our flashlights?"
"Let's keep the beams low, beneath the window height."
"Okay," Troy said. "Mickey?"
"What are we looking for?"
"A big sign with the word clue on it."
Troy laughed at that. "I'm serious."
"A laptop, for one thing. Files maybe. But in truth, I'm not sure. I think it's one of those 'we'll know it when we see it' kinda things."
We split up then. I did as I suggested and kept my smartphone's flashlight beam pointed at the floor. I could make out what looked like a table in the center of the room. I moved toward it. I risked lifting the beam a little higher to see what was on the table.
It looked like chemistry class.
Test tubes, beakers, flasks, and the like littered the table. I started to wonder if there was a Bunsen burner here too. I turned off the flashlight and tried to think for a moment.
I thought about what Troy had told me--about Randy dealing drugs. Could this be, I don't know, a drug lab of some kind? How do you make steroids? I had no idea. Could that be what this was?
Again: no idea.
The room was sparkling clean. I saw a metal cylinder on the right. Stainless steel cabinets lined the wall. I put my hand on one. It felt cold to the touch. I took hold of the handle and pulled the cabinet open. It opened like a refrigerator. I felt cold air. I lifted the flashlight so that I could see inside.
There might as well have been a sign saying CLUE.
"Ew, gross," I whispered to myself.
Troy stuck his head around the wall. He shined the flashlight up in my face before aiming it toward the open cabinet. "Wait, is that . . . ?"
"I think so, yeah," I said.
The cabinet was loaded up with small plastic containers that I re
"Urine samples," I said.
I made a face and gently lifted one of the specimen cups.
Suddenly I heard Troy's panicked voice. "What was that?"
I turned toward him. "What?"
He leapt toward the window, nearly knocking the urine specimen from my hand. I followed him. We ducked down low and peeked outside. At first, I didn't see anything, just the streetlights in the distance.
"What?" I asked.
"Might have been my imagination, but I-I thought I saw . . ."
And then they became clearer. Flashlights. Flashlights that were heading toward us. Not small flashlights like on our smartphones, but big, thick ones, the kind used by . . .
"It's my dad!" Troy yell-whispered. "We gotta get out of here!"
He didn't have to tell me twice. We ran for the door, bumping into the table. Beakers crashed to the floor. I heard a voice yell out. An adult voice.
Like the voice of a cop.
Troy got to the door first, but I was right behind him. We ran straight back, trying to keep the building between those flashlights and our bodies. Troy jumped behind a big boulder. I joined him. Up the hill on Kasselton Avenue, I could now see the whirling light atop a parked police car.
"Oh man," I said.
"Split up," Troy said. "You head into the woods, I'll go behind the Y and try to circle to the street. If I can get there, I can divert them."
That made sense. I turned and ran into the woods behind me. This sounded easier than it actually was. It was dark now. There was only the faintest light coming from the distant streetlights. Woods have a lot of, well, trees. So put it altogether: running in a dark place with a lot of trees.
The third time I kissed bark, it dawned on me that I'd have to slow down. What choice did I have? If I kept running face-first into trees, I would probably knock myself unconscious. I started moving like Frankenstein, keeping my hands out in front of me, feeling my way.
The voice made me duck behind a tree. I risked a look. Two of the cops--or least, two flashlights--were entering the woods now. Because they had flashlights, they didn't really need to worry too much about smashing into trees. They could move at a pretty fast clip.
Oh man, I was in trouble.
Those dumb excuses--I heard someone call for help, the door lock was broken before we got there--started flooding back in, but I knew that they would just help sink me. Bat Lady would not be able to get me out of this one, and I somehow doubted that Buck's father would say that I had permission to break the lock on his shed door and shatter a bunch of beakers.
Yep, I was in trouble.
Found by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Young Adult / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes