Part #11 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
Myron said it just like that. Boom. No warning, no clearing of his throat, nothing. He wanted to see her reaction, but if he expected something dramatic or revealing, that wasn't happening. Nancy put down the wineglass and folded her arms.
"Are you serious?"
"Why on earth . . . ?" She stopped herself. "I think you should leave."
"I spoke to Chick about it."
"Then you know already."
"It was nothing."
Interesting. The same argument. Myron decided to do a little bluffing. "That's not what he said."
"Chick admitted you two were having an affair."
A small smile came to her lips. "You're full of shit, Myron."
And so he was.
"We were friends," Nancy said. "We talked. We talked a lot."
"Yeah, Nancy, no offense, but I'm not buying that."
"You don't believe me?"
"I don't, no."
"For one thing, Chick doesn't hit me as a great talker."
"But he does hit you as being a great lay?"
Touche, Myron thought.
Nancy moved close to him. She looked up at him with the eyes of a doe. It was, he imagined, a move she'd made before to get a point across to a man. It was, he imagined, a move that had served her well in the past.
"Will you trust me that it has nothing to do with what happened to the boys?"
"No," Myron said.
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"You think I'm lying?"
"Maybe," Myron said. "Or maybe you don't know."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Things ripple. Things wiggle beneath the surface. You can't always see them, especially when you're as close to it as you are. You know about the butterfly effect, the concept that a butterfly flapping its wings may seem inconsequential--"
"But can change everything," Nancy finished for him. "I know it. It's nonsense. And anyway--"
She stopped when she heard the clumping footsteps. They both turned toward the stairs. There, stopping on the third step from the bottom, was Patrick Moore. Or maybe-Patrick Moore. Either way, it was the boy Fat Gandhi had stabbed in the tunnel.
Myron surreptitiously hit a button on his mobile phone.
For a moment, no one spoke. Nancy broke the silence.
"Is everything okay, Patrick? Can I get you something?"
Patrick had his eyes on Myron.
"Hi, Patrick," Myron said.
"You're the guy who saved me," he said.
"Yeah, I guess I am."
"Francesca said you were here." He swallowed hard. "That fat guy. He tried to kill me."
Myron glanced at Nancy.
"It's okay," Nancy said in the soothing, unmistakable tone of a worried mother. "You're home now. You're safe."
Patrick still had his eyes on Myron. "Why?" he asked. "Why did he stab me?"
It was a common enough question after a violent crime. Myron had seen it before--this need to know. It was an unselfish "Why me?" Rape victims often wonder why they were chosen. So do victims of any crime.
"I think," Myron said, "he was trying to save himself."
"He figured that if he stabbed you, I'd stop chasing him. I'd have to choose between going after him and saving you."
Patrick nodded, seeing it now. "Right. I guess that makes sense."
Myron took a tentative step toward the boy. "Patrick," he said, trying to keep his voice even and as nonthreatening as possible, "where have you been?"
Patrick's eyes widened. He looked toward his mother with panic on his face.
That was when the doorbell rang.
Nancy turned toward it. "Who could that--"
"I got it," Myron said. "Hold on a second, Patrick. I have someone I want you to meet."
Myron moved to the front door and opened it. Mickey and Ema, who had been waiting in a separate car for Myron's phone signal, came in with no hesitation. Mickey had a big smile on his face. Ema was carrying a pizza. The aroma filled the room.
It was a long shot, Myron knew, this plan of Mickey's, but Ema had been more optimistic.
"He's a lonely teen locked in his house," Ema explained, "and more than that, pizza in London is pretty basic."
So this was really Mickey and Ema's play. Myron let him take over.
Mickey started toward the steps. "Hey, I'm Mickey. This is Ema. We figured you might want to hang out or something."
Patrick looked at him. "Umm."
Ema said, "Have you tried pizza with buffalo chicken as a topping?"
Patrick's voice was tentative. "No."
Ema nodded. "And bacon bits."
"I would never kid about bacon."
"We were going to save the cheese-filled crust as a surprise," Mickey said, "but some things are too good to keep secret."
"I don't want to build it up," Ema said, opening the box, "but this may be the greatest thing ever."
Nancy said, "Oh, I don't think this is a good idea."
Myron stepped between her and her son. "You said he needed to get acclimated to people his own age," he reminded her.
"Yes, but we've had a long day--"
Patrick interrupted her. "Mom," he said, "it's okay."
"I think it might be gluten-free," Ema tried. Her face broke out in the brightest, goofiest, most endearing grin Myron had ever seen.
Then Patrick laughed--genuinely laughed--and from the look on Nancy's face, Myron guessed that it was the first time she'd seen her child laugh since he was six years old. Ema had been right. Whether it was overgarnished pizza or the normal human need for companionship--most likely a combo of both--Patrick needed this. He'd been deprived too long.
Francesca appeared at the top of the steps. "We were just about to start a movie," she said. "Mom, is it okay if we rent something on demand?"
All eyes turned to Nancy Moore.
"Of course," Nancy Moore managed, her voice choking up. "Go have fun."
Myron didn't stay.
Those had been the explicit instructions handed down from Mickey and Ema. Leave it to them. Don't hang out downstairs. Don't cloud the atmosphere with your adult presence. Don't make anyone wary. If you have questions for Patrick's mom, ask them before they get inside. Then leave.
So he did.
The phone rang as he got into his car. Myron didn't recognize the number.
"This is Alyse Mervosh," a woman said with no preamble. "I'm PT's contact."
"The forensic doctor?"
"Forensic anthropologist specializing in forensic facial reconstruction, yes." Her tone was as neutral as you could get without electronic altering. "You want to know if the Patrick Moore who appeared today on CNN is the same Patrick Moore who vanished ten years ago. Is that correct?"
"I just obtained the video of today's interview. I then Googled the kidnapping to secure photographs of Patrick, age six. Finally, I located an age progression of Patrick that was performed by this agency. Where are you?"
"Alpine, New Jersey."
"Do you know where our office in Manhattan is located?" she asked.
"The drive should take you approximately an hour. I should have my results by then."
Alyse Mervosh hung up without waiting for his reply. Myron checked the clock. Eight thirty P.M. If Dr. Mervosh didn't mind working late, neither did Myron. He knew the FBI's main laboratory was down in Virginia, but he suspected that this kind of work mostly required computers and perhaps software. In Manhattan, the FBI's main office was on the twenty-third floor at 26 Federal Plaza.
Myron found a parking lot on Reade Street and started walking north toward FBI headquarters. He
Odd thoughts go through your head at random times.
Alyse Mervosh greeted him with a firm handshake. "Can I just get this out of the way?" she said.
"Get what out of the way?"
"My fangirling? I loved, loved, loved the documentary on your injury. Loved it."
"Seriously, to be that high, that close to the pinnacle, and then to be destroyed like that, to be left in a heap with nothing . . ."
Her voice trailed off.
Myron opened his arms and smiled. "Yet here I am."
"But are you really okay?" she asked.
"I can do ten one-handed push-ups if you'd like."
"No. I can maybe do one."
She shook her head. "Sorry, I'm being unprofessional. It's just . . . that documentary really made me pity you, you know?"
"Just the feeling I was hoping for."
She turned a little red. "Pardon the way I'm dressed. I was in the middle of a tennis lesson when PT called."
Dr. Mervosh wore a sweat suit so old-school that Myron almost looked for the Fila label. Her hair was blond and she wore a headband. The whole look was Early Eighties Bjorn Borg.
"No worries," Myron said. "Thanks for doing this so late."
"Do you want a long explanation or do you want my conclusion?"
"Inconclusive," she said.
"Oh," Myron said. "So your conclusion is, what, you just don't know?"
"In terms of answering the question, 'Is the teenager interviewed today on CNN the same Patrick Moore who was abducted ten years ago?' sorry, I can't be firm. Can I explain?"
"What I mostly do--forensic facial reconstruction--is about identifying remains. You know that, right?"
"This isn't an exact science. Our hope is that our work may lead to a tip or a thought, but a lot of things can skew our results." Alyse Mervosh made a face. "Is it hot in here?"
"Do you mind if I take off the jacket?"
"Of course not."
"I don't want you to think I'm flirting with you or anything."
"Don't worry about it."
"I have a serious boyfriend."
"And I'm engaged."
"Really?" Her face brightened. "Oh, I'm so happy for you. I mean, after what you went through."
"Please call me Alyse."
"Alyse," Myron said. "It was just a hurt knee. I appreciate your"--he wasn't sure of the word--"concern, but I'm fine."
"And you want to know more about Patrick Moore."
"I do, yes."
"I'm not great socially," she said. "It's why I'm best in the lab. I have a tendency to be a nervous talker. I'm really sorry."
"It's fine," Myron said. Then: "You were saying something about the results being skewed sometimes."
"Yes, that's right. We are trying to imagine, if you will, what a six-year-old boy would look like as a sixteen-year-old. Those are, as you can imagine, difficult years to deduce. If Patrick Moore went missing when he was, say, twenty-six, and we found him now when he's thirty-six, well, you get the idea, right?"
"Aging is about genetics mostly, but there are other factors. Diet, lifestyle, personal habits, trauma--any of that can alter the aging process and even, in some cases, your appearance. And again: You are also talking about perhaps the most difficult years to analyze. The alteration in appearance from child to adolescent can be an extreme one. As a child ages, the bones and cartilages develop and determine the proportions and shape of your face. So then, as forensic anthropologists, we have to fill in what might be there. The hairline might have receded, for example. Bone tissue is being formed, removed, elongated, and replaced. In short, it's all hard to predict."
"I see," Myron said. "Can you make a guess?"
"About if this teenager is Patrick Moore?"
She frowned and looked confused by the question. "Guess?"
"I'm a scientist. I don't make guesses."
"I just meant--"
"I can only give you the facts as they are."
Alyse Mervosh slowly picked up a notepad and checked her notes. "The teenager's features, with one notable exception, are well within the norm of the six-year-old's. His eye color has altered slightly, but that's not noteworthy. It is also very difficult to tell the exact color from a television interview. I was able to get a solid estimation of the height of his parents and sibling and compare it to Patrick's height at age six. From those calculations, this teenager is two inches shorter than the median, but again that's certainly within the margin of error. In short, this teenager could indeed be Patrick Moore, but one thing does concern me and leads to my inconclusiveness."
"And that is?"
"What about it?"
"The nose of the teenager, in my opinion, does not match what I see on the six-year-old. That's not to say it couldn't have aged this way, but it would be unlikely."
Myron considered that for a moment. "Would a nose job explain it?"
"A classic nose job? No. Nose jobs by and large make noses smaller. In this case, the new Patrick Moore has a larger nose than expected."
Myron thought about that. "How about, I don't know, if his nose was broken repeatedly?"
"Hmm." Alyse Mervosh picked up a pencil and tapped the eraser against her cheek. "I would doubt it, but it's not impossible. There are also surgeries to build up a nose, due to trauma or congenital deformities or, mostly, cocaine abuse. Perhaps that would explain it. But I can't say with anything approaching certainty. That's why I am ruling as I am."
"In other words," Myron said, "we miss a conclusive identification by a nose?"
Alyse Mervosh looked at him for a second. "Wait, was that a joke?"
"Humor aside," she said, "you need a DNA test."
I stare at the Dutch farmhouse through binoculars.
The flight from Rome to Groningen Airport Eelde in the Netherlands took two and a half hours. The ride from the airport to this farm in Assen took twenty minutes.
"Only four people in the house, dreamboat," a heavily accented voice says to me.
I turn to Zorra. Zorra's real name is Shlomo Avrahaim. He is former Mossad and a cross-dresser, or whatever the appropriate term is for a man who likes to dress as a woman. I have known many cross-dressers in my time. Many are quite attractive and feminine in appearance. Zorra is neither. His beard is as heavy as his accent. He does not manscape in the brow area, so both appear to be hairy caterpillars with no interest in turning into butterflies. His knuckles could best be described as midtransition werewolf. His curly red wig looks like something he stole from Bette Midler's show trunk in 1978. He wears stiletto heels, literally, as in an actual blade is sheathed in the heel.
Way back when, Zorra nearly killed Myron with that blade.
"We know that from the thermal imaging?" I ask.
"The same Zorra used in London, dreamboat." His voice was a deep baritone. "This will be too easy. How you say? Fish in barrel. You waste talents of legendary professional like Zorra."
I turn to him and look him up and down.
"Problem, dreamboat?" Zorra asks.
"Peach skirt with orange pumps?" I say.
"Zorra can pull it off."
"Glad Zorra thinks so."
Zorra's head swivels back to the house. The wig doesn't move with it. "Why are we waiting, dreamboat?"
I do not believe in intuition or sensing something is not quite right. But then again, I don't simply dismiss
"Ah," Zorra says. "You sniff a trap."
"Sniff a trap?"
"English is Zorra's second language."
We turn back to the house.
"We have one goal," I say.
"Your cousin, yes?"
"Yes." I think about the various possibilities. "If you were Fat Gandhi, would you keep Rhys here?"
"Maybe," he says. "Or maybe Zorra would hide him so if bad man like Win come after me I have leverage."
"Precisely," I say.
We met years ago, when Zorra was on the other side, a sworn enemy. In the end, I had chosen to spare Zorra's life. I'm not sure why. Intuition perhaps? Now Zorra feels that he must be forever in my debt. Esperanza compares this particular outcome to one of her pro-wrestling scripts where the bad wrestler is shown kindness by the good wrestler and thus turns good and becomes a fan favorite.
I am debating my various options when the door of the farmhouse opens. I do not move. I do not pull out my gun. I stand and wait for someone to appear at the door. Five seconds pass. Then ten.
Then Fat Gandhi steps outside.
Zorra and I are standing behind shrubbery. Fat Gandhi turns that way, smiles, and waves.
"He knows we are here," Zorra says.
Zorra, Master of the Obvious Observation.
Fat Gandhi begins to stroll casually toward us. Zorra looks at me. I shake my head. As has been pointed out, Fat Gandhi knows exactly where we are. I consider that for a moment. We had been careful in our approach, but this is a quiet road. If Fat Gandhi had men posted--and clearly he had--they would have seen us turn down the road.
Fat Gandhi waves again when he sees me. "Hello, Mr. Lockwood. Welcome!"
Zorra leans close to me. "He knows your name."
"Your Mossad training. It's really impressive."
"Zorra misses nothing."
Fat Gandhi could have figured out who I am via a hundred different avenues. He could have employed some complicated hacking scheme, but I doubt that would have been necessary. He knew Myron's name. Myron and I are business partners and best friends. He also knew about Rhys and Patrick and the kidnapping. He could have done a modicum of research and learned of my personal connection.
Or, more to the point, Rhys could have told him.
Either way, here we are.
Zorra slowly slides off the sheath on his heel. "What's our play, dreamboat?"
I check my mobile to see if our other two men are still in place on the perimeter. They are. No one has taken them out. Fat Gandhi continues to stroll toward us. He tilts his face toward the sun and grins.
"We wait and see," I say.
I take out my weapon--a Desert Eagle .50 AE. Fat Gandhi stops when he sees this. He looks disappointed.
"There is no need for that, Mr. Lockwood."
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