Part #3 of Mickey Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
I stayed behind the tree but I could tell from the bouncing flashlights that they were getting closer.
The fact was, the two officers had one advantage over me: They could see. I had one advantage over them, albeit temporarily: I could hide. But the hiding could only last a little longer. The flashlights would discover me. But then again, if I put my flashlight on too, yes, they'd see me, but it would also even the playing field.
There was one other thing to consider--the police officers might be armed--but this was Kasselton, not Newark. In towns like this, officers don't pull their guns, especially on suspects running through the woods.
I flipped on the flashlight and ran.
I didn't know which was worse: breaking into that shed or running away from the police. Either way, I picked up my pace. They were fast. I was faster. More than that, I did figure out an advantage. I would shine my flashlight in front of me, plan out the path, turn off the flashlight, confuse them with that, turn it on again when I needed it.
Then I got a break.
The woods started to grow less dense. The officers behind me were in the thick of it now. I was nearly out. Once I barreled through, I came into a clearing behind the Kasselton Mall.
There were still plenty of cars in the lot. That was a bonus too. I hurried over to Target because it was the largest store in the mall. I found a corner kiosk in the appliance department where I could see both entrances. If the police entered one, I could hurry out the other or even hide in the vast space of the store.
But the cops didn't come inside.
At the end of the day, I was just a kid who maybe broke into a big tool shed. It might be interesting, but it wasn't as though a SWAT team was going to be called out.
Half an hour after entering the Target, I went through the mall and exited out the Sears on the other side. There were no police. I started down Hobart Gap Road toward Uncle Myron's house.
So what do I do now?
Should I text Troy? That seemed iffy. If he'd been caught and I texted him, the police might see that we were communicating. I should wait and let him contact me. But then again, would he? Wouldn't he logically think the same thing about contacting me and also wait?
I wasn't sure it mattered.
I tried to put together what I had learned in Mr. Schultz's shed. Start from the beginning: One, Troy had seen Buck and his brother, Randy, both of whom he claimed used steroids, go into that shed with test tubes. Now that I'd been inside the shed, it was clearly some kind of laboratory. It could have something to do with making the PEDs--performance-enhancing drugs. Maybe Randy or Buck was tinkering with, I don't know, their formula.
I frowned. I'm not sure Buck could spell the word chemistry, nonetheless start fiddling with complex compounds.
Then I remembered the urine samples.
I don't know how many were stored in that cabinet--and, ew, I hoped none fell on the floor as we ran out--but what could Buck and Randy be doing with them?
I had read somewhere that steroid cheaters would often use someone else's urine to beat the system. Here was how it worked: You hid a urine sample on you when you went to the test. When you entered the bathroom stall to urinate, you switched your sample with one you knew was clean.
Could that be it?
Possible, except for one thing. There were probably a hundred urine samples in storage. We only get tested once or maybe twice a year. Why so many?
I was missing something.
I didn't know what. In a sense, it didn't matter. Tomorrow I would head back to Adiona Island. There was some kind of clue there, some kind of link between that island and the Bat Lady and the Abeona Shelter and maybe even Luther and my father. I wanted to help here. I wanted to figure out why Troy had been set up and by whom. But it wasn't my priority.
Except . . .
I had an idea. I took out my phone and called Brandon Foley. He answered on the third ring. "What's up?" he said.
"I'm about two blocks from your house. You free?"
"Sure," Brandon said. "Anything to avoid studying for this physics test."
As I got closer, I heard the comforting sound of a dribbling basketball. Brandon was in his driveway again, working on his game. He tossed me the ball when he saw me coming. I stopped and took a jumper. Swish. He threw the ball back to me--"courtesy" is a universal basketball concept--but I just held the ball.
"You have your phone?" I asked.
"It's in the house. Why?"
"I may need you to text Troy."
"Why can't you?"
"Because he and I . . ."
And that was when I stopped. I liked Brandon. I really did. But I wasn't sure that I wanted to confess to him that I had just done something illegal. He was president of the student council and all those other things. He took his responsibilities as basketball captain seriously.
Could he be trusted?
Sure, Brandon had been the one to get me involved in helping Troy, but what would he say if I told him that I'd just broken into a storage shed and run away from the cops?
Would he tell?
I had thought that I could ask Brandon to contact Troy for me, so that it wouldn't get traced back to my phone. But now I wondered whether that was a good move.
"You and he what?" Brandon asked again.
"So why did you want to see me?"
In a way, Brandon couldn't help me with this. I would hear from Troy or I wouldn't. It didn't change anything. Brandon couldn't help with the breakin. He couldn't help answer why I had found urine samples in that shed or really anything that could cast light on this situation.
So even if I did trust him, even if I believed that he only had my and Troy's best interests at heart, what was the point of telling him?
Answer: nothing. There was no point.
But there was still one key to all this--one person who could answer all my questions about that shed, about illegal steroids, about why Troy had tested positive. It kept circling back to that same question: Why had Buck left the town of Kasselton?
There was only one person who, it seemed, could really answer that question for me.
"Where's Buck?" I asked.
Brandon looked puzzled by the question. "I told you. He lives with his mom."
"Where does she live?"
"I don't remember," Brandon said. "Somewhere in Maine or Massachusetts."
"You have no idea?"
"I remember he used to go there a lot in the summer." And then Brandon added something that changed everything: "He'd go boating or fishing off the island."
I stood there. I was gripping the basketball so hard, I thought it might pop.
"Island?" I said.
"Yeah, his mom lives on an island. It's got a weird name. Like Apollonia or Adonis or something with an A."
I swallowed. "Adiona?"
"Yeah, that's it," Brandon said. "Buck's mom lives on Adiona Island."
Ema and I barely talked on the way back up to Adiona Island.
The seas were choppy this morning. We stood at the front of the ferry. The wind ripped at our faces. I watched Ema's pale complexion redden under the onslaught. She didn't care. I didn't care either.
We had stopped trying to piece this together. There comes a time when you need to put all the theories aside. Mrs. Friedman had a poster in her classroom with a saying from Sherlock Holmes. I don't remember the exact quote, so I'm paraphrasing, but it says that it's a mistake to theorize before you have all the facts because then you twist facts to suit theories instead of the other way around.
We simply had no theories anymore.
We needed more facts.
The wind picked up. Everyone else had ducked inside to escape. Ema and I did not. We stared out as the island emerged from the fog.
The wind snatched away the word, making it hard to hear her.
"What?" I shouted back.
"We'll be fine," I said.
"I love when you're condescending."
"I'm trying to be comforting."
"Same thing, Mickey." Ema looked up at me. "It's cute that you want to be the hero, but I'd rather you were just honest, okay?"
I put my arm around her. It was just to keep her warm. Nothing else. She moved in closer and rested her head against my chest. We stood like that as the ferry moved closer to the port. I could almost feel something change as we docked. There was something in the air on this island.
A tension. An electricity.
We both felt it.
I moved my arm away. I still hadn't heard from Troy, but then again, I hadn't contacted him either. Spoon had tried to find where on the island Buck's mother lived, but he couldn't come up with anything. It didn't matter. The island was small.
We would find the house.
Meanwhile, there was still the other matter. Ema had to go face-to-face with Jared Lowell, this online persona who had, it seemed, captured her heart. We started down the same road I had walked with Rachel. The wind grew less powerful as we moved inland, but it never left.
"Do you remember what Bat Lady said to me?" Ema asked.
"She said a lot of things."
"At the very end. Right before she got in that car and she drove off with that shaved head guy."
I did remember. "She asked if you loved the boy."
"She didn't ask. She said it. Like she knew."
I nodded. "Right."
"Do you remember what she said after that?"
That line I remembered verbatim: "'It will hurt.'"
"And then you asked what will. And she said the truth."
We were nearing Jared's road now. If the island had seemed quiet last time, it seemed completely abandoned now. We had not seen anyone or even a passing car since leaving the dock.
"I think," Ema said, "we may be coming close to that truth."
We made the turn onto Jared Lowell's road. It was completely still, silent. I almost expected one of those ghost-town tumbleweeds to blow across the street. Ema turned to me and said, "Which door?"
I pointed up the block a bit. "That one."
"Do you want me to wait here?"
Ema thought about it. "No, come with me."
"Yeah," she said. "If this is going to hurt, I want you to be there for me."
We started up that same cracked-concrete path. I knocked. Ema and I stood there, adjusting our shoulders and then our heads and doing that dumb stuff you do when you're waiting for a door to open.
Eventually we heard footsteps heading toward us. I glanced at Ema. She gave me a hesitant smile. The door opened.
But it wasn't Jared. It was his mother.
She frowned at me. "You were here a few days ago."
"Yes, ma'am," I said.
"What do you want?"
She said it as though it were an accusation.
"We're here to see Jared."
"What do you want with him?"
I didn't know how to answer that. I looked toward Ema. She said, "We're his friends."
"From the Farnsworth School?"
"No, ma'am," I said.
"Then where are you from?"
"Kasselton, New Jersey," Ema replied.
A look of horror crossed the woman's face. She leaned toward us, baring her teeth like a feral dog. Her eyes were wide. "Get out of here!" she screamed. "Get off this island and never come back!"
She slammed the door so hard that we nearly fell off the stoop.
Ema and I stood there, trying unsuccessfully not to look flabbergasted.
After some time had passed, Ema said, "What the heck was that?"
"I have no idea."
"Did you see how she reacted when she heard where we're from?"
"What could that have to do with my online relationship with her son?"
"Same answer," I said.
"You have no idea?"
"So now what? Do we start searching for Buck?"
I thought about it. "Did you notice that tennis club on the way in?"
"The snooty-looking one?"
"Right. When Rachel and I were here last time, Jared said something about having to get to his job at the club. I mean, there may be more than one club on this island--"
"No, it's that one," Ema said. "Look at this street. This is where the workers live. I bet ninety percent of the people who live here work at that tennis club. The bigger problem is, look at us. You're wearing jeans. I'm wearing, well, not tennis whites."
"I have an idea," I said.
We started back down the street toward the main road. We turned right. The tennis club was up ahead. I thought that maybe there would be a guard or a gate, but this was the kind of island where you didn't need that. Guards at clubs were there to keep out the riffraff. This island had no riffraff. Just members and staff.
We started down the entrance road when a young man in tennis whites with a sweater tied around his neck hurried toward us. "May I help you?"
"No," I said. "We're fine."
We kept walking toward the clubhouse. I thought that maybe Mr. Tied Sweater would let us be. He didn't. He ran alongside us and said, "Uh, excuse me?"
"Why are you here?"
I had expected this. I had hoped, though, to get lucky and walk around a little more and maybe spot our boy, but that was not to be. Still, we kept walking and looking as we spoke. "My name is Will. This is my sister, Grace."
Ema nodded. We kept walking and scanning for Jared.
"Yeah, okay. What can I do for you? This club has a strict dress code. Neither one of you is adhering to it."
"We are here seeking employment," I said.
Tied Sweater was getting annoyed that we wouldn't stop walking. "I don't think we are hiring at the current time."
"Oh, that's too bad," Ema said.
We were at the door to the clubhouse. I pushed through. "Maybe we could fill out an application. Just to keep it on file. In case someone quits."
"We require references. Do you have them?"
"Yes, we do." It was time to take a chance. "Jared Lowell will recommend us."
"Oh," Tied Sweater said, suddenly smiling. His whole persona changed. Jared clearly had some clout. "You're both friends of Jared's?"
"Close friends," said Ema.
"Well, that changes things," he said.
"He's working today, right?"
"What? No. In fact, I figured that's why you're here."
I said, "Huh?"
"Jared just left for the ferry. He should be taking off in, oh"--he looked at his watch--"fifteen minutes. The applications are in the back. If you'd like to sit in the--"
But Ema and I were already back outside and sprinting toward the ferry. I was surprised at how Ema was able to keep up with me, but then again, determination counts for a lot.
Still, there wasn't much time. I did a quick calculation and realized that we wouldn't arrive before Jared boarded the next ferry.
Then the answer came to me: I could break more laws.
"This way," I said.
The summer population here was under two thousand people. That meant there wasn't much crime or need for law enforcement. People didn't lock up their homes.
Or their bikes.
We found two in a driveway on the right. Ema and I hopped on and started peddling. Three minutes later, we spotted Jared sitting on a bench by the dock. When he saw us coming, Jared Lowell shielded his eyes from the sun with his hand and said, "You again."
"Yep. And look who I brought."
I turned and looked at Ema. I couldn't help it. Part of me thought that this w
Ema looked at him. He looked at her. I took a step back.
"Hey," Ema said to him.
"Hey," Jared said back.
Ema seemed to be studying him. He started to shift under her gaze.
"I'm sorry," Jared Lowell said.
Ema did not reply. She tilted her head, looking at him as though he were some kind of odd experiment.
"I should have told you," he said.
"Told me what?"
"What were you going to tell me, Jared?"
His feet shifted again. The ferry had arrived. The passengers began to disembark. "You know. I mean, I should have told you that I didn't want to e-mail you anymore."
I expected her to be hurt or crushed, but it was as though seeing him in person had given her an odd strength. "Why didn't you?"
"Why didn't I tell you?"
"Yeah," Ema said, "start with that."
"I don't know." Jared gave a big shrug. "It was wrong. Your friend here and I talked about it. I was going to get in touch."
"So you wanted to, what, break up with me?"
He looked so uncomfortable, even I felt bad for him. "Well, yeah."
"What do you mean, why?"
"What's your favorite color?"
"Just tell me, Jared. What's your favorite color?"
Jared opened his mouth, but no words came out. Ema looked at me and shook her head.
"What?" I said.
"It's not him."
"What do you mean it's not him?"
"Give me some credit, Mickey. I thought that as soon as I saw him in person, but after talking to him for just these few seconds . . ." Ema turned back to him. "You're not the guy who talked to me online, are you?"
"What? Sure I am. Jared Lowell. You saw my Facebook page."
Ema shook her head. "Yes, Jared, it was your Facebook page. And, yes, you clearly knew about it. But it wasn't you, was it?"
"What are you talking about?" He tried to laugh it off, but it wasn't happening. "Of course it's me. Look, we had something. It was great, I guess, but it was just online. It wasn't real."
"Quick: What's your favorite color?"
"What's your favorite food?"
"What's your favorite place?"
"The hidden cove on the west side of this island."
The color drained from Ema's face. "Oh no . . ."
"What?" I said.
She turned to me. "He got that last one right."
"So?" I was confused. "Maybe you were wrong. Maybe he was the one--"
"He got the color wrong. He got the food wrong. Don't you see?"
Found by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Young Adult / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes