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          part  #11 of  Myron Bolitar Series  by  Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
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If you were the type of person who knew for sure what to do here, if you could make the call to spy or not spy without qualms or caveats, you'd be the kind of person Myron would find somewhat suspect.

Life ain't that black-and-white.

"There's one more thing," Ema said.

"What?"

Ema glanced uneasily at Mickey.

"What?" Myron said again.

Mickey gestured for Ema to go ahead. Ema sighed and reached into her purse. She pulled out a small clear plastic bag, the kind you used to get your toiletries past TSA. "Here."

Ema handed the bag to Myron. He held it up in the air. There was a toothbrush and strands of long hair. He put it down and waited a moment. "Are these . . . ?"

Ema nodded. "I got the toothbrush from Patrick's bathroom," she said. "Then I sneaked down the hall and grabbed the hair from Francesca's hairbrush."

Myron said nothing. He just stared at the contents in the plastic bag.

Mickey stood. Ema followed suit.

"We figured maybe you could run a DNA test on them or something," Mickey said.





Chapter 25


We are inside the farmhouse now.

It is just the two of us, Fat Gandhi and moi. Zorra now stands guard by the front door. Fat Gandhi's traveling companions--two of the men Myron had described as the "gamers" from his visit and one male who could possibly be underage--are in the front yard with him.

"Your friend Zorro," Fat Gandhi begins.

"Zorra."

"Pardon?"

"His name is Zorra, not Zorro."

"I mean no offense."

I just stare at him.

"I've made us tea," Fat Gandhi says.

I don't touch it. I think instead about the young male, the one who may be underage. In movies, one often hears the bad guys talk about how "this is only business." I for one rarely believe it. Be you good or bad, you tend to gravitate toward what interests you. Most drug dealers, for example, partake of their wares. The people I've encountered who work in the porn industry have a predilection for the same. Those who run protection rackets enforced by violence rarely have an aversion to injuring others or the sight of blood. In fact, for the most part, they relish it.

I look at my own role in this without irony, by the way.

My point? Fat Gandhi may talk about how this is all business and profit to him, but I am not sure that I believe it. I wonder whether there is a personal and unsavory explanation for his chosen line of work.

And I wonder whether I should do something about it.

"I can't give you your cousin," Fat Gandhi says, "because I don't have him."

"That's very unfortunate," I say.

He does not meet my eye. This is good. He fears Zorra. He fears me. As he said before, he does not want to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. This is why I believe in massive and disproportional retaliation. It makes your next enemy think twice.

"Where is he?" I ask.

"I don't know. I never had him."

"Yet you had Patrick Moore."

"I did, yes. But not like you think."

He leans forward and grabs his cup of tea.

I ask, "How long was Patrick Moore in your employ?"

"That's just it," he says, taking a sip from the cup. "He never was."

I cross my legs. "Please explain."

"You killed my men," he says. "Three of them."

"Are you still looking for a confession?"

"No, I'm telling the story. I'm starting at the beginning."

I sit back and beckon him to continue. Fat Gandhi doesn't use the delicate handle of the teacup. He embraces it gently using both hands, as though protecting an injured bird. "You never asked my men why they approached Patrick Moore, did you?"

"There was no time," I say.

"Perhaps. Or perhaps you overreacted."

"Or perhaps they did."

"Fair enough, mate. Fair enough. But we're getting off track. I'm going to tell you what happened. You then decide where we go from there, okay?"

I nod.

"So this kid, this Patrick Moore, he shows up on our turf. You understand about that sort of thing, don't you, Mr. Lockwood? Territorial disputes?"

"Go on."

"So my men heard about it. You could be right. They may have been too heavy-handed; I don't know. I wasn't there. But that was their job. I've learned that on the streets, it's sometimes better to be heavy-handed. To overreact."

I hear the echo of my own self-justification. It does not faze me in the least.

"So they braced Patrick Moore. I assume they decided to make an example of him. Then you appeared. You acted in such a way as to protect him. But tell me, Mr. Lockwood, what did Patrick Moore do?"

"He ran away," I say.

"Exactly, my friend. He ran. Everyone ran. Including Garth."

"Garth?"

"The young man with the dog collar."

"Ah," I say.

"Garth naturally reported what happened. It got back to me. I called him. He told me about this new kid showing up on our turf and then how some effete gentleman disposed of them."

I arch an eyebrow. "Effete?"

"His word, not mine."

I smile. I know that's untrue, but I let it go. "Continue."

"Well, you can imagine, Mr. Lockwood, what I thought. Three of my men slaughtered over what seemed a small territorial dispute. I don't know about America, but here that kind of thing doesn't just happen. I concluded that someone--you, sir--were declaring war on me. I concluded that the boy, Patrick Moore as it turned out, was part of a setup--that he was working with you to test my strength and resolve. Do you understand?"

"I do."

"And to be candid, I didn't quite understand it. Those streets aren't all that profitable. So I put feelers out for the boy who ran away. Patrick. Garth said that he heard him utter a few words and that he sounded American. That confused me even more. Why would Americans be out to get me? But from there, I put out the word." He puts down the tea. "May I be immodest for a moment?"

"Please."

"I more or less rule the streets of London. At least, when it comes to this particular market. I know the hotels. I know the brothels. I know the shelters and rail stations and public transport where youngsters hide. I know the parks and alleys and dark corners. There is no one better at finding a missing teen than yours truly. My employees can scour the city better than any branch of law enforcement."

He takes another sip of his tea, smacks his lips, sits the cup back down. "So I put out a code red, Mr. Lockwood. It didn't take long for one of my contacts to find the boy. He was trying to check into a small hotel paying cash. So I sent a few of my more mature employees--you probably noticed them in camouflage pants--to apprehend him. They did so. They brought him back to the arcade."

He takes another sip of tea.

"Patrick was alone when you found him?" I ask.

"Yes."

I mull this over. "Did any of your people know him?"

"No."

"Proceed," I say.

"Please understand, Mr. Lockwood, that at this time, I believed that this American was working to disrupt and even destroy my business."

I nod. "So you treated him as a hostile."

Fat Gandhi's smile is one of relief. "Yes. You understand, then?"

I give him nothing.

"I, shall we say, interrogated him."

"He tells you who he is," I say, putting it together. "That he was kidnapped."

"Yes."

"What did you do?"

"What I always do. I conduct research."

I remember what Myron told me about Fat Gandhi's Hindu aphorism. "Knowledge is bigger than debate," I say.

He is unnerved by my knowledge of his quote. "Uh, yes."

"What did you find?"

"I was able to confirm his story, which put me in something of a quandary. On the one hand, I could turn him over to the authorities. I could even end up a hero for rescuing him."

I shake my head. "But that would put too much heat on you."

"Precisely. Heroes put targets on their backs, even with the police."

"So you decided to look for a payoff."

"Honestly, I didn't know what to do. I am not a kidnapper. I also still needed to understand the threat. Three of my men were dead, after all. So I confess to you, Mr. Lockwood, that I wasn't quite sure what to do."

I see it now. "And then Myron shows up."

"Yes. He found Garth in the park. I have Garth bring him to the arcade. I figure that this is my chance. I can make money. I can get rid of Patrick. I can avenge my dead men."

"The other boy that Myron saw in the cell," I say. "I assume he was just a plant."

"Yes, he was just one of the boys around that age."

"You figured you could collect more money for two than for one."

Fat Gandhi nods and spreads his hands. "You know the rest."

I do, but I need to clarify. "You never saw Rhys Baldwin?"

"No."

"And you have no idea where he is?"

"None. But this is my proposal, if you want to hear it."

I sit back and cross my legs. I gesture for him to proceed.

"You forget me. I forget you. I go back to my life. Except for one thing. I have the sources on the street. I have the contacts. I use them now. In the same way I was able to find Patrick Moore, I use them to find Rhys Baldwin, if he can be found."

I consider this. It sounds like a fair deal. I tell him this. Relief washes over him. We have a deal. For now.

"One more question," I say.

He waits.

"You said, 'if he can be found.'"

His face falls a little.

"I assume," I continue, "that you asked Patrick Moore about Rhys Baldwin's whereabouts."

He squirms just enough. "It didn't really interest me," he replies.

"But you asked."

"I did, yes."

"What did he say?"

Fat Gandhi looks me square in the eye. "He said that Rhys was dead."





Chapter 26


The Morningside campus of Columbia University features a startlingly picturesque quad nestled between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue on the west and east and 114th Street and 120th Street south and north. You enter by College Walk on 116th Street, and suddenly, like something out of a wardrobe portal to Narnia, you are transported from the aging city, from the purely urban, from Manhattan at its most citified, to an idyllic campus of green and brick and domes and ivy. You feel protected in here, isolated, and maybe, for the four years you spend here as an undergraduate, that's how it should be.

Esperanza had found a campus directory that told her Francesca Moore lived in a six-person suite in Ruggles Hall. It was seven A.M. The quad was near silent. You needed a student ID to enter the building, so Myron waited by the door. To blend in, he donned a baseball cap and carried an empty pizza box.

Myron Bolitar, Master of Disguise.

When one kid finally emerged, Myron grabbed the door before it closed. The kid, probably used to deliverymen coming at all hours, didn't say a word.

Myron Bolitar, Master of Disguise, was inside.

The corridors were eerily quiet. Myron headed to the second floor and found the door to room 217. He'd come this early figuring that Francesca, like any college student, would still be asleep and thus he was sure to find her here and maybe even a little groggy. That might be a good thing. Catch her off guard and all that. Sure, he might disturb her roommates too, but he chalked that up to acceptable collateral damage.

Myron didn't know what he hoped to find here, but stumbling around blind was a big part of his so-called investigations. You don't so much painstakingly search for the needle in the haystack as haphazardly leap into various haystacks, barefoot and naked, and then flail wildly and hope that hey, ouch, there's a needle.

Myron knocked on the door. Nothing. He knocked a little harder. More nothing. He put his hand on the knob and gave it a small turn. The door was unlocked. He debated just going in, but no, a strange adult entering the room of a college co-ed? Not a smart move. When he knocked again, the door finally opened.

"Mr. Bolitar?"

It wasn't Francesca Moore. It was Clark Baldwin.

"Hey, Clark."

Clark wore a T-shirt several sizes too large and checkered boxer shorts that even Myron's dad would consider retro. His face was pale, his eyes bloodshot. "What are you doing here?" he asked Myron.

"I could ask you the same question."

"Uh, I go to school here. I live here."

"Oh," Myron said. "You and Francesca are roommates?"

"Suitemates, yeah."

"I didn't know."

"No reason you should," Clark said.

True that.

"There are six of us," Clark continued, feeling the need to explain or perhaps get his bearings. "Three guys, three girls. It's the twenty-first century. Co-ed dorms, co-ed rooms, transgender bathrooms, we got it all."

"Can I come in?" Myron asked.

From behind him, a male voice said, "What's going on, Clark?"

"Go back to sleep, Matt," Clark said. "It's nothing."

Clark slipped outside into the corridor and closed the door behind him. "Why are you here?"

"I came to talk to Francesca," Myron said.

Something crossed his face. "What about?"

"About the econ final," Myron said. "I hear it's going to be a bitch."

Clark made a face. "That supposed to be funny?"

"Well, I admit it's not one of my better lines but--"

"Mom said you and Cousin Win are trying to find Rhys."

Myron nodded. "We are."

"But Francesca doesn't know anything about that."

Myron spared him the flailing-in-a-haystack metaphor. "She may know more than she thinks she knows."

Clark shook his head. "She would have told me," he said.

Patience, Myron thought. If you're standing in front of a haystack, flail in that one before you move on. Or something like that. In short, stay patient for now with Clark.

"You two must be pretty tight," Myron said.

"Francesca is my best friend."

"You grew up together?"

"Yes. But there's a lot more to it than that."

A door opened down the corridor. A boy stumbled out as only a college student waking up early can.

"She's the only one who got it," Clark continued. "You know what I mean?"

Myron did, but he said, "Pretend I don't."

"We were just kids. We were only in fifth grade."

"I remember. Mr. Hixon's class."

"Dixon."

"Right, sorry. Dixon. Go on."

Clark swallowed and rubbed his chin. "So we're just little kids. Francesca and I were friends, I guess, but we didn't hang out or anything. You know what that age is like, right?"

Myron nodded. "Boys hung out with boys, girls with girls."

"Right. But then everything . . . I mean, both our little brothers just"--Clark snapped his fingers--"vanished. Like that. Do you not get what that did to us?"

Myron wasn't sure if the question was rhetorical or not. The corridor had the stale stench of spilled beer and academic worry. There was a bulletin board overloaded with flyers, meetings for all kinds of groups and clubs, everything from badminton to belly dancing, from feminist thought to flute choir. There were clubs with names Myron didn't understand, like Orchesis or Gayaa or Taal, and what was the Venom Step Team?

"For a while, after your brother disappears, you stay home from school," Clark said, his voice faraway. "I don't remember how long anymore. Was it a week, a month? I can't remember. But eventually you have to go back, and when you do, everyone looks at you like you're some kind of alien. Your friends. Your teachers. Everyone. Then you go home from school, and it's even worse. Your parents are falling apart. They're extra clingy because now they're scared of losing you too. So you come home and you try to escape to your room, but when you do, you walk right past his room. Every day. You move on--and yet you never move on. You try to forget, but that makes it worse. You try to get out from the shadow, but then you see your mother's sad face and it knocks you back down again."

Clark lowered his head.

And meanwhile, Myron thought, you're just a kid.

Myron wasn't sure it was the right move, but in the end, he put a hand on the boy's shoulder.

"Thank you," Myron said.

"For what?"

"For sharing that. It must have been a nightmare."

"It was," Clark said, "but that's my point. She made it better."

"Francesca?"

Clark nodded. "I had someone who didn't just say they got it. I had someone who understood completely."

"Because she was going through the same thing."

"Right."

"And," Myron said, "vice versa. She had someone too."

"Yeah, I guess. You get it, right?"

A friendship bonded in tragedy--maybe the strongest kind of all. "Of course."

"I came out to Francesca before anyone, even my parents, but of course, she already knew. We could talk about anything."

"You were lucky to have her."

"You have no idea, Mr. Bolitar."

Myron took his time with the next question. "And now that her brother is back?"

Clark said nothing.

"Now that her brother is back and yours isn't," Myron continued. "Has your relationship changed?"

His voice was soft. "Francesca is not here."

"Where is she?"

"Back home, I guess."

"I thought you drove her in last night."

"Who told you that?" he half snapped. Then: "Oh, right. Your nephew. He was at the house."

Myron waited.

"See, there was a party at the DKA house. I know it sounds stupid, what with finding her brother and all. She's been really confused lately. On edge. I mean, don't get me wrong, she's ecstatic. She couldn't even let Patrick out of her sight. At first anyway. But now maybe it's getting claustrophobic, you know what I mean?"

"Sure," Myron said. "That's natural."

"So she texted me to come get her."

"And you drove her there?"

"Yeah. We went to the party. It was a little out of control, but nothing we hadn't seen before. We drank. Maybe too much, I don't know. Anyway, at some point, she started freaking out."

"Freaking out how?"

"She started crying. I asked her what's wrong. She just shook her head. I tried to comfort her. I took her outside, you know, to get a little fresh air. She just cried harder."
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