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       Found, p.19

          part  #3 of  Mickey Bolitar Series  by  Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Young Adult / Thrillers & Crime
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CHAPTER 43


I didn't know what to make of that. I hurried over to practice and started to dress. Troy wasn't there, but the mood was definitely buoyant. Guys slapped each other five. A few came over to me and slapped me five too. They thanked me. They gave me fist bumps.

I tried to think about what I might have done.

When I got out to the gym, I spotted Troy shooting under his familiar center basket. A bunch of guys surrounded him and threw him passes. Troy was a point guard, the shortest starter on the team, but he had deadly aim from three-point land. He knocked down four shots in a row. The guys all clapped and cheered.

When I started toward him, Troy broke into a smile. "Mickey!"

Troy and I fist-bumped. He passed me the ball. I took a quick shot and said, "You're back?"

I guess that I could have said something more obvious, but that was what came out of my mouth first.

"You know it."

He slapped me five again.

"What happened?" I asked. "I mean, how--?"

Coach Grady blew the whistle. "Three-man weave," he shouted. "Come on. We have our first scrimmage next Tuesday. Let's get moving."

Troy gave me the full-wattage smile again and said, "Let's talk later. You want a ride home?"

"Sure."

"Okay, man, I'll fill you in then. Let's get to work."

It was a great practice. We had a lot of skilled players, but Troy was the floor leader. He had the experience and the know-how. He was a natural-born leader on the court. No question about it: We were a better team with him back. Practice was more fun. Everything fell into place.

Except for one small thing.

Brandon Foley seemed unusually quiet.

"All okay?" I asked Brandon during a water break.

"Sure."

"Great about Troy."

"Yeah," he said as though spitting out glass. "Great."

I didn't know what to make of him, so I let it go. Troy was back--and even though I didn't seem to have anything to do with it, my teammates appreciated what I had done. Some even noted that I had been "wronged" in the past and they admired how I "stepped up" in spite of all that.

"Team first," Danny Brown said to me.

"Team first," I agreed.

As practice ended, Coach Grady shouted, "Okay, boys, gather around."

We all took spots on the bleachers. We sucked down water and toweled ourselves off. Troy sat next to me.

"Tomorrow's practice will be at four thirty," Coach Grady said. "We'll be in the other gym for the first half hour, then we move into this one." Coach Grady continued his little spiel, hitting on a few more logistical points. We would be getting our uniforms on Monday, he said. We had the scrimmage in West Orange on Tuesday.

Then he paused and got to the heart of the matter.

"Drug tests for all Kasselton High School winter sports have been declared null and void. It doesn't matter why. All you guys need to know is that we will be running new tests starting in two weeks. Okay, that's it. Young guys, let's get this place straightened up. The rest of you, do your homework and get some sleep."

By "young guys," Coach Grady meant the three juniors and me, the solo sophomore. We were supposed to do the team chores. Some might call it mild hazing, but it wasn't really that. We pulled out the bleachers for the team meetings. We swept the floor at the end of practice. We put the balls back on the rack and locked them up.

Today Brandon helped out. He didn't have to, but as captain, he was that kind of guy. He and I picked up the balls and put them on the rack. Again I couldn't help but notice that he wasn't himself.

"I figured you'd be happy," I said.

"Why's that?"

"You were the one who thought Troy got a raw deal."

He nodded slowly. "I guess I did." Then he looked at me. "Where were you last night?"

"What do you mean?"

"Before you came to my house. Where were you?"

There had been no reason last night to tell him about breaking into the shed. There was even less reason now. "Why?"

"Do you know why they're making us retest?"

I started spinning a ball on my finger. "No."

"Because the old specimens got contaminated."

The ball dropped off my finger. It landed on the floor. The sound echoed in the now-still gym. "How?" I asked.

"Someone broke into the storage center last night."

"What storage center?"

"The town has a storage center where they keep all the drug samples. Last night someone broke into it."

I swallowed. "Where's this storage center?"

"It's in a shed off the circle. Behind town hall."

It was like someone had suddenly encased my arms and legs in cement. "I thought that shed was owned by Buck's father."

"Huh? That's public land. Buck's father has nothing to do with it. It's owned by the town. That's where they keep all the urine specimens--the ones already tested and the backups. But because someone broke in, no one can say if something's been switched or tainted or whatever. That's why they've all been voided."

I staggered back, suddenly dizzy. I could feel the blood rushing to my face. "Do they know who broke in?"

"No," Brandon said. "But the police said it was someone tall."





CHAPTER 44


Troy was waiting for me in the car. He had the same big smile on his face, but now I saw it for what it was. Not friendship. Not sportsmanship or teamwork.

It was the smile of someone mocking me.

I went around to his side of the car. The window was open. I reached in with both hands, grabbed him by the lapels, and pulled him straight out the window.

"What the . . . ?"

"You set me up!" I shouted.

Troy didn't fight back. He just kept smiling at me. "You don't want to make a scene, Mickey."

"You never saw Randy and Buck go into that shed."

"Where's your phone?"

"What?"

"I want to make sure you're not recording this. Get in the car and take your phone out where I can see it."

I wanted to punch him.

Troy pushed me off him, opened his door, and slid back into the car. I was at a loss about what to do.

"You deaf?" Troy asked. "Get in."

I walked back around and got into the front passenger seat of his red sports car.

"Now show me your phone."

I took it out and put it on the console. He checked it to make sure that I wasn't taping the conversation. I wasn't. I should have been, but I wasn't thinking straight. I had let my anger take over. I needed to calm down.

"Is Randy even a drug dealer?" I asked.

"Oh, that part was true," Troy said. "Where do you think I got the steroids?"

So there it was. He'd done them. And I had helped him get away with it--me, the dope who claimed that people could change. Ema had said that they couldn't. Normally I enjoyed irony. Not today.

"I'm going to tell the coaches," I said.

"And what exactly are you going to tell them, Mickey?"

"That we broke into that shed. That I thought . . ."

Troy just kept smiling at me. "Think it through a minute."

I said nothing.

"First off," Troy continued, "you know that the circle has several new security cameras, right?"

"So?"

"So the break-in occurred, according to the police report, at nine fifteen P.M. When they look through the security footage, are they going to see me leaving the circle heading toward the lab?" He flashed the grin. "Or you--by yourself?"

I remembered now that he had been waiting across the street--on the side of the Y. I had wondered why he had done that, but I never . . .

"Second, if they were to check on my alibi, they'd see that I checked into the YMCA for weightlifting at nine o'clock and checked out again a little after ten. You swipe your card to go in and out. It's all computerized. Oh, they won't know that I turned off the emergency exit alarm, snuck out a side exit, and met you. They'll only be able to confirm that I was at the Y the whole time."

I just looked at him, dumbstruck.

"And, third, there's this cute little video I made with my camera phone. Don't worry. I have copies. If need be, I can send it anonymously to the police or even the media."

It was a short video, just a few seconds--me inside the shed. I remembered now when he came into the room and hit me with the flashlight. I hadn't realized at the time that his video camera was on.

I sat there, feeling numb.

Troy started up the car and pulled out. Danny Brown and a couple of the other guys walked by. Troy waved at them. I didn't.

"It will be your word against mine," Troy said, "and all the physical evidence will back me up. I bet you left fingerprints at the scene, didn't you? I made sure not to touch anything. I stayed hidden when you ran. The police followed you. They know the suspect was tall. I'm not."

I tried to strike back. "But I have no motive."

"Sure you do, Mickey."

"What?"

"You wanted to be the big hero," Troy said. "You wanted to get me back on the team. You're a troubled new kid with no friends and figured this was your way to ingratiate yourself with the popular crowd."

I shook my head. How could I have not seen this coming? But I knew the answer. Troy, in his own horrible way, had nailed it on the head. I had wanted to fit in. Hadn't Ema warned me about that? But I wouldn't listen. I had wanted to be liked. I wanted to be part of the team. I had wanted Troy to be innocent because it would serve my purposes. More than that, I had wanted to be the one to prove him innocent--to be the big hero.

And in the end, Troy was guilty. He had lied and cheated, and now he sat across from me with a big smile on his face.

"So, sure, Mickey, you can tell on me. But think it through. Even if somehow they did believe you--even if they ignored all the physical evidence I have and believed every word you say--well, then what? At best, we both get thrown off the team. You still broke into that storage shed. You can't escape from that fact."

"Wow," I said.

"What?"

"You thought of everything, Troy."

The grin was back. "I don't want to brag but, yeah, I did."

I was trapped. I was searching for an escape route. There was none.

"But it's not all bad," Troy said.

I said nothing. He made a right turn.

"We're teammates now. You saw today how good we can be. We're going to win the states, and now that you have my blessing, the entire team loves you. We are going to win a lot of games together. We are going to celebrate and go far, and then next year, I'll be gone to a top-echelon college and you'll be the new team leader."

Troy stopped the car in front of Uncle Myron's house. He leaned across me and opened the door.

"Cheer up, Mickey. It's all going to be fine. Just be smart about it. See you tomorrow at practice, okay?"





CHAPTER 45


I texted Ema. No reply. I called her. No answer.

I sat at the kitchen table and stewed. Forget her. Hadn't she said that she'd be there when I got hurt from this? She'd known, hadn't she? She tried to make me see what Troy was, but I wouldn't open my eyes. She knew that I'd have to make a big mistake like this and that it would hurt. How had she put it?

I want to protect you from that pain. But I can't. I can only tell you that when it hurts, I'll be there for you.

And then she added, Always.

"So where are you now?" I said out loud.

An hour later, Uncle Myron came home. He saw the expression on my face and said, "What happened?"

I wasn't allowed to tell him about Abeona. That was part of the rules. Both Lizzie Sobek and Dylan Shaykes had made that crystal clear to me. But I could tell him about Troy. I could tell him about how my wanting to belong to a team had ruined everything.

Uncle Myron listened with great patience and even understanding. When I finished, he asked one simple question: "Do you know what you're going to do?"

I gave a simple answer: "No."

"Good," he said. "You should sleep on it. Or maybe it's more accurate to say, you should toss and turn on it."

"Yeah," I said. "I don't expect to get much sleep."

"Don't beat yourself up. You messed up. We all do."

"Even you," I said.

It wasn't a question.

"Yeah," Myron said. "I messed up. I thought I was helping your dad all those years ago. It ends up, I made him run away. And, yeah, I know that if I hadn't done that, he'd be alive right now. I live with that ghost every day. And your father isn't my only ghost. There are a lot more who won't let me go."

"Myron?"

"Yeah?"

"How do you live with that?"

"With what, the ghosts?"

"Yeah. How do you live with them?"

"You don't have much choice. What else are you going to do?"

"That's it?" I frowned. "That's your answer."

"Mostly, yeah. And I try to remember that the mistakes I made were just that. Mistakes. I never meant to hurt anyone. Sometimes you try to do right but wrong still seems to find you. I remind myself of that. And I also remember that it's not the battle, it's the war."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning in the end, I've done more good than evil. I've saved more than I've harmed. You are a sum of your life, not just one part."

I nodded. He started to walk away. "Myron?"

"What?"

"Dad wouldn't want you to blame himself," I said.

"I know," Myron replied. "And that just makes it harder."





CHAPTER 46


I didn't sleep. But in a little while, none of that would matter.

In fact, what Troy Taylor had done to me wouldn't matter either.

As I grew more tired, delirium started to set in. I saw Troy's mocking grin. Then I saw Luther's mocking grin. Sometimes the smiles were superimposed on top of each other. Sometimes one face slowly transformed into the other.

Luther and Troy. My enemies. My Butchers.

At 6:00 A.M., still lying on my back, I heard the phone ring. Early, I thought.

A few minutes later, I heard the basement door open. Uncle Myron trudged down the stairs slowly. I sat up when I saw his face. It looked like someone had just punched him in the stomach.

"Who was on the phone?" I asked.

"Buck's father."

"What happened?"

Uncle Myron swallowed hard. "Buck."

"What about him?"

"He's dead."





CHAPTER 47


Speed was of the essence, so I asked Myron to drive me to Ema's house.

"Was Ema close to Buck?" Myron asked.

He saw the look on my face, nodded, and grabbed his keys. We sprinted to the car. He gave me details, though it all came to me through a haze. Buck's body was found buried in the woods not far from his father's gym. The news hadn't been released to the media yet. Myron had been called in his "professional capacity."

I wasn't sure what he meant by that.

We reached the front gate. There were two lion heads on either side. Uncle Myron had already called Angelica Wyatt, Ema's mom, so the gate was open. We drove through and up the long hill toward the estate.

"The cause of death is still unknown," Uncle Myron said.

"But he was murdered, right?"

"I don't think so."

In front of us, the huge baronial mansion started to come into view.

"Wait, you said someone buried him in the woods."

"Yes."

"So how could it not be murder?" I asked.

He didn't reply. Or maybe I didn't wait long enough for the answer. We'd arrived. I said, "Stay here," and hopped out of the car. Before I knocked on the door, Angelica Wyatt opened it. I hesitated for a moment. It is odd what star power does to a person. I had only met her in person a couple of times, so seeing her in the flesh, after so many years on the screen, still felt surreal.

Angelica Wyatt crossed her arms and blocked the door. "What's going on?"

"I need to talk to Ema."

"What happened with you two?"

"Nothing. If I could just--"

"She's been crying since she got home."

That slowed me down a second. "She's been crying?"

"All night. She won't say a word to me or Niles. She just"--Angelica Wyatt started welling up too--"cries."

"Does she know . . . ?"

"Know what?"

"Please, I just need to talk to her. Where is she?"

"The basement."

I didn't hesitate now. I knew the way. I ran past her, nearly slipping on the Italian marble floor. I ran toward the kitchen, veered right, found the basement door. I didn't bother knocking. I opened it and started down the stairs.

"Ema?"

The room was dark. There were faint lights above the Angelica Wyatt movie posters. I couldn't see much with it. But I could hear the cries.

Ema was sitting on a beanbag chair. I started toward her, but she put her hand up. "Don't." She looked up and met my eye. The tears were still on her face. She didn't bother to wipe them away. Gone was the heavy makeup, the black lipstick, the temporary tattoos. Ema looked so young right now. She looked young and vulnerable and really, in a way I don't think I ever fully noticed before, pretty.

"I need to tell you something," I said.

"Go ahead. Tell me from there."

I took a deep breath. I had never delivered devastating news like this. I wasn't sure of the protocol, but the fact that she was already sobbing made me rush it. "It's Buck," I said. "He's dead."

I wasn't sure what I expected. I figured that she'd start sobbing again. But that wasn't what happened. Instead she stood and said, "Thanks for letting me know."

I waited.

"That's it?"

She didn't reply.

"You've been crying," I said.

There was something close to anger in her tone. "You're so perceptive, Mickey."

"Why have you been crying?"

Again she didn't reply. She didn't have to. The answer was obvious.

"You knew already," I said. "But how? They just found his body. The media . . ." And then I saw it. "My God. That's what Buck's mother told you, didn't she?"

"She knew who I was," Ema said. "She found Buck's e-mails to me. She knew what I meant to him. And what he meant to me."

"I don't understand."

"She said that she didn't want me to live not knowing the truth. Or thinking Buck had just carelessly broken my heart. But I don't think that was it. I think she needed someone to confide in. So she made me swear never to tell."
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