Part #11 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
Terese swung her legs out of bed, rose, and moved toward the window. Myron watched. He liked the way she moved naked, panther-like, all coiled and toned and confident. The apartment was perched above Central Park on the West Side. Terese looked out the window toward the lake and Bow Bridge. If you've ever seen a New York City movie where a couple in love runs across a footbridge, you've seen Bow Bridge.
"God, what a view," Terese said.
"I was just thinking the same thing."
"Are you ogling my ass?"
"I prefer to think of it as watching. Guarding."
"In a protective manner, then?"
"It would be unprofessional of me to look away."
"Well, we wouldn't want you to appear unprofessional."
Then, with her back still toward him, his fiancee said, "Myron?"
"Yes, my love."
"Terrifying," Myron agreed. "Come back to bed."
"Don't make promises you can't keep."
"Oh, I can keep them," Myron said. Then: "Is there a place around here that delivers oysters and vitamin E?"
She turned, gave him her best smile, and ka-boom, his heart exploded into a million pieces. Terese Collins was back. After all the years of separations and anguish and instability, they were finally going to get married. It felt incredible. It felt wonderful. It felt fragile.
And that was when the phone rang.
They both stopped as though they sensed it. When things are going this well, you sort of hold your breath because you want it to last. You don't want to stop or even slow down time as much as you just want to stay safe in your little bubble.
That phone ring, to keep with this piss-poor metaphor, was a bubble burster.
Myron checked the caller ID but the number was blocked. They were in the Dakota building in Manhattan. When Win had disappeared a year ago, he had put the place in Myron's name. For most of that year, Myron had chosen to stay in his childhood home in nearby Livingston, New Jersey, trying his best to raise his teenage nephew, Mickey. But now his brother, Mickey's father, was back, and so Myron had given them the house and come back to the city.
The phone rang a second time. Terese turned to the side, as though the sound had slapped her across the cheek. He could see the scar from the bullet wound on her neck. The old feeling, the need to protect, started to rise in him.
For a moment, Myron debated letting it go to voicemail, but then Terese closed her eyes and nodded, just once. Not answering, they both knew, would only delay the inevitable.
Myron picked up on the third ring. "Hello?"
There was an odd hesitation and some static and then the voice he hadn't heard in so long came through: "Don't you mean 'articulate'?"
Myron had tried to brace himself, but he still gasped. "Win? My God, where have you been--?"
"I saw him."
Myron had wondered, but he hadn't dared voice it. "Wait, both of them?"
"Catch the next plane to London. I need your help."
Myron looked at Terese. The shatter was back in her eyes. That shatter had always been there, since they first ran off together years ago, but he hadn't noticed it since her return. He reached out his hand toward her. She took it.
"Life's a little complicated right now," Myron said.
"Terese has returned," Win said.
Not a question. He knew.
"And you're finally getting married."
Again not a question.
"Did you buy her a ring?"
"From Norman on Forty-Seventh Street?"
"More than two carats?"
"Win . . ."
"I'm happy for you both."
"But you can't get married," Win said, "without your best man."
"I already asked my brother."
"He'll step aside. The flight leaves from Teterboro. The car is waiting."
Win hung up.
Terese looked at him. "You have to go."
He wasn't sure if it was a question or a statement.
"Win doesn't make casual requests," Myron said.
"No," she agreed. "He doesn't."
"It won't take long. I'll be back and we will get married. I promise."
Terese sat on the bed. "Can you tell me what it's about?"
"How much could you hear?"
"Just bits and pieces." Then: "Is the ring more than two carats?"
"Good. So tell me."
"Do you remember the Alpine kidnappings ten years back?"
Terese nodded. "Sure. We reported on it."
She had worked for years as an anchorwoman on one of those all-news channels.
"One of the kidnapped boys, Rhys Baldwin, is related to Win."
"You never told me that."
Myron shrugged. "I didn't really have much to do with it. By the time we got involved, the case was pretty cold. Still, it's always been on my back burner."
"But not Win's."
"Nothing is ever on Win's back burner."
"So he has a new lead?"
"More than that. He says he saw Patrick Moore."
"So why doesn't he call the police?"
"I don't know."
"But you didn't ask."
"I trust his judgment."
"And he needs your help."
Terese nodded. "Then you better get packed."
"He was right."
She rose. "We can't get married without your best man."
Win had sent a black limo. It was waiting under the Dakota's archway. The limo took him out to Teterboro Airport in northern New Jersey, which was about half an hour away. Win's plane, a Boeing Business Jet, was waiting on the tarmac. There was no security, no check-in, no ticket. The limousine dropped him off by the steps. The flight attendant, a lovely young Asian woman, greeted Myron in an old-fashioned fitted uniform, complete with puffy blouse and pillbox hat.
"Nice to see you, Mr. Bolitar."
"You too, Mee."
In case you didn't get the memo: Win was rich.
Win's real name was Windsor Horne Lockwood III, as in Lock-Horne Investments and Securities and the Lock-Horne Building on Park Avenue. His family was old money, the kind of money that got off the Mayflower with a pink polo shirt and desirable tee time.
Myron ducked his six-four frame through the plane's door. There were leather seats, wood trim, a couch, plush green carpeting, zebra-striped wallpaper--the plane had been owned by a rapper, and Win decided not to refurbish it because it made him feel "phat"--a wide-screen television, a sofa bed, and a queen-sized bed in the back bedroom.
Myron was alone on the plane, which made him feel self-conscious, but he'd get over it. He took a seat and buckled up. The plane began moving toward the runway. Mee did her safety demonstration. She kept the pillbox hat on. Win, Myron knew, liked that hat.
Two minutes later, they were up in the air.
Mee came over and said, "Is there anything I can get you?"
"Have you seen him?" Myron asked. "Where has he been?"
"I'm not allowed to answer that," Mee replied.
"Win told me to make you comfortable. We have your customary beverage on board."
She was carrying a Yoo-hoo chocolate drink.
"Yeah, I'm off those," Myron said.
"That's sad. How about a cognac?"
"I'm good right now. What can you tell me, Mee?"
Me, Mee. Myron wondered whether
"What can you tell me?" Myron asked again.
Mee said, "The weather forecast in London calls for intermittent rain."
"Gee, that's a shock. I mean, what can you tell me about Win?"
"Good question," she said. "What can you tell Mee"--she pointed to herself--"about Win?"
"Don't start with that."
She gave him a smile. "There's a live feed of the Knicks game, if you'd like to watch."
"I don't watch basketball anymore."
Mee gave him a look of sympathy that almost made him want to turn away. "I saw your sports documentary on ESPN," she said.
"That's not why," Myron said.
She nodded, not believing him.
"If the game holds no interest for you," Mee said, "there's a video for you to watch."
"What kind of video?"
"Win instructed me to tell you to watch it."
"This isn't, uh . . ."
Win liked to film his, uh, carnal trysts and play them back while meditating.
Mee shook her head. "He keeps those for his own private viewing, Mr. Bolitar. You know that. It's part of the waiver we sign."
"Waiver?" Myron held up a hand before she could reply. "Never mind, I don't want to know."
"Here's the remote control." Mee handed it to him. "Are you sure there isn't anything I can get you at this time?"
"I'm good, thanks."
Myron spun toward the mounted television and switched it on. He half expected Win to be on the screen with some Mission: Impossible-type message, but no, it was one of those true-crime shows you see on cable television. The subject was, of course, the kidnappings, a look back now that the boys had been missing ten years.
Myron settled back and watched. It was a good refresher. In simple terms, here was the gist: Ten years ago, six-year-old Patrick Moore was on a playdate at the estate of his classmate Rhys Baldwin in the "tony"--they always used that word in the media--suburb of Alpine, New Jersey, not far from the isle of Manhattan. How tony? The median home price in Alpine last quarter was over four million dollars.
The two boys were left in the care of Vada Linna, an eighteen-year-old au pair from Finland. When Patrick's mother, Nancy Moore, came to pick up her son, no one answered the door. This was not a huge cause for concern to her. Nancy Moore figured that young Vada had taken the boys for an outing or ice cream or something along those lines.
Two hours later, Nancy Moore returned and knocked on the front door again. There was still no answer. Still only mildly concerned, Nancy called Rhys's mother, Brooke. Brooke called Vada's mobile phone, but it went immediately to voicemail.
Brooke Lockwood Baldwin, Win's first cousin, rushed home at this juncture. She unlocked the door to the house. The two women called out. At first there was no answer. Then they heard a noise coming from the finished basement, which was an expansive playroom for the young children.
That was where they found Vada Linna tied to a chair and gagged. The young au pair had kicked over a lamp to get their attention. She was scared but otherwise unharmed.
But the two boys, Patrick and Rhys, were nowhere to be found.
According to Vada, she had been fixing the boys a snack in the kitchen when two armed men stormed in through the sliding glass door. They wore ski masks and black turtlenecks.
They dragged Vada to the basement and tied her up.
Nancy and Brooke immediately called the police. Both fathers, Hunter Moore, a physician, and Chick Baldwin, a hedge fund manager, were summoned from their places of work. For several hours, there was nothing--no contact, no clues, no leads. Then a ransom request via an anonymous email came to Chick Baldwin's work account. The note began by warning them not to contact the authorities if they wanted to see their children alive.
Too late for that.
The note demanded that the families get two million dollars ready--"one million per child"--and that further instructions would be forthcoming. They gathered the money and waited. Three agonizing days passed before the kidnappers wrote again, directing Chick Baldwin and only Chick Baldwin to drive alone to Overpeck Park and leave the money in a specific spot by the boat launches.
Chick Baldwin did as they asked.
The FBI, of course, had full surveillance on the park, all entrances and exits covered. They had also put a GPS in the bag, though a decade ago, that technology was slightly more rudimentary than it would be today.
Up until this point, the authorities had done a good job of keeping the abductions a secret. No media found out. At the urging of the FBI, no friends or family members, including Win, were contacted. Even the other Baldwin and Moore children were kept in the dark.
Chick Baldwin dropped off the money and drove away. An hour passed. Then two. During hour three, someone picked up the bag, but that ended up being a Good Samaritan jogger who planned to bring it to lost and found.
No one else picked up the ransom money.
The families gathered around Chick Baldwin's computer and waited for another email. In the meantime, the FBI pursued a few theories. First, they took a hard look at Vada Linna, the young au pair, but there was nothing there. She had been in the country only two months and barely spoke English. She had only one friend. They scoured her emails, her texts, her online history, and came up with nothing suspicious.
The FBI also looked at the four parents. The only one who gave them serious pause was Rhys's father, Chick Baldwin. The ransom emails had come to Chick, but more than that, Chick was something of an unsavory character. There were two cases of insider trading and several lawsuits involving embezzlement. Some claimed that he ran a Ponzi scheme. Clients--some of whom were powerful--were upset.
But upset enough to do something like this?
So they waited for word from the kidnappers. Another day passed. Then two. Then three, four. Not a word. A week went by.
Then a month. A year.
And nothing. No sign of either boy.
Myron sat back as the credits rolled. Mee sauntered over and looked down at him.
"I think I'll have that cognac now," he said.
When she came back, Myron said, "Sit down, Mee."
"I don't think so."
"When was the last time you saw Win?"
"I am paid to be discreet."
Myron bit back the wisecrack. "There were rumors," he said. "About Win, I mean. I was worried."
She tilted her head. "Don't you trust him?"
"With my life."
"So respect his privacy."
"I've been doing that for the last year."
"Then what's a few more hours?"
She was right, of course.
"You miss him," Mee said.
"He loves you, you know."
Myron said nothing.
"You should try to get some sleep."
She was right about that too. He closed his eyes, but he knew sleep wouldn't come. A close friend had recently convinced Myron to take up Transcendental Meditation, and while he wasn't sure he completely bought into it, the simplicity and ease made it perfect for those moments when sleep eluded him. He set his Meditation Timer app--yes, he had one on his phone--for twenty minutes, closed his eyes, and started to sink down.
People think meditation clears the mind. That's nonsense. You can't clear the mind. The harder you try not to think about something, the more you will think about it. You need to allow the thoughts in if you really want to relax. You learn to observe them and not judge or react. So that was what Myron did now.
He thought about seeing Win again, about Esperanza and Big Cyndi, about his mother and father down in Florida. He thoug
He thought about how shockingly fragile it all felt.
Eventually, the plane landed, slowed, taxied. When it came to a complete stop, Mee pulled the handle and opened the door. She gave him a wide smile. "Good luck, Myron."
"Same to you, Mee."
"Tell Win I say hello."
The Bentley was waiting for him on the tarmac. As Myron started down the steps, the back door opened. Win came out.
Myron hurried his step, feeling his eyes brim with tears. When he was ten feet away from his friend, he stopped, blinked, smiled.
Win sighed. "You're going to want to make this a moment, aren't you?"
"What's life without them?"
Win nodded. Myron stepped forward. The two men hugged fiercely, hanging on as though the other were a life preserver.
Still holding on, Myron said, "I have a million questions."
"And I'm not going to answer them." They both let go. "We need to concentrate on Rhys and Patrick."
Win gestured for Myron to get in the back. Myron did so, sliding across to make room for Win. The Bentley was a black stretch. The privacy window to the driver was up. There were only two seats, lots of legroom, a stocked bar. Most stretches have more seating. Win didn't see the need.
"A drink?" Win asked.
The car started to move. Mee was by the plane door. Win lowered his window and waved. She waved back. There was a wistful look on Win's face. Myron just stared at his friend, his best friend since their freshman year at Duke University, afraid that if he looked away, Win might vanish again.
Win said, "She has a top-quality derriere, don't you think?"
"Have you been in London the whole time?"
Still looking out the window, Win said, "No."
"There were rumors."
"They said you'd become a recluse."
"No, Myron, not true. I created those rumors."
"Later. Right now we need to concentrate on Patrick and Rhys."
"You said you saw Patrick."
"I believe so, yes."
"Patrick was six when he disappeared," Win said. "He would be sixteen now."
"So there was no way you could get an exact ID on him."
"So you spotted someone you believed was Patrick."
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