Part #11 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
"Did she say anything?"
"She just kept sobbing it wasn't right, it wasn't fair."
"What wasn't fair?"
Clark shrugged. "That she got her brother back and I didn't."
Silence. Then: "What did you say?"
"I told her I was happy for her. I told her that Patrick coming home was good news, that we can still find my brother too. But she just kept sobbing. Then she said she needed to see her brother. She just wanted to make sure it was real or something. Like maybe she dreamt Patrick was back. I get that, don't you?"
"I used to have dreams like that all the time. Rhys would be home and it was like he was never gone or whatever. So I said I would drive her, but next thing I know an Uber pulled up. She got in and said she would call me soon."
"No. But it was only a few hours ago. I'm telling you, Mr. Bolitar. She doesn't know anything."
There was no point in heading to the Moore house to question Francesca. Nancy or Hunter would just call a halt to it. Besides, Myron had other plans.
His dad was waiting in the yard when Myron pulled up. The two men headed out for breakfast at Eppes Essen, a "Jewish-style" (according to the brochure) deli and restaurant on the other side of town. Myron and Dad both ordered the same thing--Eppes's famed Sloppy Joe sandwich. Many of you associate Sloppy Joes with that ground possible-meat thingie in school cafeterias. This was not that. Eppes Essen makes the authentic Sloppy Joes, momentous triple-decker sandwiches with rye bread, Russian dressing, coleslaw, and at least three meats--in this case, turkey, pastrami, corned beef.
Dad stared down at his plate and then nodded his appreciation. "If God made a sandwich."
"That should be Eppes's slogan," Myron agreed.
They finished, paid the check, and drove to the high school just as the boys' basketball team ran out for warm-ups. Mickey was in the middle of the pack. The home team was playing its archrival, Millburn High.
"Remember the game you had against them junior year?" Dad asked.
Myron smiled. "Oh yeah." With Myron's team up by only one point, Millburn had an easy fast-break layup to win it with two seconds remaining. The Millburn player cruised in, ready to score the game winner, when Myron, trailing the play, somehow leapt over the guy and pinned the ball onto the backboard as time ran out. The Millburn players screamed for goaltending--hard to tell if it was or wasn't--but the ref didn't make the call. To this day, if Myron ran across one of the Millburn guys who'd played in that game, they would still good-naturedly complain about that no-call.
The gym had a healthy crowd for the rivalry. Some people pointed and whispered as Myron walked by. Welcome to Minor-League Local Celebrity. A few came over and said hello--old teachers, old neighbors, those guys in every town who hang out at games even when their kids aren't playing anymore.
From near the foul line, Mickey spotted them and gave a quick wave. Dad--or in Mickey's case, Grandpa--waved back. Dad started to make his way up the stands. He always took the back row. He didn't want to be the center of attention. Dad never yelled, never called out, never "coached," never rode referees, never moaned, never complained. He might clap. When he got really excited during a big game, when Myron would hit a big shot, he might say, "Nice pass, Bob," or something like that, deflecting the praise. Dad never cheered for his own son. It simply wasn't done.
"If I have to cheer for you to know I'm proud," Dad once told Myron, "then I'm doing something wrong."
Never one to miss a moment of nostalgia, Myron flashed back to those long-ago days when he would warm up on a court like this and look across the gym and watch his dad take the steps of the bleachers two at a time. Not today, of course. Today Dad's movements were more hesitant and shuffle-like. He took frequent breaks. He grimaced and got out of breath. Myron put his hand out to help him, but his dad shook it off.
"I feel great," he said. "It's just the knee."
But he didn't look great. "Okay, Dad."
They sat in the top row, just the two of them.
"I like it up here," Dad said.
"Your mother and I are getting older; that's all."
And that's the problem, Myron wanted to say. He got it--to everything there is a season, turn, turn, turn, the earth revolves, life cycles--but that didn't mean he had to like it.
The horn buzzed. The players stopped warming up and headed to their benches. The guy on the microphone began, as every New Jersey high school basketball game must, by reading the state's sportsmanship policy: "'There will be no tolerance for negative statements or actions between opposing players and coaches. This includes taunting, baiting, berating opponents, "trash-talking," or actions which ridicule or cause embarrassment to them. Any verbal, written, or physical conduct related to race, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or religion shall not be tolerated, could subject the violator to ejection, and may result in penalties being assessed against your team. If such comments are heard, a penalty will be assessed immediately. We have been instructed not to issue warnings. It is your responsibility to remind your team of this policy.'"
"A necessary evil," Dad said. Then, motioning to the spot where the fathers sat, he added, "It doesn't stop those jackasses."
Mickey's short tenure at the high school had not been without controversy. He was back on the team, however unlikely that had seemed a few weeks back, but there were some residual bad feelings. Myron saw among those vocal dads his old nemesis and former high school teammate Eddie Taylor, now the chief of police in town. Taylor hadn't seen Myron yet, but he glared hard at Mickey.
Myron didn't like that.
Myron stared at the chief until finally Taylor felt his eyes, turned, and looked Myron's way. The two men glared at each other another second or two.
If you got a problem, you glare at me, Myron tried to say with his eyes, not my nephew.
Dad said, "Ignore him. Eddie has always been what the kids today call an 'ass waffle.'"
Myron laughed out loud. "Ass waffle?"
"Who taught you that?"
"Ema," Dad said. "I like her, don't you?"
"Very much," Myron agreed.
"Is it true?" Dad asked.
"That Ema's mother is Angelica Wyatt?"
It was supposed to be a secret. Angelica Wyatt was one of the most popular actresses in the world. To protect her only child and her own privacy, they had moved to a large estate on a hill here in New Jersey.
"And you know her?"
Myron nodded. "A bit."
"Who's her father?"
"I don't know."
Dad started craning his neck. "I'm surprised Ema's not here."
They settled back as the game began. Myron loved every second of it. Sitting with his dad in a gym, watching his nephew dominate the game Myron so loved--it was simple and primitive and blissful. There were no pangs anymore. He missed it, sure, but it was way past his time, and man oh man, did he love watching his young nephew reveling in the experience.
It made Myron a little teary.
At one point, after Mickey made a turnaround jumper, Dad shook his head and said, "He's really good."
"He plays like you."
Dad considered that. "Different eras. He may not go as far as you."
"Hmm," Myron said. "What makes you say that?"
"How to put this . . . ?" Dad began. "For you, basketball was everything."
"Mickey is pretty dedicated too."
"No question. But it's not everything. There's a difference. Let me ask you a question."
"When you look back at how competitive you were, what do you think?"
Mickey made a steal.
"It was important to you."
"Ridiculously important," Myron agreed.
Dad arched an eyebrow. "Too important?"
"But that's one of the things that separated you from the other talented players. That . . . 'desire' is almost too tame a word. That need to win. That single-minded focus. That's what made you the best."
Win had often said something similar of Myron's playing days at Duke: "When you're competing, you're barely sane . . ."
"But now," Dad continued, "you have perspective. You've experienced tragedies and joys that have taught you that there are more important things in life than basketball. And Mickey--don't take this the wrong way--Mickey had to grow up young. He's already suffered more than his share of tragedy."
Myron nodded. "He already has perspective."
The horn blew, ending the first quarter. Mickey's team was up by six.
"Who knows," Myron said. "Maybe his wisdom will make him a better player. Maybe perspective is as good as single-minded focus."
Dad liked that. "Maybe you're right."
They watched Mickey's teammates break the huddle and take the ball out of bounds to start the second quarter.
"I loathe sports metaphors," Dad said, "but there is one important thing both of you learned on the court and do in real life."
Dad nodded to the court. Mickey drove through the lane, drew a defender, dished a pass to a teammate, who scored an easy bucket.
"You make those around you better."
Myron said nothing. His nephew had that look on his face, the one Myron knew so well. There is a Zen to being on the court, a calm in the storm, a purity, a concentration, the ability to slow down time. Then Myron saw Mickey's eyes flick to the left. He pulled up for a second. Myron followed Mickey's gaze to see what had drawn that reaction.
Ema had walked into the gym.
She narrowed her eyes and scanned the stands. Myron gave a small wave. She nodded that she saw him and started toward him. Myron rose and met her halfway.
"What's up?" he asked.
"It's about Patrick," Ema said. "You better come with me."
Ema didn't take him far, just to the head custodian's office in the high school's main building. She opened the door and held it for him. Myron stepped inside and recognized the kid at the desk.
"Hello, Mr. Bolitar!"
They called the kid Spoon. Mickey had given him the nickname, though Myron wasn't sure of the origins. Spoon's father was the head custodian at the high school, which explained why Spoon had access to this space. The office was small and tidy and loaded with perfectly pruned plants.
"I told you to call me Myron."
The kid swiveled his chair so that he was facing Myron. Spoon wasn't wearing a pocket protector, but he had the look of a kid who should have been. Using one finger, Spoon pushed his Harry Potter glasses up his nose.
Spoon gave Myron a crooked grin. "You know those stickers that supermarkets put on fruit?"
Ema sighed. "Not now, Spoon."
"Sure I know them," Myron said.
"Do you peel them off your fruit before you eat it?"
"Did you know," Spoon continued, "that those stickers are edible?"
"I did not."
"You don't have to peel them off, if you don't want to. Even the glue is food grade."
"Good info. Is that why I'm here?"
"Of course not," Spoon said. "You're here because I think Patrick Moore is about to leave his house."
Myron stepped toward the desk. "What makes you say that?"
"He just finished Skyping with someone on his laptop." Spoon leaned back in his chair. "Are you aware, Myron, that Skype's headquarters are located in Luxembourg?"
Ema rolled her eyes.
"Who did Patrick Skype with?" Myron asked.
"That I can't say."
"What did they talk about?"
"That I can't say either. The keylogger planted by my lovely associate"--he gestured toward Ema, who looked like she wanted to kick him--"does just that. It records--or logs, if you prefer--the keys struck on a keyboard. So I can see Patrick Moore signed into Skype. I can't, of course, see what they said."
"So what makes you think he's leaving the house?" Myron asked.
"A simple deduction, my friend. Immediately after turning off Skype, Patrick Moore--or whoever is using his computer--visited the New Jersey Transit website. From what I can gather, he was searching for bus routes into New York City."
Myron checked his watch. "How long ago was this?"
Spoon checked the elaborate watch on his wrist. "Fourteen minutes and eleven, twelve, thirteen seconds ago."
For reasons Myron could never fathom, Big Cyndi was great at tailing people. Perhaps it was that she was so obvious, so in your face, so out there, that you never really saw her or suspected a woman who wore a clingy purple Batgirl costume to be following you. Her costume, a somewhat larger replica of the one Yvonne Craig wore on the old Batman TV show, was snug to the point where it might be mistaken for sausage casing.
Today, however, the outfit did blend in a very particular way. Myron spotted Big Cyndi the moment he entered Times Square. Think of every cliche you can about Times Square, mush them together, stack cliche upon cliche, the ones about the kinetic waves of humanity and the traffic and the ginormous billboards and moving screens and neon lights. Then take what you're imagining and raise it to the tenth power.
Welcome to Times Square.
Times Square is an assault on every sense, and somehow that includes not only scent but taste. Everything is in motion and swirling and you want to give the entire square a giant Adderall.
There, along with Spider-Man, Elmo, Mickey Mouse, Buzz Lightyear, and Olaf from Frozen, stood Big Cyndi in full costume. Tourists were lined up to pose for photographs with her "Batgirl."
"They love me, Mr. Bolitar," Big Cyndi called out.
Big Cyndi tee-heed and struck poses that would have made Madonna in her "Vogue" days blush. An Asian tourist offered her some cash after taking the picture, but Big Cyndi refused. "Oh, I couldn't, kind sir."
"Are you sure?" the tourist asked.
"This is charity." She bent down closer to him. "If I wanted to be paid for wearing this outfit, I would still be hooking."
The tourist hurried away.
Big Cyndi looked at Myron. "I was joking, Mr. Bolitar."
"I know that."
"I never hooked."
"Good to know."
"Though I made beaucoup bucks when I wore this working the pole."
"Uh-huh," Myron said, not wanting to go down this particular lane of memory.
"At Leather and Lace, remember?"
"I do, yes."
"And okay, sometimes things went too far when I'd get hired for a lap dance, if you get my drift."
"Drift gotten," Myron said quickly. "So, uh, where's Patrick? Can you give me an update?"
"Young Patrick sneaked out of his house two hours ago," Big Cyndi said. "He walked approximately one mile into town and took bus 487. I looked it up. Bus 487's final destination is Port Authority in New York City. I drove my car and arrived before the bus. I waited for him to get off and followed him here."
"Here where?" Myron asked.
"Don't turn suddenly, because you'll be obvious."
"Patrick is standing behind you, between the Madame Tussauds wax museum and Ripley's Believe It or Not!"
Myron waited. Then he said, "Can I look now?"
Myron did. Patrick stood on Forty-Second Street wearing a baseball cap pulled low. His shoulders were hunched as though he was trying to disappear.
"Has he talked to anyone?" Myron asked.
"Do you mind if I pose for more photographs while we wait? My public demands it."
"Go for it."
Myron kept his eye on Patrick, but he also couldn't help but watch Big Cyndi work the crowd. Thirty seconds after she got back into action, the queue to have a photo taken with her was so long the Naked Cowboy looked at her askance. She glanced at Myron. Myron gave her a big thumbs-up.
Here was the simple, awful truth: It was often hard to see beyond Big Cyndi's size. We as a society have many prejudices, but there are very few of our fellow citizens we stigmatize and judge less charitably than what we consider to be "large" women. Big Cyndi was all too aware of that. She had once explained her outgoing lifestyle, if you will, thusly: "I'd rather see shock on their faces than pity, Mr. Bolitar. And I'd rather they see brazen or outrageous than shrinking or scared."
Myron turned back toward Ripley's just as a teenage girl sidled up to Patrick.
Who the . . . ?
Myron remembered what Mickey and Ema had told him about Patrick's claim of having a girlfriend. But if he'd been living in quasi-captivity in London, how would he know anyone in New York City?
Patrick and the girl exchanged a quick, awkward hug before heading inside Ripley's. Big Cyndi was by Myron's side now. When Myron started toward the ticket window, Big Cyndi stopped him.
"He knows you," she reminded him.
"You'll go in?"
Big Cyndi pointed to the sign with an index finger the size of a baguette. "It's called an 'odditorium.' Who better?"
Hard to argue.
"You wait by the exit," she said. "I'll text you updates."
Myron stayed on the street for an hour and people-watched. He liked people-watching. Great views of sunsets and water and greens are wonderful, he supposed, but after a while, they become something you barely notice. But if you're in a spot where you can watch people walk by--every race, gender, size, shape, religion, language, whatever--you are never bored. Everyone is their own universe--a life, a dream, a hope, a sorrow, a joy, a surprise, a revelation, a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end--even when they simply walk by you on the street.
The phone vibrated when Big Cyndi's text came in: EXITING NOW.
Big Cyndi always texted in capital letters.
Patrick kept his head low as he came out. The teenage girl stood right next to him. Big Cyndi loomed behind them.
The teenage girl gave Patrick a quick peck on the cheek. Then Patrick started heading west, away from Times Square. The girl moved east. They were splitting up. Big Cyndi looked at Myron for instructions. Myron gestured to Patrick. Big Cyndi nodded and started to follow him. Myron fell into a current of humans and tailed the girl.
Home by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes