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Found, p.20
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       Found, p.20

          part  #3 of  Mickey Bolitar Series  by  Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Young Adult / Thrillers & Crime
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"And you agreed?"

Ema nodded. "I agreed."

"And that's why you didn't tell me about it yesterday?"

"No," Ema said. "That had nothing to do with it."

"But you said . . . wait, what did Buck's mother tell you exactly?"

"She talked about how Buck had felt all that pressure. Your buddy Troy added to it. Buck needed to get bigger and stronger. So, yes, he took steroids. A lot of them. And then we met online--and he started to change. But, like Jared said, he was still torn between his two worlds."

I swallowed. "What happened to him, Ema? How did he die?"

"His brother, Randy."

"He killed him?"

"In a sense," Ema said. "Randy thinks he understands how these drugs work. He doesn't. I don't know if Buck had a bad reaction to them. I don't know if he took too many of them accidentally. I don't know if he took too many on purpose."

"He overdosed?"

Her tears came freely now. "Yeah," she said. "He overdosed. He was alone and he shot this stuff into his veins and . . ."

"But his body," I said. "It was buried in the woods. If it was an overdose . . ."

"Think about it, Mickey."

I tried, but it wasn't coming to me.

"The NFL draft was coming up," Ema said. "Randy was already secretly fighting a positive steroid test. If this came out, if they found out Buck had overdosed because of Randy . . ."

I shook my head. My eyes went wide. "Parents would never do that."

"You don't get it."

"What?"

"Of course they would. Buck's mother said it clear as day. Buck was dead. There was nothing they could do for him. They had another son. He'd lose everything. He'd probably go to jail on drug charges and maybe even for manslaughter. She and I sat at her kitchen table, Mickey. She looked me in the eye and said, 'We lost one son, but we didn't have to lose two. What good would it do to destroy Randy's life too?'"

I couldn't believe it, but it all made a strange, horrible kind of sense. "So they buried Buck's body," I said. "They made up that story about him going to live with his mother. Who'd check a remote island? And even if they did, she could just say, what, Buck was at work or traveling."

Ema nodded. "They hadn't really thought it all out, but eventually she would move overseas. She'd tell people that she and Buck were living in Europe."

"My God. That's awful."

"And yet it would work. Who'd question it? In a horrible way, it's logical and even loving. They couldn't save the one child--"

"So they tried to save the other," I said, finishing the thought.

I thought about what Uncle Myron had said, about the mistakes that cost my father his life, about the ghosts that haunt him even now. "Still," I said. "How do you live with that?"

"I'm not sure that she could."

"So you think, what, you were, like, her confession."

"I think she just needed to confide in someone. She knew I cared about him. She thought that maybe I even loved him. So she told me the truth and swore me to secrecy."

We stood there, feeling the full weight of the moment.

"But now Buck's body has been found," I said.

"Yes."

"Hours after you learned the truth and promised not to tell."

"Yes."

"That's some coincidence," I said.

"No coincidence. You see, that's what Buck's mom didn't count on."

"What?"

"She loved both her sons," Ema said. "But I loved only one."

The room grew very still.

"You called the police?" I asked.

"No. I stopped at the library after I left you. I sent an anonymous e-mail to them. I told them where Buck's body was. I told them how he died. I told them the truth. With the clues I gave them, they'll put it all together."

We stood there. Upstairs I heard voices. Myron had come into the house after all. He was talking to Ema's mom. They were right above us. And they were a million miles away. Everyone else was a million miles away. Right now, in this basement, there was only Ema and I and maybe the ghost of a teenage boy who was no longer buried alone in the woods.





CHAPTER 48


By noon, the media was all over the story.

Buck's family was arrested. None were charged with murder. I don't know what the charge is for hiding your own son's body to protect your other son from prosecution. Whatever that was, that's what the parents were both charged with. A search of the house found steroids and other banned substances in Randy's room. I don't know what charges were filed against him, but it sounded like a lot of them.

I only knew that it was over for me. Except, of course, it wasn't.

Not even close.

*

A week later, Uncle Myron and I went to Buck's funeral.

When we got back to the house, we sat in the kitchen.

We didn't say a word for a very long time. We just sat in our dark suits and stared into space. Buck was dead. I couldn't believe it. The finality of it was something I still couldn't comprehend.

"So young," Uncle Myron said with a shake of his head. "I know you've heard this before, Mickey, but you always have to be careful. Life can be so fragile."

We sat in silence again. I loosened my tie. Time passed. I can't say how much.

"I know it seems irrelevant now," Myron said. "But do you know what you're going to do about Troy and the basketball team?"

I nodded. "No choice really."

He just waited.

"I'm going to tell Coach Grady the truth."

"The truth will get you thrown off the team," Myron said.

"Too bad," I said.

"It's not the end of the world."

In light of what we had just seen, I knew that was true. But it still hurt.

"There will be next season," Myron said.

I couldn't imagine it right now, but maybe he was right. Or we could move. Mom might be better again. But I couldn't let Troy get away with it. Every basket we'd make would feel tainted. There would be no joy. That was the problem with doing the wrong thing for whatever reasons.

It never feels right.

Uncle Myron opened the fridge and sighed.

"What?"

"We're out of Yoo-hoo."

Myron drank this chocolate soda called Yoo-hoo nonstop. "There's more in the basement," I said. "You want me to get it?"

"No, I'll do it."

He started down the stairs. I was alone. I walked over to the sink. The room was silent. Silent, I thought, as a tomb.

Maybe that was it.

I started thinking now about silence. More specifically, I started to think how silent this kitchen was at this very moment. I looked over at our refrigerator. I started thinking about how Bat Lady's refrigerator was so noisy. I leaned closer toward the sink. Through the pipes, I could hear Myron whistling some old song. So maybe that was it.

Or maybe it was when Myron whistled that song.

Or maybe it was when I realized that I could hear him faintly through the pipes.

Or maybe it was because I realized how quiet our refrigerator was and if it'd been noisy--if it'd been like Bat Lady's--I'd never hear that faint noise.

Especially if I was old. Especially if I played music a lot.

I felt a cold pinprick at the base on my neck.

Bat Lady had turned off the music too. That was what she said. She turned off the music so she could hear the doorbell when the repairman came. Her kitchen had been silent for the first time in years.

Silent. Like this one.

No refrigerator noise. No music.

And that was when she heard the faint sound of my father's voice.

Like I was hearing the faint sound of Myron's.

The cold pinprick grew and spread.

"Oh my God," I said to myself. Then in a panic, I started shouting, "Myron! Myron!"

At the sound of my voice, he ran up the stairs as fast as he could. "What's wrong? Are you okay?"

"Do you have an axe?"

"A what?"

"An axe? An axe!"

"In the garage. Why?"

"Get in the car."

"Where are we going?"

"Just . . . just get in the car."





CHAPTER 49


It was still daylight when we got to Bat Lady's house.

I was out of the car before Myron pulled to a complete stop. I had the axe in my hand. I ran through the crime-scene tape. The tape made sense now. The police hadn't put it up.

Luther had.

He wanted to keep people away.

That was why he set the house on fire too. He wasn't trying to kill Bat Lady or me.

He wanted us gone.

"Mickey? Where are you going?"

Someone had locked the garage door. I took the axe, aimed at the knob, and smashed it open. I found the trapdoor and threw it back.

"Mickey?" Myron said again.

The secret room that had been sealed off all those years--it was soundproof. That was what Dylan Shaykes had told me. But he also said it had huge food supplies and a shower and a toilet. It had plumbing.

And if you had plumbing, there were pipes.

You couldn't make those soundproof. Sound could always find its way through pipes, no matter how distant and faint.

The dead never speak to me, Bat Lady had said.

Could she be right? Oh please, please, let her be right . . .

I found the hidden door to the sealed secret room. There was no way I was going to bust it open, even with the axe. The door was thick steel. Instead I took the axe and started pounding the dirt just outside the door frame.

I thought about Luther and little Ricky trapped in this room all those years ago.

I thought about him in there watching the only person he ever loved slowly suffer and die.

He blamed my father for that.

What better revenge, I thought, than to lock my father down there alone for the rest of his life?

Uncle Myron was down the ladder now. "What is this place?"

I could hear the awe in his voice. I didn't answer. Seeing what I was doing, Myron ran down the corridor and found a metal bar. He started working on the other side of the frame. I swung the axe until exhaustion. Then I kept going. When I needed one short break, Myron took over.

I pounded on the door. "Hello?"

No reply.

Was I wrong?

I took the axe back. Myron worked with the metal bar.

Finally, after half an hour, I felt the door budge just the slightest bit. That propelled me. Or worse. I may have lost my mind at that stage. I don't know. But I started wielding the axe harder and harder, tears running down my face, my muscles so far beyond exhaustion, I didn't know what would happen next.

"Please," I cried. "Please . . ."

In the corner of my eye I could see Myron watching me, wondering what to do, whether he should grab me and stop my frenzy.

He looked as though he was about to do just that when the heavy door finally gave way.

It fell into the darkened space with a great thud. For a moment, no one moved. Nothing happened. There was no light in the room. I stopped breathing. I dropped my axe, reached into my pocket, and pulled out my phone.

As I switched on the light, I saw a figure rise before me in silhouette.

I lifted the beam toward a familiar face.

My heart stopped.

The face was drawn and bearded, but I recognized it even before I heard Myron gasp out loud.

With my legs shaking, I stepped into the room and managed to say just one word.

"Dad."





EPILOGUE


Ten minutes later, I walked into another dark room.

After I said his name, my father ran to me. I wrapped my arms around him and just collapsed. But my dad held me up. He held me up for a very long time. Pain is a funny thing. It can't endure in the face of hope. Even as my father held me, even as I knew that we weren't out of the woods yet, I could feel so much of my old pain subside. I could feel my wounds closing up as though something divine had touched me.

Maybe it had. What really is more divine than a parent's love?

My father was alive.

For a long time I wouldn't let myself believe it. I held on, afraid to let him go. I just held on tighter and tighter. See, I had been here before, in dreams. I would see my father in my sleep and I would hold him like this, tighter and tighter, and then the dream would start to end and I would shout, "No, please don't go!" but slowly, as I awoke, he would fade.

I'd wake up alone.

Not this time. I held on. And when I finally let go, my father didn't go anywhere.

"Oh my God," Myron shouted, running toward us. The two brothers hugged so hard that they both fell on the floor. Myron cried. We all did. We cried. Then we laughed. Then we cried again. Eventually Myron let my dad go. Then Uncle Myron picked up his cell phone and called my grandparents.

Boy, did that lead to more crying.

My father, Brad Bolitar, had been down in that secret room alone, in the dark, for nearly eight months. But he would be fine. Luther was still out there. But capturing him would wait for another day.

When I met again with Spoon, Ema, and Rachel--when I told them about this amazing discovery--we celebrated. But not for long. Because we also knew the truth.

It wasn't over for the four of us.

We had more questions to answer. We had more children to rescue.

But all of that could wait.

Right now, as my father and I faced each other in that tunnel, there was something that mattered much more to me.

"We have to go," I said to him.

Dad nodded. I think somehow he understood.

*

So now we were walking into another dark room. He stayed in the doorway, out of sight. I moved toward her bed.

"Mom?"

My mother looked up and saw the expression on my face. "What is it, sweetheart? What's wrong?"

I choked back the tears. "Remember I said the next time I came back, I was bringing Dad?"

"What? I don't understand . . ."

And then my father stepped away from the doorway and came toward us.





Credit: Claudio Marinesco





HARLAN COBEN is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of numerous adult novels and the young adult novels Shelter and Seconds Away. He has won the Edgar Award, Shamus Award, and Anthony Award--the first author to receive all three. His books are published in forty-one languages--with over 50 million copies in print worldwide--and have been #1 bestsellers in over a dozen countries. Harlan lives in New Jersey.


Visit Harlan at

www.harlancoben.com

www.mickeybolitar.com







Harlan Coben, Found
(Series: Mickey Bolitar # 3)

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HARLAN COBEN SERIES:

  • Mickey Bolitar
  • Myron Bolitar
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