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          part  #11 of  Myron Bolitar Series  by  Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
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She turned left on Seventh Avenue and started uptown. Myron followed. She headed all the way up to Fifty-Ninth Street and turned right on Central Park South. They passed the Plaza Hotel and turned north on Fifth Avenue. The teenager walked steadily and confidently and with no hesitation. Myron assumed from this observation that she had made this journey before and probably lived in New York City.

Myron Bolitar, Master of Deduction. Please don't shun him for his gifts.

She turned east on East Sixty-First Street. When she crossed Park Avenue, Myron saw her reach into her bag and ready her key. The town house in front of her had a wrought-iron gate. She unlocked it. Then she moved down two steps and vanished inside.

A town house near Park Avenue, Myron thought. The girl probably came from money.

Again: Myron Bolitar, Master of Deduction. If you prick him, does he not bleed?

He stood outside and debated his next move. First, he texted Big Cyndi. Update?

Big Cyndi: PATRICK IS ON THE BUS. ASSUME HE'S HEADING BACK HOME.

Myron: I'll be the Master of Deduction, thank you very much.

Big Cyndi: WHAT?

Myron: Never mind.

He stared at the door and hoped it would open so he could . . .

So he could what?

Was he going to approach a teenage girl on the street and ask about her relationship with the boy she just met up with at Ripley's Odditorium? Myron wasn't a cop. He wasn't licensed in any way, shape, or form. He would just be a creepy middle-aged stranger approaching a young girl. He didn't know her name. He didn't know anything about her.

No, that would be the wrong move here.

He picked up his phone and called Esperanza.

"What's up?"

"I have an address near Park Avenue."

"Well, la-di-da. I live in a one-bedroom in Hoboken."

"That was funny," Myron said.

"Wasn't it, though? Give me the address."

Myron did. "I followed a teenage girl here."

"Aren't you engaged?"

"Ha-ha. She met up with Patrick. I need to find out who she is."

"On it."

When he hung up again, his phone rang. He saw from the caller ID it was Terese.

He answered the phone saying, "Hey, beautiful."

"God, you're smooth."

"You think so?"

"No," Terese said. "In fact, I think it's your lack of smoothness that makes you so damn sexy. Guess what?"

Myron started walking back. He had parked his car in a crowded theater lot by Times Square. "What?"

"The network sent me home on their private jet."

"Whoa, big-time."

"I just landed at Teterboro."

"Did you get the job?" he asked.

"I'll hear soon."

Myron stopped on the corner. Should he walk back to his car or catch a taxi? "Are you on your way to the apartment, then?"

"I am."

"Wanna do the nasty?" he asked.

"Wow, I take it back. You are smooth."

"Is that a yes?"

"It's most definitely a yes."

"You can't see," Myron said, "but I'm sprinting to the car right now."

"Faster," she said, before hanging up.


*

Myron parked his car in the underground lot behind the Dakota. When he started up the dark ramp, three men appeared. The one in the middle he recognized. It was Rhys's dad, Chick Baldwin. The other two wore jeans and flannel shirts. They were big and trying to look bigger. One carried a baseball bat.

"I told you to let it go," Chick said.

Myron sighed. "Are you for real?"

"I warned you to forget those texts, didn't I?"

"You did."

"Well?"

"And I didn't listen," Myron said. "Can we move this along? I kinda have plans. Big plans."

Chick used his hand to slick back his hair. "Did you think I was, what, playing with you?"

"I don't know, Chick, and I really don't care. So what's your next step?" Myron pointed out the two men in flannel shirts. "Are these two monkeys supposed to rough me up?"

"Who you calling 'monkey'?" asked Monkey with the Bat.

"Yeah," Batless Monkey chimed in. "You're the monkey, not us."

Myron tried not to sigh. "Do you gentlemen see that up there?" He pointed above their heads. When the two monkeys looked up, Myron kicked the one holding the bat in the balls, snatching away the bat before said monkey folded like a beach chair. Myron looked at Batless Monkey. Batless Monkey thought that this might be a good time to retreat and did so with gusto.

Myron looked at Chick.

"You didn't have to do that," Chick said.

"Why did you bring them?"

"To make you pay attention, I guess."

"I'm paying attention now."

Chick moved to the former bat-carrying monkey and bent down to help him. "You're more like Brooke's psycho cousin than I realized."

"Chick?"

"What?"

"I'm on my way somewhere very special," Myron said. "I will definitely and without hesitation whack you with this bat if you don't move out of my way."

"Just go," Chick said.

Myron studied his face for a moment and realized something. "You're mad because I talked to Nancy Moore about your texts."

"I told you not to, right? I practically begged you."

"That's not the point, Chick."

"What is?"

"Only one way you could know I did that. Nancy Moore told you."

Myron Bolitar, Master of Deduction, strikes again.

Chick said nothing. Myron moved toward him and helped the former bat wielder to his feet. Myron told the man to skedaddle. He did as requested, albeit with a bit of a limp. Myron turned his attention back to Chick.

"And that means"--Myron was on a roll now--"you two are in contact about the texts. And that means there was something really significant between the two of you."

Chick's voice could not have been more crestfallen without an actual crest or fall in view. "You have to leave it alone, Myron. I'm begging you."

"Even if it's the key to finding your son?"

"It's not. If I thought it had anything to do with Rhys, I would be shouting it every day from the rooftops. But it doesn't. Why can't you believe me?"

"Because you're too close to it. You're not objective."

Chick closed his eyes. "You won't let this go, will you?"

"I won't, no. And let me give you a little push here, Chick. If you don't tell me, I'm going to ask Brooke about them."

Chick winced as though the words had formed a fist and threatened to punch him. "You have to understand one thing first."

"I don't have to understand, but go ahead."

"I love Brooke. I always have. I always will. Our life isn't perfect. I know that psycho Win--"

"Chick?"

"What?"

"Stop calling my friend names, okay?"

Chick nodded. "Yeah, whatever. Win hates me. He thinks no one is good enough."

Myron checked his watch. Terese would be in the apartment by now. "You told me this already."

"Not really," he said. Again Chick gave him the crestfallen look. "You need to know how much I love my wife and family. I ain't a perfect man. I've done some really questionable things in my time. The thing that gives me humanity--the only thing that really matters--is my love for my family. For Brooke. For Clark." His chest started to hitch, and the tears started to flow. "And for Rhys."

Chick broke into a sob. The real thing. No faking, no trying to hide it. Oh man, Myron thought. Stay strong, stay focused, but remember: This guy is searching for his lost son.

When Chick was back in control, Myron pushed him again: "Why were you two texting, Chick?"

"We didn't have an affair."

"What, then?"

"We were going to. That was the thing. We didn't do it. But we were going to."

"I thought you loved your wife."

"You're not married, are you, Myron?"

"Engaged."

Chick wiped the tears. He managed a smile, but there was no joy there. "We don't have time to get into it. But you're old enough to know that life isn't black-and-white. It's lived in the gray. We get older, we think we're going to die, we reach for something, even if it's stupid. So that's what we did. Me and Nancy. We started flirting. It went too far. We started to make plans because that's how these things are. Like everything else in this horrible world, it gets worse, not better. You reach a stage where you either go through with it or it dies."

"So what happened, Chick?"

"It died."

"You didn't go through with it?"

"We stopped in time."

Myron thought about that. "Who stopped it?"

"Mutual."

"It's never mutual, Chick."

"We both eased into it," he said. "And then we both eased out of it."

"When?"

"What?"

"When did you both ease out of it?"

"I don't know."

"How long before your son disappeared?"

"I told you. It had nothing to do with that."

"How long?"

"I told you. I don't know."

"And why were you so afraid to tell anyone?"

"I didn't want Brooke to find out."

"Really? Even back then? Your kid is missing and you're worried about that? I mean, you lied to the police over a flirtation."

"There wasn't just me and my family to consider."

"There was Nancy Moore's too?"

"See it from our perspective, okay? Suppose we told the police. Okay? Suppose we told the police all about it. What would have happened?"

Myron did not bother replying.

"You get why we didn't say anything. Who'd believe us? They find these texts and we say, 'Oh yeah, we almost hooked up,' you think the cops are going to look at this right? We were already getting hard questions. We admit to almost having an affair, and that's all they'd look at. And now, if Brooke finds out . . ." Chick started tearing up again. "It would kill us, okay? Please. It's all I got left."

Myron tried to ignore the pain on his face. "So Brooke never found out?"

"No."

"And Hunter?"

"Same. Don't you see? If we copped to this thing back then, when everyone was so weak, when all the relationships were already so strained, it would have destroyed us all. We'd have never made it."

"But Hunter and Nancy didn't make it anyway, did they?"

He shook his head. "That had nothing to do with this."

"How do you know, Chick? How do you know for sure?"





Chapter 28


Myron opened the apartment door, trying to nudge himself back in the mood, though he wasn't really worried. At the end of the day, sexist or not, he was a guy. Guys are remarkably consistent about this part of their lives. Ladies, here's a little seduction tip: It doesn't take a lot to get your man in the mood. You know this already. You see all those articles in women's magazines about how to seduce your man, how to use massage oils or candles or music to get him in the mood. Men, for better or worse, aren't that complicated. Here are two short articles on how to seduce your man: "Ask him if he wants to have sex." And: "Say, 'Yes, that would be nice.'"

He smiled at the thought, already returning to form, when he entered the apartment and saw that they had company.

Esperanza was there.

"Sorry for the cock block," she said.

Myron ignored her for the moment and swept Terese into his arms. They just held each other in a tight embrace. That was all. A simple, deep hug. Myron closed his eyes. Terese pulled him even closer.

Esperanza said, "We, uh, have ten minutes, if you want me to wait outside."

They let each other go and still held hands.

Myron arched an eyebrow. "A full ten minutes?"

"Oooh," Terese said, "time for extended foreplay."

"You two are cute," Esperanza said in a voice that indicated that they were anything but. "You know how it's never annoying to be around people madly in love? That."

"Want to tell us why you're here?" Myron asked her.

"I got the information on that residence faster than you might have liked. The town house is owned by a Jesse and Mindy Rogers. Big bucks. Dad is a hedge fund guy. Mom is a career diplomat. They have a sixteen-year-old daughter named Tamryn."

"So why do we only have ten minutes?"

"She's doing a summer internship at Fox News on Avenue of the Americas and Forty-Eighth Street. The News Corp building, like pretty much every high-rise in Manhattan, has security and requires ID to enter. Her ten-hour shift starts at two P.M., so if we get over there now--"

"We can maybe talk to her before she gets inside."

"Right."

Myron looked at Terese. "Will you wait for me?"

"Better than starting without you."

"Not sure about that," Esperanza added.

Both women laughed. Myron did not.

"Let's go," he said.


*

Myron and Esperanza were standing on the Avenue of the Americas in front of the high-rise when Myron finally asked, "What's wrong?"

"Tom wants to negotiate custody of Hector now."

"Hey, that's great news."

Esperanza just stared at him. "Don't do that."

"What?"

"You're going to lie to me now?"

"I didn't touch him, I swear."

"What did you do?"

"I just paid Tom a little visit."

"You mean like Win does?"

"No, I didn't go near his apartment."

"Where, then?"

"It was outside a nightclub," Myron said. Then: "Do you know your ex-husband is sporting a man bun now? He's over forty, isn't he?"

"Don't deflect attention from the matter at hand. What did you do?"

"I nicely suggested he make peace with you."

"That wouldn't sway Tom."

"I may have mentioned that Win was back."

Esperanza tried not to smile at the thought of Tom's face when he heard that. "You shouldn't have done that without telling me."

"Sorry."

"It's so patronizing, you know that, right?"

"It wasn't meant to be."

"It may also be vaguely sexist," Esperanza said. "If Tom were a woman, would you have made the same threat?"

Myron opened his mouth, closed it, spread his hands. "Did I mention he was sporting a man bun?"

She sighed. "Okay, I can't argue with that."

They stood and waited.

"Remember when you asked me why I didn't say anything before you married Tom?"

"It was a few days ago. I can sometimes remember back a whole week."

"I told you I didn't think it was my business to interfere. Do you remember what you replied?"

Esperanza nodded and quoted herself: "'Whose business was it, then?'"

"Right," Myron said. "I won't make that mistake again."

That was when he spotted the teenage girl who had gone to Ripley's with Patrick Moore. Myron gestured to Esperanza. She nodded back. They'd already agreed to approach her together, figuring that as a couple, they might come across as less threatening and yet more authoritative.

Esperanza took the lead. "Tamryn Rogers?"

She stopped, looked at Myron, then back at Esperanza. "Yes."

"My name is Esperanza Diaz."

"I'm Myron Bolitar."

"Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?"

She took half a step back. "Are you cops?"

"No, nothing like that," Esperanza said.

"I'm sixteen," Tamryn Rogers replied. "Talking to strangers isn't really my thing. So, uh, bye, now."

Esperanza glanced at Myron. They both got it. Nice wasn't going to work here. Myron went straight at it.

"I saw you today," he said.

"Excuse me?"

"At Ripley's. A few hours ago. I saw you."

Tamryn Rogers's mouth formed a small O. "You're following me?"

"No. I was following Patrick."

"Who?"

Esperanza took that one. "The boy you met up with today."

"That's not . . ." She stopped herself and took another step away from them. "I didn't meet up with anybody."

"I saw you," Myron said.

"Saw what exactly?"

"You met up with Patrick Moore."

"I went to a museum," she said. "Some boy started talking to me. That's all."

Myron frowned at Esperanza. Esperanza frowned at Tamryn. "So you didn't know the boy before today?"

"No."

"Never saw him before?"

"Never."

"You always hug boys you've never met?" Myron asked. "Give them a little kiss on the cheek before you leave?"

"Look, no one is trying to get anyone in trouble here," Esperanza said. "We are just looking for the truth."

"By spying on me?" She turned to Myron. "I'm sixteen years old. What kind of man spies on a sixteen-year-old?"

"A man who is trying to find another sixteen-year-old," Myron said. "A man who is trying to find a boy who has been missing for ten years."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yeah, you do," Myron said. "How do you know Patrick?"

"I told you. I don't know him. He just started talking to me."

"That's not true," Myron said.

"You"--Tamryn pointed at Myron--"stay away from me." Then she turned to Esperanza. "You too. Leave me the hell alone or I'm going to scream for help."

She started toward the door.

"We could talk to your parents," Myron said.

"Go ahead," she shouted, drawing a few glances. "Just leave me alone!"

She hurried toward the glass door and entered. Myron and Esperanza watched her take out her ID, swipe it, and head toward the elevators. When she was out of sight, Myron said, "I think that went well, don't you?"


*

"So," Myron said to Esperanza, "how does a wealthy girl from Manhattan know a boy who has been missing ten years?"

"Most obvious answer is that he hasn't been missing for ten years," Esperanza said.

"Then where has he been?"

"Or more to the point, who is he? If he's really Patrick Moore--"

"Did you catch how she balked when I first said his name?"

"Like she didn't know him by it," Esperanza said. "In a way, it's the only thing that makes sense. If he's Patrick Moore who was kidnapped ten years ago, I don't know that Tamryn Rogers would know him. But if he's an imposter . . ."

"Then maybe," Myron said. "Of course, we would still need to figure out how a rich New York teen would know our imposter."
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