Part #11 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
The attention grew to be too much for the little girl. She started having nightmares. Angelica Wyatt even quit the business for two years, disappearing with the child to France, but that just led to more rumors and other issues, the most salient being that Angelica Wyatt missed making motion pictures. It was her calling.
So what to do?
Angelica Wyatt secretly moved back to the United States and found this private home in New Jersey. She enrolled her daughter in the public school under the pseudonym Emma Beaumont, though eventually the nickname Ema stuck. Ema's grandparents took care of her when Angelica was on set.
No one knew the identity of her daughter's father except, of course, Angelica.
Not even Ema.
"I'm really happy for you," Angelica Wyatt said to him.
"Thanks. How are you?"
"Good. I'm off tomorrow to a shoot in Atlanta. I had hoped Ema might come with me, but, uh, she seems distracted right now."
"You mean with Mickey?"
"I do, yes."
"They're good kids."
"This is her first boyfriend," Angelica said.
"He'll be good to her."
"I know, but my little girl . . . Is it too cliche to note that she's grown up too fast?"
"Things become cliches because they are apropos."
"Breaks my heart." Angelica smiled through it. "They're all in the basement. You know the way?"
He nodded. "Thanks."
Movie posters featuring Angelica Wyatt lined the stairwell down to the basement. Ema had put them up against her mother's wishes. The basement, Ema had explained, was the one place she didn't want to hide anything about her true self. It made sense, Myron guessed.
The three teens--Mickey, Ema, and Spoon--were sprawled out on three oversized and upscale beanbag chairs. All three were typing on laptops at a furious pace.
"Hey," Myron said to them.
All three said "Hey" without looking up.
Ema was the first to close her laptop and rise. She wore short sleeves today, and Myron could see the extensive tattoo work. The tattoos had troubled Myron at first. As common as tattoos were nowadays, Ema was only a sophomore in high school. Mickey had explained to him that the tattoos were temporary, that a tattoo artist named Agent used her to experiment with different designs and that they all would fade away after a few weeks.
Mickey said, "Hey, Spoon?"
"Give me a second to organize our findings," Spoon said. "Talk amongst yourselves."
Ema and Mickey came over to Myron. He had debated getting them involved in something like this--they had already experienced too much of this kind of stuff for ones so young--but as Mickey had pointed out, this was what they did.
Myron remembered something. "Esperanza said you wanted to see her."
"That was more me," Ema said.
"It was both of us," Mickey said. "We talked to Big Cyndi too."
Mickey and Ema exchanged a glance. Ema said, "Little Pocahontas and Big Chief Mama."
"What about them?"
"They might have been funny in the day," Ema said. "They aren't funny now."
"It's just kitsch," Myron said. "They don't mean any harm. It's all just a nostalgic throwback."
"Esperanza made the same argument," Ema said.
"Times change, Myron," Mickey added.
"We just suggested she get in touch with a friend of mine who is Navajo."
"How did that go?" Myron asked.
"Don't know. They haven't talked yet."
Spoon said, "I got it." He started waving at Myron. "Come here, take a look."
Spoon stayed on the enormous beanbag chair. Myron bent down, his bad knee creaking a bit, and collapsed next to him. Spoon pushed up his glasses and pointed to the screen.
"Tamryn Rogers," he began, "has almost no social media presence. She does possess a Facebook and a Snapchat account, but she rarely uses either. Everything she does do is set on private. We assume that this is because her father is a wealthy hedge fund manager. The family keeps a low profile. With me so far?"
Myron adjusted his body in the beanbag chair. It was hard to get comfortable. "With you."
"We know about her summer internship at the television station. We know that she is sixteen years old. We know she goes to an elite boarding school called St. Jacques in Switzerland." Spoon looked at Myron. "Did you know that in Switzerland it's illegal to keep just one guinea pig?"
Ema said, "Spoon."
"I did not," Myron said.
"You have to have them in pairs," Spoon explained. "See, guinea pigs are sociable animals, so it's cruel to have only one. Or that's what the Swiss think."
Ema again said, "Spoon."
"Right, sorry. Anyway, the only photo of Tamryn Rogers I could find is her profile pic on Facebook. So I took that image and I put it through an image search. Nothing came back. That's not surprising, of course. Image searches find identical photographs only. Why would someone else have her profile photograph? Still with me?"
"Still with you," Myron said.
"So I decided to take it to the next level. I located a beta program that uses facial verification software across several social media sites. You may have seen the technology on Facebook."
"I don't use Facebook."
"But all old people use Facebook," Spoon protested.
Ema said, "Spoon."
"Right, okay, so let me explain. Let's say you post a group photograph of your friends on Facebook. Facebook has a new AI software called DeepFace that automatically performs a facial verification search on the photo."
"Which means?" Myron said.
"Which means it will recognize your friends. So you post the picture and suddenly, Facebook will circle a face and say, 'Do you want to tag John Smith?'"
"They do that now?"
"They do, yes."
Myron shook his head, happy for his naivete.
"Notice," Spoon continued, "that I said 'facial verification,' a technology that recognizes that two images show the same face, versus the more common facial recognition, an attempt to put a name to a face. Big difference. So I put the profile photograph of Tamryn Rogers through the beta program--'beta' meaning that it's still being tested--to see what it came up with. Oh!"
Spoon slapped his own forehead.
"I almost forgot. I first tried it on Patrick Moore. I was able to get a still frame from his appearance on that television interview. I thought, wow, maybe someone has taken a photograph of him. Maybe I can find something about him and thus Rhys somehow."
"Nothing. Not a single hit. Except . . . well, let me show you."
He clicked the mouse pad on his laptop. A group photograph came up, maybe twenty, twenty-five teenagers. The caption underneath read SOPHOMORE CLASS, with names below it.
"This photograph popped up on an alumni site for students who attended St. Jacques. If you look over here"--he let the cursor do the pointing for him--"well, do you recognize that young lady?"
Myron did. "It's Tamryn Rogers."
"Precisely, Myron. Excellent work."
Myron glanced at Ema to see if Spoon was goofing on him. Ema shrugged a "what can you do?"
"And if you look down here at the caption"--again Spoon used the cursor--"you'll see a list of first names only. I assume that has something to do with a privacy program at the school, but I can't say for sure. Tamryn is the fourth person in on the second row . . . See?"
Myron saw it. It read simply: Tamryn.
"That's what we thought," Spoon said, "at first. In fact, well, I confess I'm not that great with details. I'm more of a big-picture guy, you know what I mean?"
"Assume I do."
"Ha, good one! It was Ema here who . . . Ema, you want to show him?"
Ema used her finger and pointed at the boy standing right behind Tamryn
"No need to strain your eyes, Myron," Spoon said. "Not at your age. I can zoom in."
Spoon started clicking the image until it got bigger and bigger. It was a good shot, taken recently and with a decent enough camera, but onscreen the pixels were starting to blur as he clicked. Spoon stopped. Myron stared again.
"So you think . . . ?" Myron began.
"We don't know," Spoon said.
"I know," Ema said.
Myron looked for the boy's name and read it out loud: "Paul."
The boy in the photograph had long, wavy blond hair--the prep boy trying to assert his independence. Patrick Moore's hair was stubble short and dark. "Paul" in the photograph seemed to have blue eyes. Patrick Moore's eyes were brown. Their noses were different too. Paul's appeared to be smaller maybe, differently shaped.
And yet . . .
Myron wouldn't have spotted it, not on his own, but now when he looked closely . . .
"I know what you're thinking," Ema said. "And I'd probably agree with you. Teenagers look alike. We all get that. I probably wouldn't have thought twice about it except that this school is small. This sophomore class has twenty-three students. Patrick Moore goes out and meets with Tamryn Rogers. Why? He was lonely. We saw that when we visited him."
Mickey nodded in agreement. "It's too much of a coincidence, Myron. I mean, cut the hair. Do something with contact lenses to change eye color. Maybe some kind of surgery on the face, I don't know. But Ema shows this to me and I'm looking at him and at first I don't see it and then . . ."
Mickey pointed at the face on the screen. "I think Tamryn's classmate Paul is now calling himself Patrick Moore."
Myron sprinted back to the car. He got on the phone and called Esperanza.
"We need all we can on this Paul kid attending St. Jacques near Geneva in Switzerland. Last name is most important. Parents, whatever."
"This won't be quick," Esperanza said. "The school is closed, it's overseas, we have no contacts in Switzerland, plus, I imagine, this kind of place is pretty damned secretive."
Esperanza was, of course, right.
"Just do the best you can. Spoon is going to email you the picture."
"I already got his email before you called," Esperanza said. "Did you know that the most common password for email accounts is 123456?"
"Yep, that would be Spoon."
"I'm looking at the two pics--one of this Paul kid, one of Patrick at that TV interview. If I look closely, yeah, I can see the resemblance, but would you ever guess Paul and Patrick are the same kid?"
"No," Myron said. "But that's probably the point."
"Oh, I found that fifth grade teacher. The one who taught Clark and Francesca."
"Rob Dixon, yeah."
"Where is he?"
"He still teaches fifth grade at Collins Elementary. I made an appointment for you to see him today at seven thirty."
"How did you pull that off?"
"I told him you'd heard he was a great teacher and that you were writing a book about your experiences."
"I didn't say. Luckily, Mr. Dixon saw your documentary on ESPN. D-lister fame, baby. It opens doors."
After they hung up, Myron called Win and told him what he had learned.
"So the boy is an imposter," Win said.
"I don't know. There's still a chance it's just two teenage boys who look alike."
"And happen to know Tamryn Rogers?"
"Seems a stretch," Myron said. "Just for the record, both Tamryn and Patrick--let's just call him Patrick to make this easier--claim that they just happened to meet at Ripley's."
"Happened to meet?"
"Today's youth," Win lamented. "You'd think they could come up with more credible lies."
"To be fair, we did catch Tamryn unaware. How's Brooke?"
"Blocking," Win said. "Which is probably good. Right now, she is very focused on why her former au pair has returned to the United States."
"Does she have any theories?"
"Not a one. So what's your next step?"
"We keep gathering information," Myron said.
"Whoa, slow down with the specifics."
"Nancy Moore keeps insisting that the boy we rescued is her missing son, Patrick."
"So I'm wondering if these photographs of Paul will change her mind at all."
"Is that where you're headed?"
On the left, Myron spotted the Moores' house. When he pulled into the driveway, he saw the Lexus sitting in the garage.
She was home.
"I've just arrived."
Myron didn't bother with the front door. The garage was open so he headed toward the Lexus. When he saw the door between the house and garage had been left open, he grew concerned.
He leaned his head in and shouted, "Hello?"
He stepped inside and crossed the kitchen. From upstairs he could hear a rustling sound. He wasn't armed, which was stupid, but so far there hadn't been much need for weaponry. He took the steps slowly.
Whoever was upstairs was not trying to hide their movements.
Myron reached the top step. The rustling was coming from Patrick's room. He approached the door slowly, sliding his back against the wall, which might or might not be effective in cases like this. It was hard to say. He reached the door, waited a second, took a quick peek inside.
Nancy Moore was tearing the room apart.
"Hello," Myron said.
She jumped at the sound of his voice and spun toward him. Her eyes were wide, almost maniacal. "What are you doing here?"
"Does everything look okay?"
It did not. "What's wrong?"
"You don't get it, do you? You think . . . I don't know what you think. I was trying to protect my son. He's fragile. He's been through so much. How do you not get that?"
Myron said nothing.
"Do you know what it took for him to do what he did today? To relive the horror of what happened to him? To Rhys?"
"It had to be done, Nancy," Myron said. "If it had been the other way, if Rhys had come home--"
"Brooke Baldwin would have done what was best for her child, not mine." Nancy stood upright. "Make no mistake about it. A mother protects her child."
"Even at the expense of another?"
"Patrick wasn't ready to talk. We knew that. We just wanted to give him enough time to get his strength. What's a few more days after ten years? Dr. Stanton was right. It was too much for him. And then, as if it wasn't hard enough to get through that, as if it wasn't hard enough to tell Brooke that Rhys was dead, you"--she pointed an accusing finger at him--"go after him. Patrick ran away because of you."
"It's not Patrick."
"The boy we brought home. It's not Patrick."
"It is Patrick!"
"His name is Paul."
"Get out," she said.
"Why don't you get a DNA test, Nancy?"
"Fine, if that will get all of you to leave us alone, we will, okay? Now, get out, please."
Myron shook his head. "I need you to look at these photographs."
She looked confused. "What photographs?"
He reached out a hand holding the two printouts Spoon had given him. For a moment Nancy didn't take them. She just stood there. Myron moved his hand toward hers a bit more, holding it there until she reluctantly let him pass the pictures to her.
"I don't understand."
"The group shot was taken at a boarding school in Switzerland," Myron said.
She stared at it. "So?"
"There is a boy in that picture. His name is Paul. We don't have the last name yet. But we will get it. The second photograph is a close-up."
"I still don't understand." Nancy Moore's hands were shaki
"Paul and your Patrick are one and the same."
She shook her head. "You're wrong."
"I don't think I am."
"There's barely a resemblance."
"Do you remember me asking you about Tamryn Rogers?" Myron took the photographs back and put the group one on the top. "That's Tamryn. The same girl Patrick met with yesterday."
"We told you--"
"Right, they just happened to meet outside Ripley's for the first time ever. I was there, Nancy. I saw them. There was no accidental meet. They knew each other before."
"You can't know that from just watching them," she said, but her voice was weak now, defeated.
"I just emailed these photos over to a forensic anthropologist named Alyse Mervosh. She is going to compare the image of Paul to the tape of Patrick during that interview yesterday. She'll be able to confirm that they are one and the same."
She shook her head, but again there was nothing behind it.
"Nancy, let me help you."
"You, what, think he's an imposter? You're wrong. A mother knows."
"You said a mother protects her child," Myron said, trying to keep his voice as even and gentle as possible. "Maybe that want, that need, can also warp perception."
"It's Patrick," Nancy insisted. "It's my son. He's finally come home. After all these years, I finally have him back." Her eyes lifted. She met him with a glare. "And then you scared him away."
"Let me help you find him."
"I think you've done enough. It's my son. I know. I know. He's not an imposter. His name isn't Paul."
She pushed past him and headed down the stairs. Myron followed.
"When he gets home, we can do a DNA test to shut all of you up. But right now, I have someplace to be."
Nancy didn't stop. She moved through the garage and out the door. She slid into her car and started it up.
"Don't come back, Myron. Don't ever come back."
Win and Brooke sat in the Baldwin kitchen. The photographs from the boarding school in Switzerland were spread out on the table in front of them.
Myron was finishing up the call with Alyse Mervosh, the forensic anthropologist. When he finished, Brooke and Win looked at him and waited.
"In her opinion," Myron said, "it's the same kid."
Brooke looked at the photograph again. Myron leaned over her and pointed as he spoke.
"This Paul kid cut and dyed his hair," Myron said. "The eye color change is easy with contact lenses. The nose could have been plastic surgery."
Home by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes