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         Part #11 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben  
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  Brooke just sat there with the photograph in her hand. "And Nancy doesn't see it?"

  "That's what she said. She insisted it's Patrick."

  "Do you believe her?"

  "I believe she believes it."

  "So she's deluding herself?"

  Myron gave a half shrug. "I don't know."

  Win spoke for the first time. "So we need to figure out who this Paul is. We need to find out where he lives, who his parents are--"

  "Esperanza is on that. But it's going to take some time."

  "I'll make some calls overseas. See if we can speed things up."

  "I don't understand," Brooke said. "Is he an imposter? Is he trying to con the family?"

  "It's possible."

  "I read about a case like this," Brooke said. "When you have a missing son, you . . . Anyway, this was in the late nineties maybe. A family in Texas had their son go missing when he was twelve or thirteen. Three years later, some imposter from France said he was the missing kid. He fooled a lot of people."

  Myron vaguely recalled the story. "What was his motive?"

  "I don't remember. Money in part, but I think he got off on fooling people this way. It wasn't his first time posing as someone else. He was warped. The family fell for it in part, I guess, because they wanted it to be true." She looked up. "What's going on here, Myron?"

  "I don't know."

  "None of this makes any sense."

  "We need to know more."

  As if on cue, Myron's mobile phone rang. He looked at Win. "It's Joe Corless at the DNA lab."

  "Put him on speaker."

  Myron did just that, laying the phone on the table. "Joe?"

  "Myron?"

  "Joe, I'm sitting here with Win."

  "Whoa. Win's back?"

  Win spoke. "Please tell us the results."

  "Let me cut right to it," Joe Corless said. And then he said something that surprised Myron: "The boy is indeed Patrick Moore."

  Myron looked at Win. Brooke's face lost color.

  "You're sure?"

  "The hair samples you provided are from a female. The DNA off the toothbrush belongs to a male. These two people are full siblings."

  "A hundred percent?"

  "As close as you can get."

  The doorbell rang. Win started for the door.

  "Thanks, Joe," Myron said.

  He hung up.

  "He's Patrick," Brooke said. She kept her face steady, but there was a quake working the corner of her mouth. "He's not an imposter. He's Patrick."

  Myron just sat there.

  "So why is Vada back? Why is Patrick meeting with this Tamryn girl?"

  "It's the other way around," Myron said.

  "What do you mean?"

  "Paul isn't someone posing as Patrick. Paul is Patrick."

  Before he could explain further, Win returned to the kitchen with Zorra. If Brooke was surprised to see the manly looking transvestite in her kitchen, she didn't show it.

  "Zorra has update on the au pair," Zorra said.

  Brooke rose. "Vada?"

  "She calls herself Sofia Lampo now," he said. "She flew into the country yesterday. She rented a Ford Focus at Newark Airport."

  Brooke said, "So how do we find her?"

  "It's already done, dreamboat," Zorra said. "All rent-a-cars are equipped with GPS systems--in case the car is stolen. Or you cross state lines so they can charge you more. Reasons like that."

  "And they allow you to track it?"

  Zorra adjusted his Veronica Lake wig with both hands and smiled. His lipstick was all over his teeth. "'Allow' would not be the word Zorra would use. But your cousin's money. It is very persuasive."

  "So where is Vada?" Brooke asked.

  Zorra took out his mobile phone. "Zorra is tracking her on this."

  He showed them the screen. A blue dot blinked the car's location.

  "Where is this exactly?"

  Zorra pressed an icon. The map was replaced by a satellite image. Myron almost gasped out loud. The blue dot was surrounded by green. There was a lake that even from above looked familiar.

  "Lake Charmaine," Myron said. "Vada is at Hunter Moore's house."

  Chapter 32

  The fifth grade classroom looked out over an expansive and complicated playground with slides and swings and forts and pirate ships and tunnels and pipes and ladders. Rob Dixon greeted Myron with a firm handshake and ready smile. He wore a suit of high-school-vice-principal brown and a bright tie Myron usually associated with pediatricians who were trying too hard. He sported a ponytail and a fresh shave.

  "Hi, I'm Rob Dixon," he said.

  "Myron Bolitar."

  Back at the Baldwin house, they'd decided that Win would drive up to Hunter's place on Lake Charmaine while Myron would keep his appointment with the fifth grade teacher and stay in the area.

  "I'm going too," Brooke had said. "I know Vada. I can help."

  There was no room for debate in her voice.

  "Please," Rob Dixon said, "have a seat."

  The desks were those school kind with the chair attached. It took some effort for Myron to squeeze into one. The classroom itself was timeless. Sure, curriculums change and Myron assumed that somewhere there were hidden signs of modernity, but this could have been his own fifth grade classroom. Running across the top of the chalkboard was the alphabet written in capital and lowercase script. A potpourri of student artwork and projects took up the wall on the left. Newspaper clippings were tacked up beneath a handwritten sign reading CURRENT EVENTS.

  "Oh, I'm sorry," Rob Dixon said.

  "Pardon?"

  "I watched The Collision--and here I stick you in a chair that has to bother your knee."

  "I'm fine."

  "No, please take my chair."

  Myron winced and slid out from the desk. "Maybe we can just stand if that's okay."

  "Sure thing. I'm excited about your research. By the way--and I don't know if this will interest you or not--I've been teaching fifth grade in this very same classroom for twenty-one years now."

  "Wow," Myron said.

  "I love this age. They're no longer little kids who can't understand deep concepts; they aren't yet adolescents with all the hardship that entails. Fifth grade is nicely on the cusp. It's an important transitional year."

  "Mr. Dixon."

  "Please call me Rob."

  "Rob, I bet you're a great teacher. You look like that cool young teacher we all loved, except you're older and probably wiser, but you didn't get all jaded."

  He smiled. "I love the way you put that. Thank you."

  "And thank you. But I may be here under false pretenses."

  He put his hand to his chin. "Oh?"

  "I'm here to talk to you about a specific, tragic event."

  Rob Dixon took a step backward. "I don't understand."

  "I'm the one who saved Patrick Moore," Myron said. "But I'm still trying to figure out what happened to Rhys Baldwin."

  Rob Dixon stared out the window. A boy Myron guessed was around six hopped over to a rope and started to swing on it. The glee on his face--Myron wondered when he had last seen someone so lost in joy.

  "Why come to me?" he asked. "I had neither as a student. And I probably wouldn't have had. See, we try to make sure teachers don't get siblings. It isn't a rule or anything. The principal just thinks it's not a good idea. You come in with preconceived notions or, at the very least, a past with the parents. So even if they had stayed in school, I probably wouldn't have taught either boy."

  "But you did teach Clark Baldwin and Francesca Moore."

  "How do you know that?"

  "Clark told me."

  "So?" Dixon shook his head. "I really shouldn't talk about it anyway. I thought you became a sports agent. That's what the documentary said. After your injury, you went to Harvard Law School and then opened your own agency."

  "That's true."

  "So why are you involved in this?"

  "It's what I do," Myron said.

  "But the documentary said--"

  "The documentary didn't tell the whole story." Myron stepped toward him. "I need your help, Rob."

  "I don't see how."

  "Do you remember that day?"

  "I can't talk to you about this."

  "Why not?"

  "It's confidential."

  "Rob, a boy is still missing."

  "I don't know anything about that. You can't possibly think--"

  "No, nothing like that. But I'm asking you. Do you remember the day the boys went missing?"

  "Of course," Rob Dixon said. "You never forget something like that."

  Myron debated what to ask next and then decided to cut right to it: "Were Clark and Francesca here?"

  Rob Dixon blinked several times. "What?"

  "The day their brothers went missing," Myron continued, "were Clark and Francesca in your classroom? Were they both in school? Did they leave early?"

  "Why would you ask that?"

  "I'm trying to piece together what happened."

  "After ten years?"

  "Please," Myron said. "You said you remember that day. You said you'd never forget something like that."

  "That's right."

  "So just answer me this simple question. Were both Francesca and Clark in your classroom?"

  He opened his mouth, closed it, tried again. "Of course they were. Why wouldn't they be? It was a school day. A Wednesday, as a matter of fact." Dixon marched toward the back and stopped by a desk in the second-to-last row. "Clark Baldwin sat right here. He wore a red basketball shirt from his town rec team. I think he wore that shirt twice a week that school year. Francesca Moore"--he moved up to the front row and to the desk on the end--"she sat here. She wore a yellow blouse. That was Francesca's favorite color. Yellow. She drew yellow daisies on every assignment."

  Dixon stopped and looked at Myron. "Why on earth would you ask that?"

  "They were both here all day?"

  "All day," he repeated. "I got a call from Mrs. Baldwin at two thirty."

  "Brooke Baldwin?"

  "Yes."

  "She called you herself?"

  "Yes. Via the main office. She called the principal's office and asked to speak to me. She said it was an emergency."

  "What did she tell you?"

  "She said that there had been a personal incident and that a police officer was going to pick up Francesca and Clark. She asked if I could keep the children late until they got there. I said of course."

  "Did you know about the kidnappings?"

  "No, not then." He shook his head. "I still don't get why you're here, Mr. Bolitar."

  Myron didn't know either. He could give him the same song and dance about the clumsy search for the needle in a haystack, but he didn't think there was any point.

  "Did the cop pull up in a squad car?"

  "No," he said. "It was a female officer. She was in plainclothes in an unmarked car. I don't see the point of this."

  "Tell me about Clark and Francesca."

  "What about them?"

  "Do you know that they are college roommates?"

  Dixon smiled. "That's nice."

  "Were they close back in fifth grade?"

  "Of course. I think their shared experience bonded them."

  "How about before the kidnappings?"

  He thought about it. "They were just classmates. I don't think they hung out together or anything. I'm really glad that they had each other, though, especially for Francesca."

  Especially for Francesca.

  Needle? Meet my dear friend Haystack.

  "Why do you say that about Francesca?" Myron asked.

  "She was going through a bit of a rough patch."

  "What sort of rough patch?"

  "This really isn't proper, Mr. Bolitar."

  "Call me Myron."

  "It still isn't proper."

  "Rob, your information is ten years old. The fifth grade girl with the rough patch is now a college student."

  "The kids trusted me."

  "And I can see why. You're kind. You're caring. You want what's best for them. I had some great elementary teachers when I was a kid. I remember them all. Middle school teachers, high school teachers--not so much. But the good elementary school teachers? They stay in your heart forever."

  "What are you trying to get at?"

  "I don't want you to betray confidences. But something went really wrong that day. No, not the obvious. We know that two boys went missing. But something else. Something big. Something that we need to know if we ever want to find the truth. So please, I'm asking you to trust me. Why was Francesca going through a rough patch?"

  Rob Dixon took a few seconds to decide. "Her parents," he said at last.

  "What about them?"

  "They were going through a rough patch."

  He stopped.

  "Can you be more specific?"

  Rob Dixon looked back out the window. "Her father found some texts on her mother's phone."

  *

  Myron was back in the car and flooring it to the campus of Columbia University. He had gotten Clark's phone number when he'd last been there, and he dialed the number now. Clark answered on the third ring.

  "Hello?"

  "Where's Francesca?" Myron asked.

  "We're sitting out on the quad."

  "Don't move. Don't let her move."

  "Why, what's up?"

  "Just sit tight. Do not move."

  There was traffic at the George Washington Bridge. Myron tried the Jones Road shortcut. It saved him a little time. The Henry Hudson was backed up, so he took Riverside Drive down to 120th and parked close to a hydrant. He'd risk the tow. He sprinted up 120th and down Broadway and entered near Havemeyer Hall. Students stared at the seemingly old man running across campus. He didn't care.

  The campus was laid out before him as he passed the domed-and-Grecian-columned Low Library, the most prominent building on campus. He headed down the steps, doing a reverse Rocky, passing the sculpture of a seated Athena and down onto the grassy South Field East.

  They were both there, Francesca and Clark, sitting outside on a green Ivy League campus quad. There were, Myron knew, few places like this, few moments in life quite as pure and rich and innocent and protected as being a college student sitting in a grassy quad. Was that real or illusory? Didn't matter. Didn't matter that he was about to shatter all of that for these two young people.

  He was close to the truth now.

  Francesca looked up as Myron decelerated to a stop. Clark rose and said, "What's so important?"

  Myron debated asking them to go inside, to move someplace with more privacy, but they were outside now, no one really within earshot, and there was no time to play around or stall or make it more comfortable for her.

  He sat across from Francesca in what they used to call "Indian style," but, remembering what Mickey had told him, maybe it was now "with legs crossed." You didn't have to be the Master of Deduction to see that Francesca was distraught. She was still crying. Her eyes were red and puffy.

  "She won't tell me what's wrong," Clark said.

  Francesca squeezed her eyes shut. Myron looked back at Clark. "Could you give us a minute?"

  Clark said, "Francesca?"

  With her eyes still shut, she nodded for him to go.

  "I'll be at the cafe in Lerner Hall," Clark said.

  Clark slung his backpack over his right shoulder and trudged away. Francesca finally opened her eyes. When he was far enough away, Myron said, "You need to tell me the truth."

  She shook her head. "I can't."

  "It's destroying you. It's destroying your brother. I'm going to find out anyway. So let me help. We can still make this right."

  She made a scoffing noise and started crying again. Nearby students glanced over, concerned. Myron tried to smile them off, but he imagined that this looked like either an older man breaking up with a younger girl or, he hoped, a teacher delivering bad news to a student.

  "I just spoke to Mr. Dixon," Myron said.

  She looked up at him, confused. "What?"

  "Your fifth grade teacher."

  "I know who he is, but why . . . ?"

  She stopped.

  "Tell me what happened," Myron said.

  "I don't understand. What did Mr. Dixon say?"

  "He's a good man. He didn't want to betray any confidences."

  "What did he say?" Francesca asked again.

  "Your parents were having marital difficulties," Myron said. "You talked to him about it."

  Francesca plucked a blade of grass from the ground. There were freckles on her face. Man, Myron thought, she looked so young. He could almost see her in that classroom, the scared fifth grader, worried about her whole world falling apart.

  "Francesca?"

  She looked up at him.

  "Your father found texts on your mother's phone, didn't he?"

  Her face lost all color.

  "Francesca?"

  "Please don't tell Clark."

  "I won't tell anyone."

  "I didn't know, okay? I didn't know until . . ." She shook her head. "Clark will never forgive me."

  Myron shifted so that they were facing each other full on. Someone started blaring music from a dormitory window. The song started with the vocalist letting us know that once he was seven years old. In seconds, he was eleven years old.

  Yeah, Myron thought, watching this girl, I get that.

  "Tell me what happened, Francesca. Please."

  She didn't reply.

  "Your father found the texts," Myron said, trying to draw her out. "Were you home when that happened?"

  She shook her head. "I came in a few minutes later."

  Silence.

  "Was your brother home?"

  "No. He was at the Little Gym. He had a class there on Mondays."

  "Okay," Myron said. "So you came home. Were you coming from school?"

  Francesca nodded.

  "Were your parents fighting?"

  She squeezed her eyes shut again. "I'd never seen him like that."

  "Your father, you mean?"

  She nodded again. "They were in the kitchen. Dad was holding something in his hand. I couldn't see what. He was screaming at Mom. She was covering her ears and ducking down. They didn't even notice I was home."

  Myron tried to picture the scene. Ten-year-old Francesca opens the door. She hears Hunter screaming at a cringing Nancy in the kitchen.

  "What did you do?"

  "I hid," she said.

  "Where?"

  "Behind the couch in the living room."

  "Okay. Then what happened?"

  "Dad . . . he hit Mom."

  Campus life was all around them. Students laughed and strolled the grounds. Two boys with their shirts off threw a Frisbee. A dog barked.

 
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