Part #11 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
"My dad, he didn't drink a lot because when he did"--again Francesca closed her eyes--"it was awful. I had maybe seen him drunk three or four times. That's all. It was always bad. But not like this."
"So what happened next, Francesca?"
"Mom called him some horrible names. She ran out into the garage and got in her car. Dad . . ."
She stopped again.
"Dad ran after her," she said. Her words came slowly now, measured. "But before he did, he put down what he was holding in his hand."
Their eyes met.
"What did he put down?" Myron asked.
Myron felt the chill tingle up toward the back of his skull.
"He ran out the door after her, so I stood up. I came out from behind the couch."
Francesca's eyes were wide. She was back in that house now.
"I started toward the kitchen. The gun was sitting there. On the kitchen table. I was shaking just looking at it. I didn't know what to do. Dad was so angry. He was drunk. I couldn't just leave the gun there."
"What did you do, Francesca?"
"Please," she said. "I didn't know until now. You have to believe me. They lied to me all these years. I didn't know until Patrick came home."
"It's okay," Myron said. He put his hands on her shoulders. "Francesca, what did you do when you saw the gun?"
"I was scared Dad would use it." Tears rolled down her cheek. "So I took it. I hid the gun upstairs in my room."
"And then?" Myron asked.
"And then Patrick found it."
I drive Brooke across the Dingmans Ferry Bridge.
Zorra has stayed behind. I can handle this myself. He has matters to attend to.
I glance at my cousin. She is staring straight ahead. I remember a family holiday when we were both teenagers. We were staying on our grandfather's estate on Fishers Island. Fishers Island is nine miles long and one mile across. It's off the coast of Connecticut but is technically part of New York. You probably haven't been. It's not a place that welcomes strangers.
One night, Brooke and I got both stoned and drunk on the beach. I have rarely gotten stoned. Myron does not approve and there are very few other people I trust enough that I am willing to lose control in front of them. At one point, Brooke suggested we take a night canoe ride.
So we did.
It was late by then, probably approaching midnight. We paddled and then started drifting. Both of us lay back. We talked about life. Even now I can remember every word. I stared up at the sky. The stars were out in full force.
It was glorious to behold.
I don't know whether it was because we were high or because we were lost in the conversation or perhaps the beauty of the sky put us in a trance. But suddenly we heard a rushing noise. We bolted upright as the final ferry of the day headed directly toward us. The ferry is large--large enough to carry both passengers and vehicles from the mainland to our island.
It was bearing down on us. Nay, it was almost on top of us.
There would be no time to paddle to safety.
Brooke moved first. She jumped from her spot and tackled me, throwing us both into the water. We started to swim frantically as the ferry came closer. Even now, even as I sit in this car, I can feel that bow pass over my back. I have been close to death many times. But that, my friends, was the closest.
I didn't react in time. Brooke did.
Brooke stares out the front windshield. "Rhys is dead, isn't he?"
"I don't know."
She looks at me.
"I think he is," I say, "but I'm not giving up yet."
"It's starting to become clear to me. My son is dead. I think I have always known. I always felt it. But I would never rely on a mother's intuition. I rely on facts, not emotion. I turned off emotion when my son vanished ten years ago."
"You've been a good mother to Clark."
She almost smiles. "I have been, haven't I?"
"He's a good boy," she says. "He suffered so much over the years. Do you remember my father's funeral?"
"I was eleven. You were twelve. I never saw his body. The heart attack was so sudden. My mother wanted a closed casket. There was no point in seeing him that way. That's what everybody told me. But . . . I had a friend, a soldier. She told me that the reason they made sure that they brought home the dead, even risking their own lives, was so that the families could mourn. She said that they needed something tangible in order to move on. We all need to say good-bye, Win. We need to accept it, no matter how terrible, and then move on. I knew Rhys was dead, even before Patrick told me. And yet, even though I know I'll never see my boy again, I still have hope."
I say nothing.
"And I hate hope," Brooke says.
We reach Lake Charmaine. Someone had put the sign back in place by wrapping the chain around a post. I simply drive through it. The chain gives way easily. Hunter's pickup truck is still blocking the driveway. I check the rental car's location on the GPS again. It hasn't moved, so the car is still at this house. I take out my revolver, a Smith & Wesson 460, and look at Brooke.
"May I request that you stay here until I suss this out?" I ask.
Her answer is to open the car door and get out. I figured that it would be a waste of time, but one must make the effort. We start up the driveway, just as I had done with Myron. Hunter is in the same Adirondack chair. The rifle is on his lap.
As we move closer, Hunter spots us. He begins to rise, pointing the rifle our way.
"Don't kill him," Brooke says.
I shoot him in the leg. He drops to one knee. I shoot him in the shoulder. The rifle goes flying. I move toward him now. Brooke is right behind me.
Hunter looks up at me, then at Brooke. He is crying.
"I'm so sorry," he says.
"Where is she?" I ask.
I bend down, find the bullet wound on his shoulder, and squeeze hard.
"Where is she?"
The front door of the house suddenly opens. A young woman with long hair steps outside.
Brooke puts a hand on my arm and nods.
"That's Vada," she says.
Myron found Nancy Moore in her backyard.
She sat in a gazebo by her rose garden. A mug of coffee was cupped in both her hands. She didn't turn as Myron approached.
"I told you not to come back," she said.
"Yeah, I know. Have you heard from Patrick?"
She shook her head.
"Aren't you worried?"
"Of course I am. But this is all a big adjustment for him. He needs a little space."
"He's been gone for ten years," Myron said. "I would think space would be the last thing he would want."
"I don't care what you think. I want you to leave."
Myron didn't move. He just stood there until she looked at him. When she did, he just stayed right where he was, staring at her. Then he said, "I know, Nancy."
"You know what?"
It was a formality. He could see it in her eyes.
"Francesca told me."
"She's confused. Her brother coming home after all these years has messed with her head."
"He's dead, isn't he? Rhys, I mean."
"Patrick told you that."
"No, Patrick told us a story. You worked on it with him. It was a good story too--the best one to tell a devastated mother. Rhys was never harmed, Patrick said. Rhys was happy. He was brave. His death was quick and before all the horrors started. As I listened to it, I couldn't help but think, how convenient."
Myron moved alongside her. "We know Vada is up at the lake."
Nancy went for her cell phone, but Myron snatched it before she could reach it.
"Give me that back."
"You don't understand a thing," Nancy said.
"Oh, I think I do," Myron said. "It's no wonder you convinced Chick not to talk about the texts. He thought it was because it would be a distraction. The cops would start looking at the two of you, thinking, I don't know, you were having an affair and so one of you went off the deep end or something. But that wasn't it. You knew it all started with the texts. Chick didn't."
Nancy Moore rose and started back toward the house. Myron followed her.
"So Hunter pulls a gun on you. Did you realize Francesca was the one who hid it? That would also explain why you kept this all a secret from her. Or maybe you realized that she was just a kid. She could never keep a secret this big. Maybe you didn't want her to blame herself. If she had just left Daddy's gun where it was. If she had just not worried about what Hunter might do with it."
Nancy stopped by the back door. She closed her eyes.
"So she hid the gun in her room and Patrick found the gun," Myron said. "I'm not sure when. Francesca didn't know either. A few days later. Maybe a week. Did Hunter forget about it--or was he scared to bring it up? I don't know. It doesn't matter much. Patrick finds it. You and Hunter have been fighting a lot. Maybe Patrick knows that. Maybe he even knows why. Maybe he blames Chick Baldwin or that whole family."
"No," Nancy said. "Nothing like that."
"Doesn't really matter. He's a six-year-old boy. He has his father's loaded gun. He keeps it in his backpack. He takes it to school with him. One day--maybe even the day he first finds the gun, I don't know--he has a playdate with Rhys Baldwin. They're playing in that wooded area in the back. That's what you told Francesca anyway. The au pair, Vada Linna, she isn't watching too closely. Or maybe she is. I don't know. She's a scared kid in a foreign country. What does she know?"
Nancy Moore stood perfectly still. Myron didn't even think she was breathing.
"I don't know if they were playing a game. I don't know if the gun just went off by accident. I don't know if Patrick was angry about his father. I don't know any of that. But I know that one six-year-old boy shot and killed another."
"It was an accident," Nancy said.
"How about what happened next?"
"You don't understand," Nancy said.
"Oh, I think I do. You showed up at the Baldwin house to pick up your son. My guess would be that Patrick shot Rhys right before you got there. Within seconds. Because if he had shot him, say, ten minutes before, Vada would have dialed nine-one-one."
"I heard the gun go off," Nancy said. "I parked my car and . . ."
Myron nodded. That made sense. "You rushed around back."
"Vada and I . . . We both started running for him. But it was too late. The bullet . . . Rhys was shot in the head. There was nothing we could do."
"Why didn't you just call the police?" Myron asked.
"You know why. It was our gun. Mine really. I bought it. Hunter and I--we'd be charged. There are cases. I read about a father who kept his loaded gun under his bed. His six-year-old found it. He started playing cowboys and Indians with his four-year-old sister. Shot her dead. The father got convicted of manslaughter and spent eight years in prison. I thought about that. And I thought about Patrick. Yes, he knew we were fighting. He had overheard that. So even though he was six, suppose someone made something of that? Suppose someone said he didn't do it accidentally, that he killed him on purpose. Patrick would be tainted for life--the kid who murdered another kid. And then you have Chick and Brooke. Do either of them hit you as the forgiving type?"
"So you made it look like a kidnapping." Myron tried to keep his voice steady.
She didn't bother to answer.
"How did you get Vada to cooperate?"
"I told her that the police would say she was responsible. She was supposed to watch the kids. I told her that they'd blame her and put her in jail. I said it was best for her to do what I said. To protect herself. Vada was scared, too confused to argue. By the time she had second thoughts, she was already in too deep."
"So you clean up the scene. I assume there was blood."
"Not a lot. And it was in the woods. I cleaned it up."
"You go over your story with Vada. You tie her up in the basement. You leave and call Brooke. You tell her that you just got to the house and no one is answering the door."
Myron swallowed. "Where was Patrick?"
"I took him home. I told him to hide until his father got there."
Nancy's eyes met his. There was no waver as she said, "I put him in a trash can in the back of our garage."
The rest was obvious.
"When Hunter got home, did he try to talk you out of it?"
"Yes. He wanted to confess right away. But by then, it was too late. I had already faked the kidnapping. These things--they snowball. It wasn't Hunter's fault. He's a weak man. He couldn't handle what we did. He started to drink. You can probably figure out the rest. It wasn't hard to get a fake ID, though it took some time with the cops around. Hunter kept Patrick at the lake. Eventually we snuck him out of the country. His new name was Paul Simpson."
"Why did you bring him home now?"
She shrugged. "There were too many close calls. The background checks at the school were getting stricter. People were starting to ask questions. We couldn't keep it up forever. Francesca needed to know her brother was alive. But mostly, Patrick wanted to come home too. So Hunter and I talked about it. We were going to have him just walk into a police station and make up a story about escaping. But that would lead to even more questions."
"So you sent that anonymous email to Win."
"I knew Win had never given up. If he found Patrick--if he rescued him--it would all be more believable. That's what I thought anyway. So I set it up so Win would be at King's Cross at the same time as Patrick. It wasn't hard to find a spot. You can look online and find out where teenage prostitutes hang out."
"That didn't go as planned."
"To put it mildly, it backfired," she said. "When Win killed those men, Patrick ran. He called me in a panic. I told him to find a hotel and stay put. But that Fat Gandhi found him."
"So when you tearfully thanked me for saving his life--"
"That wasn't an act." She looked into Myron's eyes, hoping to find solace or kindness maybe. "You did save his life. I messed up. I messed up from the start. You'll ask, why didn't you do it this way or why didn't you do it that way. I don't know. I looked at each situation and I did what I thought was best for my son. And at first, it was the right call. Patrick forgot what happened. My sister lives in France. He stayed with her a lot. He loved that school. He was happy. Sure, he missed us. And he missed his sister. And yes, that was one of the tough calls--not telling Francesca the truth. But she wouldn't be able to keep the secret--not when you're only ten years old. We tried to comfort her, tried to tell her that her brother really was okay, but of course she suffered. It was a tough choice."
She tilted her head. "Would you have told her?"
Myron wanted to say that he would never have started down this path, but he figured that was obvious. "I don't know," he said. "But you destroyed them all, didn't you? Your husband couldn't live with it. Brooke, Chick, Clark--what you did to them, what you made them suffer through."
"Rhys was dead," she said. "Don't you get that? Nothing was going to bring him back. I couldn't save him. I could only save my own boy."
Myron felt Nancy's phone vibrate in his hand. He looked at the number and read it to her.
"It's Patrick!" Nancy grabbed it from him and put it to her ear. "Hello? Patrick?"
Myron could hear him crying. "Mommy?"
He sounded so much younger than sixteen.
"I'm right here, baby."
"They know what I did. I . . . I want to die."
Nancy gave Myron a baleful eye. "No, no, listen to Mommy. It's all going to b
"You know where I am."
"No, I don't."
"Help me, Mommy."
"Where are you, Patrick?"
"I want to kill myself. I want to kill myself so I can be with Rhys."
"No, honey, listen to me."
He hung up.
"Oh my God."
The phone dropped from her hand.
"Be with Rhys," Myron repeated to himself. He grabbed her by the shoulders. "Where did you dump Rhys's body?"
She suddenly broke away from him and ran toward her car. Myron followed, overtaking her.
"I'll drive," he said. "Where is he?"
Myron flashed back to Patrick sitting at the kitchen table. His words had been stilted, monotone, because he was lying. But at the end, Patrick's voice changed, become more emotional . . .
"I saw it . . . I was there . . . they just . . . just dumped his body into this ravine. Like it was nothing. Like Rhys was nothing . . ."
Because he was telling the truth.
"Do you want your son to live or die?" Myron shouted. "Where is that ravine, Nancy?"
According to Myron's app, the ride to the Lake Charmaine area with current traffic would take upwards of ninety minutes. Myron first called the Pike County Sheriff's Office to inform them of the situation. They patched him directly to Sheriff Daniel Yiannikos.
"I'm in my squad car right now," the sheriff said. "Where is the boy?"
"Go to the top of Old Oak Road near Lake Charmaine," Myron said. "If you walk a quarter of a mile south, there's a ravine."
"I know it," Sheriff Yiannikos said.
"His name is Patrick. He's there."
"A possible jumper? He wouldn't be the first."
"I don't know. But he's threatened suicide."
"Okay, I'm eight minutes from the location. How old is Patrick?"
Nancy had been trying to reach him since they started driving. No answer.
"What's his full name?" Yiannikos asked.
"Why does that name ring a bell?"
"He's been in the news."
"The rescued kid?"
"He's under a great deal of stress," Myron said.
"Okay, we'll be careful."
"Let him know his mother's on the way."
Myron hung up and called his old friend Jake Courter, another sheriff, this time of Bergen County, New Jersey. He explained the situation and asked for a police escort.
"On its way," Jake said. "We'll pick you up on Route 80. Just keep driving."
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