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          part  #11 of  Myron Bolitar Series  by  Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
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Twenty minutes later, when Sheriff Yiannikos finally called back, Nancy Moore gripped Myron's arm so tight he was sure it would leave marks.

"Hello?"

"Patrick is alive," the sheriff said, "for now."

Myron let himself breathe.

"But he's standing at the top of the ravine with a gun pointed at his head."

Nancy almost collapsed. "Oh my God."

"It's calm right now. He's telling us to stay back. So we are."

"Has he asked for anything?"

"He just wanted assurances his mother was on her way. We said she was. We asked if he wanted to speak to her. He said no, he just wants to see her. He said for us to stay back or he'd shoot himself, so that's what we're doing. How far out are you?"

As promised, the Bergen County squad cars joined them on Route 80 heading west. Myron pressed down on the accelerator. The police helped him past the heavy traffic.

"Half hour, maybe forty minutes."

"Okay," Sheriff Yiannikos said. "I'll call you if anything changes."

Myron hung up, made a quick call to Win, and then asked Nancy, "Why did Vada come back?"

"Why do you think?"

"She saw the news reports," Myron said, "about Patrick coming home."

"Yes."

"She wants to come clean."

"That's what she says. We, uh, waylaid her. Nothing harmful. We just convinced her to come to the lake to discuss it. Then we took her car keys and asked her to give us a few days. To talk her out of it."

"And if she didn't agree?"

Nancy shrugged. "I like to think we would have found a way."

"Hunter was waiting for her. When we went up there."

"Yes. She arrived half an hour after you left."

"Hunter won't stop Win."

"No, I don't think he will," Nancy said. "Can't you please drive faster?"

"And Tamryn Rogers?"

"Patrick's girlfriend at school. I thought that he could give her up when he got home. But you know teens. Your nephew was right, wasn't he? Teens get lonely. They reach out. So yes, he snuck out. It would have been no big deal, except of course you followed him."

They crossed the Dingmans Ferry Bridge. The app said they were eight minutes away.

"It's over now," Myron said.

"Yes, I guess it is. But I just need to save my son. That's what this is all about. Then, well, we all move on, don't we? The police will be able to bring up Rhys's body from the ravine. They can bury him properly. I checked with an attorney before I started on this journey. Guess when the statute of limitations runs out on the crime of hiding a body?"

Myron gripped the wheel tighter.

"Ten years. And think about it. In the end, I hid a body and tampered with some evidence. I told a few lies to the police. Hunter is wracked with guilt. He'll take the fall, but we will plead him out and he'll serve very little, if any, time. So yes, Myron, if we can save my boy, it will all be over."

"Cold," Myron said.

"Have to be."

"None of this had to be."

"Rhys was dead. I couldn't save him."

"And you think you've saved Patrick? What do you think it did to a six-year-old boy, making him lie like that?"

"He was only six."

"So you just stuffed it away. Your husband became a drunk. Your daughter had to deal with losing a brother. Vada, I don't even know what a mess you made of her life. And Brooke and Chick and Clark. Do you have any idea what you did to all of them?"

"I don't need to justify myself to you. A mother protects her child. That's just how it is. So now I get my boy back. We get him help. It's all going to be okay. I'll take him back home. Once he's home, he'll be fine again."

Myron made the turn onto Old Oak Road. There were four police cars parked at the end of the drive. Sheriff Yiannikos introduced himself. "We've kept back. He wants his mother."

"That's me," Nancy said. She started sprinting toward the woods. Myron followed. "No," she said to him. "Stay back."

She trekked into the woods. Myron turned to Sheriff Yiannikos. "I can't go into it, but we can't leave her alone. I need to follow her."

"I'll go with," he said.

Myron nodded. They hurried in, following her trail up a hill. A bird cawed in the distance. They kept moving. Nancy glanced behind her, still running, but she didn't stop or yell back. She wanted to reach Patrick as soon as possible.

A mother protects her child.

At the top of the hill, Nancy stopped short. Her hands flew up to her face, as though in shock. Myron hurried his step. He veered to the right. Sheriff Yiannikos stayed with him. When they reached the clearing, they could see the same thing Nancy was seeing.

Patrick had the gun pointed at his own head. He wasn't crying. He wasn't hysterical.

He was smiling.

Nancy took a tentative step toward him. "Patrick?"

Patrick's voice was loud and clear in the stillness of the woods. "Don't come closer."

"I'm here now," Nancy said. "I'm here to take you home."

"I am home," he said.

"I don't understand."

"Did you really think I stayed in the car?"

"What, honey? I don't know--"

"You drove me up. You told me to stay in the car and close my eyes." Patrick smiled again, the gun right up against his temple. "Did you think I listened?"

"I saw it . . . I was there . . . they just . . . just dumped his body into this ravine. Like it was nothing. Like Rhys was nothing . . ."

"I killed him," Patrick said, and now a single tear slipped down his cheek. "And you dumped him here. You made me live with that."

"It's okay," Nancy said, her voice cracking. "It's all going to be okay . . ."

"I see it every day. You think it ever left me? You think I ever forgave myself? Or you?"

"Please, Patrick."

"You killed me too, Mom. You threw me down the ravine too. And now we need to pay the price."

"We will, honey." Nancy glanced around desperately, looking for any sort of life preserver. "Look, Patrick, the police are here. They know everything. It's going to be okay. Please, honey, put the gun down. I'm here to take you home."

Patrick shook his head. His voice, when he spoke again, was pure ice.

"That's not why you're here, Mother."

Nancy dropped to her knees. "Please, Patrick, just put the gun down. Let's go home. Please."

"My God," Sheriff Yiannikos said under his breath, "he's going to do it."

Myron could see that too. He debated making a move, sprinting toward the boy, but there was no way he could get there in time.

"Home for me is here," Patrick said. "This is where I belong."

He cocked back the hammer on the gun.

Nancy shouted, "No!"

"I didn't call you here to save me," Patrick said. His finger started to shake as it started to pull on the trigger. "I called you here to watch me end--"

And then another voice--a female voice--yelled, "Stop!"

For a second everything froze. Myron looked to his left. Brooke Baldwin stood on the other side of the clearing with Win.

Brooke started toward the boy. "It's over, Patrick."

Patrick kept the gun against his head. "Mrs. Baldwin . . ."

"I said, it's over."

"Stay back," Patrick said.

Brooke shook her head. "You were only six years old, Patrick. A little boy. It was an accident. I don't blame you. Do you hear me, Patrick?" She took another step toward him. "It's over."

"I want to die," he cried. "I want to be with Rhys."

"No," Brooke said. "There's been enough death and destruction. Please, Patrick. Please don't add to my pain." She reached out her hand. "Look at me."

Patrick did. Brooke waited until she was sure that he was looking her in the eye.

"I forgive you," she said. "You were just a little boy. It's not your fault. Rhys, my son, your friend . . . He wouldn't want this, Patrick. If it was the other way around, if Rhys had shot you, would you forgive him?"

The gun shook in Patrick's hand.

"Would you?"

Patrick nodded.

"Please, Patrick. Give me the gun."

The wind seemed to stop. Nobody moved. Nobody breathed. Even the trees seemed to be holding their breath. Brooke quickly closed the gap between them. Patrick hesitated, and for a second, Myron thought that he was still going to pull the trigger.

When Brooke reached out and took hold of the gun, Patrick fell into her arms. He let out a guttural cry and started sobbing. Brooke closed her eyes and held him.

"I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

Brooke looked out over the ravine, the place where her son had lain for the last ten years. She gripped the boy tighter, and finally, Brooke broke down and cried with him. They stood there, the two of them--the mother of a dead boy holding firm to the boy who had killed him.

Nancy Moore approached carefully. Brooke looked at her over Patrick's shoulder. Their eyes met. Nancy mouthed the words, "Thank you," and Brooke nodded at her. But she didn't let go of Patrick. She didn't let go until the boy finished crying.





Chapter 36


The police brought up the body four hours later.

Hunter Moore was in the hospital for his bullet wounds. He would be okay. Vada Linna was fine. She had told Win and Brooke the entire truth. That was indeed why she'd come back. Hunter might be up on kidnapping charges. It was hard to know for sure.

Nancy Moore had been taken into custody, but her attorney, Hester Crimstein, got her out on her own recognizance within the hour. Nancy had been correct. No serious charges would stick to her.

Win said, "You should go home."

Myron shook his head. He had stayed this long. He wasn't leaving yet.

The body was just bones now, but the clothing was intact. Brooke walked over and stroked the red sweatshirt and the blue jeans.

"Rhys's," she said.

Brooke stood without another word and started back toward her car. Win followed, but she shook her head. "You go back with Myron. I need time alone. And I need to tell Chick myself."

Win said, "I don't think that's a good idea."

"I love you," she said, "but I don't really care what you think."

They watched Brooke walk away with her spine straight. She got into the car and drove away.

"Come on," Win said. "Let's go home."

Win drove. A few minutes into the ride, Mickey called for an update. Ema and Spoon were with him.

"It's over," Myron said to his nephew.

"You found Rhys?"

"He's dead."

Myron could hear Mickey tell Ema. Then he could hear Ema cry.

Win parked the car in the garage behind the Dakota. When they entered the apartment, Terese threw her arms around both of them. They stayed like that until Win's phone buzzed. Win excused himself and said good night. Myron looked deep into Terese's eyes.

"I can't wait to marry you," he said.

He took a long hot shower. Terese joined him. They didn't speak. Not yet. Not tonight. They made love. It was fierce and raw and perfect and maybe even healing. Myron didn't so much fall asleep in his fiancee's arms as pass out. He didn't dream. He just stayed in her arms for a long time. An hour. Maybe two.

And then the small chill started running up his spine.

"What is it?" Terese said. "What's the matter?"

"The gun," Myron said.

"What gun?"

"Patrick had a gun," Myron said. "What happened to it?"





Epilogue


THREE MONTHS LATER

You are perhaps hoping for a twist and a happy ending.

You are thinking that perhaps a mistake was made, that the body did not belong to Rhys Baldwin, that somehow Brooke and Chick got their child back.

But sometimes there is no twist. And many times, there is no happy ending.

This is, however, a happy day.

Two weeks ago, I threw Myron perhaps the most legendary bachelor party of all time. How legendary? Let us say that we hit four continents. Myron, of course, was a very good boy. It is how he always is. I, you'll be happy to note, was bad enough for the both of us. So too were Esperanza and Big Cyndi.

What, you say, women at a bachelor party?

Times change, my friend.

Today I am dressed in tails as Myron's best man. It is odd. Myron has always dreamed of this day, of marrying the love of his life and settling down and starting a family. The gods have, alas, had other plans for him. I, for one, have never encouraged such thinking. I don't really get the whole "love" thing.

Or I didn't.

Myron is more than my best friend. The youngsters call what we have a "bromance," and perhaps that is apropos. I love Myron. I want--no, I need--him happy. I have missed him over the past year, though I was often closer than he knew. The night he saw Hamilton? I was three rows behind him. When he found his brother, Brad, in that horrible place, I was not that far away.

Just in case.

I love him. And I want him to be happy.

There have been other loves in his life, most significantly a woman named Jessica. But Terese is different. You notice it when you are with them. They are one thing apart from another. They are something entirely different, entirely spectacular when they are together. Simply put, if everything is a chemical reaction--and I believe it is--these two compounds combine to make an ecstatic whole.

I knock on the door. Terese says, "Come in."

I enter.

"Well?" she says, spinning toward me.

Have you ever seen a beautiful, happy bride in a wedding gown? Then you know.

"Wow," I say.

"You sound like Myron."

I pick up her hand and kiss it.

"I just wanted to wish you well," I tell her. "I want you to know that like it or not, I will always be there for you."

She nods. "I know."

"And if you break his heart, I'll break your legs."

"I know that too."

I kiss her cheek and leave the room.

You are probably wondering about the repercussions after Rhys's body was discovered. Allow me to fill you in. As you saw in the news, the entire truth has come out. No one, of course, is charging Patrick with any crime. As Brooke said, standing over that ravine, he was just a child.

The Baldwins--Brooke, Chick, and Clark--are as well as one might expect. Myron likes to say that even the ugliest truth is better than the prettiest of lies. I don't know whether that is always the case, but it seems to be the case here. They know now. Brooke buried Rhys in our family cemetery outside Philadelphia. They mourn and continue to mourn.

But they also move on.

Clark remains a close friend and college suitemate of Francesca's. She didn't know the truth until Patrick returned. Nancy Moore felt that her daughter would be strong enough and mature enough to handle it then.

She was, of course, wrong.

For the most part, Hunter Moore has recovered from his injuries. There will be charges, mostly related to his halfhearted kidnapping of Vada Linna. I don't know how that case will turn out. We will have to see.

As for Nancy Moore, law enforcement is actively searching for her, though I doubt that she is much of a priority. After her release on her own recognizance that night, Nancy Moore, it seems, took a page out of her son's playbook and disappeared into the ether. Law enforcement insists that they will not rest until she is found.

Myron asked me whether we would search for her too--if we would help bring Nancy Moore to justice.

No, I told him. We did this for Brooke. If it is over for her, then it is over for us.

But enough about that.

Myron is getting married today. I stand up on the dais with him. When his bride-to-be turns the corner, when he first gets a look at Terese in her gown, I hear Myron mutter, "Wow."

I smile and say, "I concur."

Terese's parents are deceased, so Myron's father, Al, escorts her down the aisle. I look out over the crowd. They are all in this room. Big Cyndi is the maid of honor. Esperanza comes out from behind the curtain. She will, very soon, officiate this wedding. Oh, you may be wondering about the Little Pocahontas and Big Chief Mama situation. They both decided to retire their former Native American aliases. Some may mourn that. Not Esperanza. "Giving a culture too much respect," Esperanza told me, "never killed anyone."

Times change, my friend.

Myron takes a deep breath. I see the tears form in his eyes. I put my hand on his shoulder to give us both strength. He reaches over and acknowledges the gesture. We wait for Myron's father to bring Terese to the dais.

Much of the ceremony passes in a haze for me.

When Esperanza gives me the signal, I hand Myron the ring.

We are best friends and I love him.

But, sorry, sometimes the prettiest lie is better than the truth.

So I will never tell Myron. Though I wonder whether he suspects it.

The morning after Rhys's body was found, he called me on the phone. "Where's the gun?" he asked.

"What?"

"Patrick's gun."

"Oh," I lied. "The police confiscated it."

There was a hesitation--maybe a second too long--before he said, "Okay."

You may think I kept the gun. I didn't.

If you remember, Brooke was the one who took the gun from Patrick.

The call I got when we arrived back at the Dakota? That was from Brooke. I went back and helped her clean up. The police were able to find enough remains to identify, even ten years later, my cousin Rhys.

That will never happen with Nancy Moore.

No one will ever find the slightest trace.

Oh, there will be sightings. An anonymous call will claim they saw her on a beach in Fiji. Someone else will say she's living in a monastery in the hills of Tuscany. Or perhaps someone will spot her in London, where Zorra is currently paying a visit to a certain rotund pedophile.

Nancy Moore will forever be in hiding, a mystery.

The ceremony ends. I watch Myron lift Terese's veil. He pauses because--I know him, you see--he wants to drink in this moment. He gets how rare this moment is and he wants to stop and appreciate it.

He just wants this moment to last.

Myron is good about that.

I don't know if I agree with what Brooke did or if I would have done the same in her place. But it is not my place to question her judgment. Nancy Moore robbed her not only of her only son but also of closure. She did immeasurable damage to Chick and Clark. She knew the truth for ten years and let her suffer. She took Brooke's life away from her. She took Brooke's child, her baby, and tossed him like so much trash down a ravine.
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