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          part  #11 of  Myron Bolitar Series  by  Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
Fat Gandhi made a tsk-tsk noise. "That won't work."

"Why not?"

"Because I told you something of an untruth."

Myron said nothing.

"Your friend is not listening to you. All devices, including our own cell phones, are jammed right now. That is how this room is designed. Just to be completely safe. Our advanced Wi-Fi is working, but it's password protected. You're not on it, I'm afraid. So whatever devices you may have hidden in whatever crevices are completely useless."

The fingers typing on the keyboards seemed to slow down a bit.

"Doesn't matter," Myron said.

"Say again?"

"I smashed your friend's laptop."

Thin Guy: "Cost me a fortune! The bastard--"

"Quiet, Lester." Fat Gandhi turned back toward Myron. "So?"

"So the phone wasn't jammed when I arrived. My people know I'm here. They'll be waiting outside. You send the two boys out; they'll pick them up. Easy, right?"

Myron gave them all Smile 19: The "We're All Friends Here" deluxe.

Fat Gandhi stuck his hand out. "Give me the bag, please."

"Give me the kids."

He waved his chubby hand, his bracelet tight on his wrist, and the big flat-screen on the wall lit up.

"Happy?"

It was the cell again. The two boys were seated on the floor, their knees up, their heads down.

"Where are they?"

Fat Gandhi's smile felt like a dozen snakes running down your back.

"I'll show you. Wait here, please."

Fat Gandhi pressed a code into the door's keypad, making sure that Myron couldn't see him. He stepped out of the room. Two more camouflaged guys stepped in as he left.

Hmm, why?

The room grew quiet. The typing came to a stop. Myron tried to read their faces.

Something wasn't right.

Two minutes later, Myron heard Fat Gandhi's voice say, "Mr. Bolitar?"

He was on the big flat-screen now.

In the cell with the two boys.

Win had gotten it right. They were being held right here in the arcade.

"Bring them out," Myron said.

Fat Gandhi just smiled into the camera. "Derek?"

One of the guys said, "I'm here."

"Any movements on the surveillance cameras?" Fat Gandhi asked.

"None."

Fat Gandhi waved his finger. "No cavalry on their way to rescue you, Mr. Bolitar."

Uh-oh.

"Rescue me from what?"

"You killed three of my men."

The temperature in the room changed, not in a good way. Everyone started moving slowly.

"I didn't have anything to do with that."

"Please, Mr. Bolitar. Lying is beneath you."

Pants One took out a large knife. So did Pants Two.

"Do you see my dilemma, Mr. Bolitar? It would have been one thing if you and your partners had approached me in a respectful manner."

A third guy rose from behind his computer. He also had a knife.

Myron tried to work it through. Grab Pants One's knife, then go after the guy on the right . . .

"You could have come to us. Like businessmen. You could have asked for a fair exchange. An arrangement. We could have worked with you . . ."

No, that wouldn't work. Too much distance between them. And the door is locked . . .

"But you didn't do that, Mr. Bolitar. Instead you slaughtered three of my men."

Derek took a knife out. Jimmy too.

Then the skinny kid produced a machete.

Six guys, all armed, in a small room.

"How can I let you just walk out of here after that? How would it look? How could my men ever trust me to take care of them?"

Maybe duck down, throw a back kick . . . but no. Have to get the machete first. But he's farther away. Too many of them, the space too tight.

"I would stay in the room and observe the outcome, but in this suit? It's new and rather lovely."

There was no chance. They started coming closer.

"Articulate!" Myron shouted.

Everyone stopped for a second. Myron dropped to the floor and braced himself.

That was when the wall exploded.

The sound was deafening. The wall gave way as though the Incredible Hulk had burst through from the street. The others were caught off guard, Myron not so much. He knew that Win would come up with something. He had figured that Win would find a way past the cameras. He hadn't. He said he had cased the place last night. He had found the exterior wall to this room. He had probably placed a strong listening device on it, so he would know when to make a move.

Had he used some sort of dynamite or rocket-propelled grenade?

Myron didn't know.

Shock and awe, baby. Win's forte.

The guys in the room didn't know what hit them. But they would.

Myron moved fast. From his position on the floor, he snaked his leg out and took one of the guys down. It was Pants Two. Myron grabbed the man's knife hand. Pants Two, running on pure survival instinct, held on tight. That was okay. Myron counted on that. He had no intention of trying to wrestle the knife away. Instead, holding the man by the wrist, Myron jerked his hand upward.

The blade, still being gripped by the guy's hand, lodged into Pants Two's throat.

Blood spurted. And the hand dropped away.

The knife made a noise like a wet, sucking pop as Myron pulled it free. The rest was pandemonium. The dust from the collapsed wall made it difficult to see. Myron could hear coughing and shouts. The commotion must have gotten the attention of the guy standing guard in the corridor.

When he opened the door, Myron was on him. He landed a punch straight to the nose, driving the man back into the corridor. Myron stayed on him. He didn't want to kill anyone else if he didn't have to. He threw another punch. The guy staggered back against the wall. Myron grabbed him by the throat and placed the tip of the bloody knife right up against the guy's eye.

"Please!"

"How do I get to the basement?"

"The door on the left. Code 8787."

Myron punched the guy in the stomach, let him slide to the floor, and ran. He found the door, hit the code, pushed it open.

The first thing that hit him, almost knocking him back, was the stench.

There are few things that cause deja vu like powerful odors. Something like that was happening here. Myron was traveling back to his basketball days, to the stink of a locker room after a game, the wheeled laundry carts loaded up with the sweat-filled socks, shirts, and athletic supporters of adolescents. The smell had been awful, but after a game or practice, when it was something as pure as previously clean boys playing basketball, there had been an underlying sweetness that made the smell, if not pleasant, tolerable.

That wasn't the case here.

It was dirt filled and rancid and bad.

When Myron looked down from the top of the stairs, he couldn't believe what he saw.

Twenty, maybe thirty teenagers were scampering like rats when you hit them with a flashlight beam.

What the . . . ?

The basement looked like a bad refugee camp. There were cots and blankets and sleeping bags. No time to worry about that. As Myron started down the stairs, he saw the cell.

Empty.

He reached the bottom and turned to his right. The kids clambered toward that corner like something out of a zombie film--like they were climbing over one another and feeding on something stuck there. Myron started toward it. Kids got in his way. Myron pushed them aside. They were boys mostly, but there were a few girls sprinkled in too. They all looked at him with hollow, lost eyes, still pushing forward.

"Where is Fat Gandhi? Where are the boys he had in that cell?"

No one answered. They kept pushing and shoving toward that corner. Was there a door there or . . .

A hole?

The kids were disappearing into some kind of hole in the concrete.

Myron picked up his pace now, even if it meant being rougher than he wanted with these kids. One of them started screaming and clawing at Myron's face. Myron knocked him away. He moved like a linebacker now, lowering his shoulder, throwing body blows, until he got to the hole.

Another kid started to climb into it.

It was a tunnel.

Myron grabbed the kid from behind. Other kids pushed in, trying to get to the opening. Myron held firm. He pulled the kid so that his face was right up against his.

"Is that where Fat Gandhi went? Did he take two boys with him?"

"We're all supposed to go," the boy said with a nod. "Otherwise the coppers will find us."

They were pushing in again. Myron had two choices. Move to the side or . . .

He dived into the hole and landed on the cold, damp floor. When he stood up, his head whacked concrete. He saw stars for a moment. The tunnel's ceiling was low. Shorter guys could probably run. Myron was not so lucky.

Other kids started flowing in behind him.

Have to move, Myron thought.

"Patrick!" he screamed. "Rhys!"

For a moment, he could hear only the scraping sounds of kids escaping through this dark tunnel. And then he heard someone scream: "Help!"

Myron felt his pulse race. The scream might have been short and only a word, but Myron knew one thing for certain.

The accent was American.

He tried to pick up his pace. There were boys already crowded into the tunnel, blocking his progress. Girls too. He swam past them.

"Patrick! Rhys!"

Lots of echoes. But no one returned his call.

The tunnel's height and thickness were inconsistent, constantly changing. It twisted and turned in unexpected ways. The walls were black and old and wet. The few dim lights made the place feel more ghostly.

There were teenagers on either side of him, behind him, in front of him. Some rushed forward; some fell behind.

Myron grabbed one harder than he meant to and pulled him up to his face: "Where does this tunnel lead?"

"Lots of places."

Myron let him go. Lots of places. Terrific.

He reached a fork and stopped. Some kids went left, others right.

"Patrick! Rhys!"

Silence. And then a voice that sounded American: "Help!"

To the right.

Myron hurried after the voice, trying to move faster, trying so hard to keep a pace and yet not whack his head on the ceiling. The stench was starting to make him gag. He kept moving. He wondered how long these tunnels had been here--centuries maybe--the whole place feeling suddenly like something out of Dickens, when he saw two boys up ahead.

And a fat man in a yellow zoot suit.

Fat Gandhi turned toward him. He took out a knife.

"No!" Myron shouted.

There were still more teenagers in front of them. Myron sprinted as hard as he could toward the boys, lowering his head, pumping his legs.

Fat Gandhi raised the knife.

Myron kept moving. But he could see he was too far away.

The knife came down. Myron heard a scream.

A boy collapsed to the ground.

"No!"

Myron dove toward the fallen body. The zoot suit started to run away. Myron didn't care. More teens were starting to push on through. Myron crawled on top of the stabbed boy.

Where was the other boy?

There. Myron reached out and grabbed his ankle. He held on. Other teens scrambled over him. Myron kept his grip on the ankle. He stayed on top of the stabbed boy, using his own body as a shield. He found the stab wound and tried to stem the flow with his forearm.

Someone's foot landed on Myron's wrist. His grip on the other boy's ankle was starting to loosen.

"Hang on," he shouted.

But the ankle was being pulled away.

Myron gritted his teeth. How much longer could he keep this up?

Myron held on, even as the boy tried to pull away, even as a kick landed hard on his face, even as the second kick landed. And then, on the next kick, his grip slipped.

The boy was swept away in the river of other teenagers.

Gone.

"No!"

Myron kept low, making his body a protective shell for the injured boy. He pressed his forearm down hard on the wound.

You aren't dying. You hear me? We didn't come all this way for you . . .

When the current of teenagers passed over him, Myron quickly ripped off his shirt and applied pressure to the wound. He finally looked down at the boy.

And recognized his face.

"Hang in there, Patrick," Myron said. "I'm taking you home."





Chapter 9


Three days passed.

The police asked Myron a lot of questions. He gave a lot of half answers and also, as a bar-licensed attorney, he called upon attorney-client privilege, known in the United Kingdom as legal professional privilege, so as not to name Win. Yes, he had flown over at the request of a client on the Lock-Horne jet. No, he couldn't say a word about having spoken to or seeing his client. Yes, he delivered money in the hopes of securing the release of Patrick Moore and Rhys Baldwin. No, he had no idea what happened to the wall. No, Myron said, he had no idea who stabbed a twenty-six-year-old man with a long rap sheet of trouble named Scott Taylor in the throat, killing him. No, he didn't know anything about three men killed near King's Cross station days before. He was, after all, in New York City at that time.

No sign of Fat Gandhi. No sign of Rhys.

There was only so long the cops could hold him. They had no evidence of any serious wrongdoing. Someone (Win) had sent a young lawyer named Mark Wells to represent Myron. Wells helped.

So they reluctantly cut Myron loose. Now it was noon and he was back at the Crown pub cooling his heels on the same stool. Win came in and took the stool next to him. The barman dropped down two ales.

"Mr. Lockwood," he said. "It's been months. Wonderful to see you again."

"And you too, Nigel."

Myron looked at the barman, then at Win, then arched an eyebrow to indicate a question.

"I just flew in from the United States today when I heard the news," Win said.

The barman stared at Myron. Myron stared at the barman, then at Win, and then said, "Ah."

The barman moved away.

"Won't customs have you entering the country before today?"

Win smiled.

"Of course not," Myron said. "By the way, thanks for sending that lawyer, Wells."

"Solicitor."

"What?"

"In Great Britain, you call him a solicitor. In America, you call him a lawyer."

"In Great Britain, I call you anal. In the United States, I call you an assh--"

"Yes, quite, I see your point. Speaking of solicitors, mine is currently with the police. He will explain that it was indeed I who retained your services and that you, as my other solicitor, were protecting my interests."

Myron said, "I did tell them attorney-client privilege."

"So I will back that up. We will also turn over the anonymous email sent to me that started this. Perhaps Scotland Yard will have better luck tracking down the sender than I did."

"You think?"

"No chance. I was feigning modesty."

"It doesn't wear well on you," Myron said. "So how did you do it?"

"I told you that we cased the arcade. But not just inside."

Myron nodded. "So you figured out where that safe room was."

"Yes. Then we hooked up a Fox MJ listening device. If you press it to any wall, you can hear everything. We waited until you called out the safe word."

"And then?"

"It was an RPG-29."

"Very subtle."

"My forte."

"Thank you," Myron said.

Win pretended not to hear.

"So how's Patrick?" Myron asked. "The cops wouldn't tell me anything. I saw in the papers that his parents flew over, but no one will even confirm if it's him."

"Wait."

"What?"

"We will soon get some additional information on all that from a better source."

"Who?"

Win shook him off. "You may be wondering why the police didn't question you more about the throat stabbing."

"Not really," Myron said.

"No?"

"In the confusion, no one saw it. I figured that you probably took the knife with you, so they had nothing to tie me to it."

"Not exactly. For one thing, the police have confiscated your clothing."

"I liked those pants."

"Yes, they were very slimming. But they'll test the blood on them. It will be a match with the victim's, of course."

Myron finally gave in and took a sip. "Will that be a problem?"

"I don't think so. Do you remember your black friend with the machete?"

"Black friend?"

"Oh yes, let's be politically correct right this very moment. Is he Anglo-African? I must consult the handbook."

"My bad. What about him?"

"His name is Lester Connor."

"Okay."

"When the police arrived on the scene, Lester was unconscious and--surprise, surprise--had the bloody knife in his hand. Naturally he said the knife had been planted."

"Naturally."

"But you could say that you saw Lester stab Scott Taylor in the throat."

"I could indeed."

"But?"

"But I won't," Myron said.

"Because?"

"Because it wouldn't be true."

"Mr. Connor tried to kill you."

"Yeah, but to be fair, I broke his laptop."

"False equivalency," Win said.

"Better than false testimony."

"Touche."

"If they ask, I'll say that someone stabbed the guy and he fell on me. In the confusion, I didn't see who or even notice."

"That should play," Win said.

"Are there any leads on Rhys?"

"Remember what I said about a better source," Win said.

"What about him?"

"What about her?" Win shook his head. "God, Myron, you're such a sexist. And here she is now."

Win looked toward the door. Myron did the same and immediately recognized the woman who'd entered. It was Brooke Baldwin, Win's cousin and, more to the point, mother of the still-missing Rhys.

Myron hadn't seen Brooke in, what, five years, he surmised.

A barstool appeared between Myron and Win. They both scooched over to make room. Brooke walked over without hesitation, grabbed the beer that Nigel had already put out for her, and started guzzling. Half was gone when she put it down. Nigel gave a nod of approval.

"Needed that," Brooke said.

Myron had met too many parents/spouses/loved ones of missing people. Most appeared frail and drained, which seemed both obvious and right. With Brooke, it was more the opposite. She was tanned, defiant, healthy, with a coiled energy, as though she had just finished her morning laps in some Olympic-sized pool or gone a few rounds with a boxing trainer. Her petite frame was thick with ropy muscles. The word that first came to mind when you saw this wealthy suburban soccer mom who had taken one of life's cruelest body blows: fierce.
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HARLAN COBEN SERIES:

  • Mickey Bolitar
  • Myron Bolitar
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