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Dont let go, p.7
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       Don't Let Go, p.7

          Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
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I don't see Hank.

As the game comes to an end--they are playing to ten by ones--a tall man I know parks and gets out of his car. One of the four waiting quickly points and calls out, "We got Myron!" The other guys start hooting and hollering at Myron. Myron smiles back sheepishly.

"Look who's back," one guy calls out.

The others join in: "How was the honeymoon, Romeo?" "You're not supposed to be tan, dude." "Yeah, you're supposed to stay indoors, if you catch my drift," to which Myron says, "Yeah, I didn't get that at first, but once you added 'if you catch my drift,' it became clear to me."

Lots of good-natured laughing and congrats to the groom.

Remember Myron Bolitar, Leo? How Dad would take us to watch him play high school basketball in Livingston, just to show us what greatness was? Myron used to be a confirmed old bachelor. Or so I thought. He got married recently to a cable-news anchorwoman. I can still remember Dad's voice in the stands: "Seeing greatness," he would tell us, "is always worth it." That was Dad's philosophy. Myron ended up being great--a huge superstar at Duke University and a first-round NBA draft pick. Then, boom, he had a freak injury and never made it in the pros.

There's a lesson there too, I guess.

But here on these courts he's still treated like a hero. I don't know if that's due to nostalgia or what, but I get it. He's still something special to me too. We are both adults now, but some part of me still feels a little intimidated and even uplifted when he shows me attention.

I blend into the group greeting him. When Myron gets to me, I shake his hand and say, "Congrats on the nuptials."

"Thanks, Nap."

"But you're a bastard for abandoning me."

"On the positive side, you're now the hottest bachelor in the area." Then, spotting something on my face, Myron pulls me aside. "What's up?"

"I'm looking for Hank."

"He do something wrong?"

"No, I don't think. I just need to talk to him. Hank usually plays Monday nights, right?"

"Always," Myron tells me. "Of course, you never know what Hank you're going to get."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning Hank, uh, fluctuates. Behaviorally."

"Meds?"

"Meds, chemical imbalance, whatever. But, look, I'm not the guy to ask. I haven't been around in over a month."

"Extended honeymoon?"

Myron shakes his head. "I wish."

He doesn't want me to ask a follow-up, and I don't have time for it.

"So who knows Hank the best?"

Myron gestures at a handsome man with his chin. "David Rainiv."

"For real?"

Myron shrugs and heads onto the court.

I can't imagine two lives on more opposite trajectories than Hank's and David Rainiv's. David was president of our high school class's National Honor Society and is now CEO of one of the country's biggest investment firms. You may have seen him on TV a few years ago when Congress was grilling big-shot bankers. David has a penthouse in Manhattan, but he and his high school sweetheart-cum-wife, Jill, raise their children here in Westbridge. We don't really have socialites in suburbia--more like "keeping up with the Joneses"--but whatever you label it, the Rainivs would be at the top of any heap.

As the next game starts up, David and I find a bench on the other side of the court and sit. David is fit and looks like the love child of a Kennedy and a Ken doll. If you're casting the cleft-chinned senator, you could do worse than David Rainiv.

"I haven't seen Hank in three weeks," David tells me.

"Is that unusual?"

"He pretty much comes every Monday and Thursday."

"And how is he?" I ask.

"He's fine, I guess," David says. "I mean, he's never fine, if you know what I mean. Some of the guys . . ." He looks out at the court. "They don't really want Hank here. He acts out. He doesn't shower enough. On the sidelines when he has to wait a game, he starts pacing and screaming various rants."

"What kind of rants?"

"Nonsensical stuff. He started shouting once about how Himmler hates tuna steaks."

"Himmler like the old Nazi?"

David shrugs. He keeps his eyes on the court, following the game. "He rants, he paces, he scares some of the guys. But on the court"--David smiles now--"it's like he transforms into Hank again. For a little while, the old Hank comes back." He turns to me. "You remember Hank in high school?"

I nod.

"Lovable, right?" David says.

"Yes."

"I mean, a total nerd, but--do you remember that time he pranked the teachers' Christmas party?"

"Something to do with their snacks, right?"

"Right. So the teachers are all getting smashed. Hank sneaks in. He's mixed together bowls of M&M's with bowls of Skittles--"

"Oh gross."

". . . so the teachers, they're wasted, right, and they reach and grab a fistful of candies and . . ." He starts laughing. "Hank filmed it. It was hilarious."

"I remember now."

"He didn't mean any harm. That was Hank. It was more a science experiment to him than a prank." David grows quiet for a moment. I follow his eyes. He's watching Myron take a jump shot. Swish.

"Hank isn't well, Nap. It isn't his fault. That's what I tell the guys who don't want him here. It's like he has cancer. You'd never tell a guy he can't play with us because he has cancer, right?"

"Good point," I say.

David is focused a little too much on the court. "I owe Hank."

"How so?"

"When we graduated, Hank went to MIT. You know that, right?"

"Right," I say.

"I got accepted to Harvard, a mile away. A thrill, right? We were close to each other. So freshman year, Hank and I still hung out. I'd come pick him up and we'd grab a burger somewhere or we'd go to parties, mostly on my campus but sometimes his. Hank could make me laugh like no one else." There is a smile on his face now. "He wasn't one for drinking, but he would stand in the corner and observe. He liked that. And girls liked him too. There was a certain type drawn to him."

The night has a hush to it now. The only sounds are the concentrated cacophony on the court.

The smile slides off David's face like a veil. "But things started to change," he says. "The change was so slow, I barely noticed it at first."

"Change how?"

"Like when I'd come to pick him up, Hank wouldn't be ready. Or as we left, he'd check the door lock two or three times. It got worse. I'd come and he'd still be in a bathrobe. He would shower for hours. He would keep locking and unlocking the door. Not two or three times, but twenty or thirty. I'd try to reason with him: 'Hank, you already checked it, you can stop now, no one wants any of the crap in your room anyway.' He started to worry his dorm would burn down. There was a stove in a public room. We'd have to stop by it and make sure it was off. It would take me an hour to get him outside."

David stops. We watch the game for a few moments. I don't push him. He wants to tell it his own way.

"So one night, we're going out on a double date at this expensive steak house in Cambridge. He says to me, 'Don't pick me up, I'll take the bus.' I say fine. I get the girls. We're there. I'm not telling this right. This girl, Kristen Megargee, I can see Hank is crazy about her. She's gorgeous--and a math geek. He was so excited. Anyway, you can probably guess what happened."

"He didn't show."

"Right. So I make up some excuse and take the girls home. Then I drive over to his dorm. Hank's still locking and unlocking the door. He won't stop. Then he starts blaming me. 'Oh, you said that was next week.'"

I wait. David lowers his head into his hands, takes a deep breath, lifts his head back up.

"I'm in college," David continues. "I'm young, it's exciting, I'm making new friends. I got my studies, I got a life, and Hank, he isn't my job, right? Going over to fetch him is getting to be a real pain in the ass. So after that, I start going less. You know how it is. He texts, I don't answer so fast. We drift apart. Suddenly it's a month. Then a semester. Then . . ."

I stay silent. I can feel the guilt coming off him.

"So these guys"--he gestures to the court--"think Hank is a weirdo. They don't want him here." He sits up. "Well, too bad. Hank is going to play if he wants to play. He's going to play with us, and he's going to feel welcome."

I give it a moment. Then I ask, "Do you have any idea where he might be?"

"No. We still don't . . . we don't really talk, except on the court. Hank and I, I mean. A lot of us go to McMurphy's after we play, you know, for a few pitchers and some pizza. I used to invite Hank, but when I did, he would actually run away. You've seen him walking around town, right?"

"Yes," I say.

"Same route every day, you know. Same time. Creature of habit. I guess that helps. Routine, I mean. We finish here at nine o'clock, give or take. But if we go long, Hank still leaves at exactly nine. No good-bye, no explanation. He has an old Timex with an alarm. It dings at nine, he sprints away, even if it's the middle of a game."

"How about his family? Would he stay with them?"

"His mom passed away last year. She lived in that old condo development in West Orange. Cross Creek Point. His dad might be there now."

"I thought his parents divorced when we were little," I say.

On the court, someone cries out and falls to the ground. He wants a foul, but the other guy is claiming that he's being a drama queen.

"They split up when we were in fifth grade," David says. "His dad moved somewhere out west. Colorado, I think. Anyway, I think they might have reconciled when Mrs. Stroud got sick. I forget who told me that."

The game in front of us ends when Myron hits a fadeaway jumper that kisses the backboard before dropping through the net.

David rises. "I got next," he reminds me.

"Did you ever hear of the Conspiracy Club?" I ask him.

"No, what's that?"

"Some guys in our class back in high school formed it. Hank was a member. So was my brother."

"Leo," he says with a sad shake of his head. "He was a good guy too. Such a loss."

I don't reply to that. "Did Hank ever talk about conspiracies?"

"Yeah, I guess. Nothing specific, though. He never made much sense."

"Did he talk about the Path maybe? Or the woods?"

David stops and looks at me. "The old military base, right?"

I say nothing.

"When we were in high school, Hank was obsessed with that place. He would talk about it all the time."

"What would he say?"

"Nutty stuff, that the government was running LSD testing out of it or mind-reading experiments, stuff like that."

You would sometimes wonder the same kinds of things, wouldn't you, Leo? But I wouldn't call you obsessed. You said it, you had fun with it, but I don't think you ever really bought into it. It seemed to me to be just a game to you, but maybe I misread your interest. Or maybe you were all in it for different reasons. Hank thought about big government plots. Maura liked the edge element, the mystery, the danger. You, Leo, I think you liked the comradery of the friends traipsing through the woods on an adventure like something in an old Stephen King novel.

"Yo, David, we're ready to start!" one guy yells.

Myron says, "Give him a minute. We can wait."

But they are all lined up and ready to play and there is a protocol here: You don't make the group wait. David looks at me for permission. I nod that we are done and he can go. He starts to step toward the game, but then he turns to me.

"Hank is still obsessed with that old base."

"Why do you say that?"

"The walk Hank takes every morning? He starts by hiking up the Path."





Chapter Eleven


Reynolds calls me in the morning. "I found the divorce attorney who hired Rex."

"Great."

"Not really. His name is Simon Fraser. He's a bigwig partner at bigwig Elbe, Baroche and Fraser."

"You reach out to him?"

"Oh yes."

"I bet he was cooperative."

"I bet you're being sarcastic. Mr. Fraser won't speak with me due to attorney-client privilege and subsequent work product therein."

I frown. "Did he actually say 'therein'?"

"He did."

"We should be able to arrest him for that alone."

"If only we made the laws," Reynolds says. "I was thinking of going back to his clients to see if they would waive privilege."

"You mean the wives he represented?"

"Yes."

"A waste of time," I say. These women won custody cases based in part on Rex's DUI setup. They were not about to admit that. Their exes could use that illegality to reopen custody battles.

"Any ideas?" Reynolds asks.

"Might as well pay Simon Fraser a visit in person."

"I think that too will be a waste of time."

"I can go alone," I say.

"No, I don't think that's a good idea."

"Then we go together. It's your jurisdiction, so you can approach him as a law enforcement officer . . ."

". . . while you play the role of interested civilian?"

"It's the role I was born to play."

"When?"

"I have to make a couple of stops on the way, but I'll be up before lunch."

"Text me when you get close."

I hang up, shower, get dressed. I check my watch. According to David Rainiv, Hank starts his walk up the Path every morning at exactly eight thirty. I park in the teachers' lot, which gives me an unobstructed view of the Path. It's eight fifteen. I flip around the radio and land on Howard Stern for a while. It's eight thirty now. I keep my eyes on the Path. No one approaches.

Where is Hank?

At nine, I give up and head to my second stop.

The shelter Ellie runs caters mostly to battered families. I meet her at one of the transitional residences, an old Victorian located on a quiet street in Morristown. This is a place for the battered women and children to hide from their abusers until we can figure out the next step, which is usually something better but not what anyone would consider desirable.

There are very few big victories here. That's the tragedy. What Ellie does feels like emptying an ocean with a tablespoon. Still, she wades into the ocean tirelessly, time after time, day after day, and while she is no match for the evil in a man's heart, Ellie makes the battle worth it.

"Beth Lashley took her husband's name," Ellie tells me. "She is now Dr. Beth Fletcher, a cardiologist in Ann Arbor."

"How did you find that out?"

"It was harder than it should have been."

"Meaning?"

"I contacted all her closest friends from high school. None keep in touch with Beth, which surprised me. I mean, she was pretty social. I reached out to her parents again. I told them we wanted to get Beth's address for reunions and that kind of thing."

"What did they say?"

"They wouldn't give it to me. They said to mail anything pertinent to them."

I don't know what to make of that. But it's not good. "So how were you able to track her down?"

"Through Ellen Mager. Do you remember her?"

"She was a year behind us," I say, "but I think she was in my math class."

"That's Ellen. Anyway, she went to Rice University down in Houston."

"Okay."

"So did Beth Lashley. So I asked her to call the Rice alumni office and see if as a fellow alum she could get any information on her."

That, I have to admit, is genius.

"Anyway, she got an email address with the Fletcher last name at the University of Michigan Medical Center. I did a little googling to find out the rest. Here's her office number." Ellie hands me a slip of paper.

I look at the slip of paper as though the phone number will give me a clue.

Ellie leans back. "How did it go with tracking down Hank?" she asks.

"Not well."

"The plot thickens."

"It does."

"Oh, before you go, Marsha wanted to see you."

"I'm on my way."

I kiss Ellie on the cheek. Before I head to Ellie's colleague Marsha Stein's office, I veer left and take the stairs to the second level. There is a makeshift day care for the kids. I look inside and see Brenda's youngest working on a coloring book. I continue down the corridor. The door to her bedroom is open. I knock lightly and look inside the small room. Two open suitcases sit on the bed. When Brenda sees me, she rushes over and wraps her arms around me. She has never done that before.

Brenda doesn't say anything. I don't say anything.

When she lets go, she looks up and gives me a small nod. I give her a small nod back.

We still don't say anything.

When I head back into the corridor, Marsha Stein is waiting for me.

"Hey, Nap."

When we were eight and nine years old, Marsha was our teenage babysitter. Do you remember, Leo? She was lithe and gorgeous, a ballerina, a singer, the star of every high school play. We had crushes on her, of course, but so did everyone. Our favorite activity when she babysat was helping her rehearse for her plays. We would read her lines. During her junior year, Dad took us to the high school to see her play Hodel, the beautiful daughter, in Fiddler on the Roof. Senior year, Marsha capped off her theater career playing the titular lead in Mame. You, my brother, got to play the part of Mame's nephew, listed in the program as "Young Patrick." Dad and I went four times, and Marsha deservedly got a standing ovation at every performance.

Back in those days, Marsha had a ruggedly handsome boyfriend named Dean who drove that black Trans Am and always, no matter how hot or cold the weather, wore his varsity wrestling jacket, the green one with the white sleeves. Marsha and Dean were the "Class Couple" in the Westbridge High School yearbook. They got married a year after graduation. Not long after that, Dean started to beat her. Savagely. Her eye socket is still caved in on the right. Her face looks disjointed now, off-kilter. The nose is too flat from the years of beating.

After ten years, Marsha finally found the courage to run away. As she often tells the abused women here, "You find the courage too late but it's never too late and yes, that's a contradiction." She joined forces with another "child" she babysat in those days, Ellie, and together they formed these shelters.

Ellie is CEO. Marsha prefers to stay behind the scenes. They now operate one shelter and four transition homes like this. They also have three locations with addresses that are completely unknown to the public, for obvious reasons. They have a pretty good security system, but sometimes I chip in.
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