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         Part #11 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben  

  Brooke Lockwood Baldwin might have been raised in stone mansions and elite prep schools, but she fit in in a pub like this. She could probably challenge you to a game of darts or sweep the glasses off the bar and kick your ass in arm wrestling.

  Brooke turned to Myron and, without so much as a hello, said, "Tell me exactly what happened."

  He did. He told her everything from his arrival in London through the police questioning. She gazed at him steadily with bright green eyes.

  When he finished, Brooke said, "So you had Rhys by the ankle."

  "I think so, yeah."

  Her voice was softer now. "You touched him."

  The words hung in the air for a long moment.

  "I'm sorry," Myron said. "I tried to hang on."

  "I'm not blaming you. Did you see his face?"

  "No."

  "So we don't know for certain it was Rhys."

  "I can't say for sure, no," Myron said.

  Brooke looked at Win. Win said nothing. She turned back to Myron.

  "On the other hand, we have no reason to believe it isn't my son, do we?"

  Win spoke for the first time. "Depends."

  "On?"

  "Do we know for certain the other boy is Patrick?"

  "Yes," Brooke said. "At least, Nancy says he's Patrick."

  "She's sure?" Myron asked.

  "That's what she and Hunter say. They're divorced now, you know. Hunter and Nancy. They broke up not long after."

  She didn't say after what. She didn't have to.

  "We all flew over together. The four of us. Back together again. I don't remember the last time we even talked to each other. We're still neighbors. We should have moved out, I guess, but . . . she always blamed me. Nancy, I mean."

  "Seems unfair," Myron said.

  "Myron?"

  "Yes?"

  "Don't patronize me, okay?"

  "Not my intent."

  "The boys were at my house. It was my au pair. I should have been home watching them. If the roles were reversed . . . Whatever; it was a long time ago."

  Win asked, "Is there any independent confirmation that the boy is Patrick?"

  "Like what?"

  "Like DNA."

  "I mentioned that. I guess they'll do it eventually, but right now there is some sort of legal mumbo jumbo. Patrick--I mean, assuming it's Patrick--is a minor, so they need to get permission from his parents."

  Win nodded. "And yet there is no concrete proof Nancy and Hunter are the boy's parents."

  "Irony, right?"

  "So what has Patrick said?" Myron asked. "Where have they been? Who took them?"

  Brooke picked up the mug, looked at the contents for a second, then downed them. Myron and Win watched and waited.

  "Patrick hasn't said anything yet."

  Silence for a moment.

  "He's that wounded?"

  "Apparently. It's not like they let me see him. Only family allowed in the hospital room."

  "How serious are the injuries?"

  "Nancy says he'll survive, but he's been pretty much out of it. Talk about irony. For ten years, we don't have a clue about Rhys. Not a peep. Now suddenly there is someone who can give me answers, and I can't even talk to him."

  Brooke closed her eyes and rubbed them with a thumb and forefinger. Myron reached out to touch her shoulder. Win stopped him with a shake of his head.

  "Anyway," she said as her eyes opened, "we are holding a press conference this afternoon. As you know, the media has gotten some of the story. Now it's time to release the rest."

  "It's been three days," Myron said. "Why the wait?"

  Brooke stood and turned so she could lean her back on the bar. "So, day one, two detectives or whatever they call them from Scotland Yard sit Chick and me down. 'We have a dilemma,' they say. If we go to the press and splash Rhys's age-progression photograph all over the place, there are, the detectives explained, two things that might happen. One"--Brooke raised her index finger--"we mount pressure and find Rhys. Two"--the middle finger joined the index--"we mount pressure and whoever is holding him kills him and dumps the body."

  "They told you that?" Myron said.

  "Just that way. They advised us to give them a little time and see if they could dig up any leads quietly."

  "I assume they haven't."

  "Correct. Rhys, it seems, has vanished without a trace. Again."

  Again.

  And again her eyes closed. And again Myron reached his hand out. And again Win stopped him with a shake of his head. Win wasn't being cold. He just didn't want her to fall apart yet. Myron got it.

  "So the investigators," Win said, "they changed their suggestion?"

  "No," Brooke said, "I did. I decided. My choice. We go public. Will that help find my son or kill him? Don't know. Nice, right?"

  "It's the right move," Win said. "It's the only move."

  "You think so?"

  "I do."

  Myron saw Brooke's two fists tighten. Her face started to redden, and when it did, Brooke suddenly looked like her cousin Win, or at least you could see the family resemblance. When Brooke spoke again, there was an edge in her voice.

  "So now you think I should have a say in what happens to my son?"

  Win did not reply.

  "You received an anonymous email," Brooke said.

  "Yes."

  "You showed up and ended up killing three guys."

  "Louder," Win said. "I think the gentlemen in the corner didn't hear you."

  But Brooke was having none of it. "Why didn't you tell me about the email?"

  "It was anonymous. I figured that it would go nowhere."

  "Bullshit," Brooke said. "You found it credible enough to check it out."

  "Yes."

  "So why didn't you tell me, Win?"

  No reply.

  "Because you thought I'd fall apart? Because you didn't want to get my hopes up?"

  Silence.

  "Win?"

  He turned and faced her full on. "Yes," he said. "That's why."

  "That wasn't your decision to make."

  He spread his hands. "Yet make it I did."

  "What, you think I couldn't take it? You think you were sparing me additional pain?"

  "Something like that."

  "You know nothing about my pain." Brooke leaned in closer. "How dare you? How dare you decide that for me?"

  She stared at him hard. Win said nothing.

  "Win?"

  "You're right," he said. "I should have told you."

  "Not good enough."

  "It's going to have to be, Brooke."

  "No, sorry, you don't get off that easily. Maybe if you told me about the email, I would have flown over. Maybe I could have helped in some way. Maybe--no, definitely--things would have gone differently."

  Win said nothing.

  "Instead," Brooke said, pointing out the window of the pub, "my boy is still out there. Alone. You messed up, Win. You messed up big-time."

  "Let's slow down a second," Myron said. "We don't know if that would have changed--"

  Brooke snapped her gaze toward Myron, cutting him off. "Is Rhys here, Myron?"

  Now it was Myron who said nothing.

  "Bottom line: Is he here?" She turned back to her cousin. "We had our first real lead in ten years. In ten horrible, miserable years. And now . . ."

  "Brooke?"

  It was Win.

  "I get it," he said. "You're angry."

  "Man, you're perceptive."

  "But more than that, you're trying to motivate me," Win said. "There is no need. You know that too."

  Their eyes met. If someone passed a hand between those eyes, it would probably have been chopped off via laser.

  Her phone rang.

  "Find him, Win."

  "I will."

  They both blinked. Brooke took out her phone and put it to her ear. "Hello?" She hung up a few seconds later. "That was the police."

  "What did they want?"

  "It's Patrick. He's awake."

  Chapter 10

  Win didn't come with them to the hospital. For now, he felt that it would be best to keep his distance from anything involving law enforcement. They considered having Myron stay away too--the cops had been less than thrilled with Myron's explanation for the violence at AdventureLand--but in the end, they decided that he should be nearby in case he was somehow needed.

  Brooke stayed busy on her phone during the taxi ride. She called her husband, Chick, and told him to meet her at the hospital. She made more calls and grew more agitated.

  "What's wrong?" Myron asked.

  "They are saying we can't see Patrick yet."

  "Who?"

  "The police."

  Myron thought about that. "Is it their decision?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "I mean, who decides that you can't see him? Is it up to the police? Can't the parents overrule them?"

  "I still don't know if Nancy and Hunter have legal standing."

  "I assume you have their numbers?"

  "Only Nancy's."

  "Try it."

  She did. No answer. She sent a text. No reply.

  When they pulled up to the front of the hospital, Chick was smoking and pacing. Chick threw the cigarette down hard on the pavement and made a production out of stamping it out. He opened the taxi door with a scowl on his face. Brooke got out. Myron followed.

  Chick's scowl grew when he saw Myron.

  "You're Win's friend. The basketball player. What are you doing here?"

  Win didn't like Chick, which told Myron all he needed to know about him.

  Chick looked at Brooke. "What's he doing here?"

  "He was the one who rescued Patrick."

  Chick turned the scowl back toward Myron. "You were there?"

  "Yes."

  "So how come you didn't save my kid?"

  My kid, Myron noted. Not ours.

  "He tried, Chick," Brooke said.

  "What, he can't answer for himself?"

  "I tried, Chick."

  Chick stepped toward him. The scowl was still there. Myron started to wonder whether it was indeed a scowl or just his default expression. "You being a wiseass with me? Huh?"

  Myron didn't step back. He didn't make a fist, but man, he wanted to. Despite the rushed call from his wife, Chick wore a shiny silk suit with a tie so perfectly knotted it looked fake. His shoes had an almost supernatural shine, like they were somehow more than new, and his hair was black with just the right amount of gray, slicked back and a little too long. His skin had the waxy glow of a recent facial or some sort of high-end cosmetics, and the word "manscaped" was encompassed in every move Chick made.

  Brooke said, "We don't have time for this."

  Chick did that thing where you look the person in one eye, then the other, then back to the first. Myron just stood there and let him. You don't judge a guy by his appearance. Win was the walking, talking embodiment of that. The guy was also hurting. You could see that too. He might be a vainglorious asshat, but his son had been snatched away from him ten years ago. You could see that in Chick's face somehow, despite all he tried to do to cover it up.

  So part of Myron felt sorry for the man.

  And part of Myron remembered that Win didn't like him.

  "I tried my best," Myron said to him. "He got away. I'm sorry about that."

  Chick hesitated and then nodded. "I'm sorry too. This has been . . ."

  "Don't worry about it."

  Brooke's voice was gentle. "Chick?"

  Chick gave Myron's arm an apologetic squeeze as he turned toward his wife.

  Brooke said, "Let's go inside, okay?"

  Chick nodded and joined her.

  Brooke shaded her eyes with her right hand. "Myron?"

  He glanced around and spotted a Costa coffee shop across the street. "I'll wait there. Text if you need me."

  Chick and Brooke entered the hospital. Myron crossed the street and headed to the right for the Costa coffee shop. Costa was a chain coffee shop and resembled, more than anything else, a chain coffee shop. Swap the dark red decor for green and you could be in a Starbucks. Myron was sure that passionate defenders of either company would be offended by this observation, but Myron decided that he wouldn't lose sleep over it.

  He ordered a coffee from the barista, and then, realizing his stomach was growling, he checked out the food options. On that front--food variety--Costa seemed to have a leg up on its American competitor. He ordered a British Ham and Cheese Toastie. Toastie. "Toastie" was a cute word. Myron hadn't heard it before, but he deduced, correctly as it turned out, that a "toastie" was probably a toasted sandwich.

  Some stand in awe of Myron Bolitar's power of deduction.

  A text came in from Brooke: Not letting us see him. Told to wait.

  Myron replied: Want me to come over?

  Brooke: Not yet. Will keep you posted.

  Myron sat at a table and ate the toastie. Not bad. He downed it too quickly and debated getting another. When had he last eaten? He sat back, drank his coffee, read articles that he'd saved on his smartphone. Time passed. The place was a little too quiet. Myron looked around at the drawn faces. Perhaps it was his imagination, but he could almost feel the misery hanging in the air. He was, of course, across the street from a hospital, so maybe that was why he was seeing suffering or anxiety, faces waiting for news, faces dreading news, faces that had come here to try to escape into the comforting sameness and normalcy of a chain coffee shop.

  His phone vibrated. Another text message, this time from Terese: Got a job interview in Jackson Hole. For prime time anchor slot.

  This was great news. Myron wrote back: Wow, that's terrific.

  Terese: Heading to owner's ranch on his private plane tomorrow.

  Myron: Great. I'm thrilled for you.

  Terese: I don't have the job.

  Myron: You'll kill the interview.

  Terese: He can be a little handsy.

  Myron: And I can kill him.

  Terese: Love you, you know.

  Myron: Love you too. But I mean it about killing him if he gets handsy.

  Terese: You always know just what to say.

  Myron was smiling. He was about to text a comeback when something caught his eye.

  Or someone.

  Nancy Moore, Patrick's mother, had just entered the coffee shop. He typed a quick "Have to run" and hit send.

  Where Brooke Baldwin was all strength and resolve, Nancy Moore looked small and drained. Her blond hair was pulled back into a rushed ponytail, the grays poking free. She wore a baggy sweatshirt with the word LONDON across the front, the L being formed by an old phone box and a double-decker bus. She had probably rush-packed and bought it at some tourist shop when she arrived.

  Nancy Moore said something low to the barista, who gestured that he couldn't hear her by putting his hand to his ear. She repeated her order and then started fumbling in her purse for some money.

  Myron stood. "Mrs. Moore?"

  His voice startled her. The coins fell from her hand and landed on the floor. Myron bent down to pick them up. Nancy started to follow, but it was as though the effort was too much for her. Myron stood up and dropped the coins into her hand.

  "Thank you."

  Nancy Moore stared at him for a moment. An odd look crossed her face. Was it recognition? Surprise? Both?

  "You're Myron Bolitar," she said.

  "Yes."

  "We've met before, haven't we?"

  "Once," Myron said.

  "At . . ." She stopped. It had been at the Baldwin home, the site of the awful event, maybe a month after the kidnapping. Win and Myron had been called in too late. "You're Win's friend."

  "Yes."

  "And you . . . you're the one who . . ." She blinked, looked down. "How do I even begin to thank you for saving my boy?"

  Myron blew past that. "How's Patrick doing?"

  "Physically, he'll be fine."

  The barista came back over with two coffees in to-go cups. He placed them down in front of her.

  "You saved his life," she said. There was awe in her voice. "You saved my son's life."

  "I'm glad he'll be okay," Myron replied. "I hear he's awake?"

  Nancy Moore didn't reply right away. When she did, she said, "Can I ask you something?"

  "Sure."

  "How much do you remember of your life before you turned six?"

  He knew where this was going, but he went there anyway. "Not much."

  "And how about between the ages of six and sixteen?"

  This time Myron stayed silent.

  "It was everything, right? Elementary school, middle school, most of high school. That's what shapes us. That's what makes us everything we are."

  The barista gave her the total. Nancy Moore handed him the coins. He handed some back to her, along with a to-go bag.

  "I don't mean to push you," Myron said. "But has Patrick said anything about what happened to him or where Rhys might be?"

  Nancy Moore put the money back into her purse with a little too much care. "Nothing that would help," she said.

  "What does that mean?"

  She just shook her head.

  "What has he said?" Myron asked. "Patrick, I mean. Who took them? Where have they been all this time?"

  "You want answers," she said. "I just want my son."

  "I want answers," Myron said, "because there is still a boy missing."

  Her gaze had steel behind it now. "You don't think I care about Rhys?"

  "No, not at all. I'm sure you care a lot."

  "You don't think I know what Brooke and Chick are going through?"

  "To the contrary," Myron said, "I don't think anyone knows as well as you do."

  She closed her eyes. "I'm sorry. It's just . . ."

  Myron waited.

  "Patrick can barely talk right now. He's . . . not well. Mentally I mean. He hasn't really spoken yet."

  "I don't mean to sound insensitive," Myron said, "but are you sure it's Patrick?"

  "Yes."

  No hesitation. No doubt.

  "Have you done a DNA test?"

  "No, but we will, if that's required. He recognizes us, I think. Me anyway. But it's Patrick. It's my son. I know it sounds like an awful cliche, but a mother knows."

  Might be a cliche. Might not. Then again, to coin another cliche, we see what we want to see, especially when we are a desperate mother hoping to end a decade of pain.

  Tears started flooding her eyes. "Some maniac stabbed him. My boy. You found him. You saved him. Do you get that? He would have bled out. That's what the doctors said. You . . ."

 
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