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         Part #11 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben  

  "Nancy?"

  The voice came from behind him. Myron turned and spotted Hunter Moore, Nancy's ex-husband and Patrick's father.

  "Come on," the man said. "We have to go."

  He let go of the door and disappeared to the left.

  If Hunter Moore had recognized Myron, he didn't show it. Then again, there was little reason he would have. They had never met before--he hadn't been at the Baldwin house that day--and he seemed in a rush to hurry along his ex-wife.

  Nancy scooped up the bag and coffee. She turned to Myron.

  "It feels so inept to say thank you again. The idea that after all these years, that after finding Patrick alive, he would have been killed if it wasn't for you . . ."

  "It's okay."

  "I'll always be in your debt."

  She hurried away then, out the door and turning left to follow her ex's path. For a moment Myron didn't move. The barista said, "Would you like a refill?"

  "No, thanks."

  Myron still didn't move.

  "You okay, mate?" the barista asked.

  "Fine."

  He stared at the door some more. And then a curious thought hit him. The hospital was to the right. But both Hunter and Nancy Moore had turned left.

  Did that mean anything?

  Nope. At least, not on its own. They could be picking up something at a pharmacy or getting some fresh air or . . .

  Myron moved to the door. He stepped outside onto the street and looked to his left. Nancy Moore was stepping into a black van.

  "Wait," Myron said.

  But she was too far away and the street was noisy. The van door slid closed as Myron started to run.

  "Hold up a second," he shouted.

  But the van was already on its way. Myron watched it head down the street and disappear around a corner. He stopped and took out his smartphone. It was probably nothing. Maybe the police were taking them someplace for questioning. Maybe after round-the-clock sitting beside their son they needed a few hours of rest.

  Both of them?

  Uh-uh, no way. Did Nancy Moore strike him as the type who would need a break from the child who had been missing for ten years? No chance. More likely that she would never leave his side, that she would be afraid to take her eyes off him for more than a moment.

  Myron took out his phone and hit what was still speed dial 1 on his phone. He didn't worry about a trace. The number would bounce to and fro and end up on some untraceable burner.

  "Articulate," Win said.

  "I think there's a problem."

  "Do tell."

  He told him about Nancy and Hunter Moore and the black van. He crossed the street and headed toward the hospital entrance. He finished telling Win what he knew and hung up. Then he called Brooke's phone. No answer.

  A hospital sign--several signs, now that Myron looked around--read NO MOBILE PHONE USE. People were staring. Myron put his away with an apologetic shrug and headed for the check-in desk.

  "I'm here to see a patient."

  "Name of the patient?"

  "Patrick Moore."

  "And your name?"

  "Myron Bolitar."

  "Please wait one moment."

  Myron's eyes scanned the room. He spotted Brooke and Chick sitting by a window in the corner of the waiting area. Brooke lifted her eyes, met his, and stood. He hurried toward her.

  "What's wrong?" Brooke asked.

  "What did the police tell you?"

  "Nothing. We haven't been allowed up to see him."

  "Do you know his room number?"

  "Yes, Nancy told me yesterday. It's 322."

  Myron turned. "Let's go."

  "What happened?"

  He hurried around the corner. There was a security guard. "Pass, please."

  "No," Myron said.

  That confused the guard. "What?"

  His name tag read LAMY.

  Myron was big, six four, 225. He knew when to make himself even bigger. Like now. "I need to go up to the third floor and check on a patient."

  "Then get a pass."

  "There are two ways this can go, uh, Lamy. I can knock you on your ass and embarrass you, and who knows the repercussions. You may be tougher than you look, in which case I will be forced to hurt you. Maybe more than I want to. Or you can go with me up the stairs and see that I'm just going to look in on a patient, making sure that the patient is okay, and then come right back down again."

  "Sir, I must insist--"

  "Your call."

  Myron didn't give the guard time. He rushed past him and started sprinting up the stairs. The security guard hurried after him, but there wasn't much jump in his step.

  "Stop! Desk Two calling for assistance! Intruder in the stairwell."

  Myron didn't bother to slow down. He ran up the stairs. His knee, the one that had ended his career so long ago, ached a bit, but that didn't slow him. He didn't know if Brooke or Chick were behind him. He didn't much care. The guard would call for backup. They would get there or they wouldn't. They'd arrest him or they wouldn't. But either way, they wouldn't be able to stop him in time.

  He pushed open the door at the third floor. Room 302 was in front of him. He turned to the right and sprinted past room 304. Behind him he heard someone yell, "Stop! Stop now!"

  He didn't listen.

  He ran until he reached room 322. He opened the door and stepped inside as he heard more footsteps approach him. He didn't move. He stood and waited, but it was just as he had suspected.

  The bed--and indeed the room--was empty.

  Chapter 11

  There were some hassles with the guards, but not many.

  Myron backed out of the room and started back toward the exit, hands raised. The guards weren't sure what to do about this intrusion. The man had run into an empty room. Was that reason to try to hold him? Myron explained that he wasn't going anywhere anyway, and that seemed to satisfy them.

  Chick went crazy, especially when the cops' reaction was one of utter calm: They couldn't hold Patrick; he was a victim, not a criminal, and he wanted to go home with his parents.

  "Did you ask him about my son?" Chick screamed.

  Of course they had, the cops told him in measured voices. Patrick and his parents claimed he didn't know anything relevant and was too traumatized to talk about it.

  Chick: "And you let that slide?"

  The cops gave a polite sigh and a small shrug. They did not let it slide. But at the end of the day, they couldn't force a traumatized and injured teenager to talk to them. The boy indicated that he wanted to return to the United States with his parents. The doctors agreed that might be best. There was no legal reason to hold him against his will.

  It went on for some time, but it was pointless.

  So now, two hours after discovering that the Moore family was on a private plane back to the United States, Brooke and Chick Baldwin held the press conference in the ballroom at the Grosvenor House on Park Lane.

  Myron and Win stood in the back and watched.

  "She doesn't look like a grieving mother, does she?" Win said.

  He was talking about Brooke.

  "That doesn't mean she's not."

  "No, but I told her to cry a little for the camera."

  Myron nodded. "That would be good."

  "I don't know if she can. I told her the public wants to see the pain. If they don't, they assume you cannot possibly be suffering."

  "I remember when the boys first disappeared," Myron said. "All those news sources about your cousin's"--Myron made the quote marks in the air--"'demeanor.'"

  "Even then she didn't show enough anguish for the cameras," Win said.

  "Right. So some columnist started to theorize that maybe she was involved. It was her house, her nanny--and worst of all, she showed little outward sign of distress."

  "Pathetic," Win said.

  "Exactly. If Brooke had sobbed and collapsed, the world would have sobbed along with her. Instead they used her."

  "I remember. It started up the whole stay-at-home-mom debate. Brooke was neglectful. She was spoiled, just another rich woman who hired an au pair because she didn't want to take care of her own children."

  "No one wants to think it can happen to them," Myron said.

  "So they look for blame," Win said. "It's part of the human condition."

  Up on the podium, the police did most of the talking. Brooke stared out at seemingly nothing. She did not, despite Win's instructions, cry. Chick, in that natty suit, hardly cut a sympathetic image either, but at least you could see the devastation on his face.

  Myron leaned toward his friend. "It's good to have you back, Win."

  "Yes," Win said. "Yes, it is."

  The police told the story in the vaguest terms possible. One of the American boys missing for ten years, Patrick Moore, had been rescued in London. No details on how. They didn't take credit for it. They didn't give Myron credit either.

  Which was more than fine with him.

  The police believed that the other missing teen, Rhys Baldwin, the son of these two long-suffering parents, might be close by too. A reporter shouted out, "How do you know?" The police ignored him. When they flashed up an old picture of Rhys, age six, along with several age-progression illustrations, Myron saw the first crack in Brooke's facade.

  But she didn't cry.

  "They're flying back when this is done," Win said.

  "They're not staying?"

  Win shook his head. "They want to go home. They know there is nothing they can do in London. You need to go with them. You need to figure out a way to get Patrick to talk. You need to start at the beginning and move toward me."

  "You mean the original scene of the crime?"

  "Yes."

  "You think we need to go back that far?"

  "The story may have ended up here--but it started in that house."

  "What do you make of the Moores sneaking back home with Patrick?"

  "Nothing good," Win said.

  "It could be that he's just too traumatized to talk."

  "Could be."

  "What else could it be really?"

  "What you said before," Win said.

  "What's that?"

  "We're missing something."

  Then the police flashed up a photograph of Fat Gandhi, giving his name as Chris Alan Weeks, and saying he wasn't a suspect but a person of interest. The man in the photograph had hair and looked fifty pounds thinner than the man Myron had encountered.

  "Do we want the police to find him," Win asked, "or me?"

  "Does it matter?"

  Win looked at him. "How will it go if the police capture him?"

  "If he's with Rhys, well, then we are done. Case solved."

  "Unlikely that will happen," Win said. "He's a cautious man. He'll either kill Rhys--which there is no point in entertaining since it will lead us nowhere--or your rotund friend will store him someplace safe, someplace with no connection to him."

  "Okay."

  "So I ask again: How will it go if the police capture him?"

  "First, they bring him in."

  "Right."

  Myron saw where Win was headed. "He lawyers up. They have nothing on him. He kept everything in some locked cloud. The kids won't testify against him. He was careful. They'll have my testimony about the stabbing, but they'll say it was dark and there is no way I could have seen him do it for certain, which is true."

  Win nodded. "Do you think he'll talk?"

  "To quote you, 'Unlikely that will happen.'"

  "Yet if I find him . . . ," Win said.

  Myron turned back to the press conference.

  "You don't approve," Win said.

  "You know I don't."

  "Yet you know what I am and what I do."

  "Which might have been, I don't know, okay in the past. In certain circumstances."

  "But not in this brave new world of ours?"

  "Are you really in favor of the government torturing people for information?"

  "Good God, no," Win said.

  "Just you personally?"

  "Yes, exactly. I trust my judgment and motives. I don't trust the government's."

  "Different rules for you?"

  "Yes, of course." Win tilted his head. "Is this confusing to you?"

  Myron shook his head. "One other thing."

  "What's that?"

  "You've been away for a long time."

  Win did not reply.

  "If I head back," Myron said, "I don't want to lose you again."

  "You heard what Brooke said."

  "I did."

  "I messed up. Whatever the price, I have to find her son."

  *

  An hour later, just as they were boarding Win's plane, Brooke got a text. She read it and stopped. Myron and Chick stopped a step later.

  "What is it?" Chick said.

  "It's from Nancy."

  She handed Chick the phone. He read it out loud: "I'm doing what's best for my son. And yours. Trust me. Will be in touch soon." Chick still had the scowl going. "What the hell does that mean?"

  Brooke took back the phone. She tried to call Nancy again, but there was no answer. She sent a text asking her for some clarification or details. Again there was no reply.

  "She never liked us," Chick said. "She blamed us for what happened, even though our kid went missing too."

  He ducked inside the plane. Mee was there in her formfitting flight attendant uniform. She gave them a small smile, as befitted the situation, and took their coats.

  "She acts like it's our fault," Chick said to his wife. "I've told you that before, you know."

  "Yes, I know, Chick. Many times."

  "Even before all this. I mean, Hunter, he's a drunk now, but he was always a ne'er-do-well. Everything handed to him. Boring as hell. It's like talking to a rock. But Nancy, I mean, what the hell is she trying to pull here?"

  They had no answer for him.

  Chick turned to Mee. "Anyone using the bedroom?"

  "It's at your disposal, sir."

  "Great. Can you get me some water?"

  "Immediately, sir."

  Chick grabbed a bottle of pills from his pocket. He shook out two tablets and then, thinking better of it, shook out a third. Mee handed him the water. He swallowed all three and gestured toward the room in the back of the plane. "Do you mind if I . . . ?"

  "Go ahead," Brooke said.

  Three minutes later, they could hear him snoring. Mee closed the bedroom door, and the sound was gone. The plane rushed down the runway and climbed into the air. Myron and Brooke sat side by side.

  "So what's Win's plan?" she asked.

  "He wants to catch Fat Gandhi before the police do."

  Brooke nodded. "That would be good. Do you think he can do it?"

  "If Win were here, I think he'd say, 'I'll pretend you didn't ask that.'"

  That made her smile. "He loves us."

  "I know."

  "There aren't many he loves," she said. "But when he does love you, it's both ferocious and comforting."

  "He has saved my life more times than I can count."

  "And you, his," she said. "He's told me. You met at Duke, right?"

  "Yes."

  "When?"

  "Freshman year."

  "Tell me: What was your first impression of him?"

  Myron looked off and tried not to smile. "My dad drove me down to Duke. I was nervous, first year of college and all that. He kept it light, distracted me. I remember he helped me move in. We lugged all this stuff up four flights of stairs. I kept telling him I could do it. I was worried because my dad was so out of shape . . ."

  Myron shook his head, got back to it.

  "Anyway, there was the freshman face book in my dorm. Do you remember those?"

  "Oh yes," Brooke said, and a sad smile came to her lips. "We went through ours and rated the boys on a scale of one to ten."

  "God, you're so shallow, Brooke."

  "I am, yeah."

  "So anyway, my dad and I take a break and start going through it. And I can still remember seeing Win's photo--all blond hair and blue eyes and looking like he was modeling for the cover of Preppy Ass Waffle magazine. He had that haughty expression on his face. You know the one."

  Brooke imitated it to perfection.

  "Yes, exactly."

  "Like he's the most superior creature on God's green earth."

  "Right, and it listed his snooty prep school, and his full name was there. So I'm reading this--Windsor Horne Lockwood III--and I'm laughing about it, and I show my dad and he laughs, and I say, 'I won't even see this guy in my four years, never mind be friends with him.'"

  Brooke smiled. "Oh, I know what you mean."

  "We met that night. He's been my best friend ever since."

  "So you get what I'm saying."

  "Sure. People see him and they hate him. They see him and think arrogant, Waspy wimp who couldn't bruise a peach."

  "Easy pickings," Brooke said.

  "Yes. And Win mostly kept it under wraps at first. I mean, I could sense the darkness right away. Even when we met at the first orientation social."

  "Maybe that's what drew you to him."

  "What, the darkness?"

  "Yep. His yin to your yang."

  "Maybe," Myron agreed.

  "So when did you know for sure?" she asked. "I mean, about his, uh, talents. Do you remember?"

  He did. Too well. "Freshman year, maybe a month into the school year, a bunch of football players decided to shave Win's head. You know how it is. They thought his hair looked too perfect, what with the straight part and the yellow blond and all that."

  "Right."

  "So one night, these big football players break into the room when Win's sleeping. Five of them, I think. Four to hold his arms and legs down, one to shave his head clean."

  "Oh boy," Brooke said.

  "Yes."

  "So how did that go for them?"

  "Put it this way," Myron said. "The football team had a terrible season. Too many guys on the injured list."

  Brooke shook her head. "Good to have him on our side," she said.

  "Yes, it is."

  "So what's our plan here, Myron?"

  "It's like Win said. Whatever horrible thing happened to those two boys, it went to London but it started in your home. He's on one end of that. We take the other. We go back to the beginning. We figure out what might have happened."

  Brooke considered that. "I'm not sure I see the point. We've been over the crime scene a million times."

  "Yes, but we go back at it now with fresh eyes. We can see ahead of us a bit. It's like a car trip where you don't know where you're going. Last week, you only knew the starting point. Now we know where the car was three days ago. So we can try again."

 
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