ALSO BY HARLAN COBEN
One False Move
The Final Detail
Tell No One
Gone for Good
No Second Chance
Just One Look
Fool Me Once
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To Mike and George and midlife bromances
Also by Harlan Coben
About the Author
The boy who has been missing for ten years steps into the light.
I am not one for hysterics or even feeling much of what might be labeled astonishment. I have seen much in my forty-plus years. I have nearly been killed--and I have killed. I have seen depravity that most would find difficult, if not downright inconceivable, to comprehend--and some would argue that I have administered the same. I have learned over the years to control my emotions and, more important, my reactions during stressful, volatile situations. I may strike quickly and violently, but I do nothing without a certain level of deliberation and purpose.
These qualities, if you will, have saved me and those who matter to me time and time again.
Yet I confess that when I first see the boy--well, he is a teenager now, isn't he?--I can feel my pulse race. A thrumming sound echoes in my ears. Without conscious thought, my hands form two fists.
Ten years--and now fifty yards, no more, separate me from the missing boy.
Patrick Moore--that is the boy's name--leans against the graffiti-littered concrete support of the underpass. His shoulders are hunched. His eyes dart about before settling on the cracked pavement in front of him. His hair is closely cropped, what we used to call a crew cut. Two other teenage boys also mill about the underpass. One smokes a cigarette with so much gusto I fear the cigarette has offended him. The other wears a studded dog collar and mesh shirt, proclaiming his current profession in the most obvious of uniforms.
Above, the cars roar past, oblivious to what is below them. We are in King's Cross, most of which has been "rejuvenated" over the past two decades with museums and libraries and the Eurostar and even a plaque for Platform 93/4, where Harry Potter boarded the train for Hogwarts. Much of the so-called undesirable element have fled these dangerous in-person transactions for the relative safety of online commerce--much less need for the risky drive-by sex trade, yet another positive by-product of the Internet--but if you go to the other side of the literal and figurative tracks, away from those shiny new towers, there are still places where the sleaze element survives in a concentrated form.
That is where I found the missing boy.
Part of me--the rash part I keep at bay--wants to sprint across the street and grab the boy. He would now be, if this is indeed Patrick and not a look-alike or mistake on my part, sixteen years old. From this distance, that looks about right to me. Ten years ago--you can do the math and calculate how young he'd been--in the uber-affluent community of Alpine, Patrick had been on what they insist on calling a "playdate" with my cousin's son Rhys.
That, of course, is my dilemma.
If I grab Patrick now, just run across the street and snatch him, what will become of Rhys? I have one of the missing boys in sight, but I have come to rescue both. So that means taking care. No sudden moves. I must be patient. Whatever happened ten years ago, whatever cruel twist of mankind (I don't believe so much in fate being cruel when the culprit is usually our fellow human beings) took this boy from the opulence of his stone mansion to this filthy toilet of an underpass, I worry now that if I make the wrong move, one or both boys might disappear again, this time forever.
I will have to wait for Rhys. I will wait for Rhys and then I will grab both boys and bring them home.
Two questions have probably crossed your mind.
The first: How can I be so confident that once the boys are in sight, I will be able to grab them both? Suppose, you may wonder, the boys have been brainwashed and resist. Suppose their kidnappers or whoever holds the keys to their freedom are many and violent and determined.
To that I reply: Don't worry about it.
The second question, which is far more pressing in my mind: What if Rhys does not show up?
I am not much of a "crossing that bridge when we get there" sort of fellow, so I hatch a backup plan, which involves staking out this area and then following Patrick at a discreet distance. I am planning exactly how that might work when something goes wrong.
The trade is picking up. Life is about categorization. This street urinal is no different. One underpass caters to heterosexual men seeking female companionship. This underpass is the busiest. Old-fashioned values, I suppose. You can talk all you want about genders and preferences and kinks, but the majority of the sexually frustrated are still heterosexual men not getting enough. Old-school. Girls with dead eyes take their spots against the concrete barriers, cars drive by, girls drive off, other girls take their places. It is almost like watching a soda-dispenser machine at a petrol station.
In the second underpass, there is a small contingency of transgender or cross-dressing women of various alterations and stages, and then, a
t the tail end, where Patrick is now standing, is the young gay trade.
I watch as a man in a melon-hued shirt struts toward Patrick.
What, I had wondered when Patrick first appeared, would I do if a client chose to engage Patrick's services? At first blush, it would seem that it would be best that I intercede immediately. That would appear to be the most humane act on my part, but again, I can not lose sight of my goal: bringing both boys home. The truth is, Patrick and Rhys have been gone for a decade. They have been through God knows what, and while I don't relish the idea of allowing either to suffer through even one more abuse, I had already added up the pros and cons and made my decision. There is no use in lingering on that point anymore.
But Melon Shirt is not a client.
I know that immediately. Clients do not strut with such confidence. They don't keep their heads up high. They do not smirk. They do not wear bright melon shirts. Clients who are desperate enough to come here to satisfy their urges feel shame or fear discovery or, most likely, both.
Melon Shirt, on the other hand, has the walk and bearing and crackle of someone who is comfortable and dangerous. You can, if you are attuned to it, sense such things. You can feel it in your lizard brain, a primitive, inner warning trill that you cannot quite explain. Modern man, more afraid of embarrassment sometimes than safety, often ignores it at his own peril.
Melon Shirt glances behind him. Two other men are on the scene now, working Melon's flanks. They are both very large, decked out in camouflage fatigues, and wear what we used to call wifebeaters over shiny pectorals. The other boys working the underpass--the smoker and the one with the stud collar--run off at the sight of Melon Shirt, leaving Patrick alone with the three newcomers.
Oh, this is not good.
Patrick still has his eyes down, his quasi-shaved head gleaming. He is not aware of the approaching men until Melon Shirt is nearly on top of him. I move closer. In all likelihood, Patrick has been on the streets for some time. I think about that for a moment, about what his life must have been like, snatched from the comforting bubble of American suburbia and dumped into . . . well, who knows what?
But in all that time, Patrick might have developed certain skills. He might be able to talk his way out of this situation. The situation might not be as dire as it appears. I need to wait and see.
Melon Shirt gets right up in Patrick's face. He says something to him. I can't hear what. Then, without additional preamble, he rears back his fist and slams it like a sledgehammer into Patrick's solar plexus.
Patrick collapses to the ground, gasping for air.
The two camouflaged bodybuilders start to close in. I move fast now.
"Gentlemen," I call out.
Melon Shirt and both Camouflages spin at the sound of my voice. At first, their expressions are those of Neanderthal men hearing a strange noise for the first time. Then they take me in, narrowing their eyes. I can see the smiles come to their lips. I am not a physically imposing figure. I am above-average height and on the slight side, you'd say, with blond-heading-toward-gray hair, a skin tone that runs from porcelain in the warmth to ruddy in the cold, and features that some might consider delicate in, I hope, a handsome way.
Today I'm wearing a light-blue Savile Row hand-tailored suit, Lilly Pulitzer tie, Hermes pocket square in the breast pocket, and Bedfordshire bespoke shoes custom made by G.J. Cleverley's lead craftsman on Old Bond Street.
I am quite the dandy, aren't I?
As I saunter toward the three thugs, wishing I had an umbrella to twirl for maximum effect, I can feel their confidence growing. I like that. Normally I carry a handgun, often two, but in England, the laws are very strict about such things. I'm not worried. The beauty of the strict British laws means that it is highly unlikely that my three adversaries are carrying either. My eyes do a quick three-body scan for locations where one might conceal a gun. My thugs favor extraordinarily tight attire, more suitable for preening than weapon concealment.
They might be carrying knives--they probably are--but there are no guns.
Knives do not worry me much.
Patrick--if it is indeed Patrick--is still on the ground gasping for air as I make my arrival. I stop, spread my arms, and offer them my most winning smile. The three thugs stare at me as though I am a museum piece that they can't comprehend.
Melon Shirt takes one step toward me. "Who the fuck are you?"
I am still smiling. "You should leave now."
Melon Shirt looks at Camouflage One on my right. Then he looks at Camouflage Two to my left. I look in both directions too and then back at Melon Shirt.
When I wink at him, his eyebrows jump high.
"We should cut him up," Camouflage One says. "Cut him into little pieces."
I feign being startled and turn toward him. "Oh my, I didn't see you there."
"In those camouflage pants. You really blend in. By the way, they are very fetching on you."
"Are you some kind of wiseguy?"
"I'm many kinds of wiseguy."
All the smiles, including mine, grow.
They start toward me. I can try to talk my way out of this, perhaps offer them money to leave us be, but I don't think that will work, for three reasons. One, these thugs will want all my money and my watch and whatever else they can find upon my person. Money offers will not help. Two, they all have the scent of blood--easy, weak blood--and they like that scent. And three, most important, I like the scent of blood too.
It has been too long.
I try not to smile as they start to make their approach. Melon Shirt takes out a large bowie knife. That pleases me. I don't have many moral qualms about hurting those whom I recognize as evil. But it is nice to know that for those who require such self-rationalizations to find me "likable," I could claim that the thugs were the first to draw a weapon and thus I was acting strictly in self-defense.
Still, I give them one last out.
I look Melon Shirt straight in the eye and say, "You should leave now."
Both overmuscled Camouflages laugh at that, but Melon Shirt's smile starts to fade. He knows. I can see it. He looked in my eyes and he knows.
The rest happens in seconds.
Camouflage One comes right up to me, getting in my personal space. He is a large man. I am face-to-face with his waxed and toned pectorals. He smiles down at me as though I am a tasty treat he might devour in one bite.
There is no reason to delay the inevitable.
I slash his throat with the razor I'd kept hidden in my hand.
Blood sprays at me in a near perfect arc. Damn. This will require another visit to Savile Row.
It's Camouflage Two. There is a resemblance, and, now sliding toward him, I wonder whether they are brothers. The thug's grief stuns him enough to make disposing of him very easy, though I don't think it would have helped much had he been better prepared.
I am good with a straight razor.
Camouflage Two perishes in the same manner as dear Terence, his possible brother.
That leaves Melon Shirt, their beloved leader, who has probably attained that rank by being somewhat more brutish and cunning than his fallen comrades. Wisely, Melon Shirt has already started to make his move while I was dispensing with Camouflage Two. Using my peripheral vision, I can see the glint of his bowie blade heading toward me from above.
That is a mistake on his part.
You don't strike a foe from above like that. It's too easy to defend. Your adversary can buy time by ducking or raising a forearm for the purpose of deflection. If you shoot someone with a gun, you are trained to aim for the middle mass so that if your aim is slightly askew, you can still hit something. You prepare for the likelihood of error. With a knife, the same is true. Make the distance of your stab as short as possible. Aim for the middle so that if your adversary moves, you can still wound him.
Melon Shirt didn't do that.
I duck and use my right forearm to, as note
d above, deflect the blow. Then, with my knees bent, I spin and use the razor across his abdomen. I don't wait to see his reaction. I move up and finish him in the same manner as I had the other two.
As I said, it is over in seconds.
The cracked pavement is a crimson mess and getting messier. I give myself a second, no more, to relish the high. You would too, if you didn't pretend otherwise.
I turn toward Patrick.
But he is gone.
I look left, then right. There he is, nearly out of sight. I hurry after him, but I can see very quickly it will be useless. He is heading toward King's Cross station, one of London's busiest. He will be in the station--be in the public eye--before I can reach him. I am covered in blood. I might be good at what I do, but despite the fact that King's Cross station is indeed where Harry Potter headed off for Hogwarts, I do not possess an invisibility cloak.
I stop, look back, consider the situation, come to a conclusion.
I have messed up.
It's time to make myself scarce. I am not worried about any CCTV recording what I have done. There is a reason the undesirable element choose spots like this. It stands apart from all prying eyes, even the digital and electronic ones.
Still. I've blown it. After all these years, after all the fruitless searches, one lead has finally come my way, and if I lose that lead . . .
I need help.
I hurry away and press the 1 on my speed dial. I haven't pressed the 1 for nearly a year.
He answers on the third ring. "Hello?"
Hearing his voice again, even though I had steeled for it, sends me reeling for a moment. The number is blocked, so he has no idea who has called him.
I say, "Don't you mean 'articulate'?"
There is a gasp. "Win? My God, where have you been--?"
"I saw him," I say.
The briefest of pauses. "Wait, both of them?"
I frown. Wow? "Myron?"
"Catch the next plane to London. I need your help."
Two minutes before Win called, Myron Bolitar lay sprawled naked in bed with a knee-knockingly gorgeous woman at his side. They both stared up at the fancy wainscoting on the ceiling, gulping in breaths, lost in the aftermath of the bliss that comes only from, uh, bliss.
"Yowza," Terese said.
"I know, right?"
"That was . . ."
"I know, right?"
Myron had a way with postcoital banter.