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Drop Shot

Harlan Coben
























































  For Anne and Charlotte,

  from the luckiest man in the whole world


  The author wishes to thank the following: my friends and college roommates James Bradbeer Jr. and Lawrence Vitale; David Pepe of Pro Agents Inc.; Peter Roisman of Advantage International; my editor and friend Jacob Hoye; Natalie Ayars, M.D.; E. W. Count; the AOL Writers Club; and, of course, Dave Bolt.


  Cesar Romero," Myron said.

  Win looked at him. "You're not serious."

  "I'm starting off with an easy one."

  On Stadium Court the players were changing sides. Myron's client, Duane Richwood, was shellacking the number-fifteen seed Ivan Something-okov, leading 5-0 in the third set after winning the first two sets 6-0, 6-2. An impressive U.S. Open debut for the unseeded twenty-one-year-old upstart from the streets (literally) of New York.

  "Cesar Romero," Myron repeated. "Unless you don't know."

  Win sighed. "The Joker."

  "Frank Gorshin."

  "The Riddler."

  Ninety-second commercial break. Myron and Win were keeping themselves busy with a scintillating game of Name the Batman Criminal. The TV Batman. The Batman starring Adam West and Burt Ward and all those Pow, Bam, Slam balloons. The real Batman.

  "Who played the second one?" Myron asked.

  "The second Riddler?"

  Myron nodded.

  From across the court Duane Richwood flashed them a cocky smile. He sported garish aviator sunglasses with loud fluorescent green frames. The latest style from Ray*Ban. Duane was never without them. He had become not only identified by the shades but defined by them. Ray*Ban was rather pleased.

  Myron and Win sat in one of the two players' boxes reserved for celebrities and players' entourages. For most matches every seat in the box was filled. When Agassi played the night before, the box had overflowed with his family, friends, suck-ups, young lasses, environmentally correct movie stars, hair weaves--like an Aerosmith backstage party. But Duane had only three people in the box: agent Myron, financial consultant Win, and Duane's coach, Henry Hobman. Wanda, the love of Duane's life, got too nervous and preferred to stay home.

  "John Astin," Win answered.

  Myron nodded. "How about Shelley Winters."

  "Ma Parker."

  "Milton Berle."

  "Louie the Lilac."


  "Chandell the Great."


  Win looked puzzled. "And what?"

  "What other criminal did Liberace play?"

  "What are you talking about? Liberace only appeared in that one episode."

  Myron leaned back and smiled. "Are you sure?"

  In his seat next to the umpire's chair Duane happily chugged down a bottle of Evian. He held the bottle so that the sponsor's name could be clearly seen by the television cameras. Smart kid. Knew how to please the sponsor. Myron had recently signed Duane to a simple deal with the natural water giant: during the U.S. Open Duane drank Evian in marked bottles. In return Evian paid him ten grand. That was water rights. Myron was negotiating Duane's soda rights with Pepsi and his electrolyte rights with Gatorade.

  Ah, tennis.

  "Liberace only appeared in that one episode," Win announced.

  "Is that your final answer?"

  "Yes. Liberace only appeared in that one episode."

  Henry Hobman continued to study the court, scrutinizing with intense concentration, his line of vision swinging back and forth. Too bad no one was playing.

  "Henry, you want to take a guess?"

  Henry ignored them. Nothing new there.

  "Liberace only appeared in that one episode," Win repeated, his nose in the air.

  Myron made a soft buzzing sound. "Sorry, that answer is incorrect. What do we have for our player, Don? Well, Myron, Windsor gets the home version of our game plus a year's supply of Turtle Wax. And thank you for playing our game!"

  Win was unmoved. "Liberace only appeared in that one episode."

  "That your new mantra?"

  "Until you prove otherwise."

  Win--full name: Windsor Horne Lockwood III--steepled his manicured fingers. He did that a lot, steepling. Steepling fit him. Win looked liked his name. The poster boy for the quintessential WASP. Everything about his appearance reeked arrogance, elitism, Town and Country Parties Page, debutantes dressed in monogrammed sweaters and pearls with names like Babs, dry martinis at the clubhouse, stuffy old money--his fine blond hair, his pretty-boy patrician face, his lily-white complexion, his snotty Exeter accent. Except in Win's case some sort of chromosomal abnormality had slipped through the generations of careful breeding. In some ways Win was exactly what he appeared to be. But in many more ways--sometimes very frightening ways--Win was not.

  "I'm waiting," Win said.

  "You remember Liberace playing Chandell the Great?" Myron asked.

  "Of course."

  "But you forgot that Liberace also played Chandell's evil twin brother, Harry. In the same episode."

  Win made a face. "You cannot be serious."


  "That doesn't count. Evil twin brothers."

  "Where in the rule book does it say that?"

  Win set his jutting jaw in that certain way.

  The humidity was thick enough to wear as undergarments, especially in Flushing Meadows's windless stadium court. The stadium, named strangely enough for Louis Armstrong, was basically a giant billboard that also happened to have a tennis court in the middle. IBM had a sign above the speedometer that clocked the velocity of each player's serve. Citizen kept both the real time and how long the match had been going on. Visa had its name printed behind the service line. Reebok, Infiniti, Fuji Film, Clairol had their names plastered wherever there was a free spot. So did Heineken.

  Heineken, the official beer of the U.S. Open.

  The crowd was a complete mix. Down low--in the good seats--people had money. But anything went in the dress department. Some wore full suits and ties (like Win), some wore more casual Banana Republic-type clothes (like Myron), some wore jeans, some wore shorts. But Myron's personal favorite were the fans who came in full tennis gear--shirt, shorts, socks, tennis shoes, warm-up jacket, sweatbands, and tennis racket. Tennis racket. Like they might get called on to play. Like Sampr
as or Steffi or someone might suddenly point into the stands and say, "Hey, you with the racket. I need a doubles partner."

  Win's turn. "Roddy McDowall," he began.

  "The Bookworm."

  "Vincent Price."


  "Joan Collins."

  Myron hesitated. "Joan Collins? As in Dynasty?"

  "I refuse to offer hints."

  Myron ran episodes through his mind. On the court the umpire announced, "Time." The ninety-second commercial break was over. The players rose. Myron couldn't swear to it, but he thought he saw Henry blink.

  "Give up?" Win asked.

  "Shhh. They're about to play."

  "And you call yourself a Batman fan."

  The players took the court. They too were billboards, only smaller. Duane wore Nike sneakers and clothes. He used a Head tennis racket. Logos for McDonald's and Sony adorned his sleeves. His opponent wore Reebok. His logos featured Sharp electronics and Bic. Bic. The pen and razor company. Like someone was going to watch a tennis match, see the logo, and buy a pen.

  Myron leaned toward Win. "Okay, I give," he whispered. "What criminal did Joan Collins play?"

  Win shrugged. "I don't remember."


  "I know she was in an episode. But I don't remember her character's name."

  "You can't do that."

  Win smiled with perfect white teeth. "Where in the rule book does it say that?"

  "You have to know the answer."

  "Why?" Win countered. "Does Pat Sajak have to know every puzzle on Wheel of Fortune? Does Alex Trebeck have to know every question on Jeopardy!"

  Pause. "Nice analogy, Win. Really."

  "Thank you."

  Then another voice said, "The Siren."

  Myron and Win looked around. It seemed to have come from Henry.

  "Did you say something?"

  Henry's mouth did not appear to be moving. "The Siren," he repeated, his eyes still pasted to the court. "Joan Collins played the Siren. On Batman."

  Myron and Win exchanged a glance.

  "Nobody likes a know-it-all, Henry."

  Henry's mouth might have moved. Might have been a smile.

  On the court Duane opened the game with an ace that nearly bore a hole through a ball boy. The IBM speedometer clocked it at 128 mph. Myron shook his head in disbelief. So did Ivan What's-his-name. Duane was lining up for the second point when Myron's cell phone rang.

  Myron quickly picked it up. He was not the only person in the stands who was talking on a cell phone. He was, however, the only one in a front row. Myron was about to disconnect the power when he realized it might be Jessica. Jessica. Just the thought quickened his pulse a little.


  "It's not Jessica." It was Esperanza, his associate.

  "I didn't think it was."

  "Right," she said. "You always sound like a whimpering puppy when you answer the phone."

  Myron gripped the receiver. The match continued without interruption, but sour faces spun to seek out the origin of the offending ring. "What do you want?" he whispered. "I'm in the stadium."

  "I know. Bet you look like a pretentious asshole. Talking on a cell phone at the match."

  Now that she mentioned it...

  The sour faces were glaring daggers now. In their eyes Myron had committed an unpardonable sin. Like molesting a child. Or using the salad fork on the entree. "What do you want?"

  "They're showing you on TV right now. Jesus, it's true."


  "The TV does make you look heavier."

  "What do you want?"

  "Nothing much. I thought you might want to know I got you a meeting with Eddie Crane."

  "You're kidding." Eddie Crane, one of the hottest tennis juniors in the country. He was seeing only the big-four agencies. ICM, TruPro, Advantage International, ProServ.

  "No joke. Meet him and his parents by court sixteen after Duane's match."

  "I love you, you know."

  "Then pay me more," she said.

  Duane hit a cross-court forehand winner. Thirty-love.

  "Anything else?" Myron asked.

  "Nothing important. Valerie Simpson. She's called three times."

  "What did she want?"

  "She wouldn't say. But the Ice Queen sounded ruffled."

  "Don't call her that."

  "Yeah, whatever."

  Myron hung up. Win looked at him. "Problem?"

  Valerie Simpson. A weird, albeit sad case. The former tennis wunderkind had visited Myron's office two days ago looking for someone--anyone--to represent her. "Don't think so."

  Duane was up forty-love. Triple match point. Bud Collins, tennis columnist extraordinaire, was already waiting in the gangway for the postmatch interview. Bud's pants, always a Technicolor fashion risk, were particularly hideous today.

  Duane took two balls from the ball boy and approached the line. Duane was a rare commodity in tennis. A black man. Not from India or Africa or even France. Duane was from New York City. Unlike just about every other player on the tour, Duane had not spent his life preparing for this moment. He hadn't been pushed by ambitious, carpooling parents. He hadn't worked with the world's top coaches in Florida or California since he was old enough to hold a racket. Duane was on the opposite end of the spectrum: a street kid who had run away at age fifteen and somehow survived on his own. He had learned tennis from the public courts, hanging around all day and challenging anyone who could hold a racket.

  He was on the verge of winning his first Grand Slam match when the gunshot sounded.

  The sound had been muffled, coming from outside the stadium. Most people did not panic, assuming the sound had come from a firecracker or car backfire. But Myron and Win had heard the sound too often. They were up and moving before the screams. Inside the stadium the crowd began to mumble. More screams ensued. Loud, hysterical screams. The court umpire in his infinite wisdom impatiently shouted "Quiet, please!" into his microphone.

  Myron and Win sprinted up the metallic stairway. They leaped over the white chain, put out by the ushers so that no one could enter or leave the court until the players switched sides, and ran outside. A small crowd was beginning to gather in what was generously dubbed the "Food Court." With a lot of work and patience the Food Court hoped to one day reach the gastronomic levels of, say, its mall brethren.

  They pushed through the crowd. Some people were indeed hysterical but others hadn't moved at all. This was, after all, New York. The lines for refreshments were long. No one wanted to lose their place.

  The girl was lying facedown in front of a stand serving Moet champagne at $7.50 a glass. Myron recognized her immediately, even before he bent down and turned her over. But when he saw her face, when he saw the icy blue eyes stare back at him in a final, unbreakable death gaze, his heart plummeted. He looked back at Win. Win, as usual, had no expression on his face.

  "So much," Win said, "for her comeback."


  Maybe you should just let it go," Win said.

  He whipped his Jaguar XJR onto the FDR Drive and headed south. The radio was tuned to WMXV, 105.1 FM. They played something called "Soft Rock." Michael Bolton was on. He was doing a remake of an old Four Tops classic. Painful. Like Bea Arthur doing a remake of a Marilyn Monroe film.

  Maybe Soft Rock meant Really Bad Rock.

  "Mind if I put on a cassette?" Myron said.


  Win swerved into a lane change. Win's driving could most kindly be described as creative. Myron tried not to look. He pushed in a cassette from the original production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Like Myron, Win had a huge collection of old Broadway musicals. Robert Morse sang about a girl named Rosemary. But Myron's mind remained fixed on a girl named Valerie Simpson.

  Valerie was dead. One bullet to the chest. Someone had shot her in the Food Court of the United States Tennis Association National Tennis Center during the opening round of America's sole Grand Slam
event. Yet no one had seen a thing. Or at least no one was talking.

  "You're making that face," Win said.

  "What face?"

  "The I-want-to-help-the-world face," Win said. "She wasn't a client."

  "She was going to be."

  "A large distinction. Her fate does not concern you."

  "She called me three times today," Myron said. "When she couldn't reach me, she showed up at the tennis center. And then she was gunned down."

  "A sad tale," Win said. "But one that does not concern you."

  The speedometer hovered about eighty. "Uh, Win?"


  "The left side of the road. It's for oncoming traffic."

  Win spun the wheel, cut across two lanes, and swerved onto a ramp. Minutes later the Jag veered into the Kinney lot on Fifty-second Street. They gave the keys to Mario, the parking attendant. Manhattan was hot. City hot. The sidewalk scorched your feet right through your shoes. Exhaust fumes got stuck in the humidity, hanging in the air like fruit on a tree. Breathing was a chore. Sweating was not. The secret was to keep the sweat to a minimum while walking, hoping that the air-conditioning would dry off your clothes without giving you pneumonia.

  Myron and Win walked south down Park Avenue toward the high-rise of Lock-Horne Investments & Securities. Win's family owned the building. The elevator stopped on the twelfth floor. Myron stepped out. Win stayed inside. His office at Lock-Horne was two floors up.

  Before the elevator closed Win said, "I knew her."


  "Valerie Simpson. I sent her to you."

  "Why didn't you say anything?"

  "No reason to."

  "Were you close?"

  "Depends on your definition. She's old money Philadelphia. Like my family. We were members of the same clubs, the same charities, that sort of thing. Our families occasionally summered together when we were kids. But I hadn't heard from her in years."

  "She just called you out of the blue?" Myron asked.

  "You could say that."

  "What would you say?"

  "Is this an interrogation?"

  "No. Do you have any thoughts on who killed her?"

  Win stood perfectly still. "We'll chat later," he said. "I have some business matters I must attend to first."

  The elevator door slid closed. Myron waited for a moment, as though expecting the elevator to open again. Then he crossed the corridor and opened a door that read MB SportsReps Inc.

  Esperanza looked up from her desk. "Jesus, you look like hell."

  "You heard about Valerie?"

  She nodded. If she felt guilty about calling her the Ice Queen moments before the murder, she didn't show it. "You have blood on your jacket."

  "I know."