Live wire, p.10
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       Live Wire, p.10

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 
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"I haven't heard his name in years." Win handed the BlackBerry back. "But it looks like Evan Crisp. Big-time pro. One of the best."

  "Who'd he work for?"

  "Crisp was always freelance. The Ache brothers used to bring him in when there was serious trouble."

  The Ache brothers, Herman and Frank, had been two leading Old-World mobsters. RICO had finally moved in and closed them down. Like many of his elder brethren, Frank Ache was serving time in a maximum security federal penitentiary, mostly forgotten. Herman, who had to be seventy by now, had managed to slither out of his indictment and used his ill-gotten booty to feign legitimacy.

  "A hit man?"

  "To some degree," Win said. "Crisp was brought in when your muscle needed a little finesse. If you wanted someone to make a lot of noise or shoot up a place, Crisp wasn't your man. If you wanted someone to die or vanish without raising suspicion, you called Crisp."

  "And now Crisp works as a rent-a-cop for Gabriel Wire?"

  "That would be a no," Win said. "It's a small island. Crisp got tipped off the moment you arrived and then awaited your imminent arrival. My theory is, he knew you'd take the photograph and that we would figure out his identity."

  "To scare us away," Myron said.

  "Yes."

  "Except we don't scare easily."

  "Yes," Win said with only a small eye roll. "We are so very macho."

  "Okay, so first we have this weird post on Suzze's board, probably put there by Kitty. Then we have Lex meeting up with Kitty. We have Crisp working for Wire. Plus Lex hiding out at Gabriel Wire's place and probably lying to us."

  "And when you add those together, what do you come up with?"

  "Bubkes," Myron said.

  "No wonder you're our leader." Win rose, poured himself a cognac, tossed Myron a Yoo-hoo. Myron did not shake or open it. He just held the cold can in his hand. "Of course, just because Lex may be lying, that doesn't mean his basic message to you is wrong."

  "What message is that?"

  "You interfere with the best intentions. But you interfere nonetheless. Whatever your brother and Kitty are going through, perhaps it isn't your place. You haven't been part of their lives for a very long time."

  Myron thought about that. "That may be my fault."

  "Oh, please," Win said.

  "What?"

  "Your fault. So when Kitty, for example, told Brad that you hit on her, was she telling the truth?"

  "No."

  Win spread his hands. "So?"

  "So maybe she was just striking back. I said some horrible things about her. I accused her of trapping Brad, manipulating him. I didn't believe the baby was his. Maybe she was using the lie to defend herself."

  "Boo"--Win started playing air violin--"hoo."

  "I'm not defending what she did. But maybe I messed up too."

  "And, pray tell, how would you have messed up?"

  Myron said nothing.

  "Go ahead," Win said. "I'm waiting."

  "You want me to say, 'by interfering.' "

  "Bingo."

  "So perhaps this is my chance to make amends."

  Win shook his head.

  "What?"

  "How did you mess up in the first place? By interfering. How do you intend to make up for it? By interfering."

  "So I should just forget what I saw on that surveillance camera?"

  "I would." Win took a deep long sip. "But, alas, I know you can't."

  "So what do we do?"

  "What we always do. At least in the morning. Tonight I have plans."

  "And those would again be between Yu and Mee?"

  "I would say bingo again, but I so hate repeating myself."

  "You know," Myron said, choosing his words carefully, "and I don't mean to moralize here or judge."

  Win crossed his legs. When he did it, the crease remained perfect. "Oh, this is going to be rich."

  "And I recognize that Mee has been a part of your life for longer than any woman I remember, and I'm glad that you seem to have at least curtailed your appetite for hookers."

  "I prefer the term 'upscale escorts.' "

  "Super. In the past, your womanizing, your being a cad . . ."

  "A rakish cad," Win said with a rakish smile. "I always liked the word 'rakish,' don't you?"

  "It fits," Myron said.

  "But?"

  "When we were in our twenties and even thirties, it was all somewhat, I don't know, endearing."

  Win waited.

  Myron stared at the can of Yoo-hoo. "Forget it."

  "And now," Win said, "you think my behavior, for a man of my years, is somewhat closer to pathetic."

  "I didn't mean it that way."

  "You think I should settle down a bit."

  "I just want you to be happy, Win."

  Win spread his hands. "So do I."

  Myron gave him the flat eyes. "You're referring to the Yu in the other room again, aren't you?"

  The rakish grin. "Love me for all my faults."

  "Again, by me, do you mean, uh, Mee?"

  Win stood. "Don't worry, old friend. I am happy." Win started moving toward the bedroom door. He stopped suddenly, closed his eyes, looked troubled. "But you may have a point."

  "That being?"

  "Maybe I'm not happy," he said, a wistful distant look on his face. "Maybe you're not either."

  Myron waited, almost sighed. "Go ahead. Say it."

  "So perhaps it's time to make Yu and Mee happy."

  He vanished into the other room. Myron stared at the Yoo-hoo can for a little while. There was no noise. Win had mercifully soundproofed his room years ago.

  At seventy thirty A.M., a mussed Mee came out in a robe and started making breakfast. She asked Myron if he wanted something. Myron politely declined.

  At eight A.M., his phone rang. He checked the number and saw it was from Big Cyndi.

  "Good morning, Mr. Bolitar."

  "Good morning, Big Cyndi."

  "Your ponytailed drug dealer was at the club last night. And I tailed him."

  Myron frowned. "In the Batgirl costume?"

  "It's dark. I blend."

  That image came and thankfully fled.

  "Did I tell you that Yvonne Craig herself helped me make it?"

  "You know Yvonne Craig?"

  "Oh, we're old friends. You see, she told me that the material was one-way stretch. It's sort of like a girdle fabric, not as thin as Lycra, but not as thick as neoprene. It was very hard to find."

  "I'm sure."

  "Did you know Yvonne starred as the superhot green chick on Star Trek?"

  "Marta, the Orion slave girl," Myron said, because he couldn't help himself. He tried to get them back on track. "So where is our drug dealer now?"

  "Teaching French at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Ridgewood, New Jersey."

  12

  The cemetery overlooked the schoolyard.

  Who came up with that--placing a school full of kids, just budding into adolescence, directly across the street from a resting place for the dead? These children walk by this cemetery or look out on it literally every day. Did it bother them? Did it remind them of their own mortality, that in what would amount to infinity's breath, they'd grow old and end up there too? Or, more likely, was the cemetery an abstract, something that had nothing to do with them, something so commonplace to them that they barely saw it anymore?

  School, cemetery. Talk about life's bookends.

  Big Cyndi, still in the Batgirl costume, knelt by a gravestone, head lowered, shoulders hunched, so that from a distance, one might mistake her for a Volkswagen Beetle. When Myron approached, she looked out of the corner of her eye and whispered, "I'm blending," and then started sobbing again.

  "So where exactly is Ponytail?"

  "Inside the school, room two-oh-seven."

  Myron looked toward the school. "A drug-dealing middle school French teacher?"

  "It seems that way, Mr. Bolitar. Shame, don't you think?"

  "I do."

&
nbsp; "His real name is Joel Fishman. He lives in Prospect Park, not far from here. He's married and has two kids, a boy and a girl. He has taught French for more than twenty years. No real record. One DUI eight years ago. Ran for town council six years ago."

  "A citizen."

  "A citizen, yes, Mr. Bolitar."

  "How did you get all that information?"

  "At first, I considered seducing him so that he'd take me back to his place. You know. Pillow talk. But I knew you'd be against my defiling myself like that."

  "I would never let you use your body for evil, Big Cyndi."

  "Only sin?"

  Myron smiled. "Exactly."

  "So I followed him from the club. He took public transportation, the last train out at two seventeen A.M. He walked home to Seventy-four Beechmore Drive. I called the address in to Esperanza."

  From there, it would only take a few keystrokes to learn all. Welcome to the computer age, boys and girls. "Anything else?" he asked.

  "Joel Fishman goes by the name Crush at the club."

  Myron shook his head.

  "And the ponytail is a clip-on. Like a hair extension."

  "You're kidding."

  "No, Mr. Bolitar, I'm not. I guess he wears it as a disguise."

  "So now what?"

  "There's no school today, only teacher conferences. Normally the security here is pretty tight, but I bet you could go in pretending you're a parent." She put her hand up, stifling a grin. "As Esperanza might note, in those jeans and blue blazer, you'd fit right in."

  Myron pointed to his feet. "In Ferragamo loafers?"

  He headed across the street and waited until he saw a few parents heading for the door. Then he caught up to them and said hello like he knew them. They said hello back, pretending the same. Myron held the door, the wife walked through, the husband insisted Myron follow, Myron did with a hearty parental laugh.

  And Big Cyndi thought she knew how to blend.

  There was a signup sheet and a security guard behind the desk. Myron walked over, signed in as David Pepe, making the last name somewhat unreadable. He took a sticker name tag, wrote "David" on it, "Madison's Dad" in smaller print beneath. Myron Bolitar, Man of a Thousand Faces, Master of Disguise.

  The old saw is that public schools never change except that they seem smaller. The old saw held serve in here--linoleum floor, metal lockers, wooden classroom doors with metal-mesh glass windows. He arrived at room 207. There was a sign on the window so you couldn't see in. The sign read, REUNION EN COURS. NE PAS DERANGER. Myron didn't speak much French, but he knew that the second part was asking him to please wait.

  He looked for a schedule sheet, something listing times and parents and whatever. Nothing. He wondered what to do here. There were two laminated class chairs in front of most of the doors. The chairs looked sturdy and practical and about as comfortable as a tweed thong. Myron debated waiting in one of them, but suppose the parents for the next meeting showed up?

  He chose instead to wander the corridor and keep a close eye on the door. It was 10:20 A.M. Myron assumed that most meetings ended on the half hour or maybe quarter hour. This was a guess, but probably a good one. Fifteen minutes per meeting, maybe thirty minutes. At a minimum, it would be every ten minutes. Either way, the next meeting would be at ten thirty. If no one showed by, say, 10:28, Myron would meander back to the door and try to get in at ten thirty A.M.

  Myron Bolitar, Master Planner.

  But parents did show up by 10:25 A.M. and pretty much in a steady stream until noon. So that no one would notice him hanging around, Myron wandered downstairs when meetings would start, hid in the bathrooms, stayed in the stairwell. Serious boredom set in. Myron noticed that most of the fathers wore blue blazers and jeans. He had to update his wardrobe.

  Finally at noon, there appeared to be an opening. Myron waited by the door and smiled as the parents exited. So far, Joel Fishman had not made an appearance. He waited in the room while one set of parents replaced another. The parents would knock on the door, and Fishman would call out, "Entrez."

  Now Myron knocked, but this time there was no reply. He knocked again. Still nothing. Myron turned the knob and opened the door. Fishman sat at his desk, eating a sandwich. There was a can of Coke and package of Fritos on the desk. Ponytail looked so different without the, well, ponytail. His faded yellow dress shirt was short sleeved with material thin enough to see the wife-beater tee below. He wore one of those UNICEF kid ties that were all the rage in 1991. His hair was short, close-cropped, parted on the side. He looked exactly like a middle school French teacher and nothing like a nightclub drug dealer.

  "May I help you?" Fishman said, clearly annoyed. "Parent meetings start up again at one."

  Another one fooled by the clever disguise. Myron pointed at the Fritos. "Got the munchies?"

  "Excuse me?"

  "Like when you're high. You got the munchies?"

  "Excuse me?"

  "It's a clever reference to . . . never mind. My name is Myron Bolitar. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

  "Who?"

  "Myron Bolitar."

  Silence. Myron again almost added, "Ta-da," but refrained. Maturity.

  "Do I know you?" Fishman asked.

  "You don't."

  "I don't have your child in any of my classes. Mrs. Parsons also teaches French. Perhaps you're supposed to be there. Room two-eleven."

  Myron closed the door behind him. "I'm not looking for Mrs. Parsons. I'm looking for Crush."

  Fishman froze mid-chew. Myron moved across the room, grabbed the parent chair, twirled it around, straddled it macholike. Mr. Intimidation. "On most men, a ponytail reeks of midlife crisis. But I kind of liked it on you, Joel."

  Fishman swallowed whatever was in his mouth. Tuna fish from the smell. On whole wheat, Myron saw. Lettuce, tomato. Myron wondered who'd made it for him or whether he'd made it himself and then he wondered why he wondered stuff like that.

  Fishman slowly reached for the Coke, looking to stall, and took a sip. Then he said, "I don't know what you're talking about."

  "Can you do me a favor?" Myron asked. "It's a small one, really. Can we skip the silly denials? It will really save time and I don't want to hold up the parents coming in at one."

  Myron tossed him one of the stills from the nightclub.

  Fishman glanced at the photograph. "That's not me."

  "Yes, Crush, it is."

  "That man has a ponytail."

  Myron sighed. "I just asked for one small favor."

  "Are you a police officer?"

  "No."

  "When I ask like that, you have to tell the truth," he said. Not true, but Myron didn't bother to correct him. "And I'm sorry, but you have me mistaken for someone else."

  Myron wanted to reach across the desk and bop the guy on the forehead. "Last night at Three Downing, did you notice a large woman in a Batgirl costume?"

  Fishman said nothing, but the guy would not have made a great poker player.

  "She followed you home. We know all about your club visits, your drug dealings, your--"

  That was when Fishman pulled a gun out of his desk drawer.

  The suddenness caught Myron off guard. A cemetery goes with a school about as much as a teacher pulling a gun on you inside of his classroom. Myron had made a mistake, gotten overconfident in this setting, let down his guard. A big mistake.

  Fishman quickly leaned across the desk, the gun inches from Myron's face. "Don't move or I'll blow your goddamn head off."

  When someone points a gun at you, the whole world has a tendency to shrink down to the approximate size of the opening at the end of the barrel. For a moment, especially if it is your first time having a firearm thrust in your face at eye level, that opening is all you see. It is your world. It paralyzes you. Space, time, dimensions, senses are no longer factors in your life. Only that dark opening matters.

  Still, Myron thought, slow time down.

  The rest happened in less than a second.


  First: The mental-state "would he pull the trigger" calculation. Myron looked past the gun and into Fishman's eyes. They were wide and wet, his face shiny. Plus Fishman had pulled a gun on him in a classroom while people were still in the school. His hand shook. The finger was on the trigger. You put those pieces together and you realize a simple truth: The man was crazy and thus may indeed shoot you.

  Second: Size up your opponent. Fishman was a married schoolteacher with two kids. Playing drug dealer at night in a tony nightclub did not really change that. The chances that he had real combat training seemed remote. He had also made a truly amateur move, putting the gun this close to Myron's face, leaning over the desk like that, slightly off balance.

  Third: Decide your move. Picture it. If your assailant is not at close range, if he is across the room or even more than a few feet away, well, there would be no choice. You can't disarm him, no matter what kind of martial art kicks you've seen in the movies. You have to wait it out. That was still option A. Myron could indeed stay still. That would be expected. He could talk him down. They were in a school, after all, and you'd have to be not just "crazy" but "Crazy with a capital C" to fire a gun in here.

  But if you were a man like Myron, a man who had the reflexes of a professional athlete along with years of training, you might take a serious look at option B: Disarming your opponent. If you choose B, you cannot hesitate. If you choose B, you're best off getting him right away, before he realized that it was a possibility and backed away or grew more cautious. Right now, in the split second he had pulled the gun and shouted for Myron not to move, Joel Fishman was still high off that adrenaline, which leads to . . .

  Fourth: Execute.

  Surprisingly--or maybe not--it is easier to disarm a man with a gun than one with a knife. If you dart out your hand toward a blade, you could slice open your palm. Knives are hard to grab. You need to go for the wrist or forearm rather than the weapon itself. There is very little room for error.

  For Myron, the best way to disarm a person with a firearm involved two steps. One, before Fishman could react in any way, Myron quickly jerked himself out of the discharge line. You don't have to move far, which isn't really an option anyway. It just involves a lightning-quick tilt to the right--the side of Myron's dominant hand. There are many complicated techniques you could use here, depending upon what kind of handgun your assailant was carrying. Some say, for example, to grasp the hammer with your thumb so you can prevent certain weapons from firing. Myron never bought that. There was too little time and too much precision involved, not to mention in the rush to calculate your reaction, trying to figure out whether you're dealing with a semiautomatic or revolver or whatever.

 
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