Live wire, p.11
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       Live Wire, p.11

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 
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  Myron went for something simpler and again, kiddies, if you're not professionally trained and physically gifted, don't try this at home. With his dominant hand, Myron snatched the gun away. Just like that. Like he was taking a toy from a bratty kid. Using his superior strength, athletic skill, knowledge, leverage, and element of surprise, he snapped out his hand and took away the weapon. As he pulled the weapon free, he lifted his elbow and struck Fishman flush on the face, sending him sprawling back in the chair.

  Myron leapt across the desk, knocking the chair back. Fishman landed hard on his back. He tried to snake-crawl off the chair. Myron leapt on him, straddling his chest. He even pinned Fishman's arms to the floor with his knees, like a big brother picking on a little one. Old-school.

  "Are you out of your goddamn mind?" Myron asked.

  No reply. Myron boxed Fishman's ears hard. Fishman squealed in terror and tried to cover up, cowering, helpless. Myron flashed to the video with Kitty, the satisfied smirk, and he punched Fishman hard in the face.

  "The gun's not loaded!" Fishman yelled. "Check! Please."

  Still pinning down the man's wiggling arms, Myron checked. Fishman was telling the truth. There were no bullets. Myron tossed the gun across the room. Myron cocked his fist to deliver another blow. But Fishman was sobbing now. Not just crying or cringing or scared. He was sobbing in a way you rarely saw in an adult. Myron rolled off him, still at the ready--two could play at the sudden, surprise attack.

  Fishman curled himself into a little ball. He made fists, jammed them into his eyes, and kept sobbing. Myron just waited.

  "I'm so sorry, man," Fishman managed between sobs. "I'm such a mess. I'm really, really sorry."

  "You pulled a gun on me."

  "I'm a mess," he said again. "You don't understand. I'm so screwed."

  "Joel?"

  He kept sniffling.

  "Joel?" Myron slid another photograph across the floor to him. "See the woman in that picture?"

  He still had his eyes covered.

  Myron made his voice firm. "Look, Joel."

  Fishman slowly put his hands down. His face was slick from tears and probably phlegm. Crush, the tough Manhattan drug dealer, wiped his face with his sleeve. Myron tried to wait him out, but he just stared.

  "A few nights ago, you were at Three Downing with that woman," Myron said. "If you start telling me you don't know what I'm talking about, I will take off my shoe and beat you with it. Do you understand me?"

  Fishman nodded.

  "You remember her, right?"

  He closed his eyes. "It's not what you think."

  "I don't care about any of that. Do you know her name?"

  "I'm not sure I should tell you."

  "My shoe, Joel. I could just beat it out of you."

  Fishman wiped his face, shook his head. "That doesn't seem your style."

  "What do you mean by that?"

  "Nothing. I just don't think you'll hit me anymore."

  In the past, Myron thought, I would have in a Big Apple second. But right now, yeah, Fishman was right. He wouldn't.

  Seeing Myron hesitate, Fishman said, "Do you know anything about addiction?"

  Oh boy. Where was this headed? "Yes, Joel, I do."

  "From personal experience?"

  "No. Are you going to tell me you're a drug addict, Joel?"

  "No. I mean, well, sure, I use. But that's not really what this is about." He tilted his head, suddenly the inquisitive teacher. "Do you know when addicts finally go for help?"

  "When they have to."

  He grinned as though pleased. Myron Bolitar, prize pupil. "Precisely. When they hit rock bottom. That's what just happened here. I get it now. I get that I have a problem, and I'm going to get help."

  Myron was about to crack wise, but he stopped himself. When a guy you wanted info from was talking, it was best to keep him that way. "That sounds like a productive move," Myron said, trying not to gag.

  "I have two kids. I have a wonderful wife. Here, take a look."

  As Fishman started reaching into his pocket, Myron jumped closer. Fishman nodded, moved slower, took out a set of keys. He handed Myron one of those photo key chains. It was a family shot taken, according to the background, at Six Flags Great Adventure. A costumed Bugs Bunny and Tweety Bird stood left and right of the Fishman family. Mrs. Fishman was heartbreakingly lovely. Joel was kneeling. On his right was a girl, maybe five or six with blond hair and the kind of wide smile that's so damn contagious Myron realized that the corner of his own lips were curling upward. On the other side of Joel was a boy, maybe two years younger than the girl. The boy was shy, half hiding his face in his father's shoulder.

  He handed the key chain back. "Beautiful kids."

  "Thank you."

  Myron remembered something his father once told him: People have an amazing capacity to mess up their own lives.

  Out loud, Myron said, "You're a dumb-ass, Joel."

  "I'm sick," he corrected. "There's a difference. I want to get better though."

  "Prove it."

  "How?"

  "Start showing that you're ready to change by telling me about the woman you were with three nights ago."

  "How do I know you don't mean her harm?"

  "The same way you know I won't take off my shoe and beat you."

  Joel Fishman looked at the key chain and started to cry again.

  "Joel?"

  "I honestly want to move past this."

  "I know you do."

  "And I will. I swear to God. I'll get help. I will be the best father and husband in the world. I just need a chance. You get that, right?"

  Myron wanted to vomit. "I do."

  "It's just . . . Don't get me wrong. I love my life. I love my family and my kids. But for eighteen years I've woken up and come to this school and taught middle schoolers French. They hate it. They never pay attention. When I started, I had this vision of what it was going to be like--me teaching them this beautiful language that I love so much. But it's nothing like that. They just want to get As and move on. That's it. Every class, year after year. We go through this dance. Amy and I are always struggling to make ends meet. It's just the same, you know. Every day. Year after year. The same drudgery. And what will tomorrow be like? The same. Every day the same, until, well, until I die."

  He stopped, looked off.

  "Joel?"

  "Promise me," Fishman said. "Promise me that if I help you, you won't tell on me." Tell on me. Like he was one of his students who cheated on a test. "Give me that chance, please. For the sake of my kids."

  "If you tell me all you know about this woman," Myron said, "I won't tell."

  "Give me your word."

  "You have my word."

  "I met her at the club three nights ago. She wanted to score. I set it up."

  "By set it up, you mean you gave her drugs."

  "Yes."

  "Anything else?"

  "No, not really."

  "Did she tell you her name?"

  "No."

  "How about a phone number? In case she wanted to score again?"

  "She didn't give me one. That's all I know. I'm sorry."

  Myron was not buying it. "How much did she pay you?"

  "Excuse me?"

  "For the drugs, Joel. How much money did she give you?"

  Something crossed his face. Myron saw it. Here came the lie. "Eight hundred dollars," Fishman said.

  "In cash?"

  "Yes."

  "She was carrying eight hundred dollars?"

  "I don't take Visa or MasterCard," he said with the chuckle of a liar. "Yes, of course."

  "And where did she give you the money?"

  "At the club."

  "When you gave her the drugs?"

  His eyes narrowed a little. "Of course."

  "Joel?"

  "What?"

  "Remember I showed you those still photographs?"

  "What about them?"

  "They came off surveillance videos," M
yron said. "Do you get my drift?"

  Fishman's face blanched.

  "To put it grossly," Myron said, "I saw fluids exchanged, not cash."

  Joel Fishman began to sob again. He put his hands in prayer position, the key chain between his fingers like rosary beads.

  "If you're going to lie to me," Myron said, "I see no reason to keep my word."

  "You don't understand."

  Again with the understand.

  "What I did was terrible. I'm ashamed. I didn't see the point in telling you that part. It doesn't change anything. I don't know her. I don't know how to reach her."

  Fishman started wailing again, holding up the photo key chain now like wolfsbane to ward off a vampire. Myron waited, considered his options. He stood, crossed the room, and pocketed the gun. "I'm going to turn you in, Joel."

  The crying stopped. "What?"

  "I don't believe you."

  "But I'm telling you the truth."

  Myron shrugged and reached for the doorknob. "You also aren't helping me. That was part of the deal."

  "But what can I do? I don't know anything. Why would you punish me for that?"

  Myron shrugged. "I'm bitter." He turned the knob.

  "Wait."

  Myron didn't.

  "Listen to me, okay? Just for a second."

  "No time."

  "Do you promise not to say anything?"

  "What have you got, Joel?"

  "Her cell number," he said. "Just keep your word, okay?"

  13

  It's a prepaid mobile phone," Esperanza said. "No way to trace it."

  Damn. Myron pulled his Ford Taurus out of the cemetery lot. Big Cyndi was jammed into the seat so that it looked as though her air bag had gone off. Yep, a Ford Taurus. Exterior color: Atlantis Green Metallic. When Myron cruised by, supermodels swooned.

  "Point of purchase was a T-Mobile store in Edison, New Jersey," Esperanza said. "Paid with cash."

  Myron started to turn the car back around. Time to visit Joel Fishman for one more favor. Ol' Crush would be delighted to see him.

  "Something else," Esperanza said.

  "I'm listening."

  "Remember that weird symbol next to the 'Not His' post?"

  "Yep."

  "Like you suggested, I put it on a fan page for HorsePower to see if anyone knew about it. A woman named Evelyn Stackman replied, but she won't talk over the phone."

  "Why not?"

  "She wouldn't say. She wants to meet in person."

  Myron made a face. "Over some symbol?"

  "That's correct."

  "Do you want to handle it?" Myron asked.

  "Maybe you didn't hear me," Esperanza said. "I said, she. She, as in a reluctant-to-talk female."

  "Ah," Myron said. "So you figure, what, I could use my wiles and manly charm to seduce the information out of her?"

  "Yeah," Esperanza said, "let's run with that."

  "Suppose she's gay?"

  "I thought you had the kind of wiles and manly charm that work on all preferences."

  "Yes, of course. My bad."

  "Evelyn Stackman lives in Fort Lee. I'll set up the meet for this afternoon."

  She hung up. Myron turned the engine off. "Come on," he said to Big Cyndi. "We'll pretend to be parents of a middle schooler."

  "Oh, fun." Then Big Cyndi seemed to consider that. "Wait, do we have a boy or girl?"

  "Which would you prefer?"

  "I really don't care as long as he or she is healthy."

  They made their way back into the school. Two parents waited outside the classroom. Big Cyndi cued her tears for them, claiming that their "little Sasha" had a "French emergency" that would only take a second. Myron used the distraction to enter the classroom alone. No reason for Joel to see Big Cyndi and freeze up.

  Not surprisingly, Joel Fishman was very unhappy to see him. "What the hell do you want?"

  "I need you to call her and set up a meet."

  "Why would we meet?"

  "How about--oh, I don't know--pretending you're a drug dealer seeing if she needs to score?"

  Joel frowned. He was about to protest, but Myron just shook his head. Joel did a quick calculation and realized that the best way to get through this was to cooperate. He took out his cell phone. He had her in his contacts as "Kitty"--no last name. Myron kept his ear near the phone. When he heard the tentative, skittish "hello" on the other end of the line, his face fell. No doubt about it: The voice belonged to his sister-in-law.

  Fishman played his part with the perfection of a sociopath. He asked her if she wanted to meet up again. She said yes. Myron nodded at Fishman. Fishman said, "Okay, cool, I'll come to your place. Where do you live?"

  "That won't work," Kitty said.

  "Why not?"

  And then Kitty whispered something that made Myron's heart freeze: "My son is around."

  Fishman was good. He said that he could take a rain check, just drop off the "package," whatever she wanted, but Kitty was equally cagey. They ended up agreeing to meet near the merry-go-round at the Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus. Myron checked his watch. He'd have enough time to talk to Evelyn Stackman about the symbol on the "Not His" post and then be back to see Kitty.

  Myron wondered what he would do when that happened--when he met up with Kitty. Should he jump out and confront her? Ask her gentle questions? Or maybe not show up at all. Maybe the best move was to have Fishman cancel after she showed up so that he could follow her home.

  Half an hour later, Myron parked the car in front of a modest brick cape off Lemoine Avenue in Fort Lee. Big Cyndi stayed in the car and fiddled with her iPod. Myron headed up the walk. Evelyn Stackman had the door opened before Myron could even ring the bell. She looked to be fiftyish with curled frizz that reminded him of Barbra Streisand in A Star Is Born.

  "Ms. Stackman? I'm Myron Bolitar. Thank you for seeing me."

  She invited him inside. The living room had a worn green sofa, an upright piano of light cherry wood, and posters of HorsePower concerts. One was from their first show at the Hollywood Bowl more than two decades ago. The poster was signed by both Lex Ryder and Gabriel Wire. The inscription--in Gabriel's handwriting--read, "To Horace and Evelyn, You Both Rock."

  "Wow," Myron said.

  "I've been offered ten thousand dollars for it. I could use the money but . . ." She stopped. "I Googled you. I don't follow basketball, so I didn't know your name."

  "That was a long time ago anyway."

  "But you now manage Lex Ryder?"

  "I'm an agent. It's slightly different. But, yes, I work with him."

  She mulled that over. "Follow me." She led him to the steps heading down to the basement. "My husband, Horace. He was the real fan."

  The small finished basement had a ceiling so low Myron could not stand upright. There was a gray futon and an old television on a fiberglass black stand. The rest of the basement was, well, HorsePower. A fold-out table, the kind you might put out when your dining room table couldn't handle all your family, was covered with all things HorsePower--photographs, album covers, files of sheet music, concert advertisements, guitar picks, drumsticks, shirts, dolls. Myron recognized a black shirt with snap buttons.

  "Gabriel actually wore that during a concert in Houston," she said.

  There were two fold-out chairs. Myron saw several photographs of "Wire sightings" from the tabloids.

  "I'm sorry it's such a mess. After the whole Alista Snow tragedy, well, Horace was heartbroken. He used to study the paparazzi sightings of Gabriel. See, Horace was an engineer. He was so good with math and puzzles." She gestured toward the tabloids. "They're all fake."

  "What do you mean?"

  "Horace always found a way to prove the images weren't really Gabriel. Like this one. Gabriel Wire had a scar on the back of his right hand. Horace got the original negative and blew it up. There was no scar. On this one he ran a mathematical equation--don't ask me to explain how--and figured that this man was wearing a size ten shoe. Gabriel Wir
e has a size twelve."

  Myron nodded, said nothing.

  "It must seem weird. This obsession."

  "No, not really."

  "Other men follow a sports team or go to the racetrack or collect stamps. Horace loved HorsePower."

  "How about you?"

  Evelyn smiled. "I was a fan, I guess. But not like Horace. It was something we did together. We camped out for concerts. We would turn the lights low and listen and try to come up with the real meaning behind the lyrics. It might not sound like much, but I'd give anything for one more night like that."

  A shadow crossed her face. Myron wondered whether he should go there and then decided, yes, maybe he should.

  "What happened to Horace?" he asked.

  "He died this past January," she said, a small choke in her voice. "Heart attack. He had it crossing the street. People thought a car hit him. But Horace just fell in the crosswalk and died. Just like that. Gone. He was only fifty-three. We were high school sweethearts. Raised two kids in this house. We made plans for our old age. I'd just retired from my job at the post office, so we could travel more."

  She flashed a quick "what can you do" smile and looked away. We all have our scars and torment and ghosts. We all walk around and smile and pretend everything is okay. We are polite to strangers and share the road with them and stand in line at the supermarket and we manage to disguise the hurt and desperation. We work hard and make plans and more often than not, that all goes to hell.

  "I'm really sorry for your loss," Myron said.

  "I shouldn't have said anything."

  "It's okay."

  "I know I should get rid of this stuff. Sell it. But I just can't yet."

  Not knowing what to say, Myron went with a classic: "I understand."

  She managed a smile. "But, really, you want to know about the symbol."

  "If you don't mind."

  Evelyn Stackman crossed the room and opened up the filing cabinet. "Horace tried to figure out what it meant. He looked up Sanskrit and Chinese and hieroglyphics, things like that. But he could never place it."

  "Where did you first see it?"

  "The symbol?" Evelyn reached into the cabinet and pulled out what appeared to be the cover for a CD. "Did you know about this album?"

  Myron looked at it. It was the artwork, if that was what you called it, for an album cover. He had never seen it. On the top it read, "LIVE WIRE." Then under that in smaller print, HORSEPOWER LIVE AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN. But that wasn't what drew your eye. Under the letters was a strange photograph of Gabriel Wire and Lex Ryder. The shot was from the waist up, both shirtless, back-to-back with their arms folded. Lex was on the left, Gabriel on the right, both turning to look at their prospective music buyer with serious glares.

 
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