Live wire, p.12
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       Live Wire, p.12
 

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben

  "Right before the Alista Snow tragedy, they were going to do a live album," Evelyn said. "Were you with them then?"

  Myron shook his head. "I came on later."

  Myron couldn't stop staring. Gabriel and Lex had thrown some "guyliner" on their eyes. Both men were given equal space in the photograph--if anything, Lex had a better spot, being on the left where your eye naturally goes first--but what you noticed here, what you couldn't help but feel, was that your eyes were drawn to Gabriel Wire, almost exclusively, as though there were a bright beacon shining down on that half of the photograph. Wire was--and Myron believed this with all due hetero respect--so damn handsome. His gaze did more than smolder; it called out to you, demanded attention, insisted you look back.

  Successful musicians have a variety of strengths, but rock superstars, like their athletic or thespian counterparts, also have the intangibles. That was what transformed Gabriel from musician into rock legend. Gabriel had almost supernatural charisma. Onstage or even in person, it blew you away, but even here, in a photograph from an album cover never released, you could feel it all again. It was more than just good looks. You sensed in those smoldering eyes sensitivity, tragedy, anger, intelligence. You wanted to listen to him. You wanted to know more.

  Evelyn said, "Gorgeous, isn't he?"

  "Yes."

  "Is it true about his face being destroyed?"

  "I don't know."

  Next to Gabriel, working the pose too hard, was Lex. His folded arms were tensed up, as if he were doing the quiet bicep flex. He was strictly average-looking with somewhat nondescript features, and perhaps, if you paid him any attention at all, you realized that Lex was the sensible one, the consistent one, the stable one--in short, the boring one. Lex was the grounded yin next to Gabriel's hypnotically volatile yang. But then again, every long-running group needs that balance, don't they?

  "I don't see the symbol here," Myron said.

  "It never made it to the cover." Evelyn was back in the file cabinet. She pulled out a manila envelope with the wraparound string. She took the string between her thumb and index finger, stopped, and looked up. "I keep wondering if I should show you this."

  "Mrs. Stackman?"

  "Evelyn."

  "Evelyn. You know Lex is married to Suzze T, right?"

  "Of course."

  "Someone is trying to hurt her. And Lex too, I guess. I'm trying to figure out who."

  "And you think this symbol is a clue?"

  "It could be, yes."

  "You seem like a good man."

  Myron waited.

  "I told you Horace was a big-time collector. His favorite items were the one of a kinds. A few years ago, the photographer Curk Burgess contacted him. A week before Alista Snow died, Burgess took the photograph you're looking at now."

  "Okay."

  "But he took a bunch that day, of course. It was a long photo shoot. I guess Gabriel wanted to go with something more risque, so they took some of these pictures naked. Do you remember a few years ago when a private collector bought a Marilyn Monroe porn film so that no one else would see it?"

  "Yes."

  "Well, that's more or less what Horace did. He bought the negatives. We really couldn't afford it, but that was the level of his commitment." She pointed to the album cover in his hand. "This was originally a full body shot, but they cropped it."

  She unwrapped the manila folder, slid out a photograph, showed it to him. Myron looked. The two men were shot from the side and, yes, they were naked but the shadows were, uh, tasteful and worked like fig leaves.

  "I still don't see it."

  "See that mark on Gabriel's, er, upper thigh, I guess?"

  Evelyn handed him another photograph, an extreme blowup. And there it was, on the right thigh, very close to Gabriel Wire's somewhat legendary groin--a tattoo.

  A tattoo that looked exactly like the symbol in the "Not His" post on Suzze's Facebook page.

  14

  There were still two hours until his meet with Kitty at the Garden State Plaza Mall. On the way to the bus stop by the George Washington Bridge, Myron filled in Big Cyndi on what he'd learned from Evelyn Stackman.

  "Curious," Big Cyndi said.

  "What?"

  Big Cyndi tried to shift in her seat to face him. "As you know, Mr. Bolitar, I spent many years as a rock groupie."

  He hadn't known. In the glory heyday of the Fabulous Ladies of Wrestling on WPIX Channel 11 in the New York area, Big Cyndi had been known as Big Chief Mama. As a tag team, Big Cyndi's Big Chief Mama and Esperanza's Little Pocahontas were Intercontinental Champions, whatever "Intercontinental" means. They were the good guys. Little Pocahontas would usually be winning on skill before her evil adversary would do something illegal--throw sand in her eye, use the dreaded "foreign object," distract the referee so she could be double-teamed--and then, when the crowd was in a total frenzy, crying out seemingly in vain at the horrible injustice being done to a smoking-hot babe, Big Chief Mama would roar and leap from the top rope and free her lithe, babe-a-licious partner from bondage and together, with the throngs on their feet cheering, Little Pocahontas and Big Chief Mama would restore world order and, of course, defend their Intercontinental Tag Team title.

  Massively entertaining.

  "You were a groupie?"

  "Oh yes, Mr. Bolitar. A big one."

  She batted her eyes at him again. Myron nodded. "I didn't know."

  "I've had sex with many rock stars."

  "Okay."

  She arched her right eyebrow. "Many, Mr. Bolitar."

  "Got it."

  "Some of your favorites even."

  "Okay."

  "But I would never kiss and tell. I'm the model of discretion."

  "That's nice."

  "But you know your favorite axe man in the Doobie Brothers?"

  "Discretion, Big Cyndi."

  "Right. Sorry. But I was making a point. I followed in the footsteps of Pamela des Barres, Sweet Connie--you remember, from the Grand Funk song?--Bebe Buell--and my mentor, Ma Gellan. You know who she is?"

  "No."

  "Ma Gellan considered herself a rock star cartographer. Do you know what that is?"

  He tried not to roll his eyes. "I know a cartographer is a mapmaker."

  "That's right, Mr. Bolitar. Ma Gellan made up topographical and topological nude body maps of rock stars."

  "Ma Gellan," Myron said, seeing it now. He nearly groaned. "Like Magellan?"

  "You're very quick, Mr. Bolitar."

  Everyone's a wiseass.

  "Her maps are wonderful--very detailed and precise. They show scars, piercings, abnormalities, body hair, even areas where they were colossally or inadequately equipped."

  "For real?"

  "Of course. You know about Cynthia Plaster Caster? She used to make plaster casts of penises. By the way, it's true about front men. They are always gifted. Oh, except for one from a very famous British band, I won't say who, but he's hung like a small kitten."

  "Is there a point here?"

  "An important one, Mr. Bolitar. Ma Gellan made a topographical map of Gabriel Wire. The man was gorgeous--face and body. But he had no tattoos. Not a mark on him."

  Myron thought about that. "Evelyn Stackman's picture was taken within weeks of his becoming a total recluse. Maybe he got it after she did her, uh, study of him."

  They arrived at the bus stop.

  "That could be," Big Cyndi said. As she rolled out, the car creaked and rolled like the opening credits of The Flintstones when Fred gets those ribs. "Would you like me to check with Ma?"

  "I would. Are you sure I can't just get you a taxi back?"

  "I prefer taking the bus, Mr. Bolitar."

  And there she stalked away like a middle linebacker, still in the Batgirl costume. No one gave her a second glance. Welcome to the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tristate area. Visitors often think that the locals are uncaring or cold or rude. The truth is, they are frighteningly polite. When you live in a congested area, you l
earn to give people their space, allow them their privacy. Here you can be surrounded by people and still enjoy being alone.

  The Garden State Plaza Mall was two million-plus square feet of retail space located in the epicenter of retail malls, Paramus, New Jersey. The word "Paramus" comes from the Lenape Native Americans and means either "place of fertile soil" or "make room for another megastore." Paramus boasts more retail shopping than any other zip code in the USA, and Myron's guess was, it wasn't even close.

  He pulled into the lot and checked the time. Another hour until Kitty was supposed to arrive. His stomach grumbled. He checked out the eating options and felt his arteries harden: Chili's, Johnny Rockets, Joe's American Bar & Grill, Nathan's Famous hot dogs, KFC, McDonald's, Sbarro, and both Blimpie and Subway, which Myron actually thought were the same restaurant. He settled on California Pizza Kitchen. He ignored the cheery waiter's attempt at selling him an appetizer and after looking over all the international pizza topping choices--Jamaican Jerk, Thai Chicken, Japanese eggplant--he went with plain ol' pepperoni. The waiter looked disappointed.

  Malls are malls. This was one was gi-normous, but really, what makes most malls stand out is the depressing sameness within. Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, JCPenney, Nordstrom, Macy's, Brookstone, AMC Theatres, you get the idea. There were strange super-specific specialty stores, like the one that only sold candles or, winner of most moronically highbrow name of all, The Art of Shaving--how did that place stay in business? What Myron noticed now were the crappy kiosk-type stores in the middle of the corridor. There were the Perfume Palace and Piercing Pagoda. There were at least four that sold flying remote-controlled toys with some bozo intentionally flying the helicopter in your way. Yes, four. And yet have you ever seen a child using one of those in real life?

  As Myron made his way to the merry-go-round, he spotted the most odious, dishonest, snake oil-like mall booth of all--the bogus "talent/model scouts," who basically stopped everyone they could with wide-eyed come-ons like, "Wow, you have the look we're searching for! Have you ever thought of modeling?" Myron stood and watched the commission-seeking con artists--mostly attractive women in their early twenties--work the crowd, trying not so much to find a certain look as, Myron assumed, a lobotomy scar so as to locate a person naive enough to be "accepted" into their "scouting program" and buy a four-hundred-dollar "photography portfolio" so they could start posing for major catalogues and making TV commercials immediately.

  Right. Does that TV commercial come with a Nigerian bank account?

  Myron was not sure what was more depressing--the fact that these young dream scammers didn't mind exploiting people's desire for fame, or that their victims were so needy that they fell for it?

  Enough. Myron knew that this was his way of stalling. Kitty would be here in fifteen minutes. He debated spending the time in Spencer's Gifts, his and Brad's favorite store growing up in Livingston, New Jersey, what with the beer jokes, explicit shot glasses, safe sexual innuendo, and weird blue-light posters in the back. He thought again about the last time he saw Brad and Kitty. He thought about what he had done. He thought about the confused, wounded look in Brad's eyes. He thought about the way the blood trickled between Kitty's fingers.

  He shook it off and moved to one side, out of view so that she wouldn't see him. Myron debated getting a newspaper to hide his face, but nothing would stick out in a mall more than someone actually reading.

  Fifteen minutes later, as Myron watched the merry-go-round from behind a mannequin at Foot Locker, Kitty arrived.

  15

  Win's private jet landed on the only runway at Fox Hollow Airport. A black limousine waited on the tarmac. Win chastely kissed his stewardess Mee and headed down the plane steps.

  The limo dropped him off at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, home of the "worst of the worst" among federal prisoners. A guard greeted Win and led him through the maximum-security prison to G Block or, as it is more commonly known, "Mafia Row." John Gotti had served time here. So had Al Capone.

  Win moved into the facility's visiting room.

  "Please have a seat," the guard said.

  Win obliged.

  "Here are the rules," the guard said. "No shaking hands. No touching. No physical contact of any kind."

  "How about French-kissing?" Win asked.

  The guard frowned, but that was about it. Win had managed to get this appointment fast. That meant, the guard had obviously concluded, that this was a man with serious juice. What Lewisburg calls Phase 1 and 2 prisoners were allowed only video visitations. Phase 3 prisoners were permitted noncontact visitors. Only Phase 4--and it was unclear how you became Phase 4--were permitted what were called "contact visits" with family. Frank Ache, the former mafioso leader from Manhattan, was granted Phase 3 for the purpose of Win's visit. That was fine with Win. He had no interest in making physical contact with the man.

  The heavy door swung open. When Frank Ache shackle-shuffled into the visiting area wearing the prison-issue, neon orange jumpsuit, even Win was surprised. In his prime--one that probably lasted better than two decades--Frank had been a gritty, deadly Old-World mafia boss. He cut an impressive figure. He'd been a big man, barrel-chested, sporting polyester-cum-velour sweat suits too tacky for a monster truck rally. There were rumors that Scorsese wanted to do a film about his life and that Tony Soprano was in some ways based on Frank, except Frank didn't have the loving family or any of the semi-humanity of Soprano. Frank Ache's name struck fear. He'd been a dangerous killer, a man who had murdered many and made no apologies for it.

  But prison has a way of shrinking a man. Ache must have lost fifty, sixty pounds inside these walls. He looked sapped, dry as an old twig, frail. Frank Ache squinted at his visitor and tried to smile.

  "Windsor Horne Lockwood the third," he said. "What the hell are you doing here?"

  "How are you, Frank?"

  "Like you care."

  "No, no, I've always been very concerned with your well-being."

  Frank Ache laughed a little too long and hard at that one. "You're lucky I never whacked you. My brother always stopped me, you know."

  Win did know. He looked into the dark eyes and saw blankness.

  "I'm on Zoloft now," Frank said as if reading his mind. "You believe that? They have me on suicide watch. Don't much see the point, do you?"

  Win didn't know if he meant the point of taking the drug or committing suicide or even trying to prevent the suicide. He also didn't care. "I have a favor to ask," Win said.

  "Were we ever buddies?"

  "No."

  "So?"

  "Favor," Win said again. "As in, you do one for me, I do one for you."

  Frank Ache stopped. He sniffled, used a once-giant hand to wipe his face. His receding hairline was gone now, though big tufts stayed on the side. His dark olive skin was now the gray of a city street after a rainstorm.

  "What makes you think I could use a favor?"

  Win did not answer that. There was no reason to elaborate. "How did your brother slither out of an indictment?"

  "That's what you want to know?"

  Win said nothing.

  "What difference does that make?"

  "Humor me, Frank."

  "You know Herman. He looked classy. Me, I looked like a dago."

  "Gotti looked classy."

  "No, he didn't. He looked like a goomba dressed up in expensive suits."

  Frank Ache looked off now, his eyes wet. He put his hand up to his face again. It started with another sniffle and then the big, scary man's face crumbled. He started to cry. Win waited for him to regain his composure. Ache cried some more.

  Finally: "You got a tissue or something?"

  "Use your neon orange sleeve," Win said.

  "You know what it's like in here?"

  Win said nothing.

  "I sit alone in a six-by-eight cell. I sit in it twenty-three hours a day. Alone. I eat my meals in there. I crap in there. When I go out in the yard for
one hour, no one else is outside. I go days without hearing a voice. I try sometimes to talk to the guards. They won't say a word back to me. Day after day. I sit alone. I talk to no one. That's how it's gonna be till the day I die." He started sobbing again.

  Win was tempted to take out his air violin, but he refrained. The man was talking--needed to talk, it seemed. This was a good thing. Still: "How many people did you kill, Frank?"

  He stopped crying for a moment. "Me myself or that I ordered?"

  "Your pick."

  "Got me. I personally whacked, what, twenty, thirty guys."

  Like he was talking about parking tickets he beat. "I'm feeling sorrier for you by the moment," Win said.

  If Frank took offense, he didn't show it. "Hey, Win, you want to hear something funny?"

  He kept leaning forward as he talked, desperate for any kind of conversation or contact. Amazing what humans, even ones as wanton as Frank Ache, crave when left alone--other humans. "The floor is yours, Frank."

  "You remember one of my men named Bobby Fern?"

  "Hmm, perhaps."

  "Big fat guy? Used to run underage girls out of the Meatpacking District?"

  Win remembered. "What about him?"

  "You see me crying in here, right? I don't try to hide it anymore. I mean, what's the point? You know what I mean. I cry. So what? Truth is, I always did. I used to kinda go off and cry alone. Even back in the day. I don't know why either. Hurting people actually made me feel good, so that wasn't it, but then, like one time, I was watching Family Ties. You remember that show? With the kid who's got that shaking disease now?"

  "Michael J. Fox."

  "Right. Loved that show. That sister Mallory was a hot number. So I'm watching it and it must be the last season and the father on the show has a heart attack. It's kinda sad and see, that's how my old man died. It's no big deal, I mean, it's a dumb sitcom, and next thing I know I'm bawling like a baby. Used to happen to me like that all the time. So I'd make an excuse and go off. I'd never let anyone see me. You know my world, right?"

  "Right."

  "So one day when I go off like that, Bobby walks in on me and sees me crying." Frank smiled now. "Now me and Bobby, we go back. His sister was the first girl who let me go to third base. Eighth grade. It was awesome." He looked off, lost in this happy moment. "So anyway, Bobby walks in and I'm crying, and man, you should have seen his face. He didn't know what to do. Bobby, he kept swearing he'd never tell anyone, not to worry, hell, he cried all the time. I loved Bobby. He was a good man. Nice family. So I thought I'd let it slide, you know."

 
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