Live wire, p.13
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       Live Wire, p.13

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 
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  "You were always such a prince," Win said.

  "Right, sure, I tried. But see, now, whenever I was with Bobby, I felt, I don't know, ashamed or something. He didn't do or say nothing, but now suddenly he was jumpy around me. Wouldn't meet my eye, that kinda thing. And Bobby smiled a lot, you know, he had this big smile and loud laugh. But now, when he smiled and laughed, I'm thinking maybe he was making fun of me, you get what I'm saying?"

  "So you killed him," Win said.

  Frank nodded. "Used a fish-line garrote. I don't use that too often. Nearly sliced Bobby's head off. But I mean, can you blame me?"

  Win spread his hands. "How could anyone?"

  Frank laughed too hard again. "Nice having you visit."

  "Oh yes, good times."

  Frank laughed some more.

  He just wanted to talk, Win thought again. It was pathetic, really. This former mountain of a man was that broken, desperate, and thus Win could use it. "You said before that Herman looked classy. That he appeared to be more legitimate than you."

  "Right, so?"

  "Could you elaborate?"

  "You were there, you know how it was with me and Herman. Herman wanted to be legit. He wanted to go to fancy parties and play old golf clubs like yours and he got the midtown office in the nice high-rise. He put dirty money into real businesses, like that suddenly made the money clean or something. So toward the end, Herman only wanted to handle gambling and loan sharking. Guess why?"

  Win said, "Because there was less violence?"

  "No, if anything, they're more violent, what with collecting and stuff." Frank Ache leaned forward, and Win could smell the decay on his breath. "Gambling and loan sharking felt legit to him. Casinos do gambling and they're legit. Banks do loans and they're legit. So why can't Herman do the same?"

  "And you?"

  "I handled the other stuff. Whores, drugs, like that, though let me tell you, if Zoloft ain't a drug that don't work better than blow, I'll suck off a hyena. And don't get me started on whores being illegal. Oldest profession. And when you think about it, what man doesn't pay for sex in the end?"

  Win did not argue.

  "So why you here?" Frank smiled and the sight was still eerie. Win wondered how many people had died, their last sight being that smile. "Or maybe I should ask, whose ass has Myron stuck his finger up now?"

  Time to show his hand. "Evan Crisp's."

  That widened Frank's eyes. "Whoa."

  "Yes."

  "Myron met up with Crisp?"

  "That he did."

  "Crisp is nearly as deadly as you," Frank said.

  "I'm flattered."

  "Man, you going up against Crisp. Should be fun watching that."

  "I'll send you the DVD."

  Something dark ran across Frank's face. "Evan Crisp," he said slowly, "is one of the main reasons I'm here."

  "How's that?"

  "See, one of us--me or Herman--had to go down. You know how RICO is. They needed a scapegoat."

  Scapegoat, Win thought. The man has no idea how many people he personally murdered, including one for seeing him cry. But he's a scapegoat.

  "So it was either me or Herman. Crisp worked for Herman. Suddenly Herman's witnesses vanish or recant. Mine didn't. The end."

  "So you went down for the crimes?"

  Frank leaned forward again. "I got thrown under the bus."

  "Meanwhile, Herman lives on, happy and legit," Win said.

  "Yep," Frank said.

  Their eyes met for a moment. Frank gave Win the smallest nod.

  "Evan Crisp," Win said, "is now working for Gabriel Wire. Do you know who that is?"

  "Wire? Sure. His music is pure, one hundred percent, grade-A crap. Does Myron rep him?"

  "No, his partner."

  "Lex something, right? Another no-talent."

  "Any clue why Crisp might be working for Gabriel Wire?"

  Frank smiled with small teeth that looked like Tic Tacs. "In the old days, Gabriel Wire did it all. Blow, whores--but mostly gambling."

  Win arched an eyebrow. "Do tell."

  "The favor?"

  "Done."

  Nothing else said on that. Nothing else needed.

  "Wire owed Herman big," Frank said. "At one point--now I'm going back before he started the Howard Hughes act, what, fifteen, twenty years--his tab was more than half a million."

  Win considered that for a moment. "There are rumors that someone messed up Wire's face."

  "Not Herman," Frank said with a headshake. "He ain't that stupid. Wire can't sing a lick, but his smile could unsnap a bra from thirty paces. So no, Herman wouldn't mess with the breadwinner."

  Outside the room and down the hall, a man screamed. The guard by the door did not move. Neither did Frank. The screaming continued, grew louder, and then it was cut off as though with a switch.

  Win asked, "Do you have any thoughts on why Crisp would be working for Wire?"

  "Oh, I doubt he's working for Wire," Frank said. "My bet? Crisp is there for Herman. He's probably on the scene making sure Mr. Rock 'n' Roll pays up."

  Win sat back, crossed his legs. "So you believe that your brother is still involved with Gabriel Wire then?"

  "Why else would Crisp be watching him?"

  "We thought that perhaps Evan Crisp had gone legit. Perhaps he took a cushy security job for a recluse."

  Frank smiled again. "Yeah, I can see how you might think that."

  "But I'm wrong?"

  "We never go legit, Win. We just become bigger hypocrites. The world is dog-eat-dog. Some get eaten, some don't. All of us, even your buddy Myron, would kill a million strangers to protect the few he cares about--and anyone who tells you different is a liar. We do it every day in one way or another. You can either buy that nice pair of shoes or you can use that money to save some starving kids in Africa--and yet you always buy the shoes. That's life. We all kill if we feel justified. A man has a starving family. If he kills another man, he can steal his loaf of bread and save his kids. If he doesn't kill the man, he doesn't get the bread and his family dies. So he kills the man. Every single time. But see, the rich man doesn't need to kill to get a loaf of bread. So he says, 'Oh, it's wrong to kill' and makes up rules so no one hurts him or takes the million loaves he's saving for him and his fat family. You hear what I'm saying?"

  "Morality is subjective," Win said, making a production of stifling a yawn. "What a philosophical insight, Frank."

  Frank chuckled at that. "I don't get many visitors. I'm enjoying this."

  "Wonderful. So, pray tell, what are Crisp and your brother up to?"

  "Truth? I don't know. But it might explain where a lot of Herman's money came from. When the RICO guys came crashing down, they froze all our assets. Herman had a cash cow somewhere paying for the lawyer and, hell, for Crisp. It could have been Gabriel Wire, why not?"

  "Could you ask?"

  "Ask Herman?" Frank shook his head. "He don't visit much."

  "Ah, how sad. You two used to be so close."

  That was when Win felt his cell phone double-vibrate. The double-vibrate was a specific setting for emergencies only. He took out the cell phone, read the text, and closed his eyes.

  Frank Ache looked at him. "Bad news."

  "Yes."

  "Do you have to go?"

  Win rose. "Yes."

  "Hey, Win? Come back, okay? It's good to talk like this."

  But they both know that he wouldn't. Pathetic. Twenty-three hours in a cell alone. You shouldn't do that to a man, Win thought, even the worst. You should take him out in the back, put a gun behind his head, and fire two bullets into his skull. Before you pulled the trigger, the man, even one as broken as Frank, would beg for his life. That was how it worked. The survival instinct always kicked in--men, all men, begged for their lives when faced with death. Still, putting down the animal was cost-effective, wiser, and in the end, more humane.

  Win nodded to the guard and hurried back toward his plane.

  16

&n
bsp; Myron watched Kitty walk tentatively through the mall, afraid the ground might give way. Her face was pale. Her once-defining freckles had faded away, but not in a healthy way. She kept cringing and blinking, as though someone had raised a hand and she was bracing for the strike.

  For a moment, Myron just stood there, the tinny mall acoustics roaring in his ears, flashing back to those early tennis days, when Kitty was so confident, so sure of herself, you just knew that she was destined for greatness. Myron remembered taking Suzze and Kitty to a mall like this one when they had downtime before a tournament in Albany. The two budding tennis greats strolled the mall like, well, two teenage girls, dropping the adult pretenses for a while, using "like" and "you know" in every sentence, talking too loudly, laughing about the dumbest things, just as two teenage girls should.

  Would it be too hackneyed to wonder where it all went so wrong?

  Kitty's eyes darted left and right. Her right leg started to shake. Myron needed to make a decision. Should he make a gradual approach? Should he just wait and follow her back to her car? Should he try direct confrontation or something subtler?

  When her back was turned, Myron started walking toward her. He hurried his step, afraid she'd turn, see him, and bolt. He angled himself to block any such quick getaway, heading toward a corner between Macy's and Wetzel's Pretzels. He was two steps from Kitty when he felt his BlackBerry vibrate. As though sensing his approach, Kitty began to turn toward him.

  "Good to see you again, Kitty."

  "Myron?" She recoiled as though slapped. "What are you doing here?"

  "We need to talk."

  Her mouth dropped open. "What . . . how did you find me?"

  "Where's Brad?"

  "Wait, how did you know I'd be here? I don't understand."

  He spoke quickly, wanting to get past this. "I found Crush. I told him to call you and set this up. Where's Brad?"

  "I have to go." Kitty started past him. Myron stepped in her way. She moved to her right. Myron grabbed her arm.

  "Let go of me."

  "Where is my brother?"

  "Why do you want to know?"

  The question made him pull up. He was unsure how to answer. "I just want to talk to him."

  "Why?"

  "What do you mean, why? He's my brother."

  "And he's my husband," she said, suddenly standing her ground. "What do you want with him?"

  "I told you. I just want to talk to him."

  "What, so you can make up more stuff about me?"

  "Me make stuff up? You're the one who said I--" Unproductive. He made himself stop. "Look, I'm sorry about everything. Whatever I said or did. I want to put it in the past. I want to make amends."

  Kitty shook her head. Behind her, the merry-go-round started up again. There were maybe twenty children on board. Some parents joined them. They stood by the horse, making sure that the offspring were secure. Most watched from the sidelines, their heads moving in small circles so they could watch their child and only theirs. Each time the child circled around, the parent's face would light up anew.

  "Please," Myron said.

  "Brad doesn't want to see you."

  Her tone was that of a petulant teenager, but the words still stung. "He said that?"

  She nodded. He tried to meet her eye, but her gaze was everywhere but on him. Myron had to take a step back and put his emotions on hold. Forget the past. Forget the history. Try to connect.

  "I wish I could take it back," Myron said. "You have no idea how much I regret what happened."

  "Doesn't matter anymore. I have to go."

  Connect, he thought. You have to connect. "Do you ever think about regrets, Kitty? I mean, do you ever wish you could go back and do one little thing differently and then everything, your whole world, would be something else? Like if I made a right turn instead of a left at a stoplight. If you hadn't picked up that tennis racket when you were, what, three years old? If I didn't hurt my knee and then I wouldn't have been an agent and then you would have never met Brad? You ever wonder about stuff like that?"

  It may have been a ploy or line on his part, but that didn't mean it wasn't true. He felt drained now. For a moment they both just stood there, their world gone quiet while the mall rush raged about them.

  When Kitty finally spoke, her voice was soft. "It doesn't work that way."

  "What doesn't?"

  "Everyone has regrets," she said, looking off. "But you don't want to go back. If I made a right instead of a left or if I never picked up a racket, well, I wouldn't have met Brad. And we would have never had Mickey." At the mention of her son, her eyes welled up. "Whatever else happened, I could never go back and risk that. If I changed one thing--even if I got an A in sixth-grade math instead of a B--maybe that chain reaction would have changed one sperm or one egg and then there would be no Mickey. Do you see?"

  Hearing about the nephew he never met worked like a lasso around Myron's heart. He tried to keep his voice even. "What's Mickey like?"

  For a moment the drug addict was gone, the tennis player was gone--and color came to her face. "He's the greatest kid in the world." She smiled, but Myron could see the devastation behind it. "He's so smart and strong and kind. He awes me every day. He loves playing basketball." A small chuckle escaped her lips. "Brad says he may be better than you."

  "I'd love to see him play."

  Her back stiffened, and her face shut like a slammed gate. "That's not going to happen."

  He was losing her--time to change tacks again, keep her off balance. "Why did you post 'Not His' on Suzze's wall?"

  "What are you talking about?" she countered, but there was no conviction in her voice. She opened her purse and started reaching inside. Myron peered over her and saw two crushed packets of cigarettes. She withdrew one and put it in her mouth, looking up at him as though daring him to say something. He didn't.

  She started toward the exit. Myron stayed with her.

  "Come on, Kitty. I already know it was you."

  "I need a smoke."

  They walked between two restaurants, Ruby Tuesday and McDonald's. The McDonald's had the most garish Ronald McDonald statue sitting in a booth. Ronald had a big smile and was too brightly painted and looked as though it might wink as they passed. Myron wondered whether it gave kids nightmares because, when Myron was unsure of his next move, he wondered about things like that.

  Kitty already had her lighter at the ready. She inhaled hard, closing her eyes, and let loose a long ream of smoke. Cars slowly cruised around in search of open spaces. Kitty took another hit. Myron waited.

  "Kitty?"

  "I shouldn't have posted that," she said.

  So there it was. Confirmation. "Why did you?"

  "Good old-fashioned revenge, I guess. When I was pregnant, she told my husband it wasn't his."

  "So you decided to do likewise?"

  Puff. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

  At 3:17 in the morning. Little wonder. "How high were you?"

  "What?"

  Mistake. "Never mind."

  "No, I heard you." Kitty shook her head, tossed the rest of the cigarette onto the walk, and stomped on it with her foot. "This isn't your business. I don't want you to be part of our lives. Neither does Brad." Something again flicked in her eyes. "I gotta go."

  She turned to head back inside, but Myron put his hands on her shoulders.

  "What else is going on here, Kitty?"

  "Get your hands off me."

  He didn't. He looked at her and saw that whatever connection he had made, it was gone now. She looked like a cornered animal now. A cornered, spiteful animal.

  "Let. Go. Of. Me."

  "There's no way Brad would put up with this."

  "With what? We don't want you in our lives. You may want to forget what you did to us--"

  "Just listen to me, okay?"

  "Get your hands off me! Now!"

  There was no talking to her. Her irrationality enraged him. Myron could feel his bloo
d boil. He thought about all the terrible things she had done--how she had lied, how she had made his brother run away. He thought about her shooting up at the club and then he thought about her with Joel Fishman.

  His voice had an edge now. "Have you really burned through that many brain cells, Kitty?"

  "What are you talking about?"

  He leaned in so that his face was inches from her. Through clenched teeth he said, "I found you via your drug dealer. You hit up Lex hoping to score drugs."

  "Is that what Lex told you?"

  "For crying out loud, look at yourself," Myron said, no longer disguising his disgust. "Are you really going to try to tell me you're not using?"

  Tears flooded her eyes. "What are you, my drug counselor?"

  "Think about how I found you."

  Kitty's eyes narrowed in confusion. Myron waited. And then she saw it. He nodded.

  "I know what you did at the club," Myron said, trying not to lose it. "I even have it on videotape."

  She shook her head. "You don't know a thing."

  "I know what I saw."

  "You son of a bitch. Now I get it." She wiped the tears from her eyes. "You want to show it to Brad, right?"

  "What? No."

  "I can't believe this. You videotaped me?"

  "Not me. The club. It's a surveillance video."

  "And you tracked it down? You goddamn bastard."

  "Hey," Myron snapped, "I'm not the one going down on a guy in a nightclub so I can shoot up."

  She stepped back as though he'd slapped her. Dumb. He had forgotten his own warning. With strangers he knew how to talk, knew how to interrogate. With family, it always goes down the wrong road, doesn't it?

  "I didn't mean . . . Look, Kitty, I really do want to help."

  "Liar. Tell the truth for once."

  "I am telling the truth. I do want to help."

  "Not about that."

  "What are you talking about?"

  Kitty had the eerie, cagey smile of, well, a drug addict looking for a fix. "What would you say if you saw Brad again? Tell the truth."

  That made him pull up. What, after all, did he want here? Win always cautioned him to keep his eyes on the prize. Accomplish the goals. One: Suzze had asked him to find Lex. Done. Two: Suzze had wanted to know who posted the "Not His" to her profile. Done.

 
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