Live wire, p.14
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       Live Wire, p.14

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 
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  Didn't Kitty, drug-addled and all, have a point? What would he say if he saw Brad? Sure, he would apologize and try to reconcile. But what then?

  Would he just keep what he'd seen on the videotape a secret?

  "Just as I thought." Kitty's expression was so smug and triumphant that more than anything in the world, he wanted to wallop her right in the face. "You'd tell him I'm some kind of whore."

  "I don't think I'd have to tell him anything, Kitty. The tape kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it?"

  She slapped him across the face. The drugs hadn't dulled the former great athlete's reflexes. The smack stung, the sound echoing. Kitty started to push past him again. With his cheek reddening, Myron reached out and grabbed her elbow, maybe a little too roughly. She tried to pull away. He tightened the grip, hitting the pressure point. She winced and said, "Ow, that hurts."

  "You all right, ma'am?"

  Myron turned. Two men from mall security were there. Myron let go of Kitty's elbow. Kitty dashed back into the mall. Myron started to follow, but the security guards stood their ground.

  "It's not what it looks like," Myron told them.

  They were too young to truly roll their eyes in the world-weary way such a line deserved, but they tried. "I'm sorry, sir, but we--"

  No time to explain. Like a halfback, Myron juked right and then ran past them. "Hey! Stop!"

  He didn't. He sprinted down the corridor. The security guards gave chase. He stopped by the merry-go-round's cross section, looked left toward Spencer's Gifts, straight ahead toward Macy's, right toward Starbucks.

  Nothing.

  Kitty was gone. Again. But maybe that was better. Maybe it was time to reevaluate, figure out what he should really do here. The security guards caught up to him. One looked ready to make a flying tackle, but Myron raised his hands in surrender.

  "It's over, guys. I'm leaving."

  By now, eight other mall security guards had appeared, but none wanted to create a scene. They escorted him outside of the mall. He slipped into his car. Way to go, Myron, he thought. You really handled that so well. But again, when he took a step back, what was left to do here anyway? He wanted to see his brother, but was it right to force the issue? He had waited sixteen years. He could wait a little more. Forget Kitty. He would try to reach out to Brad via that e-mail address maybe or through their father or something.

  Myron's phone buzzed. He gave the nice security guards a little wave and reached into his pocket. The caller ID read: LEX RYDER.

  "Hello?"

  "Oh God . . ."

  "Lex?"

  "Please . . . hurry." He started sobbing. "Wheeling her out."

  "Lex, calm down."

  "My fault. Oh my God. Suzze . . ."

  "What about Suzze?"

  "You should have left it alone."

  "Is Suzze okay?"

  "Why didn't you just leave it alone?"

  More sobbing. Myron felt icy fear in his chest. "Please, Lex, listen to me. I need you to calm down, so you can tell me what's going on."

  "Hurry."

  "Where are you?"

  He started sobbing some more.

  "Lex? I need to know where you are."

  There was a choking noise, more sobs, and then three words: "In the ambulance."

  It was hard to get more out of Lex.

  Myron managed to learn that Suzze was being rushed to St. Anne's Medical Center. That was it. Myron texted Win and called Esperanza. "I'm on it," Esperanza said. Myron tried to plug in the hospital on his GPS, but his hand kept shaking and then the GPS kept taking too long, and when he started driving the car, that damn safety feature wouldn't let him plug the information in.

  He got caught up in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, started laying on the horn and waving people over like a madman. Most drivers just ignored him. Some, he could see, picked up cell phones, probably calling the cops to warn them about the crazy person losing his mind in traffic.

  Myron called Esperanza. "Any word?"

  "The hospital won't say anything over the phone."

  "Okay, call me if you learn anything. I should be there in another ten, fifteen."

  It was fifteen. He pulled into the hospital's full and rather complicated lot. He circled a few times and then just figured the hell with it. He double-parked, blocking someone in, and left his keys. He ran toward the entrance, past the huddled smokers in the hospital scrubs, and into the ER. He stopped at the front desk, three people back, bouncing from one foot to the other like a six-year-old needing to go potty.

  Finally, it was his turn. He told her why he was here. The woman behind the desk gave him the implacable "seen it all" face.

  "Are you family?" she asked in a tone that would need technological help to be any flatter.

  "I'm her agent and a close friend."

  A practiced sigh. This, Myron could see, was going to be a waste of time. His eyes started darting around the room, looking for Lex or Suzze's mother or something. In the far corner, he was surprised to see Loren Muse, head county investigator. Myron had met Muse when a teenager named Aimee Biel vanished a few years back. Muse had her little cop pad out. She was talking to someone hidden behind the corner and taking notes.

  "Muse?"

  She spun toward him. Myron moved to his right. Whoa. He could see now that she'd been interviewing Lex. Lex looked beyond awful, all color drained from his face, his eyes staring up at nothing, his body leaning limply against the wall. Muse snapped the pad closed and started toward Myron. She was a short woman, barely five feet tall, and Myron was six-four. She stopped in front of him, looked up, and met his eye. Myron did not like what he saw.

  "How is Suzze?" Myron asked.

  "She's dead," Muse said.

  17

  It was a heroin overdose.

  Muse explained it to Myron as he stood next to her, vision blurred, shaking his head no over and over again. When he was finally able to speak, he asked, "What about the baby?"

  "Alive," Muse said. "Delivered via caesarean. A boy. He seems fine, but he's in the neonatal intensive care unit."

  Myron tried to feel some kind of relief at this news, but the stunned and numb still won out. "Suzze wouldn't have killed herself, Muse."

  "Might have been accidental."

  "She wasn't using."

  Muse nodded in that way cops do when they don't want to argue. "We'll investigate."

  "She was clean."

  Another patronizing nod.

  "Muse, I'm telling you."

  "What do you want me to say here, Myron? We'll investigate, but right now all signs point to a drug overdose. There was no forced entry. No signs of a struggle. She also had a pretty rich history of drug use."

  "History. As in her past. She was having a baby."

  "Hormones," Muse said. "They make us do stupid things."

  "Come on, Muse. How many women eight months pregnant commit suicide?"

  "And how many drug addicts really go clean forever and ever?"

  He thought about his darling sister-in-law, Kitty, another addict who couldn't stay clean. Exhaustion started to weigh down his bones. Oddly--or maybe not--he started to think about his fiancee. Beautiful Terese. He suddenly wanted to walk away from this, right now, just give it up. He wanted to chuck it all. Screw the truth. Screw justice. Screw Kitty and Brad and Lex and whoever else and just grab the first flight back to Angola and be with the one person who could make all the madness disappear.

  "Myron?"

  He focused in on Muse.

  "Can I see her?" he asked.

  "You mean Suzze?"

  "Yes."

  "Why?"

  He wasn't sure himself. Maybe it was a classic case of needing it to be real, of needing--and God, he hated that word--some sort of closure. He thought about Suzze's bouncing ponytail when she played tennis. He thought about her posing for those hilarious La-La-Latte ads and her easy laugh and the way she chewed gum on the court and the look on her face when she asked him to be the god
father.

  "I owe her," he said.

  "Are you going to investigate this?"

  He shook his head. "The case is all yours."

  "There's no case right now. She's a drug overdose."

  They headed back down the corridor and stopped in front of a door in the delivery wing. Muse said, "Wait here."

  She slipped inside. When she came back out, she said, "The hospital's pathologist is with her. He, uh, cleaned her up, you know, after the caesarean."

  "Okay."

  "I'm doing this," Muse said, "because I still owe you a favor."

  He nodded. "Consider it paid in full."

  "I don't want it paid in full. I want you to be honest with me."

  "Okay."

  She opened the door and led him into the room. The man standing next to the gurney--Myron assumed that he was the pathologist--wore scrubs and stood perfectly still. Suzze was laid out on her back. Death does not make you look younger or older or peaceful or agitated. Death makes you look empty, hollow, like everything has fled, like a house suddenly abandoned. Death turns a body into a thing--a chair, a filing cabinet, a rock. Dust to dust, right? Myron wanted to buy all the rationales, all the stuff about life going on, that an echo of Suzze would live on in her child in the nursery down the hall, but right now it wasn't happening.

  "So do you know anyone who'd want her dead?" Muse asked.

  He offered up the easy answer: "No."

  "The husband seems pretty shook up, but I've seen husbands who could channel Olivier after killing their wives. Anyway, Lex claims he flew in on a private jet from Adiona Island. When he got there, they were wheeling her out. We can check his time frame."

  Myron said nothing.

  "They own the building--Lex and Suzze," Muse went on. "There are no reports yet of anyone going in or out, but the security is pretty lax in that place. We might look into it more if we feel the need."

  Myron approached the body. He put his hand on Suzze's cheek. Nothing. Like putting your hand on a chair, a file cabinet. "Who called it in?"

  "That part seems a bit unusual," Muse said.

  "How so?"

  "A man with a Spanish accent made the call from the phone in her penthouse. When the paramedics got there, he was gone. We figured it was probably an illegal working in the building and didn't want to get in trouble." That made no sense, but Myron didn't want to get into that. Muse added, "Could be someone who was shooting up with her and didn't want trouble. Or even her dealer. Again, we'll look into it."

  Myron turned to the pathologist. "Can I look at her arms?"

  The pathologist glanced over at Muse. Muse nodded. The pathologist pulled back the sheet. Myron checked the veins. "Where did she shoot up?" he asked.

  The pathologist pointed at a bruise in the crook of her elbow.

  "You see some old tracks here?" Myron asked.

  "Yes," the pathologist said. "Very old."

  "Anything else fresh?"

  "Not on the arms, no."

  Myron looked at Muse. "That's because she hasn't used drugs in years."

  "People shoot up in all different spots," Muse said. "Even in her heyday, what with wearing tennis outfits, rumor has it Suzze shot up in, er, less conspicuous places."

  "So let's check that."

  Muse shook her head. "What's the point?"

  "I want you to see that she hadn't been using."

  The pathologist cleared his throat. "There's no need," he said. "I already did a cursory examination of the body. I did indeed find some old scarring there, near the tattoo on her upper thigh, but there's nothing fresh."

  "Nothing fresh," Myron repeated.

  "That still doesn't prove it wasn't self-inflicted," Muse said. "Maybe she decided to do it in one big swoop, Myron. Maybe she was indeed clean and overdid it or overdosed intentionally."

  Myron spread his hands, giving her incredulous. "When she was eight months pregnant?"

  "Okay, fine, then you tell me: Who would want to kill her? And more than that, how? Like I said, no signs of struggle. No signs of forced entry. Show me one thing that says it wasn't a suicide or accidental OD."

  Myron wasn't sure how much to say here. "She got a post on Facebook," he began. And then he stopped. A cold finger traced down his spine. Muse saw it.

  "What?" she asked.

  Myron turned to the pathologist. "You said she shot up near her tattoo?"

  Again the pathologist looked toward Muse.

  "Hold up a second," Loren Muse said. "What were you saying about a post on Facebook?"

  Myron didn't wait. He reminded himself again that this wasn't Suzze, but this time he felt the tears push into his eyes. Suzze had survived so much, had finally come out on the right end, and now, just when she seemed to have everything within her grasp, well, it was time for Myron to step up. Screw the excuses. Suzze had been his friend. She had come to him for help. He owed her.

  He pulled back the sheet before Muse could object. His eyes fell to her upper thigh, and yes, there it was. The tattoo. The same tattoo that was in the 'Not His' post. The same tattoo that Myron had just seen in the photo of Gabriel Wire.

  "What's wrong?" Muse asked.

  Myron stared down at the upper thigh. Gabriel Wire and Suzze had the same tattoo. The implication was obvious.

  Muse: "What's that a tattoo of?"

  Myron tried to slow down the swirl in his head. The tattoo had been in the online post--so how did Kitty know about it? Why did she put it in her post? And, of course, wouldn't Lex know about the same tattoo being on both his wife and his music partner?

  Add it up. The words 'Not His.' A symbol that adorned the upper thighs of both Suzze and Gabriel Wire. No wonder that post had rocked Lex.

  "Where's Lex?" Myron asked.

  Muse folded her arms across her chest. "Are you really going to hold out on me?"

  "It's probably nothing. Is he with the baby?"

  She frowned, waited.

  "Plus I can't say anything," Myron said. "At least not right now."

  "What are you talking about?"

  "I'm an attorney, Muse. I work for both Lex and Suzze."

  "You're an agent."

  "I'm also an attorney."

  "Oh no. You're not going to pull out your Harvard JD on me. Not now. Not after I let you come in here and see the body."

  "My hands are tied, Muse. I need to speak with my client."

  "Your client?" Muse got up in his face and pointed at Suzze's corpse. "Go right ahead, but I'm not sure she'll hear you."

  "Don't be cute. Where's Lex?"

  "You're serious?"

  "I am."

  "You were the one who suggested I may be looking at a homicide here," Muse said. "So answer this for me: If indeed Suzze was murdered, who's my prime suspect?"

  Myron didn't say anything. Muse cupped her hand around her ear. "I can't hear you, big boy. Come on, you know the answer because in these cases it's always the same: the husband. The husband is always the prime suspect. So what then, Myron? What if one of your clients killed another?"

  Myron took one more glance down at Suzze. Dead. He felt so numb, as though his blood had stopped flowing. Suzze, dead. It was beyond his comprehension. He wanted to collapse now and pound on the floor and cry. He left the room and followed the signs for the nursery. Muse followed him.

  "What were you saying about a Facebook post?" she asked.

  "Not now, Muse."

  He followed the arrow left. The nursery was on the left. He turned and looked through the window. There was a line of six newborns in those rolling acrylic cribs, all wearing a baby beanie and swaddled in a white blanket with pink and aqua stripes. The newborns were lined up as if for inspection. They'd all been immediately catalogued with an index card, either blue or pink, with name and time of birth.

  Divided off from the nursery by more Plexiglas was the neonatal intensive care unit. There was only one parent with one child in there now. Lex sat in a rocking chair, but the chair didn't move. He wore a
yellow smock. He cupped his son's head with his left hand, cradling the child on his right forearm. Tears lined his face. For a long moment, Myron just stood and watched him. Muse joined him.

  "What the hell is going on here, Myron?"

  "I don't know yet."

  "Do you have any idea what the media is going to be like on this?"

  Like he cared. He started for the door. A nurse stopped him and made him wash his hands. Then she put a yellow surgical smock and matching mask on him. Myron pushed open the door with his back. Lex did not look up.

  "Lex?"

  "Not now."

  "I think we should talk."

  Lex finally looked up. His eyes were bloodshot. When he spoke now, his voice was soft. "I asked you to leave it alone, didn't I?"

  Silence. Later, Myron was sure, the words would sting. Later, when he settled down and tried to sleep, the guilt would reach into his chest and crush his heart like a Styrofoam cup. "I saw her tattoo," Myron said. "It was in that post."

  He closed his eyes. "Suzze was the only woman I ever loved. And now she's gone. I mean, forever. I will never see Suzze again. I will never hold her. This boy--your godson--will never know his mother."

  Myron said nothing. He felt a tremor start in his chest.

  "We have to talk, Lex."

  "Not tonight." His voice was surprisingly gentle now. "Tonight I just want to sit here and protect my son."

  "Protect him from what?"

  He didn't respond. Myron felt his phone buzz. He took a surreptitious glance and saw that the call was coming from his father. He stepped out of the room and put the phone to his ear. "Dad?"

  "I heard about Suzze on the radio. Is it true?"

  "Yes. I'm at the hospital now."

  "I'm so sorry."

  "Thanks. I'm kind of busy here. . . ."

  "When you're done, do you think you could swing by the house?"

  "Tonight?"

  "If possible."

  "Is something wrong?"

  "I just need to talk to you about something," Dad said. "Don't worry how late. I'll be awake."

  18

  Before leaving the hospital, Myron played lawyer and warned Loren Muse not to speak to his client Lex Ryder without legal counsel. She responded that he should be fruitful and multiply, but not in those exact words. Win and Esperanza arrived. Win filled him in on his prison encounter with Frank Ache. Myron wasn't sure what to make of it.

  "Perhaps," Win said, "we should meet with Herman Ache."

 
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