Live wire, p.15
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       Live Wire, p.15

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 
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  "Perhaps," Myron said, "we should meet with Gabriel Wire." He turned to Esperanza. "Let's also check on our favorite French teacher, see where Crush was at the time of Suzze's death."

  "Okay," Esperanza said.

  "I can drive you home," Win said.

  But Myron shook him off. He needed the downtime. He needed to take a step back. Maybe Muse was right. Maybe it was a drug overdose. Last night, on that balcony overlooking Manhattan, all that talk about secrets, all that guilt about Kitty and the past--maybe it summoned up old demons. Maybe the answer would be as simple as that.

  Myron got into his car and headed back to his home in Livingston. He called Dad to let him know that he was on his way. "Drive safely," his father said. Myron hoped that maybe his father would offer up a clue about what they needed to discuss, but he didn't. AM radio was already reporting the death of "former troubled tennis sensation Suzze T," and Myron again wondered about the inept shortcutting of the media.

  It was dark by the time Myron pulled up to his familiar abode. The light in the upstairs bedroom--the one he had shared with Brad when they were both very young--was on, and Myron looked up at it. He could see the outline of the long-faded Tot Finder sticker, something the Livingston Fire Department had handed out during the early Carter administration. The image on the sticker was dramatic, a brave fireman, his chin up, carrying a limp, long-haired child to safety. Now the room was a home office.

  His car lights caught a For Sale sign on the Nussbaums' front lawn. Myron had gone to high school with their son Steve, though everyone called him either "Nuss" or "Baum," a friendly kid Myron really liked but for some reason never hung out with. The Nussbaums had been one of the original families, buying in when this farmland was originally turned into housing forty years ago. The Nussbaums loved it here. They loved to garden and putter and work on the gazebo in the backyard. They brought the Bolitars the extra tomatoes from their garden, and if you've never tried a Jersey tomato in August, you just don't get it. Now even the Nussbaums were moving out.

  Myron parked in the driveway. He saw movement in the window. Dad had probably been watching, the ever-present silent sentinel. When Myron was a teen, he had no curfew because, his father explained, he'd shown enough responsibility not to need one. Al Bolitar was a terrible sleeper, and Myron could not remember a time, no matter what hour he returned home, when his father was not up waiting for him. His father needed everything in place before he could close his eyes. Myron wondered whether it was still that way for him, and how his sleep had changed when his younger son ran off with Kitty and never returned.

  He parked the car. Suzze was dead. He had never been big on denial, but he was still having trouble wrapping his brain around that one. She was about to start the next big chapter of her life--motherhood. He often imagined the day his own parents first came by this dwelling, his father struggling at the plant in Newark, his mom pregnant. He pictured El-Al, young, holding hands the way they always do, walking up the concrete path, gazing at this splitlevel and deciding, yes, this would be the place that would shelter their new family and hold their hopes and dreams. He wondered now, as they looked back, whether those dreams came true or whether there were regrets.

  Soon Myron would be married too. Terese couldn't have children. He knew that. He had spent his whole life wanting the American Dream family--the house, the picket fence, the two-car garage, the two-point-four kids, the barbecue in the back, the basketball hoop on the garage--in short, the life of the people here like the Nussbaums and the Browns and the Lyons and the Fonteras and the El-Al Bolitars. Apparently it was not meant to be.

  Mom, blunt as she was, had made a good point about selling the house. You can't hold on too tightly. He wanted Terese home, with him, where she belonged, because in the end, only your lover can make the world disappear, and yes, he knew how corny that sounded.

  Myron trudged up the concrete walk, lost in this thought, and maybe that was why he didn't sense the danger before it struck. Or maybe his attacker was good, patient, crouching in the dark, waiting until Myron was close enough or distracted enough to pounce.

  First came the flash of light. Twenty years ago, Dad had installed motion-detector lights in the front of the house. This had been a big marvel to his parents, on par with the discovery of electricity or cable television. For weeks, El-Al had tested this new technology, trying to walk or even crawl deliberately, seeing whether they could fool the motion detector. Mom and Dad would approach from various angles, at various speeds, laughing heartily whenever the light would snap on, catching them every time. The simple pleasures.

  Whoever had jumped out of the bush had been picked up by the motion detector. Myron saw a flash of light, heard a noise, a rush of wind, the sound of exertion, maybe words. He turned toward it, and saw the fist heading straight for his face.

  There was no time to duck, no time to get up a forearm block. The blow was going to land. Myron turned from it. It was simple science. Move with the punch, not against it. Turning lessened the impact, but the powerful blow, delivered clearly by a strong man, still packed a wallop. For a moment Myron saw stars. He shook his head, tried to clear it.

  An angry snarl of a voice: "Leave us alone."

  Another punch came at Myron's head. The only way to get away from it, Myron saw, was to fall on his back. He did, the knuckles grazing the top of his skull. It still hurt. Myron was about to start rolling away, rolling to safety so he could regroup, when he heard another noise. Someone had opened the front door. And then a panicked voice: "Myron!"

  Damn. It was Dad.

  Myron was about to call out for his father to stay where he was, that he'd be fine, that he should go inside and call the police, that whatever he did, he should not come out.

  Not a chance.

  Before Myron could open his mouth, Dad was already in mid-sprint.

  "You son of a bitch!" his father shouted.

  Myron found his voice. "Dad, no!"

  Useless. His son was in trouble, and as he always had, his father hurled himself toward it. Still flat on his back, Myron looked up at the silhouette of his attacker. He was a tall man, his hands balled into fists, but he made the mistake of turning at the sound of Al Bolitar's approach. His body language altered in a surprising way. The hands suddenly went loose. Myron moved fast. Using his feet, he wrapped up his attacker's right ankle. He was about to turn hard, trapping the ankle, snapping it or tearing the tendons ten ways to Sunday when he saw his father leap--actually leap at the age of seventy-four--toward the attacker. The attacker was big. Dad had no chance, and he probably knew it. But that didn't matter to him.

  Myron's father reached out his arms like a linebacker blitzing the quarterback. Myron tightened the ankle trap, but the big man didn't even lift a hand to protect himself, just letting Al Bolitar knock him off balance.

  "Get away from my son!" Dad yelled, wrapping his arms around the assailant, both crumpling to the ground.

  Myron moved fast now. He rolled up to his knees, getting his hand ready for a palm strike to the nose or throat. Dad was involved now--no time to waste. He had to put this guy out of commission in a hurry. He grabbed the man's hair, pulled him out of the shadows, and straddled his chest. Myron cocked his fist. He was just about to snap a right into the nose when the light hit the attacker's face. What Myron saw made him pause for a split second. The attacker's head was turned toward the left, looking with concern at Myron's father. His face, his features . . . they were so damned familiar.

  Then Myron heard the man--no, he was a kid, really--beneath him say one word: "Grandpa?"

  The voice was young; the snarl gone.

  Dad sat up. "Mickey?"

  Myron looked down as his nephew turned back toward him. Their eyes met, a color so much like his own, and Myron would swear later that he felt a physical jolt. Mickey Bolitar, Myron's nephew, pushed the hand off his hair and rolled hard to the side.

  "Get the hell off me."

  Dad was out of breath.
>
  Myron and Mickey both snapped out of the stun and helped him to his feet. His face was flushed. "I'm fine," Dad said with a grimace. "Let go of me."

  Mickey turned back to Myron. Myron was six-four, and Mickey looked to be about the same. The kid was broad and powerfully built--every kid today lifts weights--but he was still a kid. He jabbed Myron's chest with his finger.

  "Stay away from my family."

  "Where's your father, Mickey?"

  "I said--"

  "I heard you," Myron said. "Where's your father?"

  Mickey took a step back and looked toward Al Bolitar. When he said, "I'm sorry, Grandpa," he sounded so damn young.

  Dad had his hands on his knees. Myron went to help him, but he shook him off. He stood straight and there was something akin to pride on his face. "It's okay, Mickey. I understand."

  "What do you mean, you understand?" Myron turned back to Mickey. "What the hell was that all about?"

  "Just stay away from us."

  Seeing his nephew for the very first time--like this--it was surreal and overwhelming. "Look, why don't we go inside and talk this out?"

  "Why don't you go to hell?"

  Mickey took one last concerned look at his grandfather. Al Bolitar nodded, as if to say all was fine. Then Mickey shot Myron a hard glare and ran into the darkness. Myron was about to go after him, but Dad put a hand on his forearm. "Let him go." Al Bolitar was red-faced and breathing hard, but he was also smiling. "Are you okay, Myron?"

  Myron touched his mouth. His lip was bleeding. "I'll live. Why are you smiling?"

  Dad kept his eyes on the road where Mickey had vanished into the darkness. "Kid's got balls."

  "You're kidding, right?"

  "Come on," Dad said. "Let's go inside and talk."

  They headed into the downstairs TV room. For most of Myron's childhood, Dad had a Barcalounger, reserved specifically for him, the kind of dinosaur of a recliner that was eventually held together with duct tape. Nowadays there was a five-piece sectional called the "Multiplex II" with built-in recliners and storage areas for beverages. Myron had bought it from a place called Bob's Discount Furniture, though originally he had been resistant because Bob's radio commercials were four steps beyond grating.

  "I'm really sorry about Suzze," Dad said.

  "Thank you."

  "Do you know what happened?"

  "Not yet, no. I'm working on it." Dad's face was still red from the exertion. "Are you sure you're okay?"

  "I'm fine."

  "Where's Mom?"

  "She's out with Aunt Carol and Sadie."

  "I could use a glass of water," Myron said. "How about you?"

  "Okay. And put some ice on your lip so it doesn't swell."

  Myron headed up the three steps to the kitchen, grabbed two glasses, filled them up from the overpriced water dispenser. There were ice packs in the freezer. He grabbed one and headed back to the TV room. He handed a glass to Dad and sat in the recliner on the right.

  "I can't believe that just happened," Myron said. "The first time I see my nephew and he attacks me."

  "Do you blame him?" Dad asked.

  Myron sat up. "Excuse me?"

  "Kitty called me," Dad said. "She told me about your run-in at the mall."

  Myron should have known. "Did she now?"

  "Yes."

  "And that's the reason Mickey jumped me?"

  "Didn't you suggest his mother was something"--Dad stopped, searched for the word, couldn't find it--"something bad?"

  "She is something bad."

  "And if someone suggested that about your mother? How would you have reacted?"

  Dad was smiling again. He was riding some kind of high from the adrenaline rush of combat or maybe pride in his grandson. Al Bolitar had been born poor in Newark and grew up on the city's tougher streets. He started working for a butcher on Mulberry Street when he was just eleven. The majority of his adult life was spent running an undergarment factory in Newark's North Ward near the Passaic River. His office, as it were, loomed above the assembly line floor, all glass so he could see out and his employees could see in. He tried to save the plant during the riots in 1967, but the looters burned it down, and while Dad eventually rebuilt it and went back to work, he never quite looked at his employees or the city the same again.

  "Think about it," Dad said. "Think about what you said to Kitty. Suppose someone had said that to your mother."

  "My mother isn't Kitty."

  "You think that matters to Mickey?"

  Myron shook his head. "Why would Kitty tell him what I said?"

  "What, a mother should lie?"

  When Myron was eight years old, he got into a pushing fight with Kevin Werner outside Burnet Hill Elementary School. His parents sat in the school office and heard a stern lecture from the principal, Mr. Celebre, on the evils of fighting. When they got home, Mom headed upstairs without saying a word. Dad sat him down in this very room. Myron expected a fairly severe punishment. Instead his father leaned forward and looked him dead in the eye. "You'll never get in trouble with me for getting in a fight," he said. "If you find yourself in a situation where you need to step outside and settle it, I'm not going to question your judgment. You fight if you have to. You never run away from it. You never back down." And as crazy and surprising as this advice may have seemed, Myron had indeed backed down from fights in the years to come, doing the "prudent" thing, and the truth--a truth that probably explained what his friends described as his hero complex--was that no beating hurts as much as backing down.

  "This is what you wanted to talk to me about?" Myron said.

  Dad nodded. "You need to promise me you'll leave them alone. And you already know this, but you shouldn't have said what you did to your brother's wife."

  "I just wanted to talk to Brad."

  "He's not around," Dad said.

  "Where is he?"

  "He's on some kind of charity mission in Bolivia. Kitty didn't want to give me the details."

  "Maybe there's trouble."

  "Between Brad and Kitty?" Dad took a sip of water. "Maybe there is. But that's not our business."

  "So if Brad is off in Bolivia, what are Kitty and Mickey doing here?"

  "They're looking to settle back in the States. They're debating between this area and California."

  Another lie, Myron was sure. Way to manipulate the old man, Kitty. Get Myron off my back and maybe we will want to live near you. Keep him bugging us and we move across the country. "Why now? Why did they come back home after all these years?"

  "I don't know. I didn't ask."

  "Dad, I know you like to give your kids privacy, but I think you're taking this not-interfering thing a little too far."

  He chuckled at that. "You have to give them room, Myron. I never told you how I felt about Jessica, for example."

  Again with his old girlfriend. "Wait, I thought you liked Jessica."

  "She was bad news," Dad said.

  "But you never said anything."

  "It wasn't my place."

  "Maybe you should have," Myron said. "Maybe it would have saved me a lot of heartache."

  Dad shook his head. "I would do anything to protect you"--he almost glanced outside, having proved the point mere minutes ago--"but the best way to do that is to let you make your own mistakes. A mistake-proof life is not worth living."

  "So I just let it go?"

  "For now, yes. Brad knows you reached out--Kitty will tell him. I e-mailed him too. If he wants to reach back, he will."

  Myron flashed to another memory: Brad, age seven, getting bullied at sleepaway camp. Myron remembered Brad just sitting out by the old softball field by himself. Brad had made the last out and the bullies had taunted en masse. Myron tried to sit with him but Brad just kept crying and telling Myron to go away. It was one of those times you feel so helpless you'd kill to make the pain go away. He remembered another time, when the entire Bolitar family went to Miami during the February school break. He and Brad shared a hot
el room, and one night, after a fun-filled day at the Parrot Jungle, Myron asked him about school and Brad broke down and cried and said that he hated it and had no friends and it broke Myron's heart in about a thousand places. The next day, sitting out by the pool, Myron asked Dad what he should do about it. His father's advice had been simple: "Don't raise it. Don't make him sad now. Just let him enjoy his vacation."

  Brad had been gawky, awkward, a later bloomer. Or maybe it had just been growing up behind Myron.

  "I thought you wanted us to reconcile," Myron said.

  "I do. But you can't force it. Give them room."

  His father was still breathing hard from the earlier altercation. There was no reason to get him all upset now. It could wait until the morning. But then: "Kitty is using drugs," Myron said.

  Dad raised an eyebrow. "You know this?"

  "Yes."

  Dad rubbed his chin and considered this new development. Then: "You still need to leave them alone."

  "Are you serious?"

  "Did you know that at one point your mother was addicted to painkillers?"

  Myron said nothing, stunned.

  "It's getting late," Dad said. He started to get up from the couch. "You okay?"

  "Wait, you're just going to drop this bomb on me and walk away?"

  "It wasn't a big deal. That's my point. We worked it out."

  Myron didn't know what to say. He also wondered what Dad would make of it if he told him about Kitty's sex act in the nightclub, and man, he hoped that Dad wouldn't use another Mom-did-same analogy on that one.

  Give it a rest for the night, Myron thought. No reason to do anything hasty. There will be nothing new until daylight. They heard a car pull into the driveway and then the sound of a car door slamming shut.

  "That will be your mother." Al Bolitar rose gingerly. Myron stood too. "Don't tell her about tonight. I don't want her worrying."

  "Okay. Hey, Dad?"

  "Yes?"

  "Nice tackle out there."

  Dad tried not to smile. Myron looked at the aging face. He had that overwhelming feeling, the melancholy one he got when he realized that his parents were getting older. He wanted to say more, wanted to thank him, but he knew that his father knew all that and that any additional discussion on the subject would be unseemly or superfluous. Let the moment alone. Let it breathe.

  19

 
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