Live wire, p.16
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       Live Wire, p.16

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 
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  At two thirty A.M., Myron headed upstairs to that same childhood bedroom he'd shared with Brad, the one that still had the Tot Finder sticker on the window, and flipped on the computer.

  He logged on to Skype. The screen opened on Terese's face, and as always, he felt the heady rush and, yep, the lightness in his chest.

  "God, you're beautiful," he said.

  Terese smiled. "May I speak frankly?"

  "Please."

  "You are the sexiest man I've ever known, and right now, just looking at you is driving me up a wall."

  Myron sat up a little taller. Talk about the perfect medicine. "I'm trying very hard not to preen," he said. "And I'm not even sure what preening is."

  "May I continue to be frank?" she asked.

  "Please."

  "I would be willing to try, uh, something via video, but I don't quite get it, do you?"

  "I confess I don't."

  "Does that make us old-fashioned? I don't get computer sex or phone sex or any of that."

  "I tried phone sex once," Myron said.

  "And?"

  "And I never felt so self-conscious in my life. I started laughing at a particularly inopportune stage."

  "Okay, so we're in agreement."

  "Yep."

  "You're not just saying that? Because, you know, I mean, I know we're far apart--"

  "I'm not just saying that."

  "Good," Terese said. "So what's going on over there?"

  "How much time do you have?" Myron asked.

  "Maybe another twenty minutes."

  "How about we spend ten of it just talking like this and then I'll tell you?"

  Even through a computer monitor, Terese looked at him as though he were the only man in the world. Everything vanished. There was just the two of them. "That bad?" she said.

  "Yes."

  "Okay, handsome. You lead, I will follow."

  But that didn't work. He told her right away about Suzze. When he finished, Terese said, "So what are you going to do?"

  "I want to chuck it all. I'm just so tired."

  She nodded.

  "I want to come back to Angola. I want to marry you and just stay there."

  "I want that too," she said.

  "There's a 'but' coming."

  "Not really, no," Terese said. "Nothing would make me happier. I want to be with you more than you could ever know."

  "But?"

  "But you can't leave. You're not built that way. For one, you can't just abandon Esperanza and the business."

  "I could sell her my share."

  "No, you can't. And even if you could, you need to learn the truth about Suzze. You need to figure out what's going on with your brother. You need to look after your parents. You can't just dump that all and come here."

  "And you can't come home," Myron said.

  "Not yet, no."

  "So what does that mean?"

  Terese shrugged. "We're screwed. But just for a little while. You will find out what happened to Suzze and settle things."

  "You sound confident."

  "I know you. You'll do all that. And then, well, when things are settled, you can come for a long visit, right?"

  She arched an eyebrow and smiled at him. He smiled back. He could actually feel the muscles in his shoulders relax.

  "Definitely right," he said.

  "Myron?"

  "Yes."

  "Do it quickly."

  Myron called Lex in the morning. No reply. He called Buzz. Same. Chief County Investigator Loren Muse, however, answered her cell phone--Myron still had the number from their previous encounter. He persuaded her to meet him at Suzze and Lex's high-rise, the scene of the drug overdose.

  "If it will help wrap this up," Muse said, "you're on."

  "Thank you."

  An hour later, Muse met up with him in the front lobby. They got into the elevator and started up to the top floor.

  "According to the preliminary autopsy," Muse said, "Suzze T died of respiratory arrest caused by an overdose of heroin. I don't know if you know much about opiate overdoses, but classically the drug just decreases the victim's ability to breathe until it just stops. Often the victim still has a pulse and survives for several minutes without breathing. I think that's what helped save the baby, but I'm not a doctor. There were no other drugs in her system. No one conked her on the head or anything like that--no signs of any physical altercation whatsoever."

  "In short," Myron said, "nothing new."

  "Well, there's one thing. I found that post you were talking about last night. On Suzze's Facebook. The one that said, 'Not his.' "

  "And you think what?"

  "I think," Muse said, "that maybe it's true."

  "Suzze swore it wasn't."

  Muse rolled her eyes. "And, gee, no woman would ever lie about paternity. Think about it. Suppose the baby isn't Lex Ryder's. Maybe she felt guilty. Maybe she worried about being exposed."

  "You could always run a paternity test on the baby," Myron said. "Find out for sure."

  "Sure I could, if I were investigating a murder. If I were investigating a murder, I might ask for a court order. But like I said, I'm not. I'm giving you a reason why a woman may have taken a drug overdose. Period, the end."

  "Maybe Lex will let you do the DNA test anyway."

  The elevator arrived as Muse said, "Well, well, well."

  "What?"

  "You don't know."

  "Don't know what?"

  "I thought you were Lex's hotshot defense attorney."

  "Meaning?"

  "Meaning, Lex is already gone with the baby," Muse said.

  "What do you mean, 'gone'?"

  "This way." They started up the spiral staircase that led to the rooftop terrace.

  "Muse?"

  "As you, a shining star of a defense lawyer already know, I have no reason to hold Lex Ryder. Early this morning, against doctor's orders, he checked his newborn son out of the hospital--as is his right. He left his pal Buzz behind and hired a pediatric nurse to accompany him."

  "Where did they go?"

  "Since there's no murder here or even suspicion of one, I had no reason to actively pursue his destination." Muse reached the rooftop. Myron followed. She walked over to the Cleopatra-like chaise near the arch. Muse stopped, looked down, and pointed at the chair.

  Her tone turned dead serious. "Here."

  Myron looked down at the smooth ivory chaise. No blood, no wrinkles, no sign of death. You would expect a chair would show something about what had taken place. "This is where they found her?"

  Muse nodded. "The needle was on the floor. She was passed out, totally unresponsive. The only prints on the needle are hers."

  Myron looked out through the arch. In the distance, the Manhattan skyline beckoned. The water was still. The sky was purple and gray. He closed his eyes and traveled back two nights ago. When the wind whipped across the balcony, Myron could almost hear Suzze's words: "Sometimes people do need help. . . . Maybe you don't know it, but you saved my life a hundred times."

  But not this time. This time, per Lex's request, he had backed off, hadn't he? He had finished up her favor--they knew who posted "Not His," they knew where Lex was--and Myron had chosen to butt out, to leave Suzze on her own.

  Myron kept his eyes on the skyline. "You said a guy with a Spanish accent made the nine-one-one call?"

  "Yes. He used one of their portable phones. It was on the floor downstairs. Probably dropped it when he was running out. We checked it for prints, but everything is pretty smeared up on it. We have Lex's and Suzze's and that's about it. When the paramedics got here, the door was still open. They came in and found her up here."

  Myron jammed his hands into his pockets. The breeze hit his face. "You realize that your theory about an illegal immigrant or maintenance worker makes no sense."

  "Why not?"

  "A janitor or whatever walks by, happens to see--what?--the door ajar, comes all the way into the apartment, and then, I guess, goes
out on the roof?"

  Muse thought about that. "You have a point."

  "It is much more likely that the person who called was here with her when she shot up."

  "So?"

  "What do you mean, so?"

  "Like I said before, I'm in this for the crime, not curiosity. If she was shooting up with a friend and if he or she ran, I'm really not up for prosecuting that. If it was her drug dealer, okay, maybe if I can find the person and then prove he sold her the drugs, but really, that's not what I'm trying to find out."

  "I was with her the night before, Muse."

  "I know."

  "I was right here on this very roof. She was troubled, but she wasn't suicidal."

  "So you told me," Muse said. "But think about it--troubled but not suicidal. That's a pretty fine distinction. And for the record, I never said she was suicidal. But she was troubled, right? That could have led to her falling off the wagon--and maybe she just fell too hard."

  The wind kicked up again. Suzze's voice--was this the last thing she said to him?--came with it: "We all keep secrets, Myron."

  "And here's another thing to think about," Muse said. "If this was a murder, it was pretty much the dumbest one I've ever seen. Let's say you wanted Suzze dead. Let's say you could even somehow get her to take the heroin on her own without physical force. Maybe you put a gun against her head, whatever. You with me?"

  "Go on."

  "Well, if you want to kill her, why not just kill her? Why call nine-one-one and take the chance that she'd be alive when they got here? For that matter, with the amount of drugs she took, why not lead her under that arch and get her to fall off? Either way, what you do not do is call the paramedics or leave with the door open for a janitor or whatever. Do you see what I mean?"

  "I do," Myron said.

  "Am I making sense?"

  "You are."

  "Do you have anything that disputes what I said?"

  "Not a thing," Myron said, trying to sort it through in his head. "So if you're right, she probably contacted her dealer yesterday. Any clues on who it was?"

  "Not yet, no. We know that she took a drive yesterday. There was an E-ZPass hit on the Garden State Parkway near Route Two-eighty. She could have headed to Newark."

  Myron considered that. "Did you check her car?"

  "Her car? No. Why?"

  "Do you mind if I check it?"

  "Do you have keys?"

  "I do."

  She shook her head. "Agents. Go ahead. I have to get back to work."

  "One more question, Muse."

  Muse just waited.

  "Why are you showing me all this after I pulled the attorneyclient card last night?"

  "Because right now I have no case anyway," she said. "And because if somehow I'm missing something--if somehow this was a murder--it doesn't matter who you're supposed to defend. You cared about Suzze. You wouldn't just let her killer walk."

  They headed down the elevator in silence. Muse got off at ground level. Myron went down to the garage. He hit the remote control and listened for the beep. Suzze drove a Mercedes S63 AMG. He opened it and slipped into the driver's seat. He got a whiff of some wildflower perfume and it made him think of Suzze. He opened the glove compartment and found the registration, insurance card, and the car manual. He searched under the seats for--he wasn't sure what, really. Clues. All he found was loose change and two pens. Sherlock Holmes probably could have used them to figure out exactly where Suzze had gone, but Myron couldn't.

  He turned the car on, started up the dashboard GPS. He hit "previous destinations" and saw a list of spots Suzze had plugged in for directions. Sherlock Holmes, eat your heart out. The most recent destination was in Kasselton, New Jersey. Hmm. In order to get there, you'd have to take the Garden State Parkway past Exit 146 per the E-ZPass records.

  The second-to-last input was an intersection in Edison, New Jersey. Myron pulled out his BlackBerry and started typing in the addresses listed. When he finished he e-mailed them to Esperanza. She could look them up online, figure out whether any of them were important. There were no dates next to inputs, so for all Myron knew, Suzze had visited these places months ago and rarely used the GPS.

  Still all signs pointed to the fact that Suzze visited Kasselton recently, maybe even the day of her death. It might be worth a quick visit.

  20

  The address in Kasselton was a four-store strip mall anchored by a Kings Supermarket. The other three storefronts housed a Renato's Pizzeria, a make-your-own ice cream parlor called SnowCap, and an old-school barbershop dubbed "Sal and Shorty Joe's Hair-Clipping," complete with the classic red-and-white pole out front.

  So why had Suzze come out here?

  There were, of course, supermarkets and ice cream parlors and pizzerias far closer to her home and somehow Myron doubted that either Sal or Shorty Joe did Suzze's hair. So why drive out this way? Myron stood there and waited for the answer to come to him. Two minutes passed. The answer did not arrive, so Myron decided to give it a nudge.

  He started with the Kings Supermarket. Not sure what else to do, he flashed a picture of Suzze T around and asked whether anyone had seen her. Working old-school. Like Sal and Shorty Joe. A few people recognized Suzze from her tennis days. A few had seen her on the news last night and assumed Myron was a cop, an assumption he did little to correct. In the end though, no one had seen her in the supermarket.

  Strike one.

  Myron headed back outside. He looked out at the parking lot. Best odds? Suzze had driven here for a drug buy. Drug dealers, especially in suburbia, used public lots all the time. You park your cars side by side, open front windows, someone tosses money from one car to another, someone tosses drugs back.

  He tried to picture it. Suzze, the woman who had told him the night before about secrets and worried about being too competitive, all eight months pregnant of her, the woman who walked into his office two days earlier saying, "I'm so damn happy"--that Suzze had driven out to this strip mall to buy enough heroin to kill herself?

  Sorry, no, Myron wasn't buying it.

  Maybe she was meeting someone else, not a drug dealer, in this lot. Maybe, maybe not. Great detective work so far. Okay, there was still work to be done. Renato's Pizzeria was closed. The barbershop, however, was doing business. Through the storefront window, Myron could see the older men jabbering away, arguing in that good-natured ways guys do, looking remarkably content. He turned to SnowCap ice cream parlor. Someone was hanging up a sign: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LAUREN! Girls, probably around the age of eight, maybe nine, were heading inside toting birthday presents. Their mothers held their hands, exhausted, harried, happy.

  Suzze's voice: "I'm so damned happy."

  This, he thought, looking at the mothers, should have been Suzze's life. It would have been. It was what Suzze wanted. People do dumb things. They throw away happiness as though it were a soiled napkin. That could have been what happened here--Suzze, so close to true joy, messed it up as was her wont.

  He looked through the parlor's front window and watched the little girls pull away from their mothers and greet one another with squeals and hugs. The parlor was a swirl of colors and movement. The mothers moved to the corner with the coffee urn. Myron again tried to picture Suzze here, where she belonged, when he noticed a man standing behind the counter, staring at him. The man was older, midsixties, with the middle-management belly spread and citation-worthy comb-over. He stared at Myron through glasses that were a touch too fashionable, like something a hip urban architect might sport, and he kept pushing them back up his nose.

  The manager, Myron figured. Probably always looking out the window like this, guarding the grounds, a busybody. Perfect. Myron approached the door with Suzze T's picture at the ready. By the time he got to the door, the man was already there, holding it open.

  "Can I help you?" the man asked.

  Myron held up the picture. The man looked at the photograph and his eyes closed.

  "Have you seen this woman?" My
ron asked.

  His voice seemed very far away. "I spoke to her yesterday."

  This guy did not look like a drug dealer. "What about?"

  The man swallowed, started to turn away. "My daughter," he said. "She wanted to know about my daughter."

  "Follow me," the man said.

  They walked past the ice cream counter. The woman working behind it was in a wheelchair. She had a great big smile and was telling a customer about the oddly named ice cream flavors and all the possible ingredients you could mix into them. Myron glanced to his left. The party was in full swing. The girls were taking turns mixing and mashing ice cream in order to create their own flavors. Two high school-age girls helped with the heavy scooping while another mixed in Reese's Pieces, cookie dough, Oreos, sprinkles, Gummi Bears, nuts, chocolate chips, even granola.

  "Do you like ice cream?" the man asked.

  Myron spread his hands. "Who doesn't like ice cream?"

  "Not many people, knock wood." The man rapped a Formica tabletop with his knuckles as they passed. "What flavor can I get you?"

  "I'm fine, thank you."

  But he wouldn't take no for an answer. "Kimberly?"

  The woman in the wheelchair looked up.

  "Make our guest here the SnowCap Melter."

  "Sure thing."

  The store was blanketed with the SnowCap ice cream logo. That should have given it to him. SnowCap. Snow. Myron took another look at the man's face. The fifteen years had been neither a friend nor an enemy to the man--normal aging--but now Myron started to put it together.

  "You're Karl Snow," Myron said. "Alista's father."

  "Are you a cop?" he asked Myron.

  Myron hesitated.

  "It doesn't matter. I've got nothing to say."

  Myron decided to give him a push. "Are you going to help cover up another murder?"

  Myron expected shock or outrage, but instead he got a firm headshake. "I read the papers. Suzze T died of an overdose."

  Maybe a bigger push: "Right, and your daughter just fell out a window."

  Myron regretted the words the moment they escaped his lips. Too much too soon. He waited for the eruption. It didn't come. Karl Snow's face sagged. "Sit down," he said. "Tell me who you are."

  Myron sat facing Karl Snow and introduced himself. Behind Snow, Lauren's birthday party was growing happily rowdy. Myron thought about the obvious juxtaposition--a girl's birthday party being hosted by a man who lost his own--but then he let it go.

  "The news said she overdosed," Karl Snow said. "Is that true?"

 
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