Live wire, p.17
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       Live Wire, p.17

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 
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  "I'm not sure," Myron said. "That's why I'm looking into it."

  "I don't get it. Why you? Why not the police?"

  "Could you just tell me why she was here?"

  Karl Snow leaned back, pushed his glasses back up his nose. "Let me ask you something before we get into this. Do you have any evidence at all that Suzze T was murdered--yes or no?"

  "For one thing," Myron said, "there's the fact that she was eight months pregnant and looking forward to starting a family."

  He did not look impressed. "That doesn't sound like much evidence."

  "It's not," Myron said. "But here's what I do know for certain. Suzze drove out here yesterday. She talked to you. A few hours later, she was dead."

  He glanced behind him. The young woman in the wheelchair started toward them with an ice cream monstrosity. Myron started to get up to help, but Karl Snow shook his head. Myron stayed where he was.

  "One SnowCap Melter," the woman said, putting it in front of Myron. "Enjoy."

  The Melter would have trouble fitting in the trunk of a car. Myron half expected the table to tilt over. "This is for one person?" Myron asked.

  "Yep," she said.

  He looked at her. "Does it come with angioplasty or maybe a shot of insulin?"

  She rolled her eyes. "Golly, I've never heard that one before."

  Karl Snow said, "Mr. Bolitar, meet my daughter Kimberly."

  "Nice to meet you," Kimberly said, awarding him with the kind of smile that makes the cynical think about the celestial. They chatted for a minute or two--she was the store manager, Karl just owned the place--and then she wheeled herself back behind the counter.

  Karl was still watching his daughter when he said, "She was twelve when Alista . . ." He stopped, as though not sure what word to use. "Their mother died two years earlier from breast cancer. I didn't handle it well. I started drinking too much. Kimberly was born with CP. She needed constant care. I guess that Alista, well, I guess she slipped through the cracks."

  As if on cue, a big laugh exploded from the party behind him. Myron glanced over at Lauren, the birthday girl. She too was smiling, a ring of chocolate around her mouth.

  "I have no interest in hurting you or your daughter," Myron said.

  "If I talk to you now," he said slowly, "I need you to promise me I won't see you again. I can't have the media back in our lives."

  "I promise."

  Karl Snow rubbed his face with both hands. "Suzze wanted to know about Alista's death."

  Myron waited for him to say more. When he didn't, he asked, "What did she want to know?"

  "She wanted to know if Gabriel Wire killed my daughter."

  "What did you say?"

  "I told her that after meeting privately with Mr. Wire, I no longer believed that he was culpable. I told her that, in the end, it was a tragic accident and that I was satisfied with that result. I also told her that the settlement is confidential, so that was really all I could say."

  Myron just stared at him. Karl Snow had said it all in a practiced monotone. Myron waited for Snow to meet his eye. He didn't. Instead Snow shook his head and said softly, "I can't believe she's dead."

  Myron didn't know whether he was talking about Suzze or Alista. Karl Snow blinked, looked off toward Kimberly. The sight seemed to give him strength. "Have you ever lost a child, Mr. Bolitar?"

  "No."

  "I'll spare you the cliches. In fact, I'll spare you altogether. I know how people view me: the unfeeling father who took a big payday in exchange for letting his daughter's killer go free."

  "And that wasn't the case?"

  "Sometimes you have to love a child privately. And sometimes you have to grieve privately."

  Myron was not sure what that meant, so he waited.

  "Eat some of the ice cream," Karl said, "or Kimberly will notice. That girl has eyes in the back of her head."

  Myron reached for the spoon and tried the whipped cream with the first layer of what looked like cookies 'n' cream. Manna.

  "Good?"

  "Manna," Myron said.

  He smiled again, but there was no joy in it. "Kimberly invented the Melter."

  "She's a genius."

  "She's a good daughter. And she loves this place. I messed up with Alista. I won't make that mistake again."

  "Is that what you told Suzze?"

  "In part. I tried to make her understand my position at the time."

  "Which was?"

  "Alista loved HorsePower--and like every teenage girl, she was totally gaga over Gabriel Wire." Something crossed his face. He looked away, lost. "Alista's birthday was coming up. Sweet sixteen. I didn't have the money to throw her a big party, but I knew that HorsePower was going to play a concert at Madison Square Garden. I guess they didn't play many concerts--I never really followed them--but I knew that there was this Ticketmaster on the basement level of this Marshalls Department Store on Route Four. So I woke up at, like, five in the morning and got on line. You should have seen it. No one else there was over thirty, and I'm standing there, waiting for two hours, to buy tickets to the concert. When I got to the window, the woman started typing into the computer and first she tells me that it's sold out and then, well, then she says, 'No, wait, I have only two left,' " and I was never so happy to buy something in my life. Like it was kismet, you know? Like it was supposed to happen."

  Myron nodded as noncommittally as he could.

  "So I get home and Alista's birthday is still a week away so I figure I'm going to wait. I tell Kimberly about them. And we're both dying. I mean, those tickets are burning a hole in my pocket. You ever have that? Where you buy someone something so special that you just can't wait to give it?"

  "Sure," Myron said softly.

  "So that's how it is with me and Kimberly. We end up driving to Alista's high school. We park there and I get Kimberly out and into her chair and Alista comes out and we're just smiling like two cats that ate the canary. Alista makes a face at us, the way teenage girls do, and she says, 'What?' " and I just held up the tickets and Alista"--he stopped, his world rolling back all those years--"she just screamed and threw her arms around my neck and squeezed so hard . . ."

  His voice faded away. He pulled a napkin from the dispenser, started to go for his eyes, decided against it. He stared down at the table.

  "So anyway, Alista took her best friend to the concert. They were supposed to go back to the friend's house afterward. For a sleepover. But they didn't. You know the rest."

  "I'm sorry."

  Karl Snow shook his head. "A long time ago."

  "And you don't blame Gabriel Wire?"

  "Blame?" He stopped and thought about that. "The truth is, I didn't supervise Alista enough after her mother died. So part of it, I mean, when I really look at it closely, the roadie who spotted Alista in the crowd? He was a stranger. The security guy who let her backstage? He was a stranger. Gabriel Wire--he was a stranger too. I was her father--and I didn't look out for her. Why should I have expected them to?"

  Karl Snow blinked and flicked a look to the right.

  "And that's what you told Suzze?"

  "I told her there was no proof that Gabriel Wire did anything wrong that night--at least, nothing the police could prove. They made that very clear to me. Yes, Alista had been in Wire's hotel suite. Yes, she did fall from his balcony--and yes, she did fall thirtyt-wo floors. But to get from A to B, to get from those facts to indicting a powerful celebrity, not to mention securing a conviction . . ." He shrugged. "I had another daughter to worry about. I had no money. Do you know how hard it is to raise a handicapped child? How expensive? And SnowCap is a small chain now. How do you think I got the initial seed money?"

  Myron was trying hard to understand, but his voice had more edge than he'd wanted. "From your daughter's killer?"

  "You don't get it. Alista was dead. Dead is dead. There was nothing I could do for her anymore."

  "But there was something you could still do for Kimberly."

  "Yes. B
ut it really isn't as cold as that. Suppose I didn't take the money. Now Wire gets away with it--and Kimberly is still in a bad way. This way, at the very least, Kimberly would be taken care of."

  "No offense, but that does sound awfully cold."

  "I suppose to an outsider it does, doesn't it? I'm a father. And a father really has only one job. Protect your child. That's it. And once I failed at that, once I let my daughter go off to that concert and I didn't check up on her. . . . Nothing can ever make up for that." He stopped, wiped a tear from his eye. "Anyway, you wanted to know what Suzze wanted. She wanted to know if I thought Gabriel Wire killed Alista."

  "Did she say why she wanted to know? I mean, after all these years?"

  "No." He blinked, looked away.

  "What?"

  "Nothing. I should have told her to leave it alone. Alista tangled with Gabriel Wire--and look what happened."

  "Are you saying--?"

  "I'm not saying anything. The news said she overdosed on heroin. She seemed distraught when she left, so I guess I'm not all that surprised."

  Behind him one of Lauren's friends started crying--something about someone getting the wrong goodie bag. Karl Snow heard the commotion. He hurried over to the girls, all someone's daughters, girls who would grow up quickly and have crushes on rock stars. But for now here they were, at a little girl's birthday party, simply wanting ice cream and the right goodie bag.

  21

  Win knew how to get an immediate meeting with Herman Ache.

  Windsor Horne Lockwood III had, like Windsor Horne Lockwood II and Windsor Horne Lockwood, been born with a silver golf tee in his mouth. His family had been original members of Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, outside Philadelphia. Win was also a member of Pine Valley, routinely ranked as the number one course in the world (this despite the fact that the course was located near a cheesy water park in southern New Jersey), and for those times he wanted to play a great course near New York City, Win had joined Ridgewood Golf Club, an A. W. Tillinghast-designed twenty-seven-hole paradise that rivaled the best parkland courses in the world.

  Herman Ache--the "former" mobster--loved golf more than he loved his children. That might be hyperbole, but based on Win's recent visit to a federal penitentiary, Herman Ache certainly loved golf more than he loved his brother Frank. So Win called Herman's office that morning and invited him to play a round at Ridgewood that very day. Without hesitation, Herman Ache said yes.

  Herman Ache was too cagey not to realize that Win had an agenda, but he didn't care. This was a chance to play Ridgewood--a rare opportunity for even the wealthiest and most powerful of mob bosses. He would parry and thrust and probably walk headfirst into a fed wiretap sting if it meant that he could tee off on one of Tillinghast's most legendary courses.

  "Thanks again for inviting me," Herman said.

  "My pleasure."

  They were on the first tee, known as One East. No cell phones were allowed on the course, but Win had spoken to Myron right before heading out and was thus filled in on Myron's meeting with Karl Snow. Win was not sure what to make of it. He cleared his mind and stepped up to the ball. He let loose a breath and split the fairway in half with a two-hundred-ninety-yard drive.

  Herman Ache, who had a swing uglier than a monkey's armpit, was up next. He hooked it way left over the trees and nearly out to Route 17.

  Herman frowned. He stared at the club, ready to blame. "You know something? I saw Tiger hit the same shot on this hole during the Barclay Open."

  "Yes," Win said. "You and Tiger are practically interchangeable off a tee."

  Herman Ache smiled with aggressively capped teeth. Despite being in his late seventies, he wore a yellow Nike Dri-Fit golf shirt and, following a recent albeit ill-advised golf fashion trend, formfitting white pants flared at the cuff and held up by a thick black belt with a silver buckle the size of a hubcap.

  Ache called for a Mulligan--basically a do-over and something Win never ever did when he was someone's guest--and placed another ball on the tee. "Let me ask you something, Win."

  "Please do."

  "As you probably know, I'm an old man."

  Ache smiled again. He aimed for kindly grandfather but with the caps it came out more lemurlike. Herman Ache had the kind of tan that was more orange than brown and luxuriously distinguished gray hair, the kind only money could buy--in short, he wore a top-drawer toupee. His face was totally wrinkle-and-movement free. Botox. Lots of it. His skin was too oily, too shiny, so that he looked a bit like something Madame Tussaud created on an off day. The neck gave him away. It was scrawny and baggy, hanging loosely like an old man's scrotum.

  "I'm aware," Win said.

  "And as you probably know, I operate and own a tremendous and varied portfolio of legal enterprises."

  If a man feels the need to tell you that his enterprises are "legal," well, they most definitely are not.

  Win made a noise of noncommitment.

  "I'm wondering if you'd consider sponsoring me for membership here," Herman Ache said. "With your connections and name, I mean, if you'd be the one doing the sponsoring, I think it might go a long way to acceptance."

  Win tried very hard not to blanch. He also managed not to put his hand to his heart and stumble backward, though it was not easy. "We can discuss," Win said.

  Herman stood behind the ball, narrowed his eyes, and studied the fairway as though he were searching for the New World. He strolled up to his ball, stood next to it, and took four painfully slow practice swings. The caddies exchanged a glance. Herman looked out at the fairway again. If this were a movie, you'd now start seeing the hands of the clock fly around, days on a calendar blowing in the wind, leaves browning, and snow falling and then the sun coming up and everything turning green.

  Win Golf Credo #12: It is perfectly acceptable to stink at golf. It is not perfectly acceptable to stink slowly.

  Herman finally took his shot--another duck hook to the left. The ball smacked a tree and came down into play. The caddies looked relieved. Win and Ache made it through the first two holes, talking about utter nonsense. Golf, by nature, is a wonderfully self-involved game. You care about your score and pretty much nothing else. That was a good thing in many ways, but made for anything but stimulating conversation.

  On the third-hole tee, the famed par-five mounds hole, they both looked out over the sight, the quiet, the green, the hush. It was breathtaking. For a moment no one moved or spoke. Win breathed evenly, almost closed his eyes. A course is a sanctuary. It was easy to poke fun and yes, golf was the most baffling of endeavors, screwing with the minds of even the most seasoned participants, but when Win was outside on a day like today, when he looked out over the calming spread of green, these were the moments when he, a full-fledged agnostic, felt almost blessed.

  "Win?"

  "Yes?"

  "Thank you," Herman Ache said. There was a tear in his eye. "Thank you for this."

  Win looked at the man. The spell broke. This was not the man with whom he wanted to share this moment. Still, Win thought, there was an opening. "About this club sponsorship thing."

  Herman Ache looked up at Win with zealotlike hope. "Yes?"

  "What would I tell the membership board about your, uh, business interests?"

  "I told you. I'm totally legit now."

  "Ah, but they will know about your past."

  "First of all, that is the past. And that wasn't me anyway. Let me ask you something, Win: What's the difference between Herman Ache now and Herman Ache five years ago?"

  "Why don't you tell me?"

  "Oh, I will. The difference is that there is no Frank Ache out there anymore."

  "I see."

  "All the criminal stuff, all the violence--that wasn't me. It was my brother Frank. You know him, Win. Frank is coarse. He is loud and violent. I did my best to rein him in. He's the one who caused all the trouble. You can tell the board that."

  Selling his brother out for membership in a golf club. Quite the prince.
>
  "I'm not sure trashing your own brother will sit well with the membership board either," Win said. "They are very big here on family values."

  Eye shift, gear shift. "Oh, I'm not trashing him. Look, I love Frank. He's my baby brother. He'll always be that. I take good care of him. You know he's serving a prison sentence, right?"

  "I've heard, yes," Win said. "Do you visit him?"

  "Sure, all the time. Funny thing is, Frank loves it there."

  "In prison?"

  "You know Frank. He practically runs the place. I'll be honest with you. I didn't want him to take the fall alone, but Frank, well, he insisted on it. He wanted to take one for the whole family, so really, the least I can do is make sure he's well taken care of."

  Win studied the old man's face and body language. Nothing. Most people assume that somehow you can tell when a man is lying to you--that there are clear-cut signs of deceit and that if you learn those signs, you can discern when someone is telling a lie or the truth. Those who believe such nonsense are just fooled all the more. Herman Ache was a sociopath. He had probably murdered--or more precisely, ordered the murder of--more people than Frank ever could. Frank Ache was obvious--a frontal assault easily spotted and thus taken down. Herman Ache worked more like a snake in the grass, a wolf in sheep's clothing, and thus was far more dangerous.

  The tees on the seventh hole were up closer today, so Win passed on the driver in favor of his three-wood. "May I ask you a question about one of your business interests?"

  Herman Ache gave Win the eye, and now, yes, the snake was not so hidden.

  "Tell me about your relationship with Gabriel Wire."

  Even a sociopath can look surprised. "Why the hell would you want to know about that?"

  "Myron represents his partner."

  "So?"

  "I know in the past that you handled his gambling debts."

  "And you think that should be illegal? It's fine if the government sells lottery tickets. It's fine if Las Vegas or Atlantic City or a bunch of Indians take bets, but if an honest businessman does it, somehow that's a crime?"

  Win tried very hard not to yawn. "So, do you still handle Gabriel Wire's gambling?"

  "I can't see how any of this is your business. Wire and I have legitimate business arrangements. That's all you have to know."

  "Legitimate business arrangements?"

  "That's right."

 
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