Live wire, p.19
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       Live Wire, p.19

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 
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  The door swung open.

  Myron quickly stepped inside and closed it behind him. The lights were out and with the shades all pulled down, the room held a ghastly glow.

  "Hello?"

  No reply.

  He flipped the light switch. The bulbs sputtered their way to illumination. The room was pretty much what one might expect from a trailer rental. There was one of those ninety-nine-dollar, too-much-assembly-required grid "entertainment centers" with a handful of paperbacks, a small television, and a beat-up laptop computer. There was a coffee table in front of a sleeper couch that had not seen a coaster since the first moon landing. Myron could tell the couch was a sleeper because there was a pillow and folded blankets on it. Mickey probably slept here, his mother taking the bedroom.

  Myron spotted a photograph on the end table. He flicked on the lamp and lifted it into view. Mickey was in a basketball uniform, his hair messed, the ringlets in front pasted to his forehead by the sweat. Brad stood next to him, his arm draped around his son's neck as though he was about to put him in a loving headlock. Father and son sported enormous smiles. Brad gazed at his son with such obvious love, the moment so intimate Myron almost felt like turning away. Brad's nose, Myron could see, had a definite bend now. But more than that, Brad looked older, his hair starting to recede from the forehead, and something about that, about the passage of time and all they'd missed, made Myron's heart break anew.

  From behind him, Myron heard a noise. He spun quickly. The sound had come from the bedroom. He moved to the door and peered inside. The main room was neat and tidy. The bedroom looked like a tornado had ripped through it, and there, in the eye of the storm, asleep (or worse) on her back, was Kitty.

  "Hello?"

  She didn't move. Her breath came in short, raspy pants. The room smelled of old cigarettes and what might have been beer sweat. He moved closer to the bed. Myron decided to do a little poking around before he woke her. The disposable cell was on her bedside table. He checked it. He recognized the calls from Suzze and Joel "Crush" Fishman. There were three or four other calls, some with what looked like an overseas number. He punched them into his BlackBerry and e-mailed them to Esperanza. He searched Kitty's pocketbook and found her and Mickey's passports. There were dozens of stamps for countries on every continent. Myron tore through it, trying to figure out the timeline. A lot of the stamps were smeared. Still it looked as though Kitty had entered the United States eight months ago from Peru.

  He put the passports back in the purse and rifled through it. There were no surprises at first, but then he started to feel along the lining and--hello--he felt the hard lump. He reached in, slid the seam open with his fingers, and pulled out a plastic bag with a small amount of brown powder in it.

  Heroin.

  Anger almost got the better of him. He was about to wake her up with a kick to the bed when he spotted something on the floor. For a moment he just blinked in disbelief. It was there, on the floor near Kitty's head, where you might toss a book or magazine if you were falling asleep. Myron bent down to get a closer look. He didn't want to touch it, didn't want to get fingerprints on it.

  It was a gun.

  He looked around, found a T-shirt on the floor, and used it to lift the gun into view. A .38. Same as the one sitting in Myron's waistband, courtesy of Win. What the hell was going on here? He was half tempted to report her to family services and leave it at that.

  "Kitty?"

  His voice was louder now, harsher. No movement. This wasn't sleep. She was passed out. He kicked the bed. Nothing. He debated throwing water on her face. Instead he tried to gently slap her face. He leaned over her and smelled the stale breath. He traveled back again, to when she was that adorable teenager dominating center court, and his favorite Yiddish expression came back to him in a rush: Man plans, God laughs.

  This was not a kind laugh.

  "Kitty?" he said again, a little harsher now.

  Her eyes suddenly opened wide. She rolled quickly, startling Myron back, and then he realized what she was doing.

  She was going for the gun.

  "Looking for this?"

  He held up the gun. She cupped her hands though there was barely any light in there and blinked at him. "Myron?"

  24

  Why the hell do you have a loaded gun?"

  Kitty hopped out of bed and looked under a closed window shade. "How did you find me?" Her eyes bulged. "My God, were you followed?"

  "What? No."

  "Are you sure?" Total panic. She ran over and checked another window. "How did you find me?"

  "Just calm down."

  "I won't calm down. Where's Mickey?"

  "I saw him go off to work."

  "Already? What time is it?"

  "One in the afternoon." Myron tried to plow through it. "Did you see Suzze yesterday?"

  "Is that how you found me? She promised she wouldn't tell."

  "Wouldn't tell what?"

  "Anything. But especially where I am. I explained it to her."

  Just ride it, Myron thought. "Explained what?"

  "The danger. But she already understood."

  "Kitty, talk to me here. What kind of danger are you in?"

  She shook her head. "I can't believe Suzze sold me out."

  "She didn't. I found you from her GPS and phone records."

  "What? How?"

  He wasn't about to head down that road. "How long have you been sleeping?"

  "I don't know. I went out last night."

  "Where?"

  "None of your business."

  "Getting high?"

  "Get out!"

  Myron took a step back, raised his hands as though to show he meant no harm. He had to stop attacking. Why do we always screw up when it comes to family? "Do you know about Suzze?"

  "She told me everything."

  "What did she tell you?"

  "It's confidential. I promised her. And she promised me."

  "Kitty, Suzze is dead."

  For a moment Myron thought that maybe she hadn't heard him. Kitty just stared, her eyes clear for the first time. Then she started shaking her head.

  "A drug overdose," Myron said. "Last night."

  More headshake. "No."

  "Where do you think she got the drugs, Kitty?"

  "She wouldn't. She was pregnant."

  "Did you give them to her?"

  "Me? My God, what kind of person do you think I am?"

  To himself: One who keeps a gun next to her bed. One who had drugs hidden in her purse. One who goes down on strange guys at a club to score. Out loud, he said, "She came by here yesterday, right?"

  Kitty didn't reply.

  "Why?"

  "She called me," Kitty said.

  "How did she get your number?"

  "She e-mailed my Facebook account. Like you did. She said it was urgent. She said she had things she needed to tell me."

  "So you e-mailed her your cell phone number."

  Kitty nodded.

  "And then Suzze called. You told her to meet you here."

  "Not here," Kitty said. "I still wasn't sure. I didn't know if I could trust her. I was scared."

  Myron saw it now. "So instead of giving her this address, you just told her the intersection."

  "Right. I told her to park by the Staples. That way I could watch her. Make sure she was on her own and that no one was following."

  "Who did you think might be following?"

  But Kitty shook her head firmly, clearly terrified to answer. This was not a place to go, if he wanted to keep her talking. Myron got back on a more fruitful path. "So you and Suzze talked?"

  "Yes."

  "What did you talk about?"

  "I told you. It's confidential."

  Myron moved closer. He tried to pretend that he didn't detest every bone in this woman's body. He put his hand gently on her shoulder and met her eye. "Please listen to me, okay?"

  Kitty's eyes were glazed.

  "Suzze visited you here yes
terday," Myron said as though talking to a slow kindergartener. "After that, she drove up to Kasselton and spoke to Karl Snow. Do you know who that is?"

  Kitty closed her eyes and nodded.

  "Then she went home and took enough drugs to kill herself."

  "She wouldn't do that," Kitty said. "Not to the baby. I know her. She was killed. They killed her."

  "Who?"

  Another "I won't talk" shake of the head.

  "Kitty, you need to help me figure out what happened here. What did you two talk about?"

  "We both promised."

  "She's dead now. That trumps any promise. You're not breaking any trust here. What did she say to you?"

  Kitty reached for her purse and pulled out a pack of Kool cigarettes. For a moment she just held the pack and stared down at it. "She knew it was me who posted that 'Not His' comment."

  "Was she angry?"

  "Just the opposite. She wanted me to forgive her."

  Myron thought about that. "Because of the rumors she spread about you when you got pregnant?"

  "That's what I thought. I thought she wanted to apologize for telling everyone I slept around and that the baby wasn't Brad's." Kitty met Myron's eye. "Suzze told you that, didn't she?"

  "Yes."

  "Is that why you thought I was some kind of whore? Is that why you told Brad it probably wasn't his?"

  "Not that alone, no."

  "But it contributed?"

  "I guess," he said, biting back the anger. "You're not going to tell me that Brad was the only man you were sleeping with back then, are you?"

  Mistake. Myron saw it.

  "Would it matter what I said?" she asked. "You're going to believe the worst. You always did."

  "I just wanted Brad to check, that's all. I'm his older brother. I was only looking out for him."

  Her voice was filled with bitterness. "So noble."

  He was losing her again. Getting off track. "So Suzze came here to apologize for spreading rumors?"

  "No."

  "But you just said--"

  "I said that's what I thought. At first. And she did. She admitted that she let her competitive nature get the best of her. I told her, it wasn't your competitive nature. It was your bitch of a mother. First place or nothing. Take no prisoners. The woman was a lunatic. Do you remember her?"

  "I do."

  "But I had no idea how crazy that bitch was. Do you remember that pretty Olympic figure skater from the nineties, what was her name, the one who got attacked by her rival's ex?"

  "Nancy Kerrigan."

  "Right. I could see Suzze's mom doing that, hiring someone to whack my leg with a tire iron or whatever. But Suzze said it wasn't her mom. She said that maybe her mom pressured her and so she cracked, but that it was on her, not her mom."

  "What was on her?"

  Kitty's eyes went up and to the right. A small smile came to her lips. "Do you want to hear something funny, Myron?"

  He waited.

  "I loved tennis. The game." Her eyes had a far-off look to them, and Myron remembered how she was back then, the way she crossed the court like a panther. "I wasn't that competitive compared with the other girls. Sure, I wanted to win. But really, since I was a little girl, I just loved playing. I don't get people who really want to win. I often thought that they were horrible people, especially in tennis. You know why?"

  Myron shook his head.

  "There are two people in a tennis match. One ends up winning, one ends up losing. And I think the pleasure comes not from winning. I think the pleasure comes from beating someone." She scrunched up her face like a very puzzled child. "Why is that something we admire? We call them winners, but when you think about it, they really get off on making someone else lose. Why is that something we admire so much?"

  "That's a good question."

  "I wanted to be a professional tennis player because, I mean, can you imagine anything more wonderful than making a living playing the game you loved?"

  He heard Suzze's voice: "Kitty was a great player, wasn't she?"

  "I can't, no."

  "But if you're really good, really talented, everyone tries to make it stop being fun. Why is that?"

  "I don't know."

  "Why, as soon as we show promise, do they take away the beauty and make it all about winning? They sent us to these ridiculously competitive schools. They pitted us against our friends. It wasn't enough for you to succeed--your friends had to fail. Suzze explained this to me, like I didn't already get it. Me, who lost my entire career. She knew better than anyone what tennis meant to me."

  Myron stayed very still, afraid to break the spell. He waited for Kitty to say more, but she didn't. "So Suzze came here to apologize?"

  "Yes."

  "And what did she tell you?"

  "She told me"--Kitty's gaze moved past him, toward the window shade--"that she was sorry for ruining my career."

  Myron tried to keep his expression blank. "How did she ruin your career?"

  "You didn't believe me, Myron."

  He did not reply.

  "You thought that I got pregnant on purpose. To trap your brother." Her smile was eerie now. "So dumb when you stop and think about it. Why would I do that? I was seventeen years old. I wanted to be a professional tennis player, not a mother. Why would I intentionally get pregnant?"

  Hadn't Myron thought something similar recently? "I'm sorry about that," he said. "I should have known better. The pill isn't a hundred percent. I mean, we learned that first week of health class in seventh grade, right?"

  "But you didn't believe that, did you?"

  "At the time, no. And I'm sorry about that."

  "Another apology," she said with a shake of her head. "Also too late. But of course you're wrong."

  "Wrong about what?"

  "About the pill not working. See, that's what Suzze came to tell me. She said she did it almost as a prank at first. But think about it. Suzze knew that I was religious--that I'd never have an abortion. So what would be the best way to eliminate me, her toughest competitor?"

  Suzze's voice from two nights ago. "My parents explained to me that everything is fair in competition. You do whatever you have to to win. . . ."

  "My God."

  Kitty nodded as if to confirm. "That's what Suzze came here to tell me. She switched out my birth control pills. That's how I ended up pregnant."

  It made sense. Stunning sense maybe, but it all fit. Myron took a second, let it all sink in. Suzze had been troubled two nights ago when the two of them sat on the balcony. Now he understood why--the talk about guilt, the dangers of being overly competitive, the regrets of the past--it was all a little clearer now.

  "I had no idea," Myron said.

  "I know. But that doesn't really change anything, does it?"

  "I guess not. Did you forgive her?"

  "I let her have her say," Kitty went on. "I let her talk and explain everything in full detail. I didn't interrupt her. I didn't ask her any questions. And when she finished, I stood up, walked across this very room, and I hugged her. I hugged her hard. I hugged her for a very long time. And then I said, 'Thank you.' "

  "For what?"

  "That's what she asked. And if you're on the outside, I understand the question. Look at what I've become. What, you have to wonder, would my life be like now if she didn't change the pills? Maybe I would have gone on and been the tennis champion everyone predicted, winning majors and traveling the world in luxury, all that. Maybe Brad and I would have stayed together and had children after I retired, right about now maybe, and lived happily ever after. Maybe. But what I know for sure--the only thing I know for sure--is that if Suzze hadn't switched my pills there would be no Mickey."

  Her eyes filled with tears.

  "Whatever else happened--what other tragedies followed--Mickey makes up for it ten times over. The fact is, whatever Suzze's motive, Mickey is here because of her. The greatest gift God ever gave me--because of what she did. So not only did I forgive her, but
I thanked her because every day, no matter how messed up I get, I get on my knees and thank God for that beautiful, perfect boy."

  Myron stood there stunned. Kitty moved past him, back into the main room, and then across to the kitchen area. She opened the fridge. There wasn't much but it was laid out neatly. "Mickey went food shopping," she said. "Would you like something to drink?"

  "No." Then: "So what did you confess to Suzze?"

  "Nothing."

  Kitty was lying. She started glancing around again.

  "So why did she go from here to Karl Snow's ice cream parlor?"

  "I don't know," Kitty said. The sound of a car startled her upright. "Oh my God." She slammed the refrigerator door closed and peered under a pulled shade. The car passed, but Kitty didn't relax. Her eyes were wide with paranoia again. She backed herself into a corner, glancing about as though the furniture might leap up and attack her. "We need to pack."

  "And go where?"

  She opened up a closet. Mickey's clothes--all on hangers, shirts folded up top. Man, this kid was neat. "I want my gun back."

  "Kitty, what's going on?"

  "If you found us . . . It's not safe."

  "What's not safe? Where's Brad?"

  Kitty shook her head, pulling a suitcase out from under the couch. She started dumping Mickey's clothes into it. Watching this strung-out heroin addict--there was no nicer way to put that--a strange yet obvious realization came to Myron.

  "Brad wouldn't do this to his family," Myron said.

  That made her slow down.

  "Whatever else may be going on--and I don't know if you're really in danger, Kitty, or if you've fried your brain into a state of irrational paranoia--but I know my brother. He wouldn't leave you and his son alone like this--you strung out and afraid for your life, real or imagined."

  Kitty's face crumbled a piece at a time. Her voice was a childlike whine. "It isn't his fault."

  Whoa. Myron knew to proceed slowly here. He took a half step closer to her and spoke as gently as he could. "I know that."

  "I'm so scared."

  Myron nodded.

  "But Brad can't help us."

  "Where is he?"

  She shook her head, her body stiffening. "I can't say. Please. I can't say."

  "Okay." He put up his hands. Easy, Myron. Don't push too hard. "But maybe you could let me help you."

 
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