Live wire, p.20
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       Live Wire, p.20

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 
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  She looked at him warily. "How?"

  Finally--an opening, albeit a small one. He wanted to suggest rehab for her. He knew a nice place not far from the house in Livingston. That was where he wanted to bring her, try to get her cleaned up. She would go into rehab while Mickey stayed with him, just until they contacted Brad and got him up here.

  But his own words haunted him: Brad wouldn't leave them like this. So that meant one of two things. One, Brad didn't know how bad his wife was. Or two, for some reason, he couldn't help them.

  "Kitty," he said slowly, "is Brad in danger? Is he the reason you're so afraid right now?"

  "He'll be back soon." She started scratching her arms hard, as though there were bugs under the skin. Her eyes started darting around again. Uh-oh, Myron thought.

  "You okay?" he asked.

  "I just need to use the bathroom. Where's my purse?"

  Yeah, right.

  She dashed into the bedroom, grabbed her purse, and closed the bathroom door. Myron patted his back pocket. Her stash was still there. He could hear the sounds of a frantic search coming from the bathroom.

  Myron called, "Kitty?"

  Footsteps on the front stoop leading to the door jarred him. Myron whipped his head toward the sound. Through the bathroom door, Kitty shouted, "Who's that?" Working off her panic, Myron pulled his gun, pointing at the door. The knob turned and Mickey entered. Myron quickly lowered the gun.

  Mickey looked at his uncle. "What the hell . . . ?"

  "Hey, Mickey." Myron pointed at his name tag. "Or should I say Bob?"

  "How did you find us?"

  Mickey was scared too. He could hear it in his voice. Anger, yes, but mostly there was fear.

  "Where's my mother?" he demanded.

  "She's in the bathroom."

  He ran over to the door, put his hand on it. "Mom?"

  "I'm okay, Mickey."

  Mickey leaned his head on the door and closed his eyes. His voice was unbearably tender. "Mom, please come out."

  "She'll be okay," Myron said.

  Mickey turned to him, his hands curled into fists. Fifteen years old and ready to take on the world. Or at least, his uncle. Mickey was dark, broad, and had that brooding, dangerous quality that made girls weak at the knees. Myron wondered where the brooding came from and then, looking at the bathroom door, figured that he already knew the answer.

  "How did you find us?" Mickey asked again.

  "Don't worry about it. I had to ask your mom some questions."

  "What about?"

  "Where's your father?"

  Kitty screamed out, "Don't tell him!"

  He turned back to the door. "Mom? Come out, okay?"

  More sounds of the frantic--and as Myron knew, fruitless--search. Kitty started cursing. Mickey turned back to Myron. "Get out."

  "No."

  "What?"

  "You're the fifteen-year-old kid. I'm the adult. The answer is no."

  Kitty was crying now. They could both hear her. "Mickey?"

  "Yes, Mom."

  "How did I get home last night?"

  Mickey gave a quick glare back at Myron. "I got you."

  "Did you put me to bed?"

  Mickey clearly did not like having this conversation in front of Myron. He tried to whisper through the door, as though Myron wouldn't be able to hear. "Yes."

  Myron just shook his head.

  Kitty asked, her tone nearly a fevered pitch now, "Did you go through my purse?"

  Myron took that one. "No, Kitty, I did."

  Mickey turned and faced his uncle full-on. Myron reached into his back pocket and pulled out the heroin. The bathroom door opened. Kitty stomped out and said, "Give that to me."

  "Not a chance."

  "I don't know who the hell you think you are--"

  "I've had enough," Myron said. "You're a junkie. He's a kid. You're both coming with me."

  "You don't tell us what to do," Mickey said.

  "Yeah, Mickey, I do. I'm your uncle. You may not like it, but I'm not leaving you here with a junkie mom who's willing to shoot up in front of her son."

  Mickey stayed between his mother and Myron. "We're fine."

  "You're not fine. You're working illegally, I'm sure, under an alias. You get her from bars or she stumbles home and you put her to bed. You keep this place human. You put food in the fridge while she lies around and shoots up."

  "You can't prove any of that."

  "Sure I can, but it doesn't matter. Here's what's going to happen and if you don't like it, too bad. Kitty, I'm putting you in a rehab center. It's a nice place. I don't know whether they can help you--whether anyone can--but it's worth a try. Mickey, you're going to come with me."

  "Like hell I am."

  "You are. You can live in Livingston with your grandparents, if you don't want to be with me. Your mom will get cleaned up. We will get in touch with your father and let him know what's going on here."

  Mickey kept his body shield in front of his wilting mother. "You can't make us go with you."

  "Yeah, I can."

  "You think I'm afraid of you? If Grandpa hadn't stepped in--"

  "This time," Myron said, "you won't be jumping me in the dark."

  Mickey tried to grin. "I can still take you."

  "No, Mickey, you can't. You're strong, you're brave, but you wouldn't have a chance. It doesn't matter anyway--you can do what I'm suggesting or I'll call the cops. At the very least your mother is endangering the welfare of a child. She could end up in jail."

  Kitty shouted, "No!"

  "I'm not giving you guys a choice anymore. Where's Brad?"

  Kitty moved out from behind her son. She tried to stand straight and for a moment, Myron saw the old athlete. Mickey said, "Mom?"

  "He's right," Kitty said.

  "No . . ."

  "We need help. We need protection."

  "We can take care of ourselves," Mickey said.

  She cupped her son's face in her hands. "It's going to be okay," she told him. "He's right. I can get the help I need. You'll be safe."

  "Safe from what?" Myron asked yet again. "And really, enough is enough. I want to know where my brother is."

  "So do we," Kitty said.

  Mickey again said, "Mom?"

  Myron took a step closer. "What are you talking about?"

  "Brad disappeared three months ago," Kitty said. "That's why we've been on the run. None of us are safe."

  25

  As they packed their few belongings, Myron called Esperanza and asked her to arrange a stay for Kitty at the Coddington Rehabilitation Institute. Then Myron called Dad.

  "Is it okay if Mickey stays at the house with you for a while?"

  "Of course," Dad said. "What's going on?"

  "A lot."

  Dad listened without interrupting. Myron told him about Kitty's drug problems, about her being on her own with Mickey, about Brad being missing. When he finished, Dad said, "Your brother wouldn't just abandon his family like this."

  Just what Myron had thought. "I know."

  "It means he's in trouble," Dad said. "I know you two have had issues, but . . ."

  He didn't finish his thought. This was his way. When Myron was young, Dad somehow pushed Myron to succeed without ever pushing him too hard. He made it clear that he was proud of his son's accomplishments while never making it seem like it was any kind of precondition to being proud of him. So yet again Dad didn't ask--but he didn't have to.

  "I'll find him," Myron said.

  During the car ride Myron asked for details.

  Kitty sat up front next to him. In the back, Mickey ignored them. He stared out the window, white iPod earbuds in place--playing the part of a petulant teenager, which, Myron surmised, he was.

  By the time they reached the Coddington Rehabilitation Institute, this was what he had learned: Eight months ago, per the stamp in the passport, Brad, Kitty, and Mickey Bolitar had moved to Los Angeles. Three months ago, Brad had left for an "emergency secret mission
" (Kitty's words) to Peru and told them not to say anything to anyone.

  "What did Brad mean by that--not to say anything."

  Kitty claimed ignorance. "He just said not to worry about him and not to tell anyone. He also said be careful."

  "Of what?"

  Kitty just shrugged.

  "Any clue, Mickey?" The kid did not budge. Myron repeated the question, yelling so he could be heard. Mickey either couldn't hear him or chose to ignore him. Turning back to Kitty, he said, "I thought you guys worked for a charity group."

  "We did."

  "So?"

  Another shrug. Myron asked a few more questions, but there was little more to learn. Weeks passed, but there was no word from Brad. At some point, Kitty felt as though they were being watched. Someone would call and hang up on them. One night, someone jumped her in a mall parking lot, but she managed to run off. She decided then to move with Mickey and stay off the grid.

  Myron asked, "Why didn't you tell me any of this sooner?"

  Kitty glared at him as though he'd just casually suggested bestiality. "You? You're joking, right?"

  Myron didn't want to unearth their old grudge right now. "Or anyone," he said. "Brad's been missing three months. How long did you plan to wait?"

  "I told you already. Brad said not to tell anyone. He said it'd be dangerous for all of us."

  Myron still wasn't buying it all--something just didn't make sense here--but when he tried to push it, Kitty just shut down and started to cry. Then, when she was sure Mickey wasn't listening (Myron was sure he was), Kitty begged him for her stash back, "just one last hit, please," using the logic that she was heading into rehab anyway--what harm could it do?

  The rehab's sign was small and read, THE CODDINGTON REHABILITATION INSTITUTE. Myron took the private road up past the security gate. From the outside the place looked like one of those vinyl-sided, faux-Victorian bed-and-breakfasts. Inside, at least in the reception area, it was an interesting mix of luxury hotel and prison. Soft classical music played on the overhead speaker. A chandelier hung from the ceiling. There were bars on the ornate arched windows.

  The receptionist's nameplate read, CHRISTINE SHIPPEE, though Myron knew that she was much more than a receptionist. Christine was, in fact, the hands-on founder of the Coddington Institute. She greeted them from behind what might have been bulletproof glass, though "greeted" might be too strong a term. Christine had a face like a yield sign. Her reading glasses hung from a chain. She looked them over, clearly finding them wanting, and sighed. She slid the forms to them through the kind of chute you see at a bank.

  "Fill out the paperwork, then come back," Christine said by way of introduction.

  Myron moved over to the corner. He started writing her name, but Kitty stopped him. "Use the name Lisa Gallagher. It's my alias. I don't want them finding me."

  Again Myron asked who "them" referred to and again she claimed to have no idea. No reason to argue right now. He filled out the forms and brought them back to the receptionist. She took the forms, put on the reading glasses, and started checking for errors. Kitty's body quake picked up steam. Mickey put his arms around his mother, trying to calm her. It wasn't working. Kitty looked smaller now, frailer.

  "Do you have a suitcase?" Christine asked her.

  Mickey held it up for her.

  "Leave it there. We'll go through the contents before we deliver it to your room." Christine turned her attention to Kitty. "Say good-bye now. Then stand by that door and I'll buzz you in."

  "Wait," Mickey said.

  Christine Shippee turned her gaze toward him.

  "Can I go in with her?" he asked.

  "Nope."

  "But I want to see her room," Mickey said.

  "And I want to mud wrestle with Hugh Jackman. Neither is happening. Say good-bye and then move on."

  Mickey did not back down. "When can I visit?"

  "We'll see. Your mother needs to detox."

  "How long will that take?" Mickey asked.

  Christine looked at Myron. "Why am I talking to a kid?"

  Kitty still had a bad case of the shakes. "I don't know about this."

  Mickey said, "If you don't want to go inside--"

  "Mickey," Myron said, cutting him off. "You're not helping."

  He said in an angry sotto voce: "Can't you see she's scared?"

  "I know she's scared," Myron said. "But you're not helping. Let the people here do their job."

  Kitty clung to her son and said, "Mickey?"

  Part of Myron felt great sympathy for Kitty. A far bigger part of Myron wanted to rip her away from her son and kick her selfish ass through the door.

  Mickey moved toward Myron. "There has to be another way."

  "There isn't."

  "I'm not leaving her here."

  "Yeah, Mickey, you are. It's that or I call the cops or social services or whoever else."

  But now Myron could see that it wasn't just Kitty who was scared. It was Mickey. He was, Myron reminded himself, still a kid. Myron flashed back to those happy family photographs--Dad, Mom, Only Son. Mickey's father had since vanished someplace in South America. His mother was about to go through a heavy security door and enter the harsh solo world of detoxification and drug rehabilitation.

  "Don't worry," Myron said as gently as he could. "We'll take care of you."

  Mickey made a face. "Are you for real? You think I want your help?"

  "Mickey?"

  It was Kitty. He turned to her, and suddenly the roles were back to where they should have been: Kitty was the mother and Mickey was her child again. "I'll be fine," she said in as firm a voice as she could muster. "You go and stay with your grandparents. You come back and see me as soon as you can."

  "But--"

  She put her hands on his face again. "It's okay. I promise. You'll visit soon."

  Mickey lowered his face into her shoulder. Kitty held him for a moment, looking past him at Myron. Myron nodded that he'd be fine. The nod gave her no solace. Kitty finally pulled away and headed to the door without another word. She waited for the receptionist's buzz and then disappeared inside.

  "She'll be fine," Christine Shippee said to Mickey, finally a little tenderness in her voice.

  Mickey turned and stomped out the door. Myron followed him. He clicked the remote, unlocking the car door. Mickey reached to open the back door. Myron clicked the remote again, locking it on him.

  "What the hell?"

  "Get in the front," Myron said. "I'm not a chauffeur."

  Mickey slid into the front passenger seat. Myron started up the car. He turned to Mickey, but the kid had the iPod jammed back into his ears. Myron tapped the kid's shoulder.

  "Take them off."

  "Really, Myron? Is that how you think we're playing this?"

  But a few minutes later, Mickey did as he was asked. The boy gazed out the window, giving Myron the back of his head. They were only about ten minutes from the house in Livingston. Myron wanted to ask him more, wanted to push him to open up, but maybe it had been enough for one day.

  Still gazing out the window, Mickey said, "Don't you dare judge her."

  Myron kept his hands on the steering wheel. "I just want to help."

  "She wasn't always like this."

  Myron had a thousand follow-up questions but he gave the kid space. When Mickey spoke again, the defensive tone was back. "She's a great mom."

  "I'm sure she is."

  "Don't patronize me, Myron."

  He had a point. "So what happened?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "You said she wasn't always like this. Do you mean a junkie?"

  "Stop calling her that."

  "You pick the term then."

  Nothing.

  "So tell me what you meant by 'she wasn't always like this,' " Myron said. "What happened?"

  "What do you mean, what happened?" He swerved his gaze to the front windshield, staring at the road a little too intensely. "Dad happened. You can't blame her."
r />   "I'm not blaming anyone."

  "She was so happy before. You have no idea. She was always laughing. Then Dad left and . . ." He caught himself, blinked, swallowed. "And then she fell apart. You don't know what they meant to each other. You think Grandma and Grandpa are a pretty great couple, but they had friends and a community and other relatives. My mom and dad only had each other."

  "And you."

  He frowned. "There you go with the patronizing again."

  "Sorry."

  "You don't get it, but if you ever saw them together, you would. When you're that much in love--" Mickey stopped, wondered how to continue. "Some couples aren't built to be apart. They're like one person. You take one away . . ." He didn't finish the thought.

  "So when did she start using?"

  "A few months ago."

  "After your father vanished?"

  "Yes. Before that, she'd been clean since I was born--so before you say it, yes, I know she used to do drugs."

  "How do you know?"

  "I know a lot," Mickey said, and a sly, sad smile came to his face. "I know what you did. I know how you tried to break them up. I know you told my father that my mother got knocked up by another guy. That she slept around. That he shouldn't quit school to be with her."

  "How do you know all that?"

  "From Mom."

  "Your mother told you all that?"

  Mickey nodded. "She doesn't lie to me."

  Wow. "So what else did she tell you?"

  He crossed his arms. "I'm not going through the last fifteen years for you."

  "Did she tell you I hit on her?"

  "What? No. Gross. Did you?"

  "No. But that's what she told your father to drive a wedge between us."

  "Oh man, that is so gross."

  "How about your father? What did he tell you?"

  "He said that you pushed them away."

  "I didn't mean to."

  "Who cares what you meant? You pushed them away." Mickey let loose a deep breath. "You pushed them away, and now we're here."

  "Meaning?"

  "What do you think I mean?"

  He meant that his father was missing. He meant that his mother was a junkie. He meant that he blamed Myron, that he wondered what their lives would have been like if Myron had been more accepting way back when.

  "She's a good mother," Mickey said again. "The best."

  Yep, the heroin junkie was Mother of the Year material. Like Myron's own father had said just a few days ago, kids have a way of blocking out the bad. But in this case, it seemed almost delusional. Then again, how should you judge the job a parent does? If you judged Kitty by the outcome--the end result, if you will--then, well, look at this kid. He was magnificent. He was brave, strong, smart, willing to fight for his family.

 
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