Live wire, p.21
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       Live Wire, p.21

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 
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  So maybe, crazy, lying junkie and all, Kitty had indeed done something right.

  After another minute of silence had passed, Myron decided to rev up the conversation with a casual starter: "So I hear you play a mean game of hoops."

  Mean game of hoops? Oy.

  "Myron?"

  "Yes?"

  "We're not bonding here."

  Mickey put the headphones back in his ears, cranked the volume to an undoubtedly unhealthy level, and stared back out the passenger window. They made the rest of the way in silence. When they pulled up to the old house in Livingston, Mickey turned off his iPod and stared out.

  "See that window up there?" Myron said. "The one with the decal on it?"

  Mickey looked out, said nothing.

  "When we were kids, that's where your dad and I shared a bedroom. We used to play Nerf basketball and trade baseball cards and we invented this hockey game with a tennis ball and the closet door."

  Mickey waited a beat. Then he turned toward his uncle and said, "You guys must have been the balls."

  Everyone's a wiseass.

  Despite all the horrors of the past twenty-four hours--or maybe because of them--Myron couldn't help but chuckle. Mickey got out and headed up the same path where last night he'd jumped Myron. Myron followed and for a moment he was tempted to fun-tackle his nephew. Funny what flies through the brain at the strangest times.

  Mom was at the door. She hugged Mickey first, the way only Mom could. When Mom hugged, she gave it her all--holding nothing back. Mickey closed his eyes and soaked it in. Myron waited for the kid to cry, but Mickey wasn't one for waterworks. Mom finally released him and threw the hug at her son. Then she stepped back, blocked their entrance, and fixed them both with a killer glare.

  "What's going on with you two?" Mom asked.

  Myron said, "What do you mean?"

  "Don't hand me 'what do you mean.' Your father just tells me Mickey is staying here for a while. Nothing else. Don't get me wrong. Mickey, I'm thrilled you're staying with us. Too long in coming, you ask me, all this overseas nonsense. You belong here. With us. With your family."

  Mickey said nothing.

  Myron asked, "Where's Dad?"

  "He's in the basement getting your old bedroom ready for Mickey. So what's going on?"

  "Why don't we get Dad and we can talk about it?"

  "Fine with me," Mom said, wagging her finger at him like, uh, a mother, "but no funny stuff."

  Funny stuff?

  "Al? The kids are here."

  They entered the house. Mom closed the door behind them.

  "Al?"

  No reply.

  They all shared a look, no one moving. Then Myron headed for the basement. The door down to Myron's old bedroom--soon to be Mickey's--was wide open. He called down to his father. "Dad?"

  Still no answer.

  Myron looked back at his mother. She looked more puzzled than anything else. Panic snaked its way into Myron's chest. He fought it off and half jumped, half ran down the basement stairs. Mickey followed close behind.

  Myron pulled up short when he got to the bottom of the stairs. Mickey crashed into him, knocking him a little forward. But Myron didn't feel a thing. He stared in front of him and felt his entire world begin to crumble.

  26

  When Myron was ten years old and Brad was five, Dad took them to Yankee Stadium for a game against the Red Sox. Most boys have a memory like this--that major-league baseball game with your dad, the perfect July weather, that jaw-dropping moment you come out of whatever tunnel and see the ballpark for the very first time, the almost-painted green of the grass, the sun shining as though it were the first day, your heroes in uniform warming up with the ease of the gifted.

  But this particular game would be different.

  Dad had secured tickets in the nosebleed upper deck, but at the last minute, a business associate gave him two tickets three rows behind the Red Sox bench. For some odd reason--and to the horror of the rest of his family--Brad was a Red Sox fan. Actually, the reason wasn't all that odd. Carl "Yaz" Yastrzemski was Brad's first baseball card. That might not seem like a big deal, but Brad was one of those little kids who became fiercely loyal to his firsts.

  Once they sat, Dad produced the great seats with a magician's flourish and showed them to Brad. "Surprise!"

  He handed the tickets to Myron. Dad would stay in the upper deck, sending his two sons down to the box seats. Myron held an excited Brad's hand and made his way down. When they arrived, Myron couldn't believe how close to the field they were. The box seats were, in a word, awesome.

  When Brad spotted Yaz scant yards away, his face broke into a smile that even now, if Myron closed his eyes, he could still see and feel. Brad started cheering like mad. When Yaz got into the batter's box, Brad truly lost it. "Yaz! Yaz! Yaz!"

  The guy sitting in front of them whirled around, frowning. He was maybe twenty-five and had a scruffy beard. That was another thing Myron would never forget. That beard.

  "That's enough," the bearded guy said to Brad. "Quiet down."

  The bearded guy turned back to the field. Brad looked as though someone had slapped him in the face.

  "Don't listen to him," Myron said. "You're allowed to yell."

  That was when everything went wrong. The bearded man spun back around and grabbed Myron--Myron who was ten years old at the time, a tall ten-year-old, but ten nonetheless--by the shirt. The man bunched the Yankee emblem tee in his adult fist and pulled Myron close enough for him to smell the stale beer on the man's breath.

  "He's giving my girlfriend a headache," the bearded man said. "He shuts up now."

  Myron was stunned. Tears pushed their way into his eyes, but he wouldn't let them out. He felt his chest hitch in fear and, strangely, shame. The man held on to Myron's shirt for another moment or two, then he pushed him back into his seat. The man turned back to the game and put his arm around his girlfriend. Afraid that he'd cry, Myron grabbed Brad's hand and hurried back to the upper deck. He didn't say anything, not at first, but Dad was perceptive and ten-year-old boys are not the world's best actors.

  "What's wrong?" Dad asked.

  His chest hitching with that combination of fear and shame, Myron managed to tell his father about the bearded man. Al Bolitar tried to stay calm as he listened. He put his hand on his son's shoulder and nodded along with him, but Dad's body was actually shaking. His face reddened. When Myron got to the point in the story where the man grabbed his shirt, Al Bolitar's eyes seemed to explode and go black.

  In a too-controlled monotone, Dad said, "I'll be right back."

  Myron watched the rest through the binoculars.

  Five minutes later, Dad hurried down the lower-deck steps and moved into the third row, behind the bearded man. He cupped his hand around his mouth and began to shout as loud as he could. His face, already red, turned scarlet. Dad kept screaming. The bearded man didn't turn around. Dad leaned in so that his megaphoned mouth was an inch, maybe two at most, from the bearded man's.

  He screamed some more.

  Finally the bearded man spun around and that was when Dad did something that made Myron gasp out loud: He pushed the bearded man. The bearded man spread his hands as if to say, What gives? Dad pushed him twice more and then gestured with his thumb toward the exit, inviting the man to step outside with him. When the Beard refused, Dad pushed him again.

  By now, the crowd had noticed. People started standing. Two security guards dressed in yellow windbreakers hurried down the steps. The players were watching now, even Yaz. The guards broke it up. Dad was escorted up the stairs. The fans cheered him. Dad actually waved to the crowd as he exited.

  Ten minutes later, Dad came back to the upper deck. "Go back down again," Dad said. "He won't bother you anymore."

  But Myron and Brad shook their heads. They liked the seats up here better anyway, next to their real hero.

  Now, more than thirty years later, their hero lay on the basement floor, dying.

 
; Hours passed.

  In the Saint Barnabas Hospital waiting room, Mom rocked back and forth. Myron sat next to her, trying to keep it together. Mickey paced.

  Mom started talking about how Dad had been out of breath all day--"since last night, really"--and how she had made a joke about it--"Al, why do you keep panting like some kind of perv?"--and how he had said it was nothing and how she should have made him call the doctor but you know how stubborn your father is, nothing is ever wrong, and why oh why hadn't she just made him call.

  When Mom said the part about Dad being out of breath since last night, Mickey looked as though he'd been punched hard in the gut. Myron tried to give him a reassuring look, but the kid turned away fast and ran down the corridor.

  Myron rose to go after him, but the doctor finally appeared. His name badge read, MARK Q. ELLIS, and he wore blue scrubs with a pink waist tie. The surgical mask was pulled down and bunched up under his chin. Ellis's eyes were red-tinged and bleary, his face two days unshaven. Exhaustion emanated from his very being. He also looked to be about Myron's age, which made him too young to be a top-notch cardiologist. Myron had called Win to find him the best and drag the guy here under gun threat if necessary.

  Dr. Ellis said, "Your father suffered a serious myocardial infarction."

  Heart attack. Myron felt his knees buckle. Mom let out a small groan. Mickey came back and joined them.

  "We have him breathing again, but we aren't out of the woods. There is serious blockage. I'll know more in a little bit."

  When he turned to leave, Myron said, "Doctor?"

  "Yes?"

  "I think I know how my father may have overexerted himself." I think I know--not I think or I know--in short, nervous child speak. "Last night"--Myron had no idea exactly how to put it--"my nephew and I got into a tussle." He explained how Dad had run outside and broken it up. As he spoke, Myron felt his eyes well up. Guilt and--yep, like when he was ten--shame washed over him. He spotted Mom out of the corner of his eye. She stared at him in a way he had never seen before. Ellis listened, nodded, and said, "Thank you for the information" before disappearing down the corridor.

  Mom was still staring. She turned her laserlike eyes to Mickey then back to her son. "You two got into a fight?"

  Myron almost pointed at Mickey and shouted, "He started it!" but instead he lowered his head in a nod. Mickey kept his eyes up--the kid redefined stoic--but his face had lost all color. Mom kept her gaze on Myron.

  "I don't understand. You let your father get involved in your fight?"

  Mickey said, "It was my fault."

  Mom turned and looked up at her grandson. Myron wanted to say something to defend the kid, but at the same time he didn't want to lie. "He was reacting to something I did," Myron said. "It's on me too."

  They both waited for Mom to say something. She didn't, which was a hell of a lot worse. She turned away and sat back in her chair. Mom put her shaking hand--Parkinson's or worry?--up to her face and tried very hard not to cry. Myron started toward her but pulled up. Now wasn't the time. He flashed again to that scene he always imagined, the one where Mom and Dad pull up to the house in Livingston for the first time, baby in tow, starting off on the El-Al family journey. He couldn't help but wonder if this was the final chapter.

  Mickey moved to the other side of the waiting room and sat in front of a mounted TV. Myron paced some more. He felt so damn cold. He closed his eyes and started making deals with whatever higher power--what he would do and give and trade and sacrifice if only his father would be spared. Twenty minutes later, Win, Esperanza, and Big Cyndi appeared. Win informed Myron that Dr. Mark Ellis was supposedly great, but Win's friend, the legendary cardiologist Dennis Callahan from New York-Presbyterian, was on the way. They all moved into a private waiting room, except Mickey, who wanted no part of any of them. Big Cyndi held Mom's hand and cried theatrically. It seemed to help Mom.

  The hour passed in torturous slow motion. You consider every possibility. You accept and reject and rail and cry. The emotional wringer never lets up. A nurse came in several times to tell them that there was no new news.

  Everyone fell into an exhausted silence. Myron was wandering the hallways when Mickey came rushing up to him.

  "What's wrong?"

  "Suzze T is dead?" Mickey asked.

  "You didn't know?"

  "No," Mickey said. "I just saw it on the news."

  "That's why I came to see your mom," Myron said.

  "Wait, what does my mom have to do with it?"

  "Suzze visited your trailer a few hours before she died."

  That made Mickey take a step back. "You think Mom gave her the drugs?"

  "No. I mean, I don't know. She said she didn't. She said she and Suzze had a big heart-to-heart."

  "What kind of heart-to-heart?"

  Myron remembered something else Kitty had said about Suzze's OD: "She wouldn't do that. Not to the baby. I know her. She was killed. They killed her." Something clicked in the back of Myron's brain.

  "Your mom seemed sure someone killed Suzze."

  Mickey said nothing.

  "And she seemed even more scared after I told her about the OD."

  "So?"

  "So is this all connected, Mickey? You guys on the run. Suzze dying. Your father missing."

  He shrugged a tad too elaborately. "I don't see how."

  "Boys?"

  They both turned. Myron's mother was there. Tears were on her cheeks. A tissue was balled up in her hand. She dabbed at her eyes. "I want to know what's going on."

  "With what?"

  "Don't start that with me," she said in a voice only a mother can use on her son. "You and Mickey get into a fight--then suddenly he's going to live with us. Where are his parents? I want to know what's going on. All of it. Right now."

  So Myron told her. She listened, shaking, crying. He spared her nothing. He told her about Kitty in rehab and even about Brad vanishing. When he finished, Mom moved closer to them both. She turned first to Mickey, who met her eye. She took his hand.

  "It's not your fault," she said to him. "Do you hear me?"

  Mickey nodded, his eyes closing.

  "Your grandfather would never blame you. I don't blame you. With the amount of blockage he had, you may have inadvertently saved his life. And you"--she turned toward Myron--"stop moping and get out of here. I'll call you if something changes."

  "I can't leave here."

  "Of course you can."

  "Suppose Dad wakes up."

  She moved closer to him, craning her neck to look up at him. "Your father told you to find your brother. I don't care how sick he is. You do what he says."

  27

  So now what?

  Myron pulled Mickey aside. "I noticed a laptop in your trailer. How long have you owned it?"

  "Two years maybe. Why?"

  "Is it the only computer you guys had?"

  "Yes. And again I'm asking, why?"

  "If your father used it, maybe there's something on it."

  "Dad wasn't much with technology."

  "I know he had an e-mail address. He used to write your grandparents, right?"

  Mickey shrugged. "I guess so."

  "Do you know his password?"

  "No."

  "Okay, what else of his do you still have?"

  The kid blinked. He bit down on his lower lip. Again Myron reminded himself of where Mickey's life was right now: father missing, mother in rehab, grandfather suffering a heart attack, and maybe you're to blame. And you're all of fifteen years old. Myron started to reach out, but Mickey stiffened.

  "We don't have anything."

  "Okay."

  "We don't believe in having a lot of possessions," Mickey said defensively. "We travel a lot. We pack light. What would we have?"

  Myron put his hands up. "Okay, I'm just asking."

  "Dad said not to look for him."

  "That was a long time ago, Mickey."

  He shook his head. "You should leave it alone."
>
  No need or time to explain himself to a fifteen-year-old. "Will you do me a favor?"

  "What?"

  "I need you to take care of your grandmother for a few hours, okay?"

  Mickey didn't bother with a reply. He headed into the waiting room and sat in the chair across from her. Myron signaled for Win, Esperanza, and Big Cyndi to come out in the hall with him. They needed to reach out to the American embassy in Peru and see whether there were any rumors about his brother. They needed to call any sources at the State Department and get them on the case of Brad Bolitar. They needed to get some computer weenie to break into Brad's e-mail or figure out his password. Esperanza headed back into New York City. Big Cyndi would stay behind to help with Mom and maybe see whether she could coax some more information from Mickey.

  "I can be quite the charmer," Big Cyndi noted.

  When Myron was alone with Win, he called Lex's phone yet again. Still no answer.

  "It's all connected somehow," Myron said. "First my brother goes missing. Then Kitty gets scared and goes on the run. She ends up here. She posts that 'Not His' with a tattoo that both Suzze and Gabriel Wire shared. She sees Lex. Suzze visits her and then Alista Snow's father. It has to all relate."

  "I wouldn't say 'has to,' " Win added, "but things do seem to circle back to Gabriel Wire, don't they? He was there when Alista Snow died. He clearly had an affair with Suzze T. He still works with Lex Ryder."

  "We need to get to him," Myron said.

  Win steepled his fingers. "You are suggesting then that we go after a reclusive, well-guarded, well-financed rock star on a small island."

  "Seems that's where the answers are."

  "Bitchin'," Win said.

  "So how do we do it?"

  "It will take a wee bit of planning," Win said. "Give me a few hours."

  Myron checked his watch. "That works. I want to head back to the trailer and check their laptop. Maybe there's something there."

  Win offered to provide Myron with a car and driver, but Myron hoped the ride would clear his head. He hadn't slept much in the past few nights, so he drove with the sound system on high. He plugged his iPod into the car jack and started blasting mellow music. The Weepies sang that "the world spins madly on." Keane wanted to disappear with that special someone to "somewhere only we know." Snow Patrol, in their search for their lost love, "set the fire to the third bar."

 
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