Live wire, p.25
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       Live Wire, p.25

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
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  "And that's why Evan Crisp is still here?"

  Lex actually shuddered at the mention of his name.

  "He scares me," he said in a whisper. "I even thought maybe he killed Suzze. Once she knew the truth, I mean, Crisp had warned us. There was too much money at stake. He would kill anyone who got in the way."

  "What makes you so sure he didn't kill her?"

  "He swore to me he didn't do it." Lex leaned back. "And how could he? She shot up. That woman investigator, what's her name?"

  "Loren Muse."

  "Right. She said there was no evidence she was murdered. She said all signs point to an overdose."

  "Have you ever seen the videotape of Wire killing Alista Snow?"

  "Years ago. Ache and Crisp sat us both down and showed it to us. Wire kept crying that it was an accident, he didn't mean to push her over the rail, but really, what's the difference? He killed that poor girl. Two nights later--I'm not making this up--he actually called Suzze to come over. And she did. Suzze thought he was the victim of the press. So blind--but then again she was only sixteen years old. What's the rest of the world's excuse? Then he dumped her. Do you know how we hooked up--Suzze and me?"

  Myron shook his head.

  "It was ten years later at a gala for the Museum of Natural History. Suzze asked me to dance and I swear the only reason she came on to me that night was because she hoped that I could lead her back to Wire. She still pined for him."

  "But she fell for you."

  He managed a smile on that one. "Yes. She did. Really and truly. We were soul mates. I know Suzze loved me. And I loved her. I thought that would be enough. But really, when you stop and think about it, Suzze had already fallen for me. That's what I meant before. About falling for the music. She fell for his beautiful facade, yes, but she also fell for the music, the lyrics, the meaning. Like with Cyrano de Bergerac. Do you remember that play?"

  "I do."

  "They all fell for the gorgeous facade. The whole world, really--we fall for the beauty of the outside. Not a news flash, is it, Myron? We are all shallow. You ever see someone, some guy maybe, and you just know from his face he's a nasty SOB? Gabriel Wire was the opposite. He looked so soulful, so poetic, so beautiful and sensitive. The facade. And underneath was nothing but decay."



  "What did you tell Suzze on the phone?"

  "The truth."

  "You told her that Gabriel Wire killed Alista Snow?"

  "That was part of it, yes."

  "What was the rest of it?"

  He shook his head. "I told Suzze the truth, and it killed her. I have a son to protect now."

  "What was the rest of it, Lex?"

  "I told her where Gabriel Wire was."

  Myron swallowed. "Where is he, Lex?"

  And then the strangest thing happened. Lex stopped crying. He smiled now and looked toward a beanbag by the television. Myron felt his blood go cold.

  Lex didn't speak. He just stared at the beanbag chair. Myron remembered what he had heard as he came up the stairs. Singing.

  Gabriel Wire singing.

  Myron slid off the stool. He moved toward the beanbag chair. He saw a strange shape in front of it, low down, on the floor maybe. He came closer, turned his gaze to the floor, and now he could see what it was.

  A guitar.

  Myron spun back toward Lex Ryder. Lex was still smiling.

  "I heard him," Myron said.

  "Heard who?"

  "Wire. I heard him singing when I was on the stairs."

  "No," Lex said. "That was me you heard. It's always been me. That's what I told Suzze. Gabriel Wire died fifteen years ago."


  Downstairs, Win woke up the security guard.

  The guard opened his eyes wide. He was tied up with a gag in his mouth. Win smiled at him. "Good evening," Win said. "I'm going to remove your gag. You will answer my questions and not call for help. If you refuse, I will kill you. Any questions?"

  The security guard shook his head.

  "Let's start with an easy one," Win said. "Where is Evan Crisp?"

  "We did meet at the Espy in Melbourne. But that's the only part of our story that's true."

  They were back on the bar stools. Suddenly even Myron needed a belt. He poured them both two fingers of Macallan Scotch. Lex stared down into his glass as if it held a secret.

  "At the time I'd already released my solo album. It went nowhere. So I started thinking about putting together a band. So I'm in the Espy when Gabriel sauntered in. He was eighteen years old at the time. I was twenty. Gabriel had dropped out of school and been arrested twice for drug possession and another time for assault. But when he walked in the bar, the way every head turned . . . you know what I mean?"

  Myron just nodded, not wanting to interrupt.

  "He couldn't sing a lick. He couldn't play an instrument. But if a rock group is a movie, I knew that I needed to cast him as front man. We made up the whole story about my playing in the bar and him coming to my rescue. Actually I half stole the story from a scene in a movie. Eddie and the Cruisers. Have you seen it?"

  Again Myron nodded.

  "I still meet people who swear they were at the Espy that night. I don't know if they're lying to feel important or if they're just self-delusional. Probably both."

  Myron remembered his own childhood. Every friend of his had claimed to see a "surprise" Springsteen show at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Myron had his doubts. He'd gone three times in high school when he heard the rumors, but Bruce never showed.

  "Anyway, we became HorsePower, but I wrote every song--every melody, every lyric. We used backing tapes onstage. I taught Gabriel how to carry a tune but for the most part I dubbed over him or studiofied it."

  He stopped now, took a deep sip, seemed lost. To bring him back, Myron asked, "Why?"

  "Why what?"

  "Why did you need him as a prop?"

  "Don't be daft," Lex said. "He had the looks. It's like I told you--Gabriel was the beautiful, poetic, soulful facade. I viewed him as my greatest instrument. And it worked. He loved being the big star, nailing every piece of young ass who crossed his path, making money hand over fist. And I was happy too. Everyone was listening to my music. The entire world."

  "But you never got the credit."

  "So? That's never mattered much to me. I was about the music. That was all. The fact that the world considers me a second banana . . . well, the joke is on them, isn't it?"

  Myron guessed that maybe it was.

  "I knew," Lex went on. "That was enough for me. And in a sense, we were indeed a real rock group. I needed Gabriel. Isn't beauty in a sense its own talent? Successful designers put their dresses on beautiful models. Don't the models play a role? Big companies have attractive spokespeople. Aren't they relevant to the process? That's what Gabriel Wire was to HorsePower. And the proof was in the eating. Listen to my solo stuff from before I met Wire. The music is just as good. No one cared. Do you remember Milli Vanilli?"

  Myron did. They were two male models named Rob and Fab who lip-synched someone else's music and rose to the top of the charts. They even won a Best New Artist Grammy.

  "Remember how the world hated those two guys when the truth came out?"

  Myron nodded. "They were vilified."

  "Exactly. People actually went out and burned their records. How come? Wasn't the music the same?"

  "It was."

  He leaned in conspiratorially. "Do you know why the fans turned on those two guys so horribly?"

  Just to keep him talking, Myron shook his head.

  "Because those pretty boys pointed out the truth: We are all shallow. Milli Vanilli music was pure crap--and they won a Grammy! People listened to it simply because Rob and Fab were handsome and hip. That scandal did more than rip away the facade. It held a mirror up to the fan's face and let him see a total fool. There are many things we can forgive. But we can't forgive those who point out our true foolishness. We don't l
ike to think of ourselves as shallow. But we are. Gabriel Wire looked brooding and deep but he was anything but. People thought that Gabriel didn't do interviews because he felt he was too important--but he didn't give them because he was too dumb. I know I was mocked over the years. Part of me was hurt--who wouldn't be?--but most of me understood that this was the only way. Once I started, once I created Gabriel Wire, I couldn't destroy him without destroying me."

  Myron tried to let this information settle. "That's what you meant with all that talk earlier about Suzze falling for you or falling for the music. About being Cyrano."


  "But I don't understand. When you say Gabriel Wire is dead--"

  "I mean that literally. Someone killed him. Probably Crisp."

  "Why would he do that?"

  "I'm not sure, but I have my suspicions. When Gabriel killed Alista Snow, Herman Ache saw an opportunity. If they could pull him out of this jam, not only would they get their substantial gambling debt paid, but Wire would owe them for life."

  "Yeah, okay, I got that."

  "So they saved him from the fire. They intimidated witnesses. They paid off Alista Snow's father. I don't really know what happened next. I think Wire went a little crazy. He started acting erratically. Or maybe they realized that we really didn't need him. I could make the music on my own. Maybe they hatched this plan and decided we were better off with Wire dead."

  Myron thought about that. "Seems awfully risky. Plus you guys used to make a mint on the rare concert appearance."

  "But touring was a big risk too. Gabriel wanted to do it more, but using backing tracks got more difficult as time went on, what with all the lip-synching scandals. It wasn't worth it."

  "So I still don't get it. Why kill Wire? And for that matter, when?"

  "A few weeks after Alista Snow was killed," Lex said. "First he left the country. That part was true. If they couldn't clear him, I think Gabriel would have just stayed overseas and become another Roman Polanski or something. He came back when the case against him started falling apart. Witnesses started clamming up. There was no security tape. The last step was for Gabriel to meet with Karl Snow and slip him a bagful of money. Once all that was done, the media and the cops faded away."

  "And then, after all that, Crisp kills Gabriel Wire?"

  Lex shrugged. It didn't make sense.

  "You told Suzze all this on the phone?"

  "Not all of it, no. I wanted to. See, I knew it would all come out now, what with Kitty back in our lives. I figured that I should tell her first. I wanted to for years anyway and now we were going to have a baby. . . . We needed to get rid of all the lies, all the secrets. You know what I mean?"

  "I do. But when you saw that post that said 'Not His,' I mean, you knew it wasn't true."


  "So why did you run?"

  "I told you at Three Downing. I just needed time. Suzze didn't tell me about the post. How come? She saw it, and man, I knew right away something was wrong. And think about it. When she came to you, she didn't just want you to find me. She wanted to know who posted the message on the board." He cocked his head to the side. "Why do you think that was?"

  "You think," Myron said, "that she still held a candle for Gabriel."

  "I don't think. I know. Suzze didn't even tell you because, well, would you have gone looking to help her somehow reunite with another man? No."

  "You're wrong. She loved you."

  "Of course she did." Lex was smiling now. "Because I was Wire. Don't you see? So when I saw that post, I mean, the shock of it. I just needed time to figure out what to do. So I came up here and made a little music. And then, like I said before, I called Suzze to tell her the truth. I started by telling her that Wire was dead--that he'd been dead for more than fifteen years. But she didn't believe me. She wanted proof."

  "Did you see the body?"


  Myron spread his hands. "So then for all you know, he is alive. Maybe he's overseas. Maybe he's disguising himself or living in a commune in Tibet."

  Lex almost laughed at that one. "You believed that nonsense? Oh, come on. We were the ones who spread those rumors. Twice we asked starlets to say that they'd been with him and they agreed just to up their profile. No, Gabriel is dead."

  "How do you know?"

  He shook his head. "Funny."


  "That's what Suzze kept asking: How did I know for sure?"

  "So what did you tell her?"

  "I told her there was a witness. Someone who saw Gabriel's murder."


  But even before Lex answered, Myron knew. Whom did Suzze call right after she talked to Lex? Who had posted something that made Lex fear the truth would come out? And who, if he took it to the next level, connected all this to his brother?

  "Kitty," Lex said. "Kitty saw Gabriel Wire get killed."

  With the security guard still tied up--and the voices of Myron and Lex Ryder in his ear--Win approached the computers in the downstairs room. The austere decor made sense now. Lex might visit to use the recording studio. Crisp or well-trusted security guards might spend nights. But nobody truly lived here. You could feel that hollowness. The security guard was muscle, an old Ache worker. He knew to keep his mouth shut. But even he didn't quite know the circumstances. Guards were changed every few months. All understood that the upstairs was off-limits. This particular guard had never seen Gabriel Wire, of course, but he didn't really question that. He figured that Wire just traveled a lot. Wire was a paranoid recluse, he was told. He was never to approach him. So he never did.

  Win had wondered about the lack of security, but now it made perfect sense. "Wire" lived on an island with very few inhabitants, most of whom shunned publicity or craved privacy. Even if there was a breach, even if someone did manage to break into the house, so what? They would find no Gabriel Wire, but what would that mean? Ache, Crisp, and Ryder had concocted enough stories about secret travels and disguises to explain away any absence.

  Fairly ingenious.

  Win was not much of a computer expert, but he knew enough. With a bit of persuasion the guard had helped him with the rest. Win brought up the passenger manifests. He looked through other files that Crisp had worked on. Crisp was no fool. He would never leave anything incriminating, anything that could be used in court, but Win didn't worry about court.

  When he was done, Win placed three phone calls. The first was to his pilot.

  "You're ready?"

  The pilot said, "Yes."

  "Depart now. I'll signal when it's okay to land."

  Win's second call was Esperanza. "Any new developments on Mr. Bolitar?"

  Al Bolitar has always insisted that Win call him Al. But Win just couldn't.

  "They just rushed him back into surgery," Esperanza said. "It doesn't look good."

  Win hung up again. The third call was to a federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

  When Win finished, he sat back and listened to Myron and Lex Ryder. He considered his options, but in truth there was only one. They had gone too far this time. They had brought themselves to the brink, and there was only one way to back away from it.

  The security guard's radio sounded. Through the radio static a voice said, "Billy?"

  The voice belonged to Crisp.

  Win smiled. That meant Crisp was near. Their big showdown was only minutes away now. Frank Ache had predicted that it would come down to this during the prison visit. Win had joked that he would videotape it, but no, Frank would have to settle for an oral recounting.

  Win brought the radio over to the guard. As Win came closer, the security guard began to whimper. Win understood. He took out his gun and put it against the man's forehead. Overkill, really. The man had already tried to be tough. It hadn't lasted.

  "You probably have a code word that tells Crisp you're in trouble," Win said. "If you use it, you will beg me to pull this trigger. Do you understand?"

  The security guard no
dded, eager to please.

  Win put the radio to Billy's ear and pressed the talk button. He said, "Billy here."


  "All clear."

  "The earlier problem was taken care of?"

  "Yes. Like I said, it was the twins. They ran when I came out."

  "I have separate confirmation that they drove off," Crisp said. "How is our guest behaving?"

  "Still upstairs working on that new song."

  "Very good," Crisp said. "I'm on my way up to the house. Billy?"


  "There's no reason to tell him I'm coming."

  The conversation ended. Crisp was on his way.

  It was time for Win to prepare.

  Myron said, "Kitty?"

  Lex Ryder nodded.

  "How did she know Wire was dead?"

  "She saw it."

  "She saw them kill Wire?"

  Lex Ryder nodded. "I didn't know about it until a few days ago. She calls me on the phone and tries to shake me down. 'I know what you did to Gabriel,' she says. I figure she's putting me on. I say, 'You don't know squat' and hang up. I don't tell anyone. I figure she'll go away. The next day she posts that tattoo and 'Not His' message. Like a warning. So I call her. I tell her to meet me at Three Downing. When I see her, I mean, wow, she's bad, really wasted. I could have paid her off, I guess, but she's a full-fledged addict now. Totally unreliable. Buzz ends up calling Crisp and tells him what she's babbling about. Then you come barreling into the nightclub. During the commotion, I warn Kitty to get the hell out of there and not come back. She said she's been doing that for sixteen years--since she saw Wire get shot."

  So, Myron thought, Kitty hadn't been paranoid. She knew a secret that could cost Herman Ache and Evan Crisp millions of dollars. That explained Goatee and Neck Tattoo following him to Kitty's trailer. Ache had realized that Myron might be able to lead him to Kitty. He had put a tail on him, and once the men located them, their orders were clear: Kill them both.

  So why not use Crisp? Obvious answer: Crisp was busy doing something else. Tailing Myron was still something of a long shot. Hire cheaper muscle.

  Win was back in his ear. "Are you done up there?"

  "Pretty much."

  "Crisp is on his way."

  "You have a plan?"

  "I do."

  "Do you need my help?"

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