Live wire, p.26
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       Live Wire, p.26

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 
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  "I need you to stay where you are."

  "Win?"

  "Yes?"

  "Crisp may know what happened to my brother."

  "Yes, I know."

  "Don't kill him."

  "Well," Win said. "Not right away."

  31

  Two hours later, they were back at the small Adiona Island airport, boarding Win's Boeing Business Jet. Mee greeted them in an aggressively tailored red stewardess uniform topped with a Jackie-O pillbox hat.

  "Welcome aboard," Mee said. "Watch your step, welcome aboard, watch your step."

  Lex trudged up the stairs first. He was finally sobering up and it wasn't looking good on him. The baby nurse, carrying Lex's son, followed. That left Myron, Win, and a still-wobbly Evan Crisp. Crisp's hands were tied behind his back with several plastic cuffs. Win knew that some people could escape plastic cuffs. Few people, if any, could escape several, especially when the larger ones were wrapped around the forearms and the chest. Win backed these up with a gun too. Crisp had taken chances. Win would not.

  Myron looked back at Win. "A moment," Win said.

  Mee came back to the door and nodded at Win. Win said, "Okay, now."

  Myron took the lead, half dragging Crisp behind. Win took the rear, pushing Crisp up. Myron had carried him before, fireman-style, but now Crisp was starting to regain consciousness.

  Win had bought the luxury aircraft from a once-popular rapper who, like many before him, dominated the charts before becoming a trivia question and being forced to liquidate the fruits of his overspending. The main cabin had oversized leather recliners, plush carpeting, a wide-screen 3-D television, serious wood trim. The plane had a separate dining room, plus a bedroom in the back. Lex, the nurse, and the baby were closed off in the dining room. Win and Myron didn't want them in the same room with Crisp.

  They pushed Crisp into a seat. Win wrapped him in restraints. Crisp was still blinking through the tranquilizer. Win had used a diluted form of Etorphine, a sedative normally used for elephants and potentially fatal to humans. In the movies, sedatives work instantaneously. In reality, it's hardly a guarantee.

  In the end, Crisp had not been indestructible. No one was. As Herman Ache had so poetically put it, no one--not even Myron or Win--was bulletproof. The truth was, when the best were taken, they were normally taken easily. A bomb drops on your house, it doesn't matter how good your hand-to-hand combat skills are--you're dead.

  From Billy the security guard, Win had learned the path that Crisp took to the Wire estate. Win had found the ideal spot. He came out with two guns--one with real bullets, one with the Etorphine. He didn't wait. While holding the real gun on him, he shot Crisp with the Etorphine and kept his distance while the man passed out.

  Win and Myron moved two rows back and sat next to each other. Mee, ever the professional flight attendant, ran through a full safety talk, demonstrating how to use the seat belt, how to secure your oxygen mask before helping others, how to inflate the life jacket. Win watched her with his patented rakish grin.

  "Demonstrate the blowing in the tube part again," he said to Mee.

  Win.

  The takeoff was smooth enough to be choreographed by Motown. Myron called Esperanza. When he heard about his father being back in surgery, he closed his eyes and just tried to breathe. Concentrate on the possible. Dad had the best medical care. If Myron wanted to help, there was only one way: Find Brad.

  "Did you learn anything about the Abeona Shelter?" he asked Esperanza.

  "Not a thing. It's like it doesn't exist."

  Myron hung up. He and Win discussed what they already knew and what it meant. "Lex gave me the answer right from the start," Myron said. "All couples have secrets."

  "Hardly an earth-shattering revelation," Win said.

  "Do we have secrets, Win?"

  "No. But we don't have sex either."

  "You think sex leads to secrets?" Myron asked.

  "You don't?"

  "I always thought sex leads to greater intimacy."

  "Bah," Win said.

  "Bah?"

  "You're so naive."

  "How so?"

  "Didn't we prove it's just the opposite? Couples--those having sex like Lex and Suzze--those are the ones who keep secrets."

  He had a point. "So where are we off to?"

  "You'll see."

  "I thought we had no secrets."

  Crisp started to stir. He opened one eye, then the other. He didn't react. He let it settle, trying to put together where exactly he was and what he should do next. He looked over at Myron and Win.

  "You know what Herman Ache will do to you?" Crisp asked. Then: "You can't be this stupid."

  Win arched an eyebrow. "Can't we?"

  "You guys aren't that tough."

  "We keep hearing that."

  "Herman will kill you. He'll kill your whole family. He'll make sure the last thing your loved one ever does is curse your name and beg to die."

  "Well, well," Win said, "doesn't Herman have a flair for the dramatic? Fortunately I do have something of a plan. A win-win for all involved, including you."

  Crisp said nothing.

  "We are going to pay dearest Herman a visit," Win said to him. "The four of us will sit down, perhaps over a nice latte. We will all cooperate. We will reveal all. And then we will work out a mutually beneficial understanding so that no one gets harmed."

  "Meaning?"

  "Detente. Have you heard of it?"

  "I have," Crisp said. "I'm not sure Herman has."

  Myron's thought exactly. But Win seemed untroubled.

  "Herman is a sweetheart, you will see," Win said. "In the meantime, what happened to Myron's brother?"

  Crisp frowned. "The guy married to Kitty?"

  "Yes."

  "How the hell would I know?"

  Win sighed. "Cooperate. Reveal all. Remember?"

  "I'm serious. We didn't even know Kitty was around until she contacted Lex. I don't have a clue where her husband is."

  Myron thought about that. He knew that Crisp could be lying--probably was--but what he said fit with what Lex had told them.

  Win unfastened his seat belt and walked over to Evan Crisp. He handed him the satellite phone. "I need you to call Herman Ache. Tell him we will meet him at his Livingston residence within the hour."

  Crisp offered up skeptical. "You're kidding, right?"

  "I am indeed a mirthful fellow. But no."

  "He won't let you in armed."

  "That's fine. We don't need weapons. If anyone touches a hair on our heads, the world finds out the truth about Gabriel Wire. Bye-bye, big money. We are also moving Lex Ryder--your cash cow, if you will--to a secure location. Do you see?"

  "Cooperation," Crisp said. "Reveal all."

  "I love it when we have an understanding."

  Crisp made the call. Win stood over him the whole time. On the other end of the phone, Herman Ache didn't like what he was hearing, not at first, but Crisp explained what Win wanted to do. In the end Herman agreed to the meet.

  "Wonderful," Win said.

  Myron looked at Crisp's smile, then up at Win. "I'm not sure I like being kept in the dark," Myron said.

  "You don't trust me?" Win asked.

  "You know better."

  "I do. And I have it under control."

  "You're not infallible, Win."

  "Correct," Win said. Then he added, "But I'm also not always your faithful sidekick."

  "You may be putting us in a dangerous situation."

  "No, Myron, you did that. When you agreed to help Suzze and all those who came before her, you put us where we are now. I'm just trying to find us a way out."

  Myron said, "Wow."

  "The truth hurts, old friend."

  And in truth, it did.

  "If there's nothing more . . ." Win checked his watch and smiled at his favorite stewardess. "We still have thirty minutes before we land. You stay and watch our prisoner. I'm going into the bedroom for a little Mee
time."

  32

  Big Cyndi met them at the Essex County Airport in Caldwell, New Jersey. She put Lex, the nurse, and the baby in an SUV. Big Cyndi was going to bring them to Zorra, the cross-dressing former Mossad agent, and then Zorra would find a safe house and would tell no one--not even Myron or Win--where it was. This way, Win had explained, if his plan somehow backfired and Herman Ache grabbed and tortured them, they wouldn't be able to tell them where Lex was.

  "How comforting," Myron had said.

  Win had a car waiting. Normally he'd use a driver, but why put anyone else in danger? Crisp was fully awake now. They pushed him in the backseat and redid his restraints, adding some to his legs. Myron sat in the passenger seat. Win drove.

  Herman Ache lived in a legendary mansion in Livingston, scant miles from where Myron grew up. When Myron was a kid, the estate had belonged to a famed crime boss. Rumors swirled around the playground about the place. One kid said that if you crossed their property line, reallive gangsters shot at you. Another kid said that there was a crematorium behind the house where the mafia boss burned his victims.

  This second rumor was actually true.

  The gateposts were topped with bronze lion heads. Win took the long drive to the first landing. That was as far as they'd be able to go. They parked. Myron watched three big guys in ill-fitted suits approach. The one in the middle, the leader, was extra beefy.

  Win took out both his guns and placed them in the glove compartment.

  "Get rid of your weapons," Win said. "We're going to be searched."

  Myron looked at him. "Do you have a plan here?"

  "I do."

  "Do you want to share it with me?"

  "I already did. The four of us are going to chat. We will all act rationally. We will learn what we need to about your brother. We will agree not to harm their business interest if they don't harm us. What part of this bothers you?"

  "The part where you trust a psychopath like Herman Ache to act rationally."

  "He is, first and foremost, interested in business and the air of legitimacy. Killing us would harm that."

  The biggest of the beefy bruisers--he had to be six-seven, three hundred pounds--knocked on Win's window with his ring. Win rolled down the window. "May I help you?"

  "Get a load of this." Beefy looked at Win like he was something that had just dropped out of a dog's behind. "So you're the famous Win."

  Win smiled brightly.

  "You don't look like much," Beefy said.

  "I could offer up several cliches--don't judge a book by its cover, big things come in small packages--but really, wouldn't that just go over your head?"

  "You being funny?"

  "Evidently not."

  Beefy lowered his brow in a Neanderthal frown. "You armed?"

  "No," Win said, pounding his chest. "Me Win. You armed?"

  "Huh?"

  Sigh. "No, we are not armed."

  "We're gonna search you. Thoroughly."

  Win winked at Beefy. "I was counting on that, big boy."

  Beefy took a step back. "Get the hell out of the car before I put a hole in your head. Now."

  Homophobia. Still gets to them every time.

  Usually Myron joined Win in these fearless taunts, but this situation seemed too out of control. Win left the keys in the ignition. He and Myron stepped out of the car. Beefy told them where to stand. They did as he asked. The other two men opened the back door and used straight razors to free Evan Crisp from the plastic restraints. Crisp rubbed the circulation back into his wrists. He walked over to Win and stood directly in front of him. The two men stared each other down.

  "Can't sneak up on me this time," Crisp said.

  Win gave him the smile. "Would you like to go, Crisp?"

  "Very much. But right now time is short, so I'll just have my boys here hold a gun on your friend while I pop you one. Just a little payback."

  "Mr. Ache gave specific instructions," Beefy said. "No damaging the goods until he talks to them. Follow me."

  Beefy led the way. Myron and Win were first. Crisp and the two goons took the back. Up ahead Myron could see the dark baronial mansion that one old mobster described as "Transylvania Classic." It fit. Man, Myron thought, it had been a big night for huge, creepy homes. As they walked, Myron swore he could hear the long-dead call out a warning.

  Beefy took them through the back entrance into a mudroom. He had them walk through a metal detector, then he double-checked them with a security wand. Myron tried to remain calm, wondering where Win had hidden the weapon. There was no way he would go into this situation without one.

  When he was done with the wand, Beefy did a rough handsearch on Myron. Then he moved on to Win, taking longer.

  Win said, "Thorough as promised. Is there a tip jar?"

  "Funny guy," Beefy said. When he was done, Beefy took a step back and opened a closet door. He took out two gray sweat suits. "Strip down to nothing. Then you can put these on."

  "Are those one-hundred-percent cotton?" Win asked. "I have very sensitive skin, not to mention a reputation for haute couture."

  "Funny guy," Beefy said again.

  "And gray totally doesn't work with my complexion. It completely washes me out." But now, even Win sounded a little strained by where this was going. His tone had a whistling-in-the-dark quality to it. The other two goons snickered and took out their guns. Myron looked over to Win. Win shrugged. Not much choice now. They both stripped down to their underwear. Beefy made them take that off too. The, uh, probe was thankfully brief. Win's homophobic jokes had worried them into not being overly meticulous.

  When they finished, Beefy handed one of the sweat suits to Myron, the other to Win. "Put them on."

  They did so in silence.

  "Mr. Ache is waiting in the library," Beefy said.

  Crisp led the way with a hint of a smile on his face. Beefy and the Boys stayed behind. No surprise. The Gabriel Wire situation had to be top secret. Myron guessed that no one knew about it but Ache, Crisp, and maybe an attorney on retainer. Even the security guards who worked the property didn't know. "Maybe I should do the talking," Myron said.

  "Okay."

  "You're right. Herman Ache will want to do what's in his best interest. We have his golden goose."

  "Agreed."

  When they entered the library, Herman Ache was waiting with a snifter of brandy. He stood by one of those antique-globe wet bars. Win had one too. In fact, the entire room looked as though Win had done the decorating. Bookshelves lined the walls, three stories high, with a sliding ladder so that you could reach the higher volumes. The leather club chairs were burgundy. There was an oriental carpet and deep wainscoting on the ceilings.

  Herman Ache's gray toupee was a little too shiny tonight. He wore a polo shirt with a V-neck sweater underneath it. There was a logo for a golf club on the chest.

  Herman pointed at Win. "I told you to leave this alone."

  Win nodded. "You did indeed." Then Win reached into the waistband of the sweatpants, pulled out a gun, and shot Herman Ache right between the eyes. Herman Ache crumbled in a ragged heap. Myron actually gasped out loud. He turned to Win, who already had the weapon pointed at Evan Crisp.

  "Don't," Win said to Crisp. "If I wanted you dead, you'd be dead too. Don't force my hand."

  Crisp froze.

  Myron just stared. Herman Ache was dead. No question about it.

  Myron said, "Win?"

  Win kept his eye trained on Crisp. "Search him, Myron."

  In something of a daze, Myron did as Win asked. There was no weapon. Win told Crisp to get on his knees and lace his hands behind his head. Crisp did so. Win kept the gun pointed at Crisp's head.

  "Win?"

  "We had no choice, Myron. Mr. Crisp here was correct. Herman would have killed everyone dear to us."

  "What about all that talk about his business interest? What about detente?"

  "Herman may have agreed for a little while, but not in the long run. You know
that. The moment we discovered Wire was dead it became us or him. He would never let us live, holding that over his head."

  "But killing Herman Ache"--Myron shook his head, trying to clear it--"even you don't just walk away from that."

  "Don't worry about that right now."

  Crisp stayed statue-still on his knees, hands on his head.

  "So what now?" Myron asked.

  "Perhaps," Win said, "I'll kill our friend Mr. Crisp here. In for a penny, in for a pound."

  Crisp closed his eyes. Myron said, "Win?"

  "Ah, don't worry," Win said, keeping the gun trained on Crisp's head. "Mr. Crisp is merely a hired hand. You have no loyalty to Herman Ache, do you?"

  Crisp finally broke his silence. "I don't, no."

  "There then." Win looked at Myron. "Go ahead. Ask him."

  Myron moved in front of Evan Crisp. Crisp looked up and met his eye.

  "How did you do it?" Myron asked.

  "Do what?"

  "How did you kill Suzze?"

  "I didn't."

  "Well," Win said. "Now we're both lying."

  Crisp said, "What?"

  "You're lying about not killing Suzze," Win said. "And I was lying about not killing you."

  Somewhere in the distance a grandfather clock started chiming. Herman Ache continued to bleed out on the floor, an almost perfect circular puddle of blood surrounding his head.

  "My theory," Win said, "is that you were not merely a hired hand on this but more likely a full partner. It doesn't matter, really. You're a very dangerous man. You don't like that I got the better of you. If our roles were reversed, I wouldn't like it either. So you know already. I can't let you survive to fight another day."

  Crisp turned his head to look up at Win. He tried to meet Win's eyes, as though that would help. It wouldn't. But Myron could smell the fear on Crisp now. You could be tough. You could be the hardest guy around. But when you stare death in the face, only one thought comes to mind: I don't want to die. The world becomes very simple. Survive. We don't pray in foxholes because we are ready to meet our Maker. We pray because we don't want to.

  Crisp searched for a way out. Win waited, seeming to enjoy the moment. Win had cornered his prey and now it was as though he were playing with it.

  "Help!" Crisp yelled. "They shot Herman!"

  "Please." Win looked bored. "That won't do any good."

  Crisp's eyes widened in confusion, but Myron saw it. There was only one way Win could have gotten that weapon: He had inside help.

  Beefy.

  Beefy had put the gun in Win's sweat suit.

 
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