Live wire, p.3
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       Live Wire, p.3

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 

  "Anton," she said, letting him kiss her hand with a tad too much enthusiasm. Myron feared that he might use those ferret teeth to gnaw the skin to bone.

  "You are still such a magnificent creature, Poca."

  He spoke with a funny maybe-Hungarian, maybe-Arabic accent, like something he made up for a comedy sketch. Anton was unshaven, the stubble on his face glistening in a not-pleasant way. He wore sunglasses even though it was cave-dark in here.

  "This is Anton," Esperanza said. "He says Lex is in bottle service."

  "Oh," Myron said, having no idea what bottle service was.

  "This way," Anton said.

  They traveled into a sea of bodies. Esperanza was in front of him. Myron got a kick out of watching every neck turn for a second glance. As they continued to wind through the crowd, a few women met Myron's gaze and held it, though not as many as one, two, five years ago. He felt like an aging pitcher who needed this particular radar gun to tell him that his fastball was losing velocity. Or maybe there was something else at work here. Maybe women just sensed that Myron was engaged now, had been taken off the market by the lovely Terese Collins and thus was no longer to be treated as mere eye candy.

  Yeah, Myron thought. Yeah, that had to be it.

  Anton used his key to open a door into another room--and seemingly another era. Where the actual club was techno and sleek with hard angles and smooth surfaces, this VIP lounge was done up in Early American Bordello. Plush sofas of burgundy, crystal chandeliers, leather moldings on the ceiling, lit candles on the wall. The room also had another one-way glass wall, so the VIPs could watch the girls dance and maybe choose a few to join them. Several robustly implanted soft-porn model types wore period corsets and merry widows and walked around with champagne bottles, ergo, Myron figured, the term "bottle service."

  "Are you looking at all the bottles?" Esperanza asked.

  "Um, close."

  Esperanza nodded, smiled at a particularly well-endowed hostess in a black corset. "Hmm . . . Could do with a little bottle service myself, if you know what I'm saying."

  Myron thought about it. Then: "Actually, I don't. You're both women, right? So I'm not sure I get the bottle reference."

  "God, you're literal."

  "You asked if I was looking at all the bottles. Why?"

  "Because they're serving Cristal champagne," Esperanza said.

  "So?"

  "How many bottles do you see?"

  Myron glanced around. "I don't know, nine, maybe ten."

  "They go for eight grand a pop here, plus tip."

  Myron put his hand to his chest, feigning heart palpitations. He spotted Lex Ryder sprawled on a couch with a colorful assortment of lovelies. The other men in the room all shouted aging musician/ roadie--long hair weaves, bandanas, facial hair, wiry arms, soft guts. Myron made his way through them.

  "Hello, Lex."

  Lex's head lolled to the side. He looked up and shouted with too much gusto, "Myron!"

  Lex tried to get up, couldn't, so Myron offered him a hand. Lex used it, managed to get to his feet, and hugged Myron with the slobbering enthusiasm men save for too much drink. "Oh man, it's so good to see you."

  HorsePower had started off as a house band in Lex and Gabriel's hometown of Melbourne, Australia. The name had come from Lex's last name Ryder (Horse-Ryder) and Gabriel's last name Wire (Power-Wire), but from the moment they started together, it was all about Gabriel. Gabriel Wire had a wonderful voice, sure, and he was ridiculously handsome with nearly supernatural charisma--but he also had that elusive, intangible, the "you know it when you see it" quality that raises the greats to the status of legendary.

  Must be hard, Myron often thought, for Lex--or anyone--to live in that shadow. Sure, Lex was famous and rich and technically speaking, all songs were Wire-Ryder productions, though Myron, being the one who handled his finances, knew Lex's cut was 25 percent to Gabriel's 75. And sure, women still hit on him, men still wanted to be his friend, but Lex was also the ultimate late-night punch line, the butt of all jokes involving second-to-the-point-of-irrelevancy bananas.

  HorsePower was still huge, maybe bigger than ever, even though Gabriel Wire had gone completely underground after a tragic scandal more than fifteen years ago. With the exception of a few paparazzi shots and a lot of rumors, there had been pretty much no sign of Gabriel Wire in all that time--no touring, no interviews, no press, no public appearances. All that secrecy just made the public hunger for Wire all the more.

  "I think it's time to go home, Lex."

  "Nah, Myron," he said, voice thick with what Myron hoped was just drink. "Come on now. We're having fun. Aren't we having fun, gang?"

  Various vocalizations of agreement. Myron looked around. He may have met one or two of the guys before, but the only one he knew for certain was Buzz, Lex's longtime bodyguard/personal assistant. Buzz met Myron's eye and shrugged as if to say, what can you do?

  Lex threw his arm around Myron, draping it over his neck like a camera strap. "Sit, old friend. Let's have a drink, relax, unwind."

  "Suzze is worried about you."

  "Is she now?" Lex arched an eyebrow. "And so she sent her old errand boy to come fetch me?"

  "Technically speaking, I'm your errand boy too, Lex."

  "Ah, agents. That most mercenary of occupations."

  Lex wore black pants and a black leather vest, and it looked like he'd just gone clothes shopping at Rockers R Us. His hair was gray now, cut very short. Collapsing back on the couch, he said, "Sit, Myron."

  "Why don't we take a walk, Lex?"

  "You're my errand boy too, right? I said, sit."

  He had a point. Myron found a spot and sank deep and slow into the cushions. Lex turned a knob to his right and the music lowered. Someone handed Myron a glass of champagne, spilling a bit as they did. Most of the tight-corset ladies--and let's face it, in any era, that's a look that works--were gone now, without much notice, as though they'd faded into the walls. Esperanza was chatting up the one she'd been checking out when they entered the room. The other men in the room watched the two women flirt with the fascination of cavemen first seeing fire.

  Buzz was smoking a cigarette that smelled, uh, funny. He looked to pass it off to Myron. Myron shook his head and turned toward Lex. Lex lounged back as though someone had given him a muscle relaxant.

  "Suzze showed you the post?" Lex asked.

  "Yes."

  "So what's your take, Myron?"

  "A random lunatic playing head games."

  Lex took a deep sip of champagne. "You really think so?"

  "I do," Myron said, "but either way it's the twenty-first century."

  "Meaning?"

  "Meaning it's not that big a deal. You can get a DNA test, if you're so concerned about it--establish paternity for certain."

  Lex nodded slowly, took another deep sip. Myron tried to stay out of agent mode, but the bottle held 750 ml, which is approximately 25 ounces, divided by $8,000 dollars, equaled $320 per ounce.

  "I hear you're engaged," Lex said.

  "Yup."

  "Let's drink to that."

  "Or sip. Sipping is cheaper."

  "Relax, Myron. I'm filthy rich."

  True enough. They drank.

  "So what's bothering you, Lex?"

  Lex ignored the question. "So how come I haven't met your new bride-to-be?"

  "It's a long story."

  "Where is she now?"

  Myron kept it vague. "Overseas."

  "May I give you some advice on marriage?"

  "How about, 'Don't believe stupid Internet rumors about paternity'?"

  Lex grinned. "Good one."

  Myron said, "Meh."

  "But here's the advice: Be open with each other. Totally open."

  Myron waited. When Lex didn't follow up, Myron said, "That's it?"

  "You expected something deeper?"

  Myron shrugged. "Kinda."

  "There's this song I love," Lex said. "The lyric says, 'Your heart is lik
e a parachute.' Do you know why?"

  "I think the line is about a mind being like a parachute--it only functions when it's open."

  "No, I know that line. This one is a better, 'Your heart is like a parachute--it only opens when you fall.' " He smiled. "Good, right?"

  "I guess."

  "We all have friends in our lives, like, well, take my mates in here. I love them, I party with them, we talk about weather and sports and hot pieces of ass, but if I didn't see them for a year--or really, ever again--it wouldn't make much difference in my life. That's how it is with most people we know."

  He took another sip. The door behind them opened. A bunch of giggling women entered. Lex shook his head, and they vanished back out the door. "And then," he went on, "every once in a while, you have a real friend. Like Buzz over there. We talk about everything. We know the truth about each other--every sick, depraved flaw. Do you have friends like that?"

  "Esperanza knows I have a shy bladder," Myron said.

  "What?"

  "Never mind. Go on. I know what you're saying."

  "Right, so anyway, real friends. You let them see the sick crap that goes on in your brain. The ugly." He sat up, getting into it now. "And you know what's odd about that kind of thing? You know what happens when you're totally open and let the other person see that you're a total degenerate?"

  Myron shook his head.

  "Your friend loves you even more. With everyone else, you put up this facade so you can hide the crud and make them like you. But with real friends, you show them the crud--and that makes them care. When we get rid of the facade, we connect more. So why don't we do that with everyone, Myron? I ask you."

  "I guess you're going to tell me."

  "Damned if I know." Lex sat back, took a deep sip, tilted his head in thought. "But here's the thing: The facade is, by nature, a lie. That's okay for the most part. But if you don't open up to the one you love most--if you don't show the flaws--you can't connect. You are, in fact, keeping secrets. And those secrets fester and destroy."

  The door opened again. Four women and two men stumbled in, giggling and smiling and holding obscenely overpriced champagne in their hands.

  "So what secrets are you keeping from Suzze?" Myron asked.

  He just shook his head. "It's a two-way street, mate."

  "So what secrets is Suzze keeping from you?"

  Lex did not reply. He was looking across the room. Myron turned to follow his gaze.

  And then he saw her.

  Or at least he thought that he did. A blink of an eye across the VIP lounge, candlelit and smoky. Myron hadn't seen her since that snowy night sixteen years ago, her belly swollen, the tears running down her cheeks, the blood flowing through her fingers. He hadn't even kept tabs on them, but the last he had heard they were living somewhere in South America.

  Their eyes met across the room for a second, no more. And as impossible as it seemed, Myron knew.

  "Kitty?"

  His voice was drowned out by the music, but Kitty did not hesitate. Her eyes widened a bit--fear maybe?--and then she spun. She ran for the door. Myron tried to get up fast, but the cushion-sucking sofa slowed him down. By the time he got to his feet, Kitty Bolitar--Myron's sister-in-law, the woman who had taken away so much from him--was out the door.

  5

  Myron ran after her.

  As he reached the VIP lounge exit, here was the image that flashed across his brain: Myron age eleven, his brother, Brad, age six with the crazy curly hair, in the bedroom they shared, playing Nerf basketball. The backboard was flimsy cardboard, the ball basically a round sponge. The rim was attached to the top of the closet door by two orange suction cups you had to lick to make stick. The two brothers played for hours, inventing teams and giving themselves nicknames and personas. There was Shooting Sam and Jumping Jim and Leaping Lenny, and Myron, being the older brother, would control the action, making up a fake universe with good-guy players and bad-guy players and high drama and close games with buzzer beaters. But most of the time, in the end, he let Brad win. At night, when they got into their bunk beds--Myron on top, Brad beneath him--they would recap the games in the dark like TV sportscasters doing postgame analysis.

  The memory cleaved his heart anew.

  Esperanza spotted him sprinting. "What?"

  "Kitty."

  "What?"

  No time to explain. He hit the door and pushed through it. He was back in the club now with the deafening music. The old man in him wondered who enjoyed socializing when you could not hear anyone speak. But really, now, his thoughts were totally focused on reaching Kitty.

  Myron was tall, six-four, and standing on his toes, he could look over most of the crowd. No sign of the Maybe-Kitty. What had she been wearing? Turquoise top. He looked for flashes of turquoise.

  There. Her back to him. Heading toward the club exit.

  Myron had to move. He shouted excuse-me's as he tried to swim through the bodies, but there were too many of them. The strobe lights and quasi-laser show weren't helping either. Kitty. What the hell was Kitty doing here? Years ago, Kitty had been a tennis wunderkind too, training with Suzze. That was how they first met. It could be that the two old friends were back in touch, of course, but did that really answer why Kitty was here, in this club, without his brother, tonight?

  Or was Brad here too?

  He started moving faster. He tried not to knock into anyone, but of course that was impossible. There were dirty looks and cries of "Hey!" or "Where's the fire?" but Myron ignored them, pressed on, the whole exercise beginning to take on a dream quality, one of those where you're running and not going anywhere, where your feet are suddenly heavy or you're trudging through deep snow.

  "Ouch!" a girl shrieked. "Dumbass, you stepped on my toe!"

  "Sorry," Myron said, still trying to get through.

  A big hand landed on Myron's shoulder and spun him around. Someone pushed him hard from behind, nearly knocking him off his feet. Myron got his balance and faced what might have been an open audition for Jersey Shore: The Ten-Year Reunion show. There was a blend of hair mousse and faux tans and plucked eyebrows and waxed chests and poser muscles. They had the tough-guy sneers, a strange look on those who primp and manscape to within an inch of their lives. Punching them in the face would hurt; messing up their hair would hurt even more.

  There were four or five or maybe six of them--they tended to blur together into a mass of slippery unpleasantness and overbearing Axe cologne--and they were excited about the possibility of proving what men they were in defending the honor of some girl's toe.

  Still Myron was nothing if not diplomatic. "I'm sorry, guys," he said. "But this is an emergency."

  One douchebag said, "Whoa, where's the fire? You see a fire here, Vinny?"

  Vinny: "Yeah, where's the fire? Because I don't see one. You see one, Slap?"

  Before Slap could speak, Myron said, "Yeah, I get it. No fire. Look, again, I'm really sorry, but I'm in big hurry."

  Still Slap had to get involved: "Nope, I don't see no fire either."

  No time for this. Myron started to move--damn, no sign of Kitty--but the men closed ranks. Douchebag, with his hand still on Myron's shoulder, went for the vise grip. "Say you're sorry to Sandra."

  "Uh, what part of 'I'm really sorry' confused you?"

  "To Sandra," he said again.

  Myron turned to the girl who, judging by her dress and the company she kept, never got enough attention from her daddy. He shook his shoulder to dislodge the annoying hand. "I'm really sorry, Sandra."

  He said this because it was the best course of action. Try to make peace and move on. But Myron knew. He could see it in the red in their faces, the wet in their eyes. The hormones were engaged now. So as he turned back toward the guy who'd first pushed him, Myron was not surprised to see a fist heading toward his face.

  Fights normally last mere seconds--and those seconds are chockfull of three things: confusion, chaos, and panic. So when people see a fist heading
toward them, they naturally overreact. They try to duck all the way down or fall all the way back. That was a mistake. If you lose your balance or lose sight of your adversary, you end up, of course, in more danger. Good fighters will often throw blows for just this reason--not necessarily to connect but to make the opponent put himself in a more vulnerable position.

  So Myron's move to avoid the blow was a slight one--only a few inches. His right hand was already up. You don't have to knock the fist away hard with some big karate move. You just need to divert its course a little. That was what Myron did.

  Myron's goal here was simple: Put this guy down with a minimum of fuss or injury. Myron redirected the traveling fist and then, with the same hand already up, he put his index and middle finger together and snapped a dart blow right at the soft hollow of his attacker's throat. The blow landed flush. Jerzie Boy made a gurgling sound. Both his hands instinctively flew to his throat, leaving him totally exposed. In a normal fight, if there was such a thing, this was where Myron would put him down for good. But that wasn't what he wanted here. He wanted to get away.

  So even before Myron could gauge his next shot, he started past the guy, trying to move swiftly away from the scene. But all avenues of escape were blocked now. The patrons at the crowded club had moved in closer, drawn by the smell of a fight and the base desire to see a fellow human being hurt or maimed.

  Another hand reached out and grabbed his shoulder. Myron brushed it off. Someone dived for his legs, wrapping Myron up by the ankles, attempting a tackle. Myron bent his knees. He used one hand for balance on the floor. With the other, he tucked his fingers down and delivered a palm strike to the man's nose. The man let go of Myron's legs. The music stopped now. Someone screamed. Bodies began to topple.

  This was not good.

  Confusion, chaos, and panic. In a crowded nightclub, those things are both enhanced and ridiculously contagious. Someone nearby gets jostled and panics. He throws a punch. People back up. Spectators who'd been enjoying the relative safety of that passive act realize that they are now in harm's way. They begin to flee, crashing into others. Pandemonium.

  Someone hit Myron in the back of the head. He spun. Someone hit him in the midsection. Myron's hand instinctively whipped out and grabbed the man's wrist. You can learn the best fighting techniques and be trained by the best, but there is no substitute for being born with amazing hand-eye coordination. As they used to say in his basketball days, "You can't teach height." You also can't really teach coordination or athleticism or competitive instinct either, try as parents might.