Live wire, p.5
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       Live Wire, p.5

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 

  If you are hurt, you strike back. Massive retaliation. But with a purpose. Myron didn't always agree with this doctrine. That was okay. They were friends, best friends. They would kill for each other. But they weren't the same person.

  "Hello, Kyle," Win called out.

  Kyle looked up and scowled.

  "Do you have a moment for a private conversation?" Win asked.

  "You kidding me?"

  "Normally, I'm a great kidder, a regular Dom DeLuise, but no, Kyle, tonight I kid you not. I want us to chat in private."

  Kyle actually licked his lips. "No cell phones this time?"

  "None. No stun guns either."

  Kyle looked around, making sure that the proverbial coast was clear. "And that cop is gone?"

  "Long gone."

  "So it's just you and me?"

  "Just you and me," Win repeated. "In fact, my nipples are getting hard at the thought."

  Kyle moved closer. "I don't care who you know, pretty boy," Kyle said. "I'll bust your ass up but good."

  Win smiled and gestured for him to lead the way. "Oh, I can't wait."

  Sleep used to be an escape for Myron.

  No more. He would lie in bed for hours, stare at the ceiling, afraid to close his eyes. It brought him back often to a place he was supposed to forget. He knew that he should deal with this--visit a shrink or something--but he also knew that he probably wouldn't. Trite to say, but Terese was something of a cure. When he slept with her, the night terrors kept their distance.

  His first thought when the alarm clock jarred him back to the present was the same as when he'd tried to close his eyes: Brad. It was odd. Days, sometimes weeks, maybe even months passed without thinking about his brother. Their estrangement worked a bit like grief. We are often told during times of bereavement that time heals all wounds. That's crap. In truth, you are devastated, you mourn, you cry to the point where you think you'll never stop--and then you reach a stage where the survival instinct takes over. You stop. You simply won't or can't let yourself "go there" anymore because the pain was too great. You block. You deny. But you don't really heal.

  Seeing Kitty last night had knocked away the denial and sent Myron reeling. So now what? Simple: Talk to the two people who could tell him something about Kitty and Brad. He reached for his phone and called his house in Livingston, New Jersey. His parents were visiting from Boca Raton for the week.

  His mom answered. "Hello?"

  "Hey, Mom," Myron said, "how are you?"

  "I'm great, honey. How are you?"

  Her voice was almost too tender, as if the wrong answer could shatter her heart.

  "I'm great too." He'd thought about asking her about Brad, but no, this would take some tact. "I thought maybe I'd take you and Dad out to dinner tonight."

  "Not Nero's," she said. "I don't want to go to Nero's."

  "That's fine."

  "I'm not in the mood for Italian. Nero's is Italian."

  "Right. No Nero's."

  "You ever have that?"

  "Have what?"

  "Where you're just not in the mood for a kind of food? Take me right now, for example. I simply don't want Italian."

  "Yep, I got that. So what kind of food would you like?"

  "Can we do Chinese? I don't like the Chinese in Florida. It's too greasy."

  "Sure. How about Baumgart's?"

  "Oh, I love their kung pao chicken. But, Myron, what kind of name is Baumgart's for a Chinese restaurant? It sounds like a Jewish deli."

  "It used to be," Myron said.

  "Really?"

  He had explained the origin of the name to her at least ten times. "I really have to hurry here, Mom. I'll be by the house at six. Tell Dad."

  "Okay. Take care of yourself, honey."

  Again with the tender. He told her to do the same. After he hung up, he decided to text his father to confirm tonight. He felt bad about that, as if he were somehow betraying his mother, but her memory . . . well, enough with the denial, right?

  Myron quickly showered and got dressed. Since returning from Angola, Myron had, at Esperanza's rather strong suggestion, made walking to work a morning ritual. He entered Central Park at West Seventy-second and took it south. Esperanza loved to walk, but Myron had never really gotten it. His temperament was not suited for head clearing or settling his nerves or solace or whatever putting one foot in front of the other was supposed to accomplish. But Esperanza had convinced him that it would be good for his head, making him promise to give it three weeks. Alas, Esperanza was wrong, though maybe he hadn't given it a fair shake. Myron spent most of the time with the Bluetooth in his ear, chatting up clients, gesturing wildly like, well, like most of the other park dwellers. Still it felt better, more "him," to be multitasking. So with that in mind, he jammed the Bluetooth into his ear and called Suzze T. She picked up on the first ring.

  "Did you find him?" Suzze asked.

  "We did. Then we lost him. Have you heard of a nightclub called Three Downing?"

  "Of course."

  Of course. "Well, Lex was there last night." Myron explained about finding him in the VIP room. "He started talking about festering secrets and not being open."

  "Did you tell him the post wasn't true?"

  "Yes."

  "What did he say?"

  "We kind of got interrupted." Myron walked past the children frolicking in the fountain in Heckscher Playground. There might be happier kids somewhere else on this sunny day, but he doubted it. "I have to ask you something."

  "I already told you. It's his baby."

  "Not that. Last night, at that club, I could have sworn I saw Kitty."

  Silence.

  Myron stopped walking. "Suzze?"

  "I'm here."

  "When was the last time you saw Kitty?" Myron asked.

  "How long ago did she run away with your brother?"

  "Sixteen years ago."

  "Then the answer is sixteen years."

  "So I was just imagining seeing her?"

  "I didn't say that. In fact, I bet it was her."

  "Do you want to explain?"

  "Are you near a computer?" Suzze asked.

  "No. I'm walking to the office like a dumb animal. I should be there in about five minutes."

  "Forget that. Can you grab a cab and swing by the academy? I want to show you something anyway."

  "When?"

  "I'm just about to start a lesson. An hour?"

  "Okay."

  "Myron?"

  "What?"

  "How did Lex look?"

  "He looked fine."

  "I just got a bad feeling. I think I'm going to mess up."

  "You won't."

  "It's what I do, Myron."

  "Not this time. Your agent won't let you."

  "Won't let you," she repeated, and he could almost see her shaking her head. "If anyone other than you said that, I would think it was the lamest thing I ever heard. But coming from you . . . no, sorry, it's still really lame."

  "I'll see you in an hour."

  Myron picked up his pace and headed into the Lock-Horne Building--yes, Win's full name was Windsor Horne Lockwood, and as they used to say in school, you do the math--and took the elevator to the twelfth floor. The doors opened right into the MB Reps reception area and sometimes, when children on the elevator pressed the wrong button and the door opened, they screamed at what they saw.

  Big Cyndi. Receptionist extraordinaire at MB Reps.

  "Good morning, Mr. Bolitar!" she cried out in the high-pitched squeal of a little girl seeing her Teen Beat idol.

  Big Cyndi was six-five and had recently completed a four-day juice-cleansing "evacuation" diet so that she now tipped the scales at three-ten. Her hands were the size of throw pillows. Her head resembled a cinder block.

  "Hey, Big Cyndi."

  She insisted that he call her that, never just Cyndi or, uh, Big, and even though she had known him for years, she liked the formality of calling him Mister Bolitar. Big Cyndi was, he guessed, f
eeling better today. The diet had darkened Big Cyndi's usually sunny demeanor. She had growled more than talked. Her makeup, usually a Joseph-and-the-Technicolor-Dreamcoat display, had been a harsh black 'n' white, landing somewhere between nineties' goth and seventies' Kiss. Now, as usual, her makeup looked as though it'd been applied by laying a sixty-four box of Crayolas on her face and turning up the heat lamp.

  Big Cyndi leapt to her feet and while Myron was beyond being shocked by what she wore anymore--tube tops, spandex bodysuits--this outfit almost made him step back. Her dress was chiffon, maybe, but it was more like she'd tried to wrap her entire body in party streamers. What appeared to be bands of flimsy purplish pink crepe paper started at the top of her breasts and wound and wound and wound down past her hips and stopped too short on the upper thigh. There were rips in the fabric, pieces dangling off like something Bruce Banner sported after turning into the Hulk. She smiled at him and spun hard on one leg, the earth teetering on its axis as she did. There was a diamond-shaped opening on her lower back near the coccyx bone.

  "Do you like it?" she asked.

  "I guess."

  Big Cyndi turned back toward him, put her hands on her crepe-paper-clad hips, and pouted. "You 'guess'?"

  "It's great."

  "I designed it myself."

  "You're very talented."

  "Do you think Terese will like it?"

  Myron opened his mouth, stopped, closed it. Uh-oh.

  "Surprise!" Big Cyndi shouted. "I designed these bridesmaid dresses myself. It's my gift to you both."

  "We don't even have a date yet."

  "True fashion stands the test of time, Mr. Bolitar. I'm just so glad you like them. I was going to go with a sea-foam color, but I think the fuchsia is warmer. I'm more a warm-tone person. I think Terese is too, don't you?"

  "I do," Myron said. "She's all about fuchsia."

  Big Cyndi gave him the slow smile--tiny teeth in a giant mouth--that sent children shrieking. He smiled back. God, he loved this big, crazy woman.

  Myron pointed at the door on the left. "Is Esperanza in?"

  "Yes, Mr. Bolitar. Should I let her know that you're here?"

  "I got it, thanks."

  "Would you please tell her that I'll be in for her fitting in five minutes?"

  "Will do."

  Myron knocked lightly on the door and entered. Esperanza sat at her desk. She was wearing the fuchsia dress, though on her, with the strategic rips, it looked a bit more like Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. Myron stifled a chuckle.

  "Make one comment," Esperanza said, "and die."

  "Moi?" Myron sat. "I do think, however, that sea foam would work better on you. You're not a warm-tone person."

  "We have a meeting at noon," she said.

  "I'll be back by then, and hopefully you'll be changed. Any hits on Lex's credit cards?"

  "Nothing."

  She didn't look up at him, her eyes down examining some paper on her desk with a tad too much concentration.

  "So," Myron said, aiming for nonchalant. "What time did you get home last night?"

  "Don't worry, Daddy. I didn't break curfew."

  "That's not what I meant."

  "Sure it is."

  Myron looked at the swirl of trite-but-true family photographs on her desk. "Do you want to talk about it?"

  "No, Dr. Phil, I don't."

  "Okay."

  "And don't give me that sanctimonious face. I didn't do anything beyond flirting last night."

  "I'm not here to judge."

  "Yeah, but you do it anyway. Where are you off to?"

  "Suzze's tennis academy. Have you seen Win?"

  "I don't think he's in yet."

  Myron grabbed a taxi west toward the Hudson River. The Suzze T Tennis Academy was located near Chelsea Piers in what looked like, and maybe was, a giant white bubble. When you entered the courts, the air pressure used to inflate the bubble made your ears pop. There were four courts, all filled with young women/teens/girls playing tennis with instructors. Suzze was on court one, all eight months pregnant of her, giving instructions on how to approach the net to two sun-soaked blond teens with ponytails. Forehands were being drilled on court two, backhands court three, serves on court four. Someone had put down hula hoops in the corners of the service line as targets. Suzze spotted Myron and signaled for him to give her a minute.

  Myron moved back into the waiting room overlooking the courts. The moms were there, all in tennis whites. Tennis was the only sport where spectators liked to dress like the participants, as if they might suddenly be called out of the stands to play. Still--and Myron knew that this was politically incorrect--there was something hot about a mom in tennis whites. So he looked. He did not ogle. He was too sophisticated for that. But he looked.

  The lust, if that was what this was, quickly dissipated. The mothers scrutinized their daughters with too much intensity, their lives seemingly riding on every shot. Looking out the picture window at Suzze, watching her sharing a laugh with one of her pupils, he remembered Suzze's own mom, who used terms like "driven" or "focused" to cover up what should have been labeled "innate cruelty." Some believe that these parents go overboard because they are living their lives through their children, but that wasn't the case because they wouldn't ever treat themselves so callously. Suzze's mother wanted to create a tennis player, period, and felt the best way to do that was to tear asunder anything else that might give her child either joy or self-esteem, making her wholly dependent on how she swung a racket. Beat your opponent, you're good. Lose, you're meaningless. She did more than withhold love. She withheld any inkling of self-worth.

  Myron had grown up in an era in which people blamed their parents for all their problems. Many were whiners, pure and simple, not willing to look in the mirror and get a grip. The Blame Generation, finding fault with everyone and everything but ourselves. But Suzze T's situation was different. He had seen the torment, seen the years of struggle, trying to rebel against everything tennis, wanting to quit but also loving the actual game. The court became both her torture chamber and her one place of escape, and it was hard to reconcile that. Eventually, almost inevitably, it led to drugs and self-destructive behavior until finally even Suzze, who could have played the blame game with a fair amount of legitimacy, looked in the mirror and found her answer.

  Myron sat and paged through a tennis magazine. Five minutes later, the kids started filing off the court. The smiles fled as they left the pressure-air confines of the bubble, their heads held down by their mothers' forceful gazes. Suzze came out after them. A mother stopped her, but Suzze kept it short. Without breaking stride, she walked past Myron and gestured for him to follow. Moving target, Myron thought. Harder for a parent to nab.

  She headed into her office and closed the door after Myron.

  "This isn't working," Suzze said.

  "What's not?"

  "The academy."

  "Looks like a pretty good crowd to me," Myron said.

  Suzze collapsed into her desk chair. "I came in with what I thought would be a great concept--a tennis academy for top players that would also let them breathe and live and become more well-rounded. I argued the obvious--that such a setting would make them better-adjusted, happier people--but I also argued that in the long run, it would make them better tennis players."

  "And?"

  "Well, who knows what the long run means? But the truth is, my concept isn't working. They aren't better players. The kids who are single-minded and have no interest in art or theater or music or friends--those kids become the best players. The kids who just want to beat your brains in, destroy you, show no mercy--those are the ones who win."

  "Do you really believe that?"

  "You don't?"

  Myron said nothing.

  "And the parents see it too. Their kids are happier here. They won't burn out as fast, but the better players are leaving for the intense boot camps."

  "That's short-term thinking," Myron said.

 
; "Maybe. But if they burn out when they're twenty-five, well, that's late in a career anyway. They need to win now. We get that, don't we, Myron? We were both blessed athletically, but if you don't have that killer instinct--the part of you that makes you a great competitor if not a great human being--it is hard to be an elite."

  "So are you saying we were like that?" Myron asked.

  "No, I had my mom."

  "And me?"

  Suzze smiled. "I remember seeing you play at Duke in the NCAA finals. The expression on your face . . . you'd rather die than lose."

  For a moment neither of them spoke. Myron stared at tennis trophies, the shiny trinkets that represented Suzze's success. Finally Suzze said, "Did you really see Kitty last night?"

  "Yes."

  "How about your brother?"

  Myron shook his head. "Brad may have been there, but I didn't see him."

  "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

  Myron shifted in his seat. "You think Kitty posted that 'Not His'?"

  "I'm raising the possibility."

  "Let's not jump to conclusions yet. You said you had something you wanted to show me. About Kitty."

  "Right." She started gnawing on her lip, something Myron hadn't seen her do in years. He waited, gave her a little time and space. "So yesterday after we talked, I started checking around."

  "Checking around for what?"

  "I don't know, Myron," she said, a little impatience sneaking in. "Something, a clue, whatever."

  "Okay."

  Suzze started typing on her computer. "So I started looking at my own Facebook page, where that lie was posted. You know anything about how people fan you?"

  "I assume they just sign up."

  "Right. So I decided to sort of do what you suggested. I started looking for old boyfriends or tennis rivals or fired musicians--someone who might want to harm us."

  "And?"

  Suzze was still typing. "And I started going through the people who'd signed up recently for the fan page. I mean, I now have forty-five thousand followers. So it took some time. But eventually . . ."