Live wire, p.6
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       Live Wire, p.6

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 

  She clicked the mouse and waited. "Okay, here. I stumbled across this profile from someone who signed up three weeks ago. I thought it was pretty odd, especially in light of what you told me about last night."

  She gestured toward Myron, who stood and circled around to see what was on the screen. When he saw the name in bold on the top of the profile page, he wasn't really all that surprised.

  Kitty Hammer Bolitar.

  8

  Kitty Hammer Bolitar.

  Back in the privacy of his office, Myron took a closer look at the Facebook page. No question about it when he saw the profile photo: It was his sister-in-law. Older, sure. A little more weathered. The cuteness from her tennis days had hardened a bit, but her face still had that perky-pretty thing going on. He stared at her for a moment and tried to quell the hatred that naturally rose to the surface whenever he thought of her.

  Kitty Hammer Bolitar.

  Esperanza came in and sat next to him without a word. Some would assume that Myron would want to be alone. Esperanza knew better. She looked at the screen.

  "Our first client," she said.

  "Yep," Myron said. "Did you see her at the club last night?"

  "Nope. I heard you call her name, but by the time I turned, she was gone."

  Myron checked the wall posts. Sparse. Some people playing Mafia Wars or Farmville or quizzes. Myron saw that Kitty had forty-three friends. "First thing," he said. "Let's print out a list of her friends, see if there is anybody we know."

  "Okay."

  Myron hit a photo album icon called "Brad and Kitty--A Love Story." Then he started looking through the photographs, Esperanza at his side. For a long time, neither spoke. Myron just clicked, looked, clicked. A life. That was what he was seeing. He had made fun of these social networks and didn't get them and thought of all the strange, even quasi-perverse stuff about the whole thing, but what he was seeing here, what he was watching go by, click by click, was nothing less than a life, or in this case, two.

  His brother's and Kitty's.

  Myron watched Brad and Kitty age. There were photographs on a sand dune in Namibia, canyoning in Catalonia, sightseeing on Easter Island, helping the natives in Cusco, cliff-diving in Italy, backpacking in Tasmania, doing an archeological dig in Tibet. In some photographs, like the ones with the hilltop villagers in Myanmar, Kitty and Brad sported native garb. In others they wore cargo shorts and tees. Backpacks were almost always present. Brad and Kitty often posed cheek to cheek, one smile almost touching the other. Brad's hair remained a constant curly dark mess, at times getting long and unruly enough to mistake for a Rastafarian's. He hadn't changed much, his brother. Myron studied his brother's nose and saw that it was a little more crooked now--or maybe that was projecting.

  Kitty had lost weight. There was something both wiry and brittle about her physique now. Myron kept clicking. The truth was--a truth he should be happy about--Brad and Kitty glowed in every shot.

  As if reading his mind Esperanza said, "They look damn happy."

  "Yep."

  "But they're vacation pictures. You can't tell anything from them."

  "Not vacation," Myron said. "This is their life."

  Christmas was in Sierra Leone. There was a Thanksgiving in Sitka, Alaska. Another festival of some kind in Laos. Kitty listed her current address as "Planet Earth's Obscure Corners," and her occupation as "Former Miserable Tennis Wunderkind Now Happy Nomad Looking to Better the World." Esperanza pointed at her "occupation" and made a gagging gesture with her finger and mouth.

  When they finished looking through that first album, he went back to the photo page. Two more albums were there--one called "My Family," the other labeled "The Best Thing in Our Lives--Our Son, Mickey."

  Esperanza said, "You okay?"

  "Fine."

  "Then let's get to it."

  Myron clicked on the Mickey folder and the thumbs--small iconlike photos--loaded up. For a moment he just stared, his hand on the mouse. Esperanza kept still. Then, almost mechanically, Myron started clicking through the photographs of the boy, starting when Mickey was a newborn infant and ending sometime recently, when the boy was probably about fifteen. Esperanza bent for a closer look, watching the images whir by, when under her breath she whispered, "My God."

  Myron said nothing.

  "Go back," she said.

  "Which one?"

  "You know which one."

  He did. He went back to the photograph of Mickey playing basketball. There were a lot of him playing hoops--in Kenya, Serbia, Israel--but in this particular picture, Mickey was taking a fadeaway jumper. His wrist was cocked, the ball near his forehead. His taller opponent was reaching to block it, but he never would. Mickey had hops, yes, but he also had the fadeaway, drifting back to safety from that outstretched hand. Myron could almost see the gentle release, the way the ball would rise with perfect backspin.

  "May I state the obvious?" Esperanza asked.

  "Go for it."

  "That's your move. This could be a picture of you."

  Myron did not reply.

  "Except, well, you had that ridiculous perm back then."

  "It wasn't a perm."

  "Sure, right, the natural curls that left when you were twenty-two."

  Silence.

  "How old would he be now?" Esperanza asked.

  "Fifteen."

  "He looks taller than you."

  "Could be."

  "No question he's a Bolitar. He's got your build, but he's got your dad's eyes. I like your dad's eyes. They're soulful."

  Myron said nothing. He just stared at the photographs of the nephew he'd never met. He tried to sort through the emotions ricocheting through him and then decided to just let them be.

  "So," Esperanza said, "what's our next step?"

  "We find them."

  "Why?"

  Myron figured the question was rhetorical or maybe he didn't have a good answer. Either way he let it be. After Esperanza left, Myron went through the photographs of Mickey again, slower this time. When he finished, he clicked the message button. Kitty's profile picture appeared. He typed a message to her, deleted it, typed it again. The wording was wrong. Always. The message was also too long, too much explanation, too much rationalization and couching, and too many "on the other hands." So finally he gave it one last try with three words: Please forgive me.

  He looked at it, shook his head, and then, before he could change his mind, he hit the send button.

  Win never showed. He used to keep his office upstairs, corner of the trading floor of Lock-Horne Securities, but when Myron was indisposed for a significant period of time, he moved down to MB Reps (literally and figuratively) so as to shore up Esperanza and assure the clients that they were still in good hands.

  It was not unusual for Win not to come in or be in contact. Win disappeared a fair amount--not much recently, but whenever he did, it was usually not good. Myron was tempted to call him, but as Esperanza had pointed out earlier, he was not either of their mothers.

  The rest of the day was about the clients. One was upset because he had recently been traded. One was upset because he wanted to be traded. One was upset because she had been forced to attend a movie premiere in a town car when she was promised a stretch limousine. One was upset (notice the trend here) because he was staying in a hotel in Phoenix and couldn't find his hotel key. "Why do they use these stupid cards as keys, Myron? Remember the days when you had the big ones with the tassels? I never lost those. Make sure they put me in hotels with those from now on, okay?"

  "Sure thing," Myron said.

  An agent wore many hats--negotiator, handler, friend, financial consultant (Win did most of that), real estate agent, personal shopper, travel agent, damage controller, branding merchandiser, chauffeur, babysitter, parental figure--but what clients liked most was that an agent got more worked up over your interests than you did. Ten years ago, during a tense negotiation with a team owner, the client calmly told Myron, "I don't take what he's sa
ying personally" and Myron replied, "Well, your agent does." The client smiled. "That's why I'll never leave you."

  And that pretty much sums up the best agent-talent relationships.

  At six o'clock, Myron made the very familiar turn onto his hometown street in the suburban paradise known as Livingston, New Jersey. Like much of the suburbs surrounding Manhattan, Livingston had been farmland, considered the boondocks, until the early 1960s when someone realized that it was less than an hour from the big city. Then the splitlevels invaded and conquered. In the past few years, the McMansions--definition: how much interior square footage could we fit on how tiny a plot of land--had made serious inroads, but not yet on his street. When Myron pulled up to the familiar abode, second from the corner, the same one he'd lived in pretty much his whole life, the front door opened. His mother appeared.

  Not that long ago--a few years ago even--his mother would sprint out down the concrete walk upon his arrival, as though it were a tarmac and he was a returning POW. Today she stayed by the door. He kissed her cheek and gave her a big hug. He could feel the gentle quake from her Parkinson's. Dad was behind her, waiting and watching, as was his way, until it was his turn. Myron kissed his cheek too, always, because that was what they did.

  They were so glad to see him, and yes, at his age, he should be over that, but he wasn't and so what? Six years ago, when his father had finally retired from the warehouse in Newark and his parents decided to migrate south to Boca Raton, Myron had bought his childhood home. Yes, those in the psychiatric profession would scratch their chins and mutter something about arrested development or uncut umbilical cords, but Myron found the move to be a practical one. His parents came up a lot. They'd need a place to stay. It was a good investment--Myron owned no real estate. He could come here when he wanted to escape the city, and he could stay at the Dakota when he didn't.

  Myron Bolitar, Master of Self-Rationalization.

  Whatever. He had recently done some renovations, updating the bathrooms, painting the walls something neutral, remodeling the kitchen--and mostly, so Mom and Dad wouldn't have to navigate the stairs, Myron had turned what had been the downstairs den into a bedroom suite for them. Mom's first reaction: "Will this hurt resale value?" After he assured her that it would not--he really had no idea one way or the other--she had settled into it just fine.

  The TV was on. "What are you watching?" Myron asked.

  "Your father and I never watch anything live anymore. We used that DMV machine to record the shows."

  "DVR," Dad corrected.

  "Thank you, Mr. Television, Mr. Ed Sullivan, ladies and gentlemen. The DMV, the DVR, whatever. We record a show, Myron, then we watch it and skip the commercials. Saves time." She tapped her temple, indicating that doing this displayed intelligence.

  "So what were you watching?"

  "I," Dad said, stressing that one word, "wasn't watching anything."

  "Yes, Mr. Sophistication over there would never ever watch any television. This from a man who wants to buy the box set of The Carol Burnett Show and still longs for those Dean Martin roasts."

  Dad just shrugged.

  "Your mother," his mother went on, loving that third person, "is much more hip, much more today and watches reality shows. Sue me, but that's how I roll or rock or whatever. Anyway, I'm thinking of writing a letter to that Kourtney Kardashian. Do you know who she is?"

  "Pretend I do."

  "Pretend nothing. You do. No shame in it. What is a shame is that she's still with that drunken idiot with the pastel suit like he's a giant Easter duck. She's a pretty girl. She could do so much better, don't you think?"

  Myron rubbed his hands together. "So who's hungry?"

  They drove to Baumgart's and ordered the kung pao chicken plus a bunch of appetizers. His parents used to eat with the gusto of rugby players at a barbecue, but now their appetites were small, their chewing slow, their whole manner suddenly dainty.

  "When are we going to meet your fiancee?" Mom asked.

  "Soon."

  "I think you should have a huge wedding. Like Khloe and Lamar's."

  Myron looked a question at his father. Dad said by way of explanation: "Khloe Kardashian."

  "And," Mom added, "Kris and Bruce got to meet Lamar before the wedding and he and Khloe barely knew each other! You've known Terese for, what, ten years."

  "Something like that."

  "So where are you going to live?" Mom asked.

  Dad said, "Ellen," in that voice.

  "Shush, you. Where?"

  "I don't know," Myron said.

  "I'm not butting in," she began, which was nothing if not a prequel to butting in, "but I wouldn't keep our old house anymore. I mean, don't live there. It'd just be bizarre, the whole attachment thing. You'll need a place of your own, someplace new."

  Dad: "El . . ."

  "We'll see, Mom."

  "I'm just saying."

  When they'd finished, Myron drove them back home. Mom excused herself, claiming that she was fatigued and wanted to lie down for a bit. "You boys talk." Myron looked at his father, concerned. Dad gave him a look that said not to worry. Dad held up a finger as the door closed. A few moments later, Myron heard the tinny sound belonging, he assumed, to one of the Kardashians saying, "Oh my God, if that dress was, like, any sluttier, it would be taking the walk of shame."

  His father shrugged. "She's obsessed right now. It's harmless."

  They moved to the wooden deck out back. The deck had taken almost a year to build and was strong enough to withstand a tsunami. They grabbed the outdoor chairs with the faded cushions and looked out over the backyard Myron still saw as the Wiffle-ball stadium. He and Brad had played that game for hours. The double tree was first base, a permanently browned-out grass spot was second, third was a rock buried in the ground. If they hit the ball really hard, it would land in Mrs. Diamond's vegetable garden and she would come out in what they used to call a housedress and scream at them to stay off her property.

  Myron heard laughter from a party three doors up. "The Lubetkins are having a barbecue?"

  "The Lubetkins moved out four years ago," Dad said.

  "So who's there now?"

  Dad shrugged. "I don't live here anymore."

  "Still. We used to be invited to all the barbecues."

  "When it was our time," his father said. "When our children were young and we knew all the neighbors and had kids going to the same school and playing on the same sports teams. Now it's someone else's turn. That's how it should be. You need to let things go."

  Myron frowned. "And you're usually the subtle one."

  Dad chuckled. "Yeah, sorry about that. So while I'm playing this new role, what's wrong?"

  Myron skipped the "how do you know" because what would be the point? Dad wore a white golf shirt, even though he never played the game. His gray chest hair jutted through the V. He looked off, knowing that Myron was not a huge fan of intense eye contact.

  Myron decided to dive right in. "Have you heard from Brad recently?"

  If his father was surprised to hear Myron say that name--the first time Myron had done so in front of his father in fifteen-plus years--he did not show it. He took a sip of his iced tea and pretended to think about it. "We got an e-mail, oh, maybe a month ago."

  "Where was he?"

  "In Peru."

  "And what about Kitty?"

  "What about her?"

  "Was she with him?"

  "I assume so." Now his father turned and faced him. "Why?"

  "I think I saw Kitty last night in New York City."

  His father sat back. "I guess it's possible."

  "Wouldn't they have contacted you if they were in the area?"

  "Maybe. I could e-mail him and ask."

  "Could you?"

  "Sure. Do you want to tell me what this is about?"

  He kept it vague. He'd been looking for Lex Ryder when he saw Kitty. His father nodded as Myron spoke. When he finished, Dad said, "I don't hear from them much. Some
times months go by. But he's okay. Your brother, I mean. I think he has been happy."

  "Has been?"

  "Excuse me?"

  "You said 'has been happy.' Why didn't you just say he's happy?"

  "His last few e-mails," Dad said. "They've been, I don't know, different. Stiffer maybe. More newsy. But then again, I'm not very close to him. Don't get me wrong. I love him. I love him as much as I do you. But we aren't particularly close."

  His dad took another sip of iced tea.

  "You were," Myron said.

  "No, not really. Of course, when he was young, we were all a bigger part of his life."

  "So what changed that?"

  Dad smiled. "You blame Kitty."

  Myron said nothing.

  "Do you think you and Terese will have children?" Dad asked.

  The subject change threw him. Myron wasn't sure exactly how to reply. "It's a delicate question," he said slowly. Terese couldn't have any more children. He had not told his parents about this yet because, until he got her to the right doctors, he still couldn't accept it himself. Either way, this was not the time to raise the issue. "We're on the old side, but who knows."

  "Well, either way, let me tell you something about parenting, something none of those self-help books or parenting magazines will tell you." Dad turned and leaned in closer. "We parents grossly overestimate our importance."

  "You're being modest."

  "No, I'm not. I know you think that your mother and I are the most amazing parents. I'm glad. I really am. Maybe for you, we were, though you've blocked out a lot of the bad."

  "Like what?"

  "I'm not going to rehash my mistakes right now. That's not the point anyway. We were good parents, I guess. Most are. Most are trying their best and if they make mistakes, it's from trying too hard. But the truth is, we parents are at the most, say, auto mechanics. We can tune up the car and make sure it has the proper fluids. We can keep it running, check the oil, make sure it is road ready. But the car is still the car. When the car comes in, it's already a Jaguar or Toyota or Prius. You can't turn a Toyota into a Jaguar."

  Myron made a face. "A Toyota into a Jaguar?"

  "You know what I mean. I know the analogy isn't the best and now that I think about it, it doesn't really hold because it sounds like a judgment, like the Jaguar is better than the Toyota or something. It is not. It's just different with different needs. Some kids come out shy, some are outgoing, some are bookish, some are jocks, whatever. The way we raise you doesn't really have much to do with it. Sure we can instill values and all that, but we usually mess up when we try to change what is already there."