Live wire, p.7
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       Live Wire, p.7

         Part #10 of Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
 

  "When you try," Myron added, "to turn the Toyota into the Jaguar?"

  "Don't be a wise guy."

  Not long ago, before running off to Angola and under very different circumstances, Terese had made this exact same argument to him. Nature over nurture, she insisted. Her argument was both a comfort and a chill, but in this case, with his father sitting on the deck with him, Myron wasn't really buying it.

  "Brad wasn't meant to stay at home or settle down," his father said. "He was always itching to escape. He was meant to wander. A nomad, like his ancestors, I guess. So your mother and I let him go. When you were kids, you were both amazing athletes. You thrived on competition. Brad didn't. He hated it. That doesn't make him less or more, just different. God, I'm tired. Enough. I assume you have a very good reason for trying to find your brother after all these years?"

  "I do."

  "Good. Because despite what I said, you two falling out has been one of the biggest heartaches of my life. So it would be nice to see you reconcile."

  Silence. It was broken when Myron's cell phone buzzed. He checked the caller ID and was surprised to see that the call was coming from Roland Dimonte, the NYPD cop who'd helped out in Three Downing last night. Dimonte was a friend/adversary from way back. "I need to take this," Myron said.

  His father signaled for him to go ahead.

  "Hello?"

  "Bolitar?" Dimonte barked. "I thought he stopped pulling this crap."

  "Who?"

  "You know who. Where the hell is the psycho Win?"

  "I don't know."

  "Well, you better find him."

  "Why, what's up?"

  "We got a big freaking problem, that's what. Find him now."

  9

  Myron looked through the metal-meshed window in the emergency room. Roland Dimonte stood to his left. Dimonte reeked of both chewing tobacco and what might have been a rancid bottle of Hai Karate. Despite being born and raised in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, Dimonte liked to go with the urban cowboy look, sporting right now a tight shiny shirt with snap buttons and boots so garish that he might have stolen them off a San Diego Charger cheerleader. His hair was a reformed mullet by way of a retired hockey player who now did color commentary on a local television station. Myron could feel Dimonte's eyes on him.

  Lying on his back in the bed, eyes wide open and staring at the ceiling, tubes coming out of at least three locations, was Kleavage Kyle, head bouncer from Three Downing.

  "What's wrong with him?" Myron asked.

  "Lots of stuff," Dimonte said. "But the main thing is a ruptured kidney. The doctor says it was caused by--and I quote--'precise and severe abdominal trauma.' Ironic, don't you think?"

  "Ironic how?"

  "Well, our friend here will be pissing blood for quite some time. Maybe you remember earlier last evening. That's exactly what our victim told you would happen to you." Dimonte crossed his arms for effect.

  "So, what, you think I did this?"

  Dimonte frowned. "Let's pretend for a brief moment that I'm not a mentally dehydrated numb nut, okay?" He had an empty can of Coke in his hands. He spit tobacco juice into it. "No, I don't think you did this. We both know who did it."

  Myron gestured with his chin toward the bed. "What did Kyle say?"

  "He said he was mugged. A bunch of guys broke into the club and jumped him. He never saw their faces, can't identify them, doesn't want to press charges anyway."

  "Maybe that's true."

  "And maybe one of my ex-wives will tell me that she no longer wants her alimony check."

  "What do you want me to say here, Rolly?"

  "I thought you had him under control."

  "You don't know it was Win."

  "We both know it was Win."

  Myron took a step away from the window. "Let me put it another way. You don't have any evidence it was Win."

  "Sure I do. There was a surveillance video for a bank outside the club. Gets the whole area. It shows Win approaching our pectorally gifted friend here. They talk for a few moments and then they both go back into the club." Dimonte stopped, looked off. "Odd."

  "What?"

  "Win is usually much more careful. Guess he's slipping as he gets older."

  Not likely, Myron thought. "What about the surveillance tapes inside the club?"

  "What about them?"

  "You said Win and Kyle here walked back into the club. So what do the interior tapes show?"

  Dimonte spit into the can again, trying hard to cover up his obvious body language. "We're still working on it."

  "Uh, let's pretend for a brief moment that I'm not a mentally dehydrated numb nut."

  "They're gone, okay? Kyle says the guys who jumped him must have taken them."

  "Sounds logical."

  "Take a look at him, Bolitar."

  Myron did. Kyle's eyes were still on the ceiling. His eyes were wet.

  "When we found him last night, that Taser he nailed you with was lying on the floor next to him. The battery was empty from overuse. He was shaking, nearly catatonic. He'd crapped his pants. For twelve hours he couldn't form words. I showed him a picture of Win, and he started sobbing to the point where the doctor had to sedate him."

  Myron looked back at Kyle. He thought about the Taser, thought about the gleam in Kyle's eyes as he held down the trigger, thought about how close he, Myron, had come to ending up in a bed like that. Then Myron turned and looked at Dimonte. His voice was pure monotone. "Wow. I. Feel. Just. Terrible. For. Him."

  Dimonte just shook his head.

  Myron said, "Can I go now?"

  "You heading back to your place at the Dakota?"

  "Yes."

  "We got a man waiting there for Win. When he arrives, I want to have a little chat with him."

  "Good evening, Mr. Bolitar."

  "Good evening, Vladimir," Myron said as he breezed by the Dakota doorman and passed through the famed wrought-iron gate. There was a cop car sitting out front, sent by Dimonte. When Myron arrived at Win's apartment, the lights were low.

  Win sat in his leather club chair with a snifter of cognac. Myron was not surprised to see him. Like most old buildings with a storied past, the Dakota held secret underground passageways. There was one Win had shown him that started in the basement of a high-rise near Columbus Avenue, another from a spot a block uptown bordering Central Park. Vladimir, Myron was sure, knew Win was here, but he wouldn't say anything. The cops didn't give Vladimir his Christmas bonus.

  Myron said, "And here I thought you went out last night in search of casual sex. Now I found out it was to beat up Kyle."

  Win smiled. "Who said I couldn't do both?"

  "It wasn't necessary."

  "The sex? Well, it never is, but that never stops a man, does it?"

  "Funny."

  Win steepled his hands. "Do you think you're the first guy Kyle dragged to that maroon room--or just the first to escape without a hospital visit?"

  "He's a bad guy, so what?"

  "He's a very bad guy. Three assault beefs in the past year--in all cases, witnesses from the club helped clear him."

  "So you took care of it?"

  "It's what I do."

  "Not your job."

  "But I so enjoy it."

  No point in getting into this now. "Dimonte wants to talk to you."

  "As I'm aware. But I don't want to talk to him. So my attorney will contact him in about half an hour and tell him that unless he has an arrest warrant, we will not be chatting. End of story."

  "Would it help if I told you that you shouldn't have done it?"

  "Wait," Win said, starting his mime act. "Before you start, let me tune up my air violin."

  "What exactly did you do to him anyway?"

  "Did they find the Taser?" Win asked.

  "Yes."

  "Where?"

  "What do you mean, where? Next to his body."

  "Next to it?" Win said. "Oh. Well. He must have been able to help himself a little bit at least."

/>   Silence. Myron reached into the fridge and grabbed a Yoo-hoo. The television screen had the Blu-ray Disc logo bouncing across it.

  "How did Kyle put it?" Win said, twirling the cognac in its snifter, his cheeks flushed red. "He will be pissing blood for a while. Maybe he broke a bone or two. But in the end he'll recover."

  "But he won't talk."

  "Oh no. He won't ever talk."

  Myron sat. "You're a scary dude."

  "Well, I don't like to brag," Win said.

  "Still this was not a wise move."

  "Wrong. It was a very wise move."

  "How so?"

  "There are three things you must remember. One"--Win lifted a finger--"I never hurt innocents, only those most deserving. Kyle fit that category. Two"--another finger--"I do this to protect us. The more fear I instill in people, the safer we are."

  Myron almost smiled. "That's why you let yourself get caught on that street video," he said. "You wanted everyone to know it was you."

  "Again I don't like to brag, but, well, yes. Three," Win said, holding up the third finger, "I always do it for reasons other than vengeance."

  "Like justice?"

  "Like getting information." Win picked up the remote and pointed it at the television. "Kyle was kind enough to provide me with all the surveillance tapes from last night. I've spent most of the day looking through them for both Kitty and Brad Bolitar."

  Whoa. Myron turned toward the screen. "And?"

  "I'm still going through them," Win said, "but so far, it isn't good."

  "Explain."

  "Why explain when I can show?" Win poured a second snifter of cognac and showed it to Myron. Myron shook it off. Win shrugged, put the snifter down next to him, and pressed the play button on the remote. The screen's bouncing logo vanished. A woman appeared. Win hit pause. "This is the best view of her face."

  Myron leaned forward. One of the fascinating things about surveillance videos was that they were shot from cameras set up high, so that you rarely got a great look at the face. This seemed counterintuitive, but perhaps there was no better alternative. This particular shot was a touch blurry, a close-up, and Myron imagined that someone had cropped and zoomed in on her face. Either way it ended any doubt about identity.

  "Okay, so we know it's Kitty," Myron said. "What about Brad?"

  "No sign of him."

  "So what--to use your vernacular--isn't good?"

  Win thought about that. "Well, perhaps 'isn't good' was an ineffective way for me to have put it," he said.

  "How should you have put it?"

  Win tapped his chin with his index finger. "Really, really bad."

  Myron felt the chill and turned back toward the screen. Win pressed another button on the remote. The camera zoomed out. "Kitty entered the club at ten thirty-three P.M. with approximately ten other people. Lex's entourage, if you will."

  There she was, turquoise blouse, her face pale. The video was one of those that took pictures every two or three seconds so that the effect was jerky, like one of those flip books or old footage of Babe Ruth running the bases.

  "This was taken in a small chamber off the VIP room at ten forty-seven P.M."

  Not long before he and Esperanza arrived, Myron thought. Win hit a skip button and reached a frozen image. Again the camera angle was from above. It was hard to see Kitty's face. She was with another woman and a guy with long hair tied into a ponytail. Myron did not recognize them. The guy with the ponytail had something in his hand. A rope maybe. Win hit the play button and the actors in this little drama came to life. Kitty put out her arm. Ponytail leaned closer to her and wrapped the . . . nope, not rope . . . around her bicep and tied it off. Then he tapped her arm with two fingers and took out a hypodermic needle. Myron felt his heart sink as Ponytail put the needle in Kitty's arm with a seemingly practiced hand, pushed the plunger, and untied the cord around her bicep.

  "Wow," Myron said. "That's new, even for her."

  "Yes," Win said. "She's stepped up from cokehead to heroin addict. Impressive."

  Myron shook his head. He should have been shocked, but pitifully he wasn't. He thought about the Facebook photographs, the big smiles, the family trips. He'd been wrong before. It wasn't a life. It was a lie. Take "life" and remove the f. One big fat ol' lie. Classic Kitty.

  "Myron?"

  "Yep."

  "This isn't the worst part," Win said.

  Myron just looked at his old friend.

  "This won't be easy to watch."

  Win was not one for hyperbole. Myron turned back to the TV and waited for Win to hit the play button. Without looking away from the screen, Myron put the Yoo-hoo on a coaster and put out his hand. Win had the previously poured snifter of the cognac at the ready. Myron accepted it now, took a sip, closed his eyes, let it sting his throat.

  "I'm skipping ahead fourteen minutes," Win said. "In short, this picks up a few minutes before you spotted her entering the VIP room."

  Win finally pressed the play button. The view was the same--that small chamber room from above. But this time there were only two people in the room: Kitty--and the man with the long ponytail. They were talking. Myron risked a quick glance at Win. Win's face, as always, showed nothing. On the screen, Ponytail started twisting his fingers in Kitty's hair. Myron just stared. Kitty began to kiss the man's neck, moving down to his chest, unbuttoning his shirt as she went, until her head disappeared from the frame. The man let his head fall back. There was a smile on his face.

  "Turn it off," Myron said.

  Win pressed the remote. The screen went dark. Myron closed his eyes. Utter sadness and deep rage coursed through him in equal measure. His temples started pounding. He dropped his head into his hands. Win was there now, standing over him, his hand on his shoulder. Win did not say anything. He just waited. A few moments later, Myron opened his eyes and sat upright.

  "We find her," Myron said. "Whatever it takes, we find her now."

  "Still no sign of Lex," Esperanza said.

  After another night of limited sleep, Myron sat behind his desk. His body ached. His head pounded. Esperanza sat across from him. Big Cyndi leaned against the door frame, smiling in a way someone with vision trouble might call demure. She was packed in a shimmering purple Batgirl costume, a somewhat bigger-sized replica of the one Yvonne Craig made famous on the old TV show. The fabric looked strained at the seams. Big Cyndi had a pen stuck behind one cat ear, a Bluetooth in the other.

  "No hits on his credit card," Esperanza said. "No cell phone use. In fact, I even got our old friend PT to run a GPS on his smartphone. It's turned off."

  "Okay."

  "We also got a pretty good close-up of the ponytailed guy who was, uh, friendly with Kitty at Three Downing. Big Cyndi is going to head down to the club in a few hours with the still frame and question the staff."

  Myron looked over at Big Cyndi. Big Cyndi batted her eyes at him. Picture two tarantulas on their backs baking in the desert sun.

  "We also checked on your brother and Kitty," Esperanza continued. "Nothing in the United States. No credit cards, no driver's license, no property, no liens, no tax returns, no parking tickets, no marriage or divorces listed, nothing."

  "I have another idea," Myron said. "Let's check out Buzz."

  "Lex's roadie?"

  "He's more than a roadie. Anyway, Buzz's real name is Alex I. Khowaylo. Let's try his credit cards and cell phone--he might have left his on."

  "Pardon me," Big Cyndi said. "I have a call coming in." Big Cyndi tapped her Bluetooth and put on her receptionist voice. "Yes, Charlie? Okay, yes, thank you." Charlie, Myron knew, was the security guard downstairs. Big Cyndi tapped the Bluetooth off and said, "Michael Davis from Shears is coming up the elevator."

  "You got this?" Esperanza asked him.

  Myron nodded. "Show him in."

  Shears, along with Gillette and Schick, dominate the razor blade market. Michael Davis was the VP in charge of marketing. Big Cyndi waited at the elevator for the new arrival
. New arrivals often gasped when the elevator first opened and Big Cyndi was standing there. Not so with Michael. He barely broke stride, rushing ahead of Big Cyndi and directly into Myron's office.

  "We got a problem," Michael said.

  Myron spread his arms. "I'm all ears."

  "We're taking Shear Delight Seven off the market in a month."

  Shear Delight Seven was a razor or, if you believe the Shear marketing department, the latest in "shaving innovation technology" featuring a "more ergonomic grip" (who has trouble holding a razor?), a "professional blade stabilizer" (Myron had no idea what that meant), "seven thinner, precision blades" (because other blades are fat and imprecise) and "micro-pulse power operation" (it vibrates).

  Myron's NFL All-Pro defensive back, Ricky "Smooth" Sules, was featured in the ad campaign. The tagline: "Get Twice as Smooth." Myron didn't really get it. In the TV commercial, Ricky shaves, smiling as though it is a sex act, says the Shear Delight Seven gives him the "closest, most comfortable shave possible," and then a hot girl coos, "Oh, Smooth . . . ," and runs her hands along his cheeks. In short, it is the same shaving commercial all three companies have been running since 1968.

  "Ricky and I were under the impression it was doing great."

  "Oh, it is," Davis said. "Or it was. I mean, the response is through the roof."

  "So?"

  "It works too well."

  Myron looked at him, waited for him to say more. When he didn't, Myron said, "And that's a problem how?"

  "We sell razor blades."

  "I know."

  "So that's how we make money. We don't make it selling the actual razors. Heck, we practically give away the razors. We make it by selling you the refills--the razor blades."

  "Right."

  "So we need people to change blades at least, say, once a week. But the Shear Delights are working better than expected. We have reports of people going six to eight weeks on a single razor. We can't have that."

  "You can't have blades that work too well."

  "Exactly."

  "And because of that, you're going to cancel the whole campaign?"

  "What? No, of course not. We've built tremendous goodwill off the product. The consumer loves it. What we will do is start offering a new, improved product. The Shear Delight Seven Plus with a new comfort lubricant strip--for the best shave of your life. We feed it slowly into the market. Over time, we phase out the Shear Sevens in favor of the improved Plus."