Contacted by a woman with whom he shared an affair years earlier, Myron Bolitar learns how she has been wrongfully accused of murdering her ex-husband, a situation that is further complicated by a long-hidden family secret. By the author of Hold Tight.
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Harlan Coben is the bestselling author of fifteen previous novels, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Hold Tight, The Woods, Promise Me, and the Myron Bolitar series. He is a winner of the Edgar Award, the Shamus Award, and the Anthony Award.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Table of Contents
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ALSO BY HARLAN COBEN
One False Move
The Final Detail
Tell No One
Gone for Good
No Second Chance
Just One Look
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First printing, April 2009
Copyright © 2009 by Harlan Coben
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Coben, Harlan, 1962-
Long lost / Harlan Coben.
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For Sandra Whitaker
The coolest “cuz” in the entire world
This will hurt more than anything has before.
“ YOU don’t know her secret,” Win said to me.
“It’s bad?” I asked.
“Very,” Win said.
“Then maybe I don’t want to know.”
Two days before I learned the secret she’d kept buried for a decade—the seemingly personal secret that would not only devastate the two of us but change the world forever—Terese Collins called me at five AM, pushing me from one quasi-erotic dream into another. She simply said, “Come to Paris.”
I had not heard her voice in, what, seven years maybe, and the line had static and she didn’t bother with hello or any preamble. I stirred and said, “Terese? Where are you?”
“In a cozy hotel on the Left Bank called d’Aubusson. You’ll love it here. There’s an Air France flight leaving tonight at seven.”
I sat up. Terese Collins. Imagery flooded in—her Class-B-felony bikini, that private island, the sun-kissed beach, her gaze that could melt teeth, her Class-B-felony bikini.
It’s worth mentioning the bikini twice.
“I can’t,” I said.
“Paris,” she said.
Nearly a decade ago we ran away to an island as two lost souls. I thought that we would never see each other again, but we did. A few years later, she helped save my son’s life. And then, poof, she was gone without a trace—until now.
“Think about it,” she went on. “The City of Lights. We could make love all night long.”
I managed a swallow. “Sure, yeah, but what would we do during the day?”
“If I remember correctly, you’d probably need to rest.”
“And vitamin E,” I said, smiling in spite of myself. “I can’t, Terese. I’m involved.”
“With the 9/11 widow?”
I wondered how she knew. “Yeah.”
“This wouldn’t be about her.”
“Sorry, but I think it would.”
“Are you in love?” she asked.
“Would it matter if I said yes?”
I switched hands. “What’s wrong, Terese?”
“Nothing’s wrong. I want to spend a romantic, sensual, fantasy-filled weekend with you in Paris.”
Another swallow. “I haven’t heard from you in, what, seven years?”
“I called,” I said. “Repeatedly.”
“I left messages. I wrote letters. I tried to find you.”
“I know,” she said again.
There was silence. I don’t like silence.
“When you needed me,” she said, “really needed me, I was there, wasn’t I?”
“Come to Paris, Myron.”
“Just like that?”
“Where have you been all this time?”
“I will tell you everything when you get here.”
“I can’t. I’m involved with someone.”
That damn silence again.
“Do you remember when we met?”
It had been on the heels of the greatest disaster of my life. I guess the same was true for her. We had both been pushed into attending a charity event by well-meaning friends, and as soon as we saw each other, it was as if our mutual misery were magnetic. I’m not a big believer in the eyes being the windows of the soul. I’ve known too many psychos who could fool you to rely on such pseudoscience. But the sadness was so obvious in Terese’s eyes. It emanated from her entire being really, and that night, with my own life in ruins, I craved that.
Terese had a friend who owned a small Caribbean island not far from Aruba. We ran off that very night and told no one where we were going. We ended up spending three weeks there, making love, barely talking, vanishing and tearing into each other because there was nothing else.
“Of course I remember,” I said.
“We both had been crushed. We never talked about it. But we both knew.”
“Whatever crushed you,” Terese said, “you were able to move past it. That’s natural. We recover. We get damaged and then we rebuild.”
“I couldn’t rebuild. I don’t even think I wanted to rebuild. I was shattered and maybe it was best to keep me that way.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
Her voice was soft now. “I didn’t think—check that, I still don’t think—that I would like to see what my world would look like rebuilt. I don’t think I would like the result.”
She didn’t reply.
“I want to help,” I said.
“Maybe you can’t,” she said. “Maybe there’s no point.”
“Forget I called, Myron. Take care of yourself.”
And then she was gone.
“AH,” Win said, “the delectable Terese Collins. Now that’s a top-quality, world-class derriere.”
We sat in the rickety pullout stands in the Kasselton High School gymnasium. The familiar whiffs of sweat and industrial cleaner filled the air. All sounds, as in every similar gymnasium across this vast continent, were distorted, the strange echoes forming the audio equivalent of a shower curtain.
I love gyms like this. I grew up in them. I spent many of my happiest moments in similar airless confines with a basketball in my hand. I love the sound of the dribbling. I love the sheen of sweat that starts popping up on faces during warm-ups. I love the feel of the pebbly leather on your fingertips; that moment of neo-religious purity when your eyes lock on the front rim and you release the ball and it backspins and there is nothing else in the entire world.
“Glad you remember her,” I said.
“Top-quality, world-class derriere.”
“Yeah, I got that the first time.”
Win had been my college roommate at Duke and was now my business partner and, along with Esperanza Diaz, my best friend. His real name was Windsor Horne Lockwood III, and he looked like it: thinning blond locks parted by a deity; ruddy complexion; handsome patrician face; golfer’s V-neck burn; eyes the blue of ice. He wore overpriced khakis with a crease to rival the hair part, a blue Lilly Pulitzer blazer with a pink and green lining, a matching pocket hanky that puffed out like a clown’s water-squirting flower.
“When Terese was on TV,” Win said, his snooty prep-school accent sounding as though he were explaining the obvious to a somewhat slow child, “you couldn’t tell the quality. She was sitting behind the anchor desk.”
“But then I saw her in that bikini”—for those keeping score, that would be the Class-B-felony one I told you about earlier—“well, it is a wonderful asset. Wasted as an anchorwoman. It’s a tragedy when you think about it.”
“Like the Hindenburg,” I said.
“Hilarious reference,” Win said. “And oh so timely.”
Win’s expression was permanently set on haughty. People looked at Win and would see elitist, snobby, Old-World money. For the most part, they’d be right. But the part where they’d be wrong . . . that could get a man seriously maimed.
“Go on,” Win said. “Finish your story.”
Win frowned. “So when do you leave for Paris?”
“I’m not going.”
On the basketball court, the second quarter began. This was fifth-grade boys’ basketball. My girlfriend—the term seems rather lame but I’m not sure “lady love,” “significant other,” or “love monkey” really apply—Ali Wilder has two children, the younger of whom played on this team. His name is Jack, and he wasn’t very good. I say that not to judge or predict future success—Michael Jordan didn’t start for his high school team until his junior year—but as an observation. Jack is big for his age, husky and tall, and with that often comes lack of speed and coordination. There was a plodding quality to his athleticism.
But Jack loved the game, and that meant the world to me. Jack was a sweet kid, deeply geeky in the absolute best way, and needy, as befit a boy who lost his father so tragically and prematurely.
Ali couldn’t get here until halftime and I am, if nothing else, supportive.
Win was still frowning. “Let me get this straight: You turned down spending a weekend with the delectable Ms. Collins and her world-class derriere in a boutique hotel in Paris?”
It was always a mistake talking relationships with Win.
“That’s right,” I said.
“Why?” Win turned toward me. He looked genuinely perplexed. Then his face relaxed. “Oh, wait.”
“She’s put on weight, hasn’t she?”
“I have no idea.”
“You know, so. I’m involved, remember?”
Win stared at me as if I were defecating on the court.
“What?” I said.
He sat back. “You’re such a very big girl.”
The game horn sounded, and Jack pulled on his goggles and lumbered toward the scorer’s table with that wonderfully goofy half-smile. The Livingston fifth-grade boys were playing their archrivals from Kasselton. I tried not to smirk at the intensity—not so much the kids’ as the parents’ in the stands. I try not to generalize but the mothers usually broke down into two groups: the Gabbers, who used the occasion to socialize, and the Harried, who lived and died each time their offspring touched the ball.
The fathers were often more troublesome. Some managed to keep their anxiety under wraps, muttering under their breaths, biting nails. Other fathers screamed out loud. They rode refs, coaches, and kids.
One father, sitting two rows in front of us, had what Win and I had nicknamed “Spectator Tourette’s,” spending the entire game seemingly unable to stop himself from berating everyone around him out loud.
My perspective on this is clearer than most. I had been that rare commodity—the truly gifted athlete. This came as a shock to my entire family since the greatest Bolitar athletic accomplishment before I came around was my uncle Saul winning a shuffleboard tournament on a Princess Cruise in 1974. I graduated from Livingston High School as a Parade All-American. I was a star guard for Duke, where I captained two NCAA championship teams. I had been a first-round draft pick of the Boston Celtics.
And then, kaboom, it was all gone.
Someone yelled, “Substitution.”
Jack adjusted his goggles and ran onto the court.
The coach of the opposing team pointed at Jack and shouted, “Yo, Connor! You got the new man. He’s big and slow. Drive around him.”
Tourette’s Dad bemoaned, “It’s a close game. Why are they putting him in now?”
Big and slow? Had I heard right?
I stared at the Kasselton head coach. He had highlight-filled, mousse-spiked hair and a dark goatee neatly trimmed so that he resembled an aging boy-band bass. He was tall—I’m six four and this guy had two inches on me, plus, I would guess, twenty to thirty pounds.
“ ‘ He’s big and slow’?” I repeated to Win. “Can you believe the coach just yelled that out loud?”
I tried to shake it off too. Heat of the game. Let it go.
The score was tied at twenty-four when disaster struck. It was right after a time-out and Jack’s team was inbounding the ball under the opposing team’s hoop. Kasselton decided to throw a surprise press at them. Jack was free. The ball was passed to him, but for a moment, with the defense on him, Jack got confused. It happens.
Jack looked for help. He turned toward the Kasselton bench, the one closest to him, and Big Spiky-Haired Coach yelled, “Shoot! Shoot!” and pointed to the basket.
The wrong basket.
“Shoot!” the coach yelled again.
And Jack, who naturally liked to please and who trusted adults, did.
The ball went in. To the wrong hoop. Two points for Kasselton.
The Kasselton parents whooped with cheers and even laughter. The Livingston parents threw up their hands and moaned over a fifth grader’s mistake. And then the Kasselton coach, the guy with the spiky hair and ...
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