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 boy-band goatee, high-fived his assistant coach, pointed at Jack, and shouted, “Hey, kid, do that again!”
Jack may have been the biggest kid on the court, but right now he looked as if he were trying very hard to be as small as possible. The goofy half-smile fled. His lip twitched. His eyes blinked. Every part of the boy cringed and so did my heart.
A father from Kasselton was whooping it up. He laughed, cupped his hands into a flesh megaphone, and shouted, “Pass it to the big kid on the other team! He’s our best weapon!”
Win tapped the man on the shoulder. “You will shut up right now.”
The father turned to Win, saw the effete wear and the blond hair and the porcelain features. He was about to smirk and snap a comeback, but something—probably something survival basic and reptilian brained—made him think better of it. His eyes met Win’s ice blues and then he lowered them and said, “Yeah, sorry, that was out of line.”
I barely heard. I couldn’t move. I sat in the stands and stared at the smug, spiky-haired coach. I felt the tick in my blood.
The buzzer sounded, signaling halftime. The coach was still laughing and shaking his head in amazement. One of his assistant coaches walked over and shook his hand. So did a few of the parents and spectators.
“I must depart,” Win said.
I did not respond.
“Should I stick around? Just in case?”
Win gave a curt nod and left. I still had my gaze locked on that Kasselton coach. I rose and started down the rickety stands. My footsteps fell like thunder. The coach started for the door. I followed. He headed into the bathroom grinning like the idiot he undoubtedly was. I waited for him by the door.
When he emerged, I said, “Classy.”
The words “Coach Bobby” were sewn in script onto his shirt. He stopped and stared at me. “Excuse me?”
“Encouraging a ten-year-old to shoot at the wrong basket,” I said. “And that hilarious line about ‘Hey, kid, do it again’ after you help humiliate him. You’re a class act, Coach Bobby.”
The coach’s eyes narrowed. Up close he was big and broad and had thick forearms and large knuckles and a Neanderthal brow. I knew the type. We all do.
“Part of the game, pal.”
“Mocking a ten-year-old is part of the game?”
“Getting in his head. Forcing your opponent to make a mistake.”
I said nothing. He sized me up and decided that, yeah, he could take me. Big guys like Coach Bobby are sure they can take pretty much anyone. I just stared at him.
“You got a problem?” he said.
“These are ten-year-old kids.”
“Right, sure, kids. What are you—one of those namby-pamby, touchy-feely daddies who thinks everyone should be equal on the court? No one should get their feelings hurt, no one should win or lose . . . hey, maybe we shouldn’t even keep score, right?”
The Kasselton assistant coach came over. He had on a matching shirt that read “Assistant Coach Pat.” “Bobby? Second half’s about to start.”
I took a step closer. “Just knock it off.”
Coach Bobby gave me the predictable smirk and reply. “Or what?”
“He’s a sensitive boy.”
“Boo hoo. If he’s that sensitive, maybe he shouldn’t play.”
“And maybe you shouldn’t coach.”
Assistant Coach Pat stepped forward then. He looked at me, and that knowing smile I was all too familiar with spread across his face. “Well, well, well.”
Coach Bobby said, “What?”
“Do you know who this guy is?”
You could see Coach Bobby working the name, as if his forehead had a window and the squirrel running on the little track was picking up speed. When the synapses stopped firing, Coach Bobby’s grin practically ripped the boy-band goatee at the corners.
“That big ‘superstar’”—he actually made quotation marks with his fingers—“who couldn’t hack it in the pros? The world-famous first-round bust?”
“The very one,” Assistant Coach Pat added.
“Now I get it.”
“Hey, Coach Bobby?” I said.
“Just leave the kid alone.”
The brow thickened. “You don’t want to mess with me,” he said.
“You’re right. I don’t. I want you to leave the kid alone.”
“Not a chance, pal.” He smiled and moved a little closer to me. “You got a problem with that?”
“I do, very much.”
“So how about you and me discuss this further after the game? Privately?”
Flares started lighting up my veins. “Are you challenging me to a fight?”
“Yep. Unless, of course, you’re chicken. Are you chicken?”
“I’m not chicken,” I said.
Sometimes I’m good with the snappy comebacks. Try to keep up.
“I got a game to coach. But then you and me, we settle this. You got me?”
“Got you,” I said.
Again with the snappy. I’m on a roll.
Coach Bobby put his finger in my face. I debated biting it off—that always gets a man’s attention. “You’re a dead man, Bolitar. You hear me? A dead man.”
“A deaf man?” I said.
“A dead man.”
“Oh, good, because if I were a deaf man, I wouldn’t be able to hear you. Come to think of it, if I were a dead man, I wouldn’t be able to either.”
The horn sounded. Assistant Coach Pat said, “Come on, Bobby.”
“Dead man,” he said one more time.
I cupped my hand to my ear, hard-of-hearing style, and shouted, “What?” but he had already spun away.
I watched him. He had that confident, slow swagger, shoulders back, arms swaying a tad too much. I was going to yell out something stupid when I felt a hand on my arm. I turned. It was Ali, Jack’s mother.
“What was that all about?” Ali asked.