Home > Shelter (Mickey Bolitar #1)(12)

Shelter (Mickey Bolitar #1)(12)
Author: Harlan Coben

A stretcher was heading toward us. We stepped to either side of the door. A man was on it. There were contusions on his face, but he was conscious. A few spots of blood clung to the collar of his white dress shirt. I would guess his age as early forties. Ashley’s father? A woman about the same age trailed him. Her face was ghost pale. She clutched her purse as though it could offer comfort.

She stopped, dazed. “Who are these two?” she asked Taylor.

“We, uh, found them loitering around,” Taylor said. “We thought maybe they were the perpetrators.”

For a second, Mrs. Kent stared at us as though we were pieces in a puzzle she couldn’t put together.

“These are boys,” she said.

“Yes, I know, but—”

“I told you it was a man. I told you he had a tattoo on his face. Do you see a tattoo on either of their faces?”

Taylor said, “I was just eliminating . . .” But she was already gone, catching up to the stretcher. Taylor shot another glare toward us. Spoon actually gave him a thumbs-up, as though he’d done a good job. Again, with that facial expression, you couldn’t tell if Spoon was goofing on him or sincere. Based on the mama line, I assumed the former.

“Get out of here,” Taylor said.

We headed back down the brick walk. The man I assumed was Ashley’s father was loaded into the back of the ambulance. A police officer was talking to Mrs. Kent. Two other cops were talking near us. I heard the words home invasion and felt my chest tighten.

Now or never.

I ran over before anyone could stop me. “Mrs. Kent?”

She stopped and frowned at me. “Who are you?”

“My name is Mickey Bolitar. I’m a friend of Ashley’s.”

She said nothing for a second. Her eyes shifted to the right, then back toward me. “What do you want?”

“I just want to make sure Ashley is okay.”

When she shook her head, I felt my knees buckle. But then she said something I never expected: “Who?”

“Ashley,” I said. “Your daughter.”

“I don’t have a daughter. And I don’t know anyone named Ashley.”

Chapter 5


Mrs. Kent stepped into the back of the ambulance. The cops chased us away. When we reached the bottom of Prema Estates, Spoon and I split up and headed to our respective homes. I called the Coddington Rehab Center on my way, but they told me that my mother was in session and it was too late to talk or visit tonight. That was fine. She was coming home tomorrow morning anyway.

Uncle Myron’s car, a Ford Taurus, was in the driveway. When I opened the front door, Myron called out, “Mickey?”

“Homework,” I said, hurrying into my bedroom in the basement to avoid him. For many years, including his stint in high school, the basement had been Myron’s bedroom. Nothing in it had changed since. The wood paneling was flimsy and stuck on with two-sided tape. There was a beanbag chair that leaked small pellets. Faded posters of basketball greats from the 1970s, guys like John “Hondo” Havlicek and Walt “Clyde” Frazier, adorned the walls. I confess that I loved the posters. Most of the room was like lame retro. But nobody was cooler than Hondo and Clyde.

I did my math homework. I don’t dislike math, but is there anything more boring than math homework? I read a little Oscar Wilde for English and practiced vocabulary for French. When I was done, I grilled myself a cheeseburger on the barbecue.

Had Mrs. Kent lied to me? And why?

I couldn’t fathom a reason, which led immediately to the next question.

Had Ashley lied to me? And why?

I tried to run through the possibilities in my brain, but nothing came to me. With dinner over, I grabbed the basketball, flipped on the outdoor lights, and started to shoot. I play every day. I do my best thinking when I shoot hoops.

The court is my escape and my paradise.

I love basketball. I love the way you can be exhausted and sweaty and running with nine other guys, and yet, at the risk of sounding overly Zen, you are still so wonderfully alone. On the court, nothing bothers me. I see things a few seconds before they actually happen. I love anticipating a teammate’s cut and then throwing a bounce pass between two defenders. I love the rebound, boxing out, figuring angles and positioning myself, willing the ball into my hands. I love dribbling without looking down, the feel, the sense of trust, of control, almost as though the ball were on a leash. I love catching the pass, locking my eyes on the front rim, sliding my fingers into the grooves, raising the ball above my head, cocking my wrist as I begin to leap. I love the feel as I release the shot at the apex of the jump, the way my fingertips stay on the leather until the last possible moment, the way I slowly come back to the ground, the way the ball moves in an arc toward the rim, the way the bottom of the net dances when the ball goes swish.

I moved now around the blacktop, taking shots, grabbing my own rebounds, moving to another spot. I played games in my head, pretending LeBron or Kobe or even Clyde and Hondo were covering me. I took foul shots, hearing the sportscaster in my head announcing that I, Mickey Bolitar, had two foul shots and my team was down by one and there was no time left on the clock and it was game seven of the NBA Finals.

I let myself get deliriously lost in the bliss.

I had been shooting for an hour when the back door opened. Uncle Myron came out. He didn’t say a word. He moved under the basket and started grabbing rebounds and passing the ball back to me. I moved through the shots in around-the-world fashion, starting in the right corner and moving to my left, taking a shot every yard or so, until I ended up in the opposite corner.

Myron just rebounded for me. He got it, the need for silence right now. This, in a sense, was our church. We understood respect. So for a while he let it go. When I signaled that I wanted to take a break, he spoke for the first time.

“Your father used to do this for me,” Myron said. “I would shoot. He would rebound.”

My father had done the same for me too, but I didn’t feel like sharing that.

Myron’s eyes welled up. They well up a lot. Myron was overly emotional. He was always trying to raise the subject of my father with me. We would drive past a Chinese restaurant and he’d say, “Your father loved the pork fried dumplings here,” or we’d go past the Little League field and he’d say, “I remember when your father hit a ground-rule double when he was nine to win a game.”

I never responded.

“One night,” Myron went on, “your father and I played a game of horse that went on for three hours. Think about that. We finally agreed to call it a draw when we both had H-O-R-S for thirty straight minutes. Thirty straight minutes. You should have seen it.”

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