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Darkest Fear (Myron Bolitar #7)
Author: Harlan Coben

1

An hour before his world exploded like a ripe tomato under a stiletto heel, Myron bit into a fresh pastry that tasted suspiciously like a urinal cake.

“Well?” Mom prompted.

Myron battled his throat, won a costly victory, swallowed. “Not bad.”

Mom shook her head, disappointed.

“What?”

“I’m a lawyer,” Mom said. “You’d think I’d have raised a better liar.”

“You did the best you could,” Myron said.

She shrugged and waved a hand at the, uh, pastry. “It’s my first time baking, bubbe. It’s okay to tell me the truth.”

“It’s like biting into a urinal cake,” Myron said.

“A what?”

“In men’s public bathrooms. In the urinals. They put them there for the smell or something.”

“And you eat them?”

“No—”

“Is that why your father takes so long in there? He’s having a little Tastykake? And here I thought his prostate was acting up.”

“I’m joking, Mom.”

She smiled through blue eyes tinged with a red that Visine could never hope to get out, the red you can only get through slow, steady tears. Normally Mom was heavily into histrionics. Slow, steady tears were not her style. “So am I, Mr. Smarty Pants. You think you’re the only one in this family with a sense of humor?”

Myron said nothing. He looked down at the, uh, pastry, fearing or perhaps hoping it might crawl away. In the thirty-plus years his mother had lived in this house, she had never baked—not from a recipe, not from scratch, not even from one of those Pillsbury morning croissant thingies that came in small mailing tubes. She could barely boil water without strict instructions and pretty much never cooked, though she could whip up a mean Celeste frozen pizza in the microwave, her agile fingers dancing across the numerical keypad in the vein of Nureyev at Lincoln Center. No, in the Bolitar household, the kitchen was more a gathering place—a Family Room Lite, if you will—than anything related to even the basest of the culinary arts. The round table held magazines and catalogs and congealing white boxes of Chinese takeout. The stovetop saw less action than a Merchant-Ivory production. The oven was a prop, strictly for show, like a politician’s Bible.

Something was definitely amiss.

They were sitting in the living room with the dated pseudo-leather white modular couch and aqua-tinged rug whose shagginess reminded Myron of a toilet-seat cover. Grown-up Greg Brady. Myron kept stealing glances out the picture window at the For Sale sign in the front yard as though it were a spaceship that had just landed and something sinister was about to step out.

“Where’s Dad?”

Mom gave a weary wave toward the door. “He’s in the basement.”

“In my room?”

“Your old room, yes. You moved out, remember?”

He did—at the tender age of thirty-four no less. Childcare experts would salivate and tsk-tsk over that one—the prodigal son choosing to remain in his split-level cocoon long after the deemed appropriate deadline for the butterfly to break free. But Myron might argue the opposite. He might bring up the fact that for generations and in most cultures, offspring lived in the familial home until a ripe old age, that adopting such a philosophy could indeed be a societal boom, helping people stay rooted to something tangible in this era of the disintegrating nuclear family. Or, if that rationale didn’t float your boat, Myron could try another. He had a million.

But the truth of the matter was far simpler: He liked hanging out in the burbs with Mom and Dad—even if confessing such a sentiment was about as hip as an Air Supply eight track.

“So what’s going on?” he asked.

“Your father doesn’t know you’re here yet,” she said. “He thinks you’re not coming for another hour.”

Myron nodded, puzzled. “What’s he doing in the basement?”

“He bought a computer. Your father plays with it down there.”

“Dad?”

“My point exactly. The man can’t change a lightbulb without a manual—all of a sudden he’s Bill Gates. Always on the nest.”

“The Net,” Myron corrected.

“The what?”

“It’s called the Net, Mom.”

“I thought it was nest. The bird’s nest or something.”

“No, it’s Net.”

“Are you sure? I know there’s a bird in there somewhere.”

“The Web maybe,” Myron tried. “Like with a spider.”

She snapped her fingers. “That’s it. Anyway your father is on there all the time, weaving the Web or whatever. He chats with people, Myron. That’s what he tells me. He chats with complete strangers. Like he used to do with the CB radio, remember?”

Myron remembered. Circa 1976. Jewish Dads in the suburbs checking for “smokeys” on the way to the delicatessen. Mighty convoy of Cadillac Sevilles. Ten-four, good buddy.

“And that’s not all,” she went on. “He’s typing his memoirs. A man who can’t scribble down a grocery list without consulting Strunk and White suddenly thinks he’s an ex-president.”

They were selling the house. Myron still could not believe it. His eyes wandered about the overly familiar surroundings, his gaze getting snagged on the photographs running up the stairwell. He saw his family mature via fashion—the skirts and sideburns lengthening and shortening, the quasi-hippie fringes and suede and tie-dyes, the leisure suits and bell-bottoms, the frilly tuxedos that would be too tacky for a Vegas casino—the years flying by frame by frame like one of those depressing life insurance commercials. He spotted the poses from his basketball days—a sixth-grade suburban-league foul shot, an eighth-grade drive to the hoop, a high school slam dunk—the row ending with Sports Illustrated cover shots, two from his days at Duke and one with his leg in a cast and a large-fonted IS HE FINISHED? emblazoned across his knee-cast image (the answer in the mind’s eye being an equally large-fonted YES!).

“So what’s wrong?” he asked.

“I didn’t say anything was wrong.”

Myron shook his head, disappointed. “And you a lawyer.”

“Setting a bad example?”

“It’s no wonder I never ran for higher office.”

She folded her hands on her lap. “We need to chat.”

Myron didn’t like the tone.

“But not here,” she added. “Let’s take a walk around the block.”

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