FUSION JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2010
To read previously published chapters, click here.
With 47 millions books in print worldwide, Harlan Coben’s latest novels LONG LOST and HOLD TIGHT both debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. His next thriller CAUGHT will be out in early spring 2010. To learn more click here...
Less than thirty yards away from Popov, Charlie Miles waited in line to get into the same Bank Night Club.
He had already stood there an hour, but that was nothing. If you don’t make a reservation for a bottle service table, the wait could be closer to three.
Charlie Miles had time.
He had been here several times before with Teddy Popov. When you came with
Teddy, there was no line, no wait, no bouncer giving you the evil eye because you weren’t a potentially underage girl. You walked straight to the best table.
Not that Miles liked it there much.
Sure, he could appreciate the sex appeal and youth of the beauties, and he could mock the male douche bags that hovered around them with insecurity so thick you could almost reach out and touch it. But for all of Miles’ vices, the fact was he loved and desired only his wife.
He and Margie had met when they were both 22, fresh out of college, working as interns on Capitol Hill. The first time he saw her, Margie was walking near the cherry blossoms on the mall. Miles took one look at her, and pow, his heart exploded in his chest.
He put his fist to his mouth and stifled his sob.
He thought again about the day with the cherry blossoms—the first time he’d seen her—but his mind automatically took him to the last time. On that beach. Buried to her neck. In pain, scared, crying. He closed his eyes and wondered how horrible her death must have been and how he, Charlie Miles, her husband and protector, had just stood there, helpless.
Well, he wasn’t helpless now.
"You!" The bouncer finally pointed to him and opened up the velvet rope. "Have a good evening."
Miles knew that if Popov was in Vegas, he’d be at this club tonight. He’d be up on the balcony, like Caesar looking down at the peasants. There was a secret doorway up there on the right side of the club. Miles had a knife he’d picked off one of the wounded at the Mirage.
The element of surprise.
Andrei would be there too. That didn’t matter. Miles would kill them both. The key was surprise and speed. He would make his way to the door, and then nothing could stop him. He would rush up, knife in hand, and plunge it into Teddy’s neck.
He thought again about Margie.
He was inside now, at a pretty bank vault. The music pounded a beat, some new Justin Timberlake song. The dance floor was crowded. People at such clubs don’t dance as much as sway or move from one foot to the other. There was no joy, no release, just posing.
He looked up at the balcony and felt his pulse quicken.
Popov was there. Andrei too.
Some ridiculously curvy bimbo that Popov had been enjoying lately—Barbie, Tawny?—was walking toward them with a bottle of champagne. Garfield, the undercover agent, was starting for the stairs back down. Miles moved out of the way so he wouldn’t be seen. Ten seconds later, Garfield opened the door and left.
Now or never, Miles thought.
With the knife still tucked away in his waist, he made his way to the door. He checked right and left. No one looking. He grabbed the knob, turned it and ran up the stairs.
Visualize, he thought. Visualize what you’re about to do.
He pulled the knife out and into his hand. He would soon be on the top step. He would run hard for that table, knife raised. Even with a fast reaction time, he would get there in time to end that miserable bastard’s life.
Miles reached the top of the stairs. He turned and started to run when he felt what must have been a metal pipe smack his windpipe. His feet came out from under him. The knife fell to the ground—and so did Miles.
He looked up, dazed, gasping for air. Andrei looked down at him with a small smile. The metal pipe had been Andrei’s forearm.
"Hello, Charles," Popov said. "Back from the dead, are we?"
The balcony curtains closed. Garfield came back up the stairs. "Yo, dude, you really laid him out!"
Garfield kicked Miles in the ribs. Andrei did likewise. It had been a setup, Miles realized. They’d known he was coming. That explained how the bouncer suddenly picked him to come inside.
More kicks and blows rained down. Charlie started to feel darkness coming over him. Part of him welcomed it. Why not? Maybe it would have been better if he died that first time, dropping from the helicopter. Best case scenario, he would be with Margie. Worst case…he wouldn’t feel the pain of life without her.
Andrei took hold of his finger, bent it back just far enough. Charles buckled in pain. Andrei looked up at Garfield as though
asking for permission.
"No worries, dude. The music is on full blast."
Andrei snapped the finger like it was a dry twig.
Charles Miles howled in agony. The throbbing made his head swim.
"Where are Nick and Ashleigh Roberts?" Popov asked.
"I don’t know."
Andrei took hold of another finger.
Surrender, Miles thought. He had no power left. Miles let his entire body go slack. He wondered how long it would take for them to kill him. A while probably. They wouldn’t believe that he didn’t know—or, at least, they wouldn’t take the chance. So they would hurt him for a long, long time.
Miles didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything anymore. He had failed.
And then he saw Bambi.
Yes, that was her name. He remembered now. Not Barbie. Bambi. She stood across the room and looked to be in shock. Her eyes met his and then something happened, something that changed everything.
Bambi’s hand fluttered toward her mouth.
A simple gesture. Normal. You’re scared, you put your hand to your mouth.
Except on the hand, on her second finger, Miles saw a ring, a familiar emerald-cut diamond…
Oh God no. …
Charles Miles had given that ring to his beloved, on bended knee, in front of those same cherry blossom trees. And now, here it was, on a bimbo’s finger in some Vegas nightclub, taken off her dead hand by the men who were going to torture and kill him, too, all the while laughing.
Rage unlike anything he had ever experienced consumed him.
Miles moved fast. With his finger still in Andrei’s grip, his head snapped snake-like toward the big man’s calf. Miles bit down hard, like a Rottweiler, with everything he had.
Andrei screamed and let go.
With his teeth still digging in, Miles whipped his body to the right, sweeping Garfield’s leg. The promoter went down with a thud. Miles had to move fast. He bit down even harder, feeling wetness now, ripping off a hunk of Andrei’s leg as he pulled back.
Miles jumped up and over the balcony, dropping to the dance floor. People screamed, but the dancers cushioned his fall. Miles rolled off them and sprinted to the door. He was out of the club within 15 seconds of first biting Andrei.
Miles thought again about his wife’s engagement ring.
It’s not over, Teddy, Miles thought. Not by a long shot.