One False Move Page 5

When the photo shoot ended, Brenda Slaughter approached him.

“Where does your father live now?” Myron asked.

“Same place.”

“Have you been there since he disappeared?”

“No.”

“Then let’s start there,” Myron said.

Newark, New Jersey. The bad part. Almost a redundancy.

Decay was the first word that came to mind. The buildings were more than falling apart—they actually seemed to be breaking down, melting from some sort of acid onslaught. Here urban renewal was about as familiar a concept as time travel. The surroundings looked more like a war newsreel—Frankfurt after the Allies’ bombing—than a habitable dwelling.

The neighborhood was even worse than he remembered. When Myron was a teenager, he and his dad had driven down this very street, the car doors suddenly locking as though even they sensed oncoming danger. His father’s face would tighten up. “Toilet,” he would mutter. Dad had grown up not far from here, but that had been a long time ago. His father, the man Myron loved and worshiped like no other, the most gentle soul he had ever known, would barely contain his rage. “Look what they did to the old neighborhood,” he would say.

Look what they did.

They.

Myron’s Ford Taurus slowly cruised by the old playground. Black faces glared at him. A five-on-five was going on with plenty of kids sprawled on the sidelines waiting to take on the winners. The cheap sneakers of Myron’s day—Thom McAn or Keds or Kmart—had been replaced with the hundred-dollar-plus variety these kids could ill afford. Myron felt a twinge. He would have liked to take a noble stand on the issue—the corruption of values and materialism and such—but as a sports agent who made money off sneaker deals, such perceptions paid his freight. He didn’t feel good about that, but he didn’t want to be a hypocrite either.

Nobody wore shorts anymore either. Every kid was dressed in blue or black jeans that journeyed far south of baggy, like something a circus clown might sport for an extra laugh. The waist drooped below the butt, revealing designer boxer shorts. Myron did not want to sound like an old man, grousing over the younger generation’s fashion sense, but these made bell-bottoms and platforms seem practical. How do you play your best when you’re constantly pausing to pull up your pants?

But the biggest change was in those glares. Myron had been scared when he first came down here as a fifteen-year-old high school student, but he had known that if he wanted to rise to the next level, he had to face down the best competition. That meant playing here. He had not been welcomed at first. Not even close. But the looks of curious animosity he received back then were nothing compared with the dagger-death glares of these kids. Their hatred was naked, up front, filled with cold resignation. Corny to say, but back then—less than twenty years ago—there had been something different here. More hope maybe. Hard to say.

As though reading his thoughts, Brenda said, “I wouldn’t even play down here anymore.”

Myron nodded.

“It wasn’t easy on you, was it? Coming down here to play.”

“Your father made it easy,” he said.

She smiled. “I never understood why he took such a liking to you. He usually hated white people.”

Myron feigned a gasp. “I’m white?”

“As Pat Buchanan.”

They both forced out a laugh. Myron tried again. “Tell me about the threats.”

Brenda stared out the window. They passed a place that sold hubcaps. Hundreds, if not thousands, of hubcaps gleamed in the sun. Weird business when you thought about it. The only time people need a new hubcap is when one of theirs is stolen. The stolen ones end up in a place like this. A mini fiscal cycle.

“I get calls,” she began. “At night mostly. One time they said they were going to hurt me if they didn’t find my father. Another time they told me I better keep Dad as my manager or else.” She stopped.

“Any idea who they are?”

“No.”

“Any idea why someone would want to find your father?”

“No.”

“Or why your father would disappear?”

She shook her head.

“Norm said something about a car following you.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” she said.

“The voice on the phone,” Myron said. “Is it the same one every time?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Male, female?”

“Male. And white. Or at least, he sounds white.”

Myron nodded. “Does Horace gamble?”

“Never. My grandfather gambled. Lost everything he had, which wasn’t much. Dad would never go near it.”

“Did he borrow money?”

“No.”

“Are you sure? Even with financial aid, your schooling had to cost.”

“I’ve been on scholarship since I was twelve.”

Myron nodded. Up ahead a man stumbled about the sidewalk. He was wearing Calvin Klein underwear, two different ski boots, and one of those big Russian hats like Dr. Zhivago. Nothing else. No shirt, no pants. His fist gripped the top of a brown paper bag like he was helping it cross the street.

“When did the calls start?” Myron asked.

“A week ago.”

“When your dad disappeared?”

Brenda nodded. She had more to say. Myron could see it in the way she stared off. He kept silent and waited her out.

“The first time,” she said quietly, “the voice told me to call my mother.”

Myron waited for her to say more. When it was apparent she wouldn’t, he said, “Did you?”

She smiled sadly. “No.”

“Where does your mother live?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her since I was five years old.”

“When you say ‘haven’t seen her’—”

“I mean just that. She abandoned us twenty years ago.” Brenda finally turned toward him. “You look surprised.”

“I guess I am.”

“Why? You know how many of those boys back there had their fathers abandon them? You think a mother can’t do the same thing?”

She had a point, but it sounded more like hollow rationalization than true conviction. “So you haven’t seen her since you were five?”

“That’s right.”

“Do you know where she lives? A city or state or anything?”

“No idea.” She tried hard to sound indifferent.

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