The innocent, p.10
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       The Innocent, p.10
 

           Harlan Coben
Chapter 9

  OLIVIA SAID, "Hi, hon, how was your day?"

  Matt just held the phone.

  "Matt?"

  "I'm here," he said.

  The police cruiser was gone now. Matt looked behind him. Marsha stood on the front step with her hands on her hips. Paul was chasing Ethan, both of them shrieking with laughter.

  "So," Olivia said, as if it were just another day, "where are you?"

  "At Marsha's. "

  "Everything okay?"

  "I'm just taking the boys out to dinner. "

  "Not McDonald's again. Those fries are so unhealthy. "

  "Right. "

  Tentative steps. The ground giving way. Matt held the phone, thinking: You don't just jump up and scream, "Aha, caught ya!"

  "So anything going on?" Olivia asked.

  "Not much," he said. Kyra was getting in her car. She gave him a big smile and waved good-bye. He gestured back with his chin. "I called you before," Matt said with as much nonchalance as he could muster.

  "You did?"

  "Yes. "

  "When?"

  "Around noon. "

  "Really?"

  "No, I'm making it up. Yes, really. "

  "Well, that's weird. "

  "Why?"

  "I didn't hear the phone ring. "

  "Maybe you were out of range," he tried, giving her an out.

  "Maybe," she said slowly.

  "I left a message. "

  "Hold on. " There was a pause. "Wait, it says here 'three missed calls. ' "

  "That would be me. "

  "I'm sorry, honey. I know this sounds ridiculous but I still get confused about how to retrieve messages. My old phone's code was six-seven-six and then I hit a star, but I don't think that works on this one. "

  "It doesn't," Matt said. "Your new code is the last four digits of your phone number and then you hit the pound key. "

  "Oh, right. I usually just check the missed calls log. "

  Matt closed his eyes. He could not believe how inane and ordinary this all felt.

  "Where have you been?" he asked.

  "What?"

  "When I called. Where were you?"

  "Oh, I was at a seminar. "

  "Where?"

  "What do you mean, where? I'm in Boston. "

  "What was it on?"

  "Some new surfing tool to guard against employees using the Web for personal use. You can't imagine the amount of work hours lost on the Internet. "

  "Uh huh. "

  "Listen, I have to run. I'm meeting some people for dinner. "

  "Anyone I know?"

  "Nope, no one you know. " Olivia sighed with a little too much flair. "Check that: No one you'd even want to know. "

  "Boring?"

  "Very. "

  "What hotel are you staying at?"

  "Didn't I tell you?"

  "No. "

  "The Ritz. But I'll be in and out. You're better off getting me on the cell phone. "

  "Olivia?"

  "Oh," she said. "Hold up a second. "

  There was a long pause. Marsha crossed the lawn, approaching him. She signaled to her car, asking if it was okay if she took off. He waved that it was fine. Ethan and Paul, tired of running around in circles, headed toward him. Ethan grabbed his right leg, Paul his left. Matt made a face and pointed to the phone, as if they'd get the meaning that he was otherwise occupied. They didn't.

  Olivia said, "There's a picture on my phone. Which button do I press again?"

  "The one on the right side. "

  "Hold on. Here it comes. " Then: "Hey, it's you. Dang, I married a handsome devil. "

  Matt couldn't help but smile- and that just made it hurt more. He loved her. He could try to soften the blow, but there was no way he could escape it. "It would be wrong for me to argue with you," he said.

  "Not your best smile though. Heck, no smile at all. And next time, take your shirt off. "

  "You too," he said.

  She laughed but it wasn't as let-go as usual.

  "Better yet"- Matt added and then the next words: were they planned?-"why not wear a platinum-blonde wig?"

  Silence.

  This time he broke it. "Olivia?"

  "I'm here. "

  "Before. When I called you. "

  "Yes?"

  "I was calling you back. "

  As if sensing the tenseness, the boys let go of his legs. Paul tilted his head at Ethan.

  "But I didn't call you," Olivia said.

  "Yes, you did. I mean, I got a call from your phone. "

  "When?"

  "Right before I called. "

  "I don't understand. "

  "There was a picture on the line. Of a man with dark hair. And then there was a video. "

  "A video?"

  "You were in a room. At least it looked like you. Except you were wearing a platinum-blonde wig. "

  More silence. Then: "I don't know what you're talking about. "

  Did he believe her? He so wanted to, so wanted to just drop it. . .

  "Earlier today," he said, "right before I left you that message, I got a call from your cell phone. It was a camera call-"

  "No, I understand that, but. . . "

  "But what?"

  "Oh, wait," Olivia said. "That might explain something. "

  Paul and Ethan had started running in dizzying circles again. They were out of control and a little too close to the street. Matt put his hand over the mouthpiece and called them back.

  "Explain what?" he asked.

  "I think. . . well, I don't really understand why I didn't get your first call. I'm in range. I looked on the missed calls log and you know what? Jamie called too. I never heard that one either. "

  "So?"

  "So I'm thinking. The guys at these seminars. They're all jokers. Maybe one of them played a prank. "

  "A prank. "

  "Okay, during this seminar? I fell asleep. It was boring as hell. When I woke up, my purse had been moved. Not a lot. But now that I think about it, it was definitely moved. I didn't think much about it at the time. "

  "And now you think. . . ?"

  "That, yeah, they took it and did something with it and then put it back. I don't know, I guess that's crazy too. "

  Matt didn't know what to make of this, but Olivia's tone did not ring true. "When are you coming home?"

  "Friday. "

  He switched hands. "I'll come up. "

  "Don't you have work?"

  "Nothing that can't keep. "

  "But," she said, and her voice dropped a little, "isn't tomorrow your, uh, Thursday at the museum?"

  He had almost forgotten about it.

  "You can't miss that. "

  In three years he never had. For a long time Matt had told no one about his every-other-Thursday rendezvous at the museum. People would never understand. There was a bond there, a draw built on necessity and secrecy. It was hard to say more. Those meetings were simply too important.

  But he still said, "I can put it off. "

  "You shouldn't, Matt. You know that. "

  "I can fly up right now-"

  "There's no need. I'll be home the day after tomorrow. "

  "I don't want to wait. "

  "I'm crazy busy with stuff here anyway. Look, I have to go. We'll talk about this later, okay?"

  "Olivia?"

  "Friday," she said. "I love you. "

  And then she hung up.

 
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