The innocent, p.24
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       The Innocent, p.24
 

           Harlan Coben
Chapter 23

  STANDING ON HIS FRONT STOOP, Matt Hunter asked, "Is this about that nun at St. Margaret's?"

  Loren was startled by that one, but Hunter held up his hand.

  "Don't get excited," he said. "I know about the nun because Lance already questioned me. "

  She should have known. "So you want to fill me in?"

  Matt shrugged, didn't say anything. She pushed past him, stepped into his foyer, and took a look around. Books were piled everywhere. Some had fallen, looking like crumbling towers. There were framed photographs on the table. Loren studied them. She picked one up.

  "This your wife?"

  "Yes. "

  "Pretty. "

  "Yes. "

  She put the picture down and turned to him. It would be corny to say that his past was written on his face, that prison had somehow not only changed the inside, but the outside as well. Loren wasn't a fan of that stuff. She didn't believe the eyes were the windows to the soul. She had seen killers with beautiful, kind eyes. She had met brilliant people who had that open-eyed vacancy thing going on. She had heard jurors say, "I knew he was innocent the minute he walked in the court- you can just tell" and knew that it was total, awful nonsense.

  But that said, there was something in Matt Hunter's stance, in the tilt of the chin maybe, in the line of the mouth. The damage, the defensiveness, emanated from him. She couldn't put her finger on why, but it was there. Even if she hadn't known that he'd served hard time after a fairly comfortable childhood, would she still feel this unmistakable vibe?

  She thought the answer was yes.

  Loren couldn't help but think back to Matt as a kid, a good, goofy, sweet-natured kid, and a pang of sorrow skipped through her.

  "What did you tell Lance?" she asked.

  "I asked him if I was a suspect. "

  "A suspect in what?"

  "In anything. "

  "And what did he say?"

  "He was evasive. "

  "You're not a suspect," she said. "Not yet anyway. "

  "Whew. "

  "Was that sarcasm?"

  Matt Hunter shrugged. "Could you ask your questions quickly? I have to be someplace. "

  "Have to be someplace"- she repeated, making a production of checking her watch-"at this hour?"

  "I'm something of a party animal," he said, stepping back onto the stoop.

  "I somehow doubt that. "

  Loren followed. She glanced about the neighborhood. There were two men drinking out of brown paper bags and singing an old Motown classic.

  "That the Temptations?" she asked.

  "Four Tops," he said.

  "I always mix those two up. "

  She turned back to him. He spread his hands.

  "Not exactly Livingston, is it?" Matt said.

  "I heard you're moving back. "

  "It's a nice town to raise a family. "

  "You think?"

  "You don't?"

  She shook her head. "I wouldn't go back. "

  "That a threat?"

  "No, that's meant to be literal. I, me, Loren Muse, would never want to live there again. "

  "To each his own then. " He sighed. "We done with the small talk now?"

  "Guess so. "

  "Fine. So what happened to this nun, Loren?"

  "We don't know yet. "

  "Come again?"

  "Did you know her?"

  "I don't even remember what Lance told me her name was. Sister Mary Something. "

  "Sister Mary Rose. "

  "What happened to her?"

  "She died. "

  "I see. So how do I fit in?"

  Loren debated how to play this. "How do you think?"

  He sighed and started to walk past her. "Good night, Loren. "

  "Wait, okay, that was dumb. Sorry. "

  Matt turned back to her.

  "Her phone logs. "

  "What about them?"

  "Sister Mary Rose made one call we can't figure out. "

  Matt's face showed nothing.

  "Did you know her or not?"

  Matt shook his head. "No. "

  "Because the log shows that she placed a call to your sister-in-law's residence in Livingston. "

  He frowned. "She called Marsha?"

  "Your sister-in-law denied receiving any calls from anyone at St. Margaret's. I also talked to that Kylie girl who rents from her. "

  "Kyra. "

  "What?"

  "Her name is Kyra, not Kylie. "

  "Right, whatever. Anyway, I know you stay there a lot. I know, in fact, that you stayed there last night. "

  Matt nodded. "So you figured- drumroll, please- that I must be the one this nun called," he finished for her.

  She shrugged. "Makes sense. "

  Matt took a deep breath.

  "What?"

  "Isn't this the part where I get all angry and say it only makes sense because you have a bias against an ex-con, even though he's served his time and paid his debt to society?"

  That made her smile. "What, you just want to skip the indignation? Move right to your denial?"

  "It would speed things up," he said.

  "So you don't know Sister Mary Rose?"

  "No. For the record, I don't know any Sister Mary Rose. I don't even think I know any nuns. I don't know anybody connected with St. Margaret's, except, well, according to Lance, you went there, so I guess the answer would be: only you. I have no idea why Sister Mary Rose would call Marsha's house or even if indeed she called Marsha's house. "

  Loren decided to shift tracks. "Do you know a man named Max Darrow?"

  "Did he call Marsha too?"

  "How about a straight answer, Matt? Do you know a Max Darrow from Raleigh Heights, Nevada, yes or no?"

  Jolt. Loren saw it. A small one- the smallest of tells on Matt's face. But it was there- a slight widening in the eyes. He recovered in less than a second.

  "No," he said.

  "Never heard of him?"

  "Never. Who is he?"

  "You'll read about him in the paper tomorrow. You mind telling where you were yesterday? I mean, before you got to Marsha's house. "

  "Yes, I do mind. "

  "How about telling me anyway?"

  He looked off, closed his eyes, opened them again. "This is beginning to sound more like a full-fledged, suspectlike interrogation, Detective Muse. "

  "Inspector Muse," she said.

  "Either way, I think I've answered enough questions for tonight. "

  "So you're refusing?"

  "No, I'm leaving. " Now it was Matt's turn to check his watch. "I really have to go. "

  "And I assume you're not going to tell me what you're up to?"

  "You assume correctly. "

  Loren shrugged. "I could always follow you. "

  "I'll save you the time. I'm heading to the MVD offices in Newark. What I do once I'm inside remains my own business. Have a pleasant night. "

  He started down the stairs.

  "Matt?"

  "What?"

  "This might sound weird," Loren said, "but it was good seeing you. I mean, I wish it were under different circumstances. "

  He almost smiled. "Same here. "

 
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