The innocent, p.26
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       The Innocent, p.26
 

           Harlan Coben
Chapter 25

  "YOU SURE?" Matt asked.

  Cingle nodded. "Talley's been there at least two nights. Room 515. "

  Matt tried to put some of the pieces together. Nothing fit. "Do you have the phone number?"

  "The Howard Johnson's? I can look it up online. "

  "Do that. "

  "You're going to just call him?"

  "Yes. "

  "And say what?"

  "Nothing yet. I just want to see if it's the same voice. "

  "The same voice as what?"

  "The guy who called me whispering about what he was about to do to Olivia. I just want to know if it was Charles Talley. "

  "And if it was?"

  "Hey, you think I have a long-term plan here?" Matt said. "I'm barely winging it. "

  "Use my phone. The caller ID is blocked. "

  Matt picked up the receiver. Cingle read off the number. The operator answered on the third ring. "Howard Johnson's, Newark Airport. "

  "Room 515, please. "

  "One moment. "

  With the first ring his heart began to pick up its pace. The third ring was cut off midway. Then he heard a voice say, "Yeah. "

  Matt calmly replaced the receiver.

  Cingle looked up at him. "Well?"

  "It's him," Matt said. "It's the same guy. "

  She frowned, crossed her arms. "So now what?"

  "We could study the video and picture more," Matt said.

  "Right. "

  "But I don't know what that would tell us. Suppose I'm wrong. Suppose it was Talley in both the video and the picture. Then we need to talk to him. Suppose it was two different men. . . "

  "We still need to talk to him," Cingle said.

  "Yes. I don't see where we have any choice. I have to go over there. "

  "We have to go over there. "

  "I'd rather go alone. "

  "And I'd rather shower with Hugh Jackman," Cingle said, standing. She took out her hair tie, tightened the ponytail, put the tie back in. "I'm coming. "

  Further argument would just delay the inevitable. "Okay, but you stay in the car. Man-to-man, alone, maybe I can get something out of him. "

  "Fine, whatever. " Cingle was already on her way to the door. "I'll drive. "

  The ride took five minutes.

  The Howard Johnson's could have been located near an uglier stretch of freeway, but not without a dumping permit. Or maybe they already had one. On one side of Frontage Road was the New Jersey Turnpike Exit 14 toll plaza. On the other side was the parking lot for Continental Airlines employees. Take Frontage Road a few hundred more feet, and you were at the Northern State Prison, conveniently located- more convenient than the Howard Johnson's even- to Newark Airport. Perfect for the quick getaway.

  Cingle pulled up to the lobby entrance.

  "You sure you want to go alone?" she asked.

  "Yes. "

  "Give me your cell phone first," she said.

  "Why?"

  "I have this friend- a financial bigwig on Park Avenue. He taught me this trick. You put on your cell phone. You call mine. You leave it on and connected. I put the mute feature on my phone. Now it's like a one-way intercom. I can hear what you say and do. If there's any trouble, just shout. "

  Matt frowned. "A financial bigwig needs to do this?"

  "You don't want to know. "

  Cingle took Matt's phone, dialed in her number, answered her phone. She handed his cell phone back to him. "Attach it to your belt. If you're in trouble, just yell for help. "

  "Okay. "

  The lobby was empty. Not a surprise considering the hour. He heard a bell ding when the glass door slid open. The night shift receptionist, an unshaven blob who resembled an overstuffed laundry bag, staggered into view. Matt waved to him without slowing, trying to look as if he belonged. The receptionist returned the wave, staggered back.

  Matt reached the elevator and pushed the call button. There was only one working elevator car. He heard it start toward him with a grunt, but it took its time coming. Images again started flashing through his head. That video. The platinum-blonde wig. He still had no idea what it all meant, no clue at all.

  Yesterday Cingle had compared all this to stepping into a fight- you couldn't predict the outcome. But here he was, about to open a door literally, and in truth he had no idea what he'd find behind it.

  A minute later, Matt stood in front of the door to Room 515.

  The gun was still on him. He debated taking it out and hiding it behind his back, but no, if Talley saw it, this would all go wrong. Matt lifted his hand and knocked. He listened. A noise came from down the corridor, a door opening, maybe. He turned.

  Nobody.

  He knocked again, harder this time.

  "Talley?" he shouted. "You in there? We need to talk. "

  He waited. Nothing.

  "Please open up, Talley. I just want to talk to you, that's all. "

  And then a voice came from behind the door, the same voice he'd heard on the phone: "One second. "

  The door to Room 515 opened.

  And suddenly, standing in front of him, with that blue-black hair and knowing scowl, was Charles Talley.

  Talley stood in the doorway, talking on his mobile phone. "Right," he said to whoever was on the other end. "Right, okay. "

  He gestured with his chin for Matt to step inside.

  And that was exactly what Matt did.

 
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