The innocent, p.35
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       The Innocent, p.35

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 34

 

  "I HAVEN'T CHARGED you with anything," Loren said.

  Cingle crossed her arms. "Let's not play semantics games, okay? I asked for my lawyer. The interview is over. The end. El fin. "

  "If you say so. "

  "I say so. Get me a phone, please. "

  "You're entitled to call an attorney. "

  "That's who I plan on calling. "

  Loren thought about this. She didn't want Cingle warning Hunter. "You mind if I dial the number for you?"

  "Suit yourself," Cingle said. "I'll need a phone book though. "

  "You don't know your attorney's home number by heart?"

  "No, sorry. "

  It took another five minutes. Loren dialed and handed her the phone. She could always check the call log later, make sure she didn't sneak another call in. She turned off the microphone and moved into the monitoring room. Cingle, wise in the ways of the camera, turned her back to the lens, just in case someone could read lips.

  Loren started working the phones. First she tried the cop sitting in front of Hunter's residence in Irvington. He informed her that Matt and Olivia Hunter still weren't home. Loren knew that this was not good news. She started a quiet search because she didn't want to sound off too many alarm bells yet.

  She'd need to get a subpoena for both Matt and Olivia Hunter's recent credit card transactions- run it through TRW. If they were on the run, they'd probably need to access money at an ATM or check into a motel- something.

  From the monitoring screen, Loren could see that Cingle had finished her phone call. Cingle held the phone up to the camera and signaled for someone to hit the audio switch. Loren complied.

  "Yes?"

  Cingle said, "My attorney is on his way. "

  "Sit tight then. "

  Loren switched off the intercom. She leaned back. Exhaustion was starting to set in. She was nearing the wall. She needed a little shut-eye or her brain would start going hazy. Cingle's attorney wouldn't be here for at least half an hour. She crossed her arms, threw her feet on the desk, and closed her eyes, hoping to doze for just a few minutes, just until the attorney showed.

  Her cell phone rang. She startled up and put it to her ear.

  It was Ed Steinberg. "Hey. "

  "Hey," she managed.

  "The private eye talking?"

  "Not yet. She's waiting for her lawyer. "

  "Let her wait then. Let them both wait. "

  "Why, what's up?"

  "The feds, Loren. "

  "What about them?"

  "We're meeting them in an hour. "

  "Who?"

  "Joan Thurston. "

  That made her drop her feet to the floor. "The U. S. attorney herself?"

  "In the flesh. And some hotshot SAC from Nevada. We're meeting them at Thurston's office to discuss your phony nun. "

  Loren checked the clock. "It's four in the morning. "

  "Thank you, Mistress of the Obvious. "

  "No, I mean, I'm surprised you'd call the U. S. attorney that early. "

  "Didn't have to," Steinberg said. "She called me. "

  When Ed Steinberg arrived, he looked at Loren and shook his head. Her hair was frizzed out from the humidity. The sweat had dried, but she was still a mess.

  "You look," Steinberg said, "like something I once left in the bottom of my gym locker. "

  "Flattering, thank you. "

  He motioned at her with both his hands. "Can't you- I don't know- do something about your hair?"

  "What, this a singles' club now?"

  "Evidently not. "

  The ride from the county prosecutor's office to the U. S. attorney's was three blocks. They entered via the well-guarded private underground garage. There were very few cars at this hour. The elevator dropped them on the seventh floor. The stencil on the glass read:

  UNITED STATES ATTORNEY

  DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY

  JOAN THURSTON

  UNITED STATES ATTORNEY

  Steinberg pointed at the top line and then the bottom line. "Kinda redundant, no?"

  Despite the power of the office, the waiting room was done up in Early American Dentist. The carpet was threadbare. The furniture managed to be neither fashionable nor functional. There were a dozen different issues of Sports Illustrated on the table and nothing else. The walls seemed to plead for a paint job. They were stained and barren, except for the photographs of past U. S. attorneys, a remarkable lesson in what not to wear and how not to pose when taking a picture for posterity.

  No receptionist was sitting guard at this hour. They knocked and were buzzed into the inner sanctum. It was much nicer in here, a totally different feel and look, like they'd stepped through a wall into Diagon Alley.

  They turned right and headed toward the corner office. A man- an enormous man- stood in the corridor. He had a buzz cut and a frown. He stood perfectly still and looked as if he could double as a squash court. Steinberg stuck out his hand. "Hi, I'm Ed Steinberg, county prosecutor. "

  Squash Court took the hand but he did not look happy about it. "Cal Dollinger, FBI. They're waiting. "

  That was the end of that conversation. Cal Dollinger stayed where he was. They turned the corner. Joan Thurston greeted them at the door.

  Despite the early hour U. S. Attorney Joan Thurston looked resplendent in a charcoal gray business suit that seemed to have been tailored by the gods. Thurston was mid-forties and, in Loren's view, excessively attractive. She had auburn hair, broad shoulders, tapered waist. She had two sons in their early teens. Her husband worked at Morgan Stanley in Manhattan. They lived in ritzy Short Hills with a vacation home on Long Beach Island.

  In short: Joan Thurston was what Loren wanted to be when she grew up.

  "Good morning," Thurston said, which felt weird because outside her windows, the skies were still night black.

  She shook Loren's hand firmly, meeting her eye and softening it with a smile. She gave Steinberg a hug and buss on the cheek. "I'd like you to meet Adam Yates. He's the FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Las Vegas office. "

  Adam Yates wore freshly ironed khakis and a bright pink shirt that might be the norm on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach but not Broad Street in Newark. He wore loafers without socks, his legs too casually crossed. He had that whole Old World, came-over-on-the-Mayflower thing going on, what with the receding ash-blond hair, the high cheekbones, the eyes so ice blue she wondered if he was wearing contacts. His cologne smelled like freshly cut grass. Loren liked it.

  "Please sit," Thurston said.

  Thurston had a spacious corner office. On one wall- the least noticeable wall- was a smattering of diplomas and awards. They were put out of the way, almost as if to say, "Hey, I need to put them up but I don't like to put on airs. " The rest of the office was personal. She had photographs of her children and her husband, all of whom- big surprise- were gorgeous. Even the dog. There was a white guitar autographed by Bruce Springsteen hanging behind her head. On the bookshelf were the usual assortment of law books, along with autographed baseballs and footballs. All the local teams, of course. Joan Thurston had no photographs of herself, no news clippings, no Lucite-block awards in view.

  Loren sat down carefully. She used to tuck her heels underneath her to gain a few inches, but she'd read a business self-help book about how women sabotage their own careers, and one of the rules said that a woman must never sit on her heels. It looked unprofessional. Usually Loren forgot that rule. Something about seeing Joan Thurston brought it all back.

  Thurston came around and half-sat/half-leaned against the front lip of her desk. She folded her arms and focused her attention on Loren.

  "Tell me what you have so far. "

  Loren glanced at Ed Steinberg. He nodded.

  "We have three dead people. The first, well, we don't know her real name. That's why we're here. "

  "This would be Sister Mary Rose?" Thurston asked.

  "Yes. "

  "How did you stumbl
e across her case?"

  "Pardon?"

  "I understand that the death was originally ruled of natural causes," Thurston said. "What made you look into it deeper?"

  Steinberg took that one. "The Mother Superior personally asked Investigator Muse to look into it. "

  "Why?"

  "Loren is an alum of St. Margaret's. "

  "I understand that, but what made this Mother Superior. . . what's her name?"

  "Mother Katherine," Loren said.

  "Mother Katherine, right. What made her suspect foul play in the first place?"

  "I'm not sure she suspected anything," Loren said. "When Mother Katherine found Sister Mary Rose's body, she tried to resuscitate her with chest compressions and discovered that she had breast implants. That didn't mesh with Sister Mary Rose's history. "

  "So she came to you to find out what was up?"

  "Something like that, yes. "

  Thurston nodded. "And the second body?"

  "Max Darrow. He was a retired Vegas police officer now residing in the Reno area. "

  They all looked at Adam Yates. He stayed still. So, Loren thought, this would be the game. They'd roll over and maybe, just maybe, the feds would award them with a tiny doggie treat.

  Thurston asked, "How did you connect Max Darrow to Sister Mary Rose?"

  "Fingerprints," Loren said. "Darrow's fingerprints were found in the nun's private quarters. "

  "Anything else?"

  "Darrow was found dead in his car. Shot twice at point-blank range. His pants were down around his ankles. We think the killer tried to make it look like a prostitute rolled him. "

  "Fine, we can go into the details later," Thurston said. "Tell us how Max Darrow connects to the third victim. "

  "The third victim is Charles Talley. For one thing, both Talley and Darrow lived in the Reno area. For another, they were both staying at the Howard Johnson's near Newark Airport. Their rooms were next door to one another's. "

  "And that's where you found Talley's body? At the hotel?"

  "Not me. A night custodian found him in the stairwell. He'd been shot twice. "

  "Same as Darrow?"

  "Similar, yes. "

  "Time of death?"

  "It's still being worked on, but sometime tonight between eleven P. M. and two A. M. The stairwell had no air-conditioning, no windows, no ventilation- it had to be over a hundred degrees in there. "

  "That's why Investigator Muse here looks like that," Steinberg said, gesturing with both hands as if he were presenting a soiled prize. "From being in that sauna. "

  Loren shot him a look and tried to hold back from smoothing her hair. "The heat makes it more difficult for our ME to pinpoint a better time frame. "

  "What else?" Thurston asked.

  Loren hesitated. Her guess was that Thurston and Yates probably knew- or at least, could readily learn- most of what she'd already told them. So far, this had all been about getting up to speed. All that she really had left- all that she'd have that they probably wouldn't- was Matt Hunter.

  Steinberg held up a hand. "May I make a suggestion?"

  Thurston turned toward him. "Of course, Ed. "

  "I don't want to have any jurisdictional hassles here. "

  "Neither do we. "

  "So why don't we just pool our resources on this one? Totally open communication both ways. We tell you what we know, you tell us what you know. No holding back. "

  Thurston glanced at Yates. Adam Yates cleared his throat and said, "We have no problem with that. "

  "Do you know the real identity of Sister Mary Rose?" Steinberg asked.

  Yates nodded. "We do, yes. "

  Loren waited. Yates took his time. He uncrossed his legs, tugged at the front of his shirt as if trying to get some air.

  "Your nun- well, she's not even close to being a nun, believe me- was one Emma Lemay," Yates said.

  The name meant nothing to Loren. She looked at Steinberg. He, too, had no reaction to the name.

  Yates continued: "Emma Lemay and her partner, a cretin named Clyde Rangor, disappeared from Vegas ten years ago. We did a fairly massive search for both of them but turned up nothing. One day they were there, the next- poof- they were both gone. "

  Steinberg asked, "How did you know we found Lemay's body?"

  "The Lockwood Corporation had her silicone implants marked. The NCIC now puts everything they can into the national database. Fingerprints, you know about. DNA and descriptions, those have been in there for a while. But now we're working on a national database for medical devices- any kind of joint replacements, surgical implants, colostomy bags, pacemakers- mostly to help identify Jane and John Does. You get the model number, you put it in the system. It's new, pretty experimental. We're trying it out on a select few that we're very anxious to locate. "

  "And this Emma Lemay," Loren said. "You were anxious to locate her?"

  Yates had a good smile. "Oh, yes. "

  "Why?" Loren asked.

  "Ten years ago Lemay and Rangor agreed to turn on a nasty perennial RICO top-ten asswipe, guy named Tom 'Comb-Over' Busher. "

  "Comb-Over?"

  "That's what they call him, though not to his face. Been his nickname for years, actually. Used to be, he had this comb-over going. You know, when he started going bald. But it just kept growing. So now he kinda twirls it around and around, looks like he stuck a cinnamon swirl on top of his head. "

  Yates chuckled. Nobody else did.

  Thurston said, "You were talking about Lemay and Rangor?"

  "Right. So anyway, we nailed Lemay and Rangor on pretty serious drug charges, pressed them like hell, and for the first time, we got someone on the inside to flip. Clyde Rangor and Comb-Over are cousins. They started working with us, taping conversations, gathering evidence. And then. . . " Yates shrugged.

  "So what do you think happened?"

  "The most likely scenario was that Comb-Over got wind of what was up and killed them. But we never really bought that. "

  "Why not?"

  "Because there was evidence- lots of it, actually- that Comb-Over was searching for Lemay and Rangor too. Even harder than we were. For a while it was like the race was on, you know, who'd find them first. When they never turned up, well, we figured we lost the race. "

  "This Comb-Over. He still on the streets?"

  "Yes. "

  "And what about Clyde Rangor?"

  "We have no idea where he is. " Yates shifted in his chair. "Clyde Rangor was a major whack-job. He managed a couple of strip clubs for Comb-Over and had a rep for enjoying the occasional, uh, rough session. "

  "How rough?"

  Yates folded his hands and placed them in his lap. "We suspect that some of the girls didn't recover. "

  "When you say didn't recover-"

  "One ended up in a catatonic state. One- the last one, we think- ended up dead. "

  Loren made a face. "And you were cutting a deal with this guy?"

  "What, you want us to find someone nicer?" Yates snapped.

  "I-"

  "Do I really need to explain to you how trading up works, Investigator Muse?"

  Steinberg stepped in. "Not at all. "

  "I didn't mean to imply. . . " Loren bit back, her face reddening, upset with herself for sounding so amateurish. "Go on. "

  "What else is there? We don't know where Clyde Rangor is, but we believe that he can still provide valuable information, maybe help us take Comb-Over down. "

  "How about Charles Talley and Detective Max Darrow? Any idea how they fit in?"

  "Charles Talley is a thug with a record for brutality. He handled some of the girls in the clubs, made sure they kept in line, didn't steal much, shared their, uh, tips with the house. Last we heard he was working for a dump in Reno called the Eager Beaver. Our best guess is, Talley was hired to kill Emma Lemay. "

  "By this Comb-Over guy?"

  "Yes. Our theory is that somehow Comb-Over found out that Emma Lemay was pretending to be this Sister Mary R
ose. He sent Talley here to kill her. "

  "And what about Max Darrow?" Loren asked. "We know he was in Lemay's quarters. What was his role?"

  Yates uncrossed his legs and sat up. "For one thing, we think Darrow, though a fairly solid cop, might have been crooked. "

  His voice drifted off. He cleared his throat.

  "And for another," Loren prompted.

  Yates took a deep breath. "Well, Max Darrow. . . " He looked at Thurston. She didn't nod, didn't move, but Loren got the impression that, as she had done with Steinberg, Yates was looking for an okay. "Let's just say that Max Darrow is connected into this case in another way. "

  They waited. Several seconds passed. Loren finally said, "How?"

  Yates rubbed his face with both hands, suddenly looking exhausted. "I mentioned before that Clyde Rangor was into rough trade. "

  Loren nodded.

  "And that we think he killed his last victim. "

  "Yes. "

  "The victim was a small-time stripper and probable hooker, named. . . hold on, I have it here. . . "- Yates pulled a small leather notepad from his back pocket, licked his finger, flipped through the pages-"named Candace Potter, aka Candi Cane. " He snapped the notebook shut. "Emma Lemay and Clyde Rangor disappeared soon after her body was found. "

  "And how does that fit in with Darrow?"

  "Max Darrow was the homicide investigator in charge of the case. "

  Everyone stopped.

  "Wait a second," Ed Steinberg began. "So this Clyde Rangor murders a stripper. Darrow catches the case. A few days later, Rangor and his girlfriend Lemay vanish. And now, what, ten years later, we get Darrow's fingerprints at Emma Lemay's murder scene?"

  "That pretty much sums it up, yes. "

  There was more silence. Loren tried to digest this.

  "Here's the important thing," Yates continued, leaning forward. "If Emma Lemay still had materials pertinent to this case- or if she left information on the whereabouts of Clyde Rangor- we believe that Investigator Muse is in the best position to find it. "

  "Me?"

  Yates turned toward her. "You have a relationship with her colleagues. Lemay lived with the same group of nuns for seven years now. The Mother Superior clearly trusts you. What we need you to concentrate on is that angle- in finding out what Lemay knew or what she had. "

  Steinberg looked at Loren and shrugged. Joan Thurston moved around her desk. She opened a mini-fridge. "Anybody want a drink?" she asked.

  They didn't reply. Thurston shrugged, grabbed a bottle, began to shake it. "How about you, Adam? You want something?"

  "Just a water. "

  She tossed him a bottle.

  "Ed? Loren?"

  They both shook their heads. Joan Thurston twisted off the cap and took a deep sip. She moved back in front of her desk.

  "Okay, time to stop the dance," Thurston said. "What else have you learned, Loren?"

  Loren. Already calling her Loren. Again she checked with Steinberg. Again he nodded.

  "We found several connections between all of this and an ex-con named Matt Hunter," Loren said.

  Thurston's eyes narrowed. "Why does that name ring a bell?"

  "He's local, from Livingston. His case made the papers years back. He got into a fight at a college party-"

  "Oh, right, I remember," Thurston interrupted. "I knew his brother Bernie. Good lawyer, died much too young. I think Bernie got him a job at Carter Sturgis when he got out. "

  "Matt Hunter still works there. "

  "And he's involved in this?"

  "There are connections. "

  "Such as?"

  She told them about the phone call from St. Margaret's to Marsha Hunter's residence. They did not seem all that impressed. When Loren started filling them in on what she'd learned this very night- that Matt Hunter had, in all likelihood, gotten into a fight with Charles Talley at the Howard Johnson's- they sat up. For the first time Yates started jotting notes in the leather pad.

  When she finished, Thurston asked, "So what do you make of it, Loren?"

  "Truth? I don't have a clue yet. "

  "We should look at this guy Hunter's time in prison," Yates said. "We know Talley was in the system too. Maybe they met along the way. Or maybe Hunter somehow got involved with Comb-Over's people. "

  "Right," Thurston said. "Could be that Hunter is the one cleaning up the loose ends for Comb-Over. "

  Loren kept quiet.

  "You don't agree, Loren?"

  "I don't know. "

  "What's the problem?"

  "This may sound hopelessly naive, but I don't think Matt Hunter is working as some kind of hit man. He has a record, yes, but that's from a fight at a frat party fifteen years ago. He had no priors and has been clean ever since. "

  She did not tell him that they'd gone to school together or that her "gut" didn't like it. When other investigators used that rationale, Loren wanted to gag.

  "So how do you explain Hunter's involvement?" Thurston asked.

  "I don't know. It might be a more personal thing. According to the front-desk guy, his wife was staying at the hotel without him. "

  "You think it's a lovers' quarrel?"

  "It could be. "

  Thurston looked doubtful. "Either way, we all agree that Matt Hunter is involved?"

  Steinberg said, "Definitely. " Yates nodded hard. Loren stayed still.

  "And right now," Thurston continued, "we have more than enough to arrest and indict. We have the fight, the call, all that. We'll get DNA soon linking him to the dead man. "

  Loren hesitated. Ed Steinberg did not. "We got enough to arrest. "

  "And with Hunter's record, we can probably get a no-bail situation. We can put him in the system and keep him there for a little while, right, Ed?"

  "I'd bet on it, yeah," Steinberg said.

  "Pick him up then," Joan Thurston said. "Let's get Hunter's ass back behind bars pronto. "

 
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