The innocent, p.42
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       The Innocent, p.42

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 41

  LANCE BANNER'S CAR stayed parked across the street from Marsha's house.

  "You know him?" Olivia asked Matt.

  "Yes. We went to school together. He's a cop here in town. "

  "He's here to ask about the assault?"

  Matt did not reply. That made sense, he guessed. What with Cingle's arrest, the police probably wanted to file a full report. Or maybe Matt's name, as a victim or a witness, had gone out over a police radio and Lance had seen it. Maybe this was simply more harassment.

  Either way, it really wasn't a big deal. If Lance came to the door, Matt would send him away. That was his right. They couldn't arrest a victim for not filing a timely report.

  "Matt?"

  He turned toward Olivia. "You were saying that they didn't find you. That you found them. "

  "Yes. "

  "I'm not sure I follow. "

  "That's because this is the most difficult part," Olivia said.

  He thought- no, hoped- that she was joking. He was trying to hold on, trying to compartmentalize, rationalize, or just plain block.

  "I told a lot of lies," she said. "But this last one is the worst. "

  Matt stayed by the window.

  "I became Olivia Hunter. I told you that already. Candace Potter was dead to me. Except. . . except there was one part of her I could never quite give up. "

  She stopped.

  "What is it?" Matt asked in a soft voice.

  "When I was fifteen I got pregnant. "

  He closed his eyes.

  "I was so scared, I hid it until it was too late. When my water broke, my foster mother brought me to a doctor's office. They had me sign a bunch of papers. There was a payment made, I don't know how much. I never saw the money. The doctor put me under. I had the baby. When I woke up. . . "

  Her voice tailed off. She sort of shrugged it away and said: "I never even knew if it was a boy or a girl. "

  Matt kept his eyes on Lance's car. He felt something at his core rip away. "What about the father?"

  "He ran off when he heard I was pregnant. Broke my heart. He got killed in a car crash a couple of years later. "

  "And you never knew what happened to the baby?"

  "Never. Not a word. And in many ways I was okay with that. Even if I wanted to interfere in her life, I couldn't- not with my predicament. But that doesn't mean I didn't care. Or wonder what happened to her. "

  There was a moment of silence. Matt turned and faced his wife.

  "You said 'her. ' "

  "What?"

  "Just now. First you said you didn't know if it was a boy or girl. Then you said you didn't want to interfere in her life and that you wondered what happened to her. "

  Olivia said nothing.

  "How long have you known you had a girl?"

  "Just a few days. "

  "How did you find out?"

  Olivia took out another sheet of paper. "Do you know anything about online adoption support groups?"

  "No, not really. "

  "There are these boards where adoptive kids can post looking for their biological parents and vice versa. I always checked. Just out of curiosity. I never thought I'd find anything. Candace Potter was long dead. Even if her child searched for her biological mother, she'd learn that and give up. Besides, I couldn't say anything anyway. I had my pact. Finding me could only bring my child harm. "

  "But you checked the boards anyway?"

  "Yes. "

  "How often?"

  "Does that matter, Matt?"

  "I guess not. "

  "You don't understand why I did it?"

  "No, I do," he said, though he was not sure if that was the truth. "So what happened?"

  Olivia handed him the sheet of paper. "I found this post. "

  The paper was wrinkled and had clearly been opened and closed many times. The date on the top was from four weeks ago. It read:

  This is an urgent message and must be kept in strict confidence. Our daughter was adopted eighteen years ago at the office of Dr. Eric Tequesta in Meridian, Idaho, on February 12th. The birth mother's name is Candace Potter, who is deceased. We have no information on the father.

  Our daughter is very sick. She desperately needs a kidney donation from a blood relative. We are searching for any blood relatives who might be a match. Please, if you are a blood relative of the late Candace Potter, please contact us at. . .

  Matt kept reading and rereading the post.

  "I had to do something," Olivia said.

  He nodded numbly.

  "I e-mailed the parents. At first I just pretended to be an old friend of Candace Potter's, but they wouldn't release any information to me. I didn't know what to do. So I wrote again and said I was indeed a blood relative. And then it all took a weird turn. "

  "How?"

  "I think. . . I don't know. . . suddenly the parents got cagey. So we agreed to meet in person. We set up a time and place. "

  "In Newark?"

  "Yes. They even booked the room for me. I had to check in and wait for them to contact me. I did. Some man finally called and told me to go to Room 508. When I got there, the man said he needed to search my bag. That's when he took the phone out, I guess. Then he told me to change in the bathroom and put on a wig and a dress. I didn't get why, but he said we were going someplace and he didn't want anyone recognizing either one of us. I was too afraid not to listen. He put on a wig too, a black one. When I came out he told me to sit on the bed. He walked toward me, just like you saw. When he got to the bed, he stopped and said he knew who I was. If I wanted to save my daughter's life, I'd have to transfer money to his account. I should get it ready. "

  "Did you?"

  "Yes. "

  "How much?"

  "Fifty thousand dollars. "

  He nodded, feigning calm. All the money they had. "So then what?"

  "He told me he'd need more. Another fifty thousand. I told him I didn't have that kind of money. We argued. I finally said he'd get more money when I saw my daughter. "

  Matt looked off.

  "What?" she asked.

  "Weren't you starting to wonder?"

  "About?"

  "If this was all a con of some sort. "

  "Of course," Olivia said. "I read about these con men who'd pretend to find information on MIAs in Vietnam. They'd get the family to give them money to continue the search. The families wanted it to be true so badly that they couldn't see it was all a ruse. "

  "So?"

  "Candace Potter was dead," she said. "Why would someone try to con money from a dead woman?"

  "Maybe someone figured out you were alive. "

  "How?"

  "I don't know. Emma Lemay might have said something. "

  "Suppose she did. Then what? Nobody knew, Matt. The only person in Vegas I told was my friend Kimmy, but even she didn't know all that information- the date of birth, the town in Idaho, the name of the doctor. I didn't even remember the doctor's name until I saw it in that post. The only people who would know all that were my daughter or her adoptive parents. And even if it was some sort of scam, what with the wig and all, I had to follow it up. I mean, somehow my daughter had to be involved. Don't you see that?"

  "I do," he said. He also saw that her logic was somewhat flawed, but now was not the time to point that out. "So now what?"

  "I insisted on seeing my daughter. So he set up a meet. That's when I'm supposed to bring the rest of the money. "

  "When?"

  "Tomorrow at midnight. "

  "Where?"

  "In Reno. "

  "Nevada?"

  "Yes. "

  Again Nevada. "Do you know a man named Max Darrow?"

  She said nothing.

  "Olivia?"

  "He was the man in the black wig. The one I met with. I knew him back in Vegas too. He used to hang at the club. "

  Matt was not sure what to make of that. "Where in Reno?"

  "The address is 488 Center Lane Drive. I have a plan
e ticket. Darrow said I shouldn't tell anyone. If I'm not there. . . I don't know, Matt. They said they would hurt her. "

  "Hurt your daughter?"

  Olivia nodded. The tears were back in her eyes. "I don't know what's going on. I don't know if she's sick or if they kidnapped her or hell, if she's somehow in on it. But she's real and she's alive and I have to go to her. "

  Matt tried to take it in, but it wasn't happening. His cell phone rang. Matt automatically reached to snap it off, but then he thought better of it. At this hour it was probably Cingle. She could be in trouble, need his help. He checked the caller ID. Private number. Could be the police station.

  "Hello?"

  "Matt?"

  He frowned. It sounded like Midlife. "Ike, is that you?"

  "Matt, I just got off the phone with Cingle. "

  "What?"

  "I'm on the way to the county prosecutor's office now," Midlife said. "They want to interrogate her. "

  "She called you?"

  "Yeah, I guess, but I think that had more to do with you. "

  "What are you talking about?"

  "She wanted to warn you. "

  "About what?"

  "I wrote it down, hold on. Okay, first off, you asked her about a man named Max Darrow? He's been murdered. They found him shot dead in Newark. "

  Matt looked at Olivia. She said, "What is it?"

  Midlife was still talking. "But worse, Charles Talley is dead. They found his body at the Howard Johnson's. They also found a set of bloody brass knuckles. They're running DNA tests on them now. And within the hour, they'll have the photographs off your cell phone. "

  Matt said nothing.

  "Do you understand what I'm telling you, Matt?"

  He did. It didn't take long. They'd put it together like this: Matt, an ex-con who'd already served time for killing a man in a fight, gets these mocking photographs on his cell phone. His wife was clearly shacking up with Charles Talley. Matt used a private eye to find out where they were. He charged into the hotel late at night. There was a fight. There'd be at least one witness- the guy at the front desk. Probably a security video. They'd have physical evidence too. His DNA is probably all over the dead man.

  There would be holes in their case. Matt could show them the gray window and explain about the drought. He also didn't know what time Talley had been killed, but if Matt was lucky, the murder took place when he was in the ambulance or at the hospital. Or maybe he'd have an alibi in the taxi driver. Or his wife.

  Like that would hold up.

  "Matt?"

  "What is it?"

  "The police are probably searching for you now. "

  He glanced out the window. A police car pulled up next to Lance's. "I think they already found me. "

  "You want me to arrange a peaceful surrender?"

  A peaceful surrender. Trust the authorities to straighten it out. Do the law-abiding thing.

  That worked so well before, didn't it?

  Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice. . .

  And suppose he did come clean. Then what? They'd have to tell everything, including Olivia's past. Forget about the fact that Matt swore, swore, he'd never let himself go back to prison. Olivia had indeed committed a crime. She'd, at best, helped dispose of a dead body. Not to mention the fact that Max Darrow, who had also been murdered, had been blackmailing her. How would that look?

  "Ike?"

  "Yes. "

  "If they know we communicated, you could get nailed for aiding and abetting. "

  "Nah, Matt, I really can't. I'm your attorney. I'm giving you the facts and encouraging you to surrender. But what you do. . . well, I can't control that. I can only be shocked and outraged. You see?"

  He did. He looked out the window again. Another squad car pulled up. He thought about being back in prison. In the window reflection, he saw Stephen McGrath's ghost. Stephen winked at him. Matt felt the tightness in his chest.

  "Thanks, Ike. "

  "Good luck, pal. "

  Midlife hung up the phone. Matt turned to Olivia. "What is it?" she asked.

  "We have to get out of here. "

 

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