The innocent, p.45
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       The Innocent, p.45
 

           Harlan Coben
Chapter 44

  MATT LEARNED HOW to steal cars in prison. Or at least, that was what he thought.

  There was a guy named Saul two cells over who had a fetish for joyriding with stolen cars. He was about as decent a guy as you'd meet in prison. He had his demons- his seemingly more innocuous than most- but the demons did him in. He got arrested for stealing a car when he was seventeen, then again when he was nineteen. On his third go-round, Saul lost control of the vehicle and killed someone. He'd already had two priors so he got a life sentence.

  "All that stuff you see on TV?" Saul had told him. "That's all crap, unless you want a specific make. Otherwise, you don't jam the lock. You don't use tools. And you don't hot-wire. That only works on old cars anyway. And with all the alarms, you try most of that stuff, the car will lock down on you. "

  "So what do you do?" Matt asked.

  "You use a person's car keys. You open the door like a human being. You drive away. "

  Matt made a face. "Just like that?"

  "No, not just like that. What you do is, you go to a crowded parking lot. Malls work great, though you gotta look out for the rent-a-cops circling around. Those big superstores are even better. You find an area where people won't be watching you much. You just keep walking and running your hand over a front tire or under the bumper. People leave their keys there. They also keep them in those cute magnets under the driver's-side fender. Not everyone. But hey, at least one in fifty. You do that enough, you'll find a key. Voila. "

  Matt wondered. His prison info was at least nine years old and perhaps obsolete. He had been on foot for more than an hour- first making his way through the woods and now keeping off main roads. When he reached the corner of Livingston Avenue, he grabbed a bus to the campus of Bergen Community College in Paramus. The ride took about an hour. Matt slept for all of it.

  Bergen Community was a commuter school. There were tons of cars driven by carefree coeds. Security was almost nonexistent. Matt began his search. It took almost an hour, but as Saul promised, Matt eventually hit pay dirt in the form of a white Isuzu with a quarter tank of gas. Not bad. The keys had been hidden in one of those magnets above the front tire. Matt got into the car and drove toward Route 17. He didn't know Bergen County all that well. It might be smarter to go north over the Tappan Zee but he chose the route he knew over the George Washington Bridge.

  He was on his way to Westport, Connecticut.

  When he reached the GWB, he worried that the toll booth operator would recognize him- he even went so far as to rip the bandage off his head and replace it with a New York Rangers cap he found in the backseat- but that didn't happen. He switched on the radio and listened to the news- first, 1010 WINS for twenty-two minutes, then CBS 880. In the movies they always interrupt for a special bulletin when a man is at large. But neither station said anything about him. In fact, there was nothing on any of it- nothing about Max Darrow or Charles Talley or a fleeing suspect.

  He needed money. He needed a place to sleep. He needed some meds. The pain had been held in check by the flow of adrenaline. That was ebbing now. He'd only slept about an hour in the past twenty-four, and the preceding night, what with the pictures on his camera phone, hadn't brought him much slumber either.

  Matt checked the money. He had thirty-eight bucks. Hardly enough. He couldn't use his ATM or credit cards. The police would be able to track those down. Ditto with getting help from close friends or relatives, not that he had many he could really depend on.

  There was, however, one person Matt could go to whom the police would never suspect.

  When he got off at the Westport exit, he slowed down. He had never been invited here, but he knew the address. When he first got out of prison, he actually drove past this particular road several times, but he never had the courage to turn onto the block.

  Now he took a right and then another and pulled slowly down the quiet, tree-lined street. His pulse started kicking up again. He checked the driveway. Her car was the only one there. He considered using his cell phone, but no, the police would be able to access that too. Maybe he should just knock. He thought about it, but in the end he decided to play it safe. He drove back toward town and spotted a pay phone. He dialed the number.

  Sonya McGrath answered on the first ring. "Hello?"

  "It's me," he said. "Are you alone?"

  "Yes. "

  "I need your help. "

  "Where are you?"

  "I'm about five minutes from your house. "

  Matt pulled into the McGraths' driveway.

  There was a rusted basketball hoop near the garage. The shredded netting had not been replaced in a very long time. The hoop didn't fit in with the surroundings. It was old and unkempt where the rest of the house was so posh, so updated. For a moment Matt stopped and stared at the basketball hoop. Stephen McGrath was there. He was shooting with nice form, his eyes locked on the front rim. Matt could see the backspin on the ball. Stephen was smiling.

  "Matt?"

  He turned around. Sonya McGrath stood on the front step. She looked over to see where he'd been staring and her face fell.

  "Tell me," Sonya said.

  He did- but as he did, he noticed the devastation in her face did not fade. He had seen her take blows like this before. She always came back, if not all the way, then enough. That wasn't happening now. Her face maintained that horrid pallor. It wouldn't change. Matt saw it, but he couldn't stop himself. He kept talking and explaining what he was doing here and somewhere along the line Matt had an almost out-of-body experience where he rose above them and actually heard what he was saying and how it must sound to her. But he still did not stop. He just kept talking while a small voice inside his brain urged him to shut the hell up. But he didn't listen. He'd trudged on, figuring that he'd somehow make it through.

  But in the end, when you cut through it all, his words sounded like this: Another fight, another death.

  When he finally wound down, Sonya McGrath just watched him for several seconds. Matt could feel himself wither and die under the glare.

  "You want me to help you?" she said.

  And there it was. So simply stated. He could hear it now, how not only ridiculous it sounded, but how outrageous. How obscene.

  He didn't know what to do.

  "Clark found out about our meetings," she said.

  He was going to say I'm sorry or something similar, but it didn't feel appropriate. He kept quiet now and waited.

  "Clark thinks I'm after comfort. He has a point, I guess, but I don't think that's it. I think I needed closure. I think I needed to forgive you. And I can't. "

  "I should go," he said.

  "You should turn yourself in, Matt. If you're innocent, they'll-"

  "They'll what?" he said, his tone edgier than he'd wanted. "I've tried that route already, remember?"

  "I do. " Sonya McGrath tilted her head to the side. "But were you innocent then, Matt?"

  He looked back at the basketball hoop. Stephen had the ball in his hand. He stopped mid-shot, turned, and waited for Matt's answer.

  "I'm sorry," Matt said, turning away from them both. "I have to go. "

 
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