The innocent, p.49
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       The Innocent, p.49

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 48

  OLIVIA HUNTER HELD IT TOGETHER until Midlife had been able to extricate her from Detective Lance Banner. Now that she was back in her own home she let her defenses down. She cried silently. Tears ran down her cheeks. Olivia could not stop them. She did not know if they came from joy, relief, fear, what. She only knew that sitting down and trying to stop them would be a waste of time.

  She had to move.

  Her suitcase was still at the Howard Johnson's. She simply packed another. She knew better than to wait. The police would be back. They would want answers.

  She had to get to Reno right now.

  She couldn't stop crying, which was unlike her yet understandable, she guessed, under the circumstances. Olivia was physically and emotionally spent. She was pregnant, for one thing. For another, she was worried about her adopted daughter. And finally, after all this time, she had told Matt the truth about her past.

  The pact was over. Olivia had broken it when she responded to that online post- more than that, she had been directly responsible for the death of Emma Lemay. It was Olivia's fault. Emma had done a lot wrong in her life. She had hurt many people. Olivia knew that she'd tried to make up for it, that she'd truly spent her last years making amends. She didn't know where that put Emma on the Great Ledger in the Sky, but if anyone earned redemption, she assumed that Emma Lemay had.

  But the thing Olivia could not get over, the thing that was really making the tears waterfall down her cheeks, was the look on Matt's face when she told him the truth.

  It had not been what she'd imagined at all.

  He should have been upset. He probably was. How could he not be? From the first time they met in Vegas, Olivia had always loved the way he looked at her- as if God had never created anything more spectacular, more- for lack of a better word- pure. Olivia naturally expected that look to vanish or at least dim once he learned the truth. She figured that his faded-blue eyes would harden, grow cold.

  But that hadn't happened.

  Nothing had changed. Matt had learned that his wife was a lie, that she had done things that would make most men turn away forever in disgust. And he had reacted with unconditional love.

  Over the years Olivia had gained enough distance to see that her awful upbringing made her, like so many of the girls she worked with, lean toward self-destruction. Men who grew up like that, in different foster homes and under what could best be described as poor situations, usually reacted with violence. That was how abused men showed rage- by striking out, with physical brutality.

  Women were different. They used more subtle forms of cruelty or, as in most cases, directed the rage inward- they cannot hurt someone else so they hurt themselves. Kimmy had been like that. Olivia- no, Candi- had been like that too.

  Until Matt.

  Maybe it was because of the years he spent in jail. Maybe, like she said before, it had to do with their mutual wounds. But Matt was the finest man she had ever known. He truly didn't sweat the small stuff. He lived in the moment. He paid attention to what mattered. He didn't let the trappings get in the way. He ignored the superfluous and saw what was really there. It made her see past it too- at least, in herself.

  Matt didn't see the ugly in her- still didn't see it!- ergo, it was not there.

  But as Olivia packed, the cold hard truth was obvious. After all the years and all the pretending, she had not rid herself of that self-destructive bent. How else to explain her actions? How stupid had she been- searching online for Candace Potter like that?

  Look at the damage she'd wrought. To Emma, of course. To herself, yes, but more to the point, to the only man she'd ever loved.

  Why had she insisted on poking at the past?

  Because, in truth, she couldn't help herself. You can read all the pro-choice, pro-adoption, pro-life arguments- over the years, Olivia had ad nauseam- but there was one basic truth: Getting pregnant is the ultimate fork in the road. Whatever you choose, you will always wonder about the path not taken. Even though she was very young, even though keeping the child would have been impossible, even though the decision was ultimately made by others, no day passed without Olivia wondering about that gigantic what-if.

  No woman simply skates by that one.

  There was a knock on the door.

  Olivia waited. A second knock. There was no peephole, so she went to a nearby window, pushed the lace curtain to the side, and peered out.

  There were two men at her door. One looked like he'd just walked out of an L. L. Bean catalogue. The second man was enormous. He wore a suit that didn't seem to fit him quite right, but then again, judging by his looks, no suit would. He had a military buzz cut and no neck.

  The enormous man turned to the window and caught her eye. He nudged the smaller man. The smaller man turned too.

  "FBI," the normal-size one said. "We'd like to speak to you for a moment. "

  "I have nothing to say. "

  The L. L. Bean man stepped toward her. "I don't think that's a wise position to take, Mrs. Hunter. "

  "Please refer all questions to my attorney, Ike Kier. "

  The man smiled. "Maybe we should try again. "

  Olivia did not like the way he said that.

  "My name is Special Agent in Charge Adam Yates from the Las Vegas office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This"- he gestured to the big man-"is Special Agent Cal Dollinger. We would very much like to speak with Olivia Hunter or, if she prefers, we can arrest one Candace Potter. "

  Olivia's knees buckled at the sound of her old name. A smile cracked the big man's rock face. He was enjoying the moment.

  "Up to you, Mrs. Hunter. "

  There was no choice now. She was trapped. She'd have to let them in, would have to talk.

  "Let me see your identification please. "

  The big man walked over toward the window. Olivia had to fight off the desire to step back. He reached into his pocket, took out his ID, slammed it hard enough against the glass to make her jump. The other man, the one named Yates, did likewise. The IDs looked legitimate, though she knew how easy it was to buy fakes.

  "Slide your business card under the door. I'd like to call your office and verify who you are. "

  The big man, Dollinger, shrugged, the stilted smile still locked in place. He spoke for the first time: "Sure thing, Candi. "

  She swallowed. The big man reached into his wallet, plucked out a card, slid it under the door. There was no reason to go ahead and call the number. The card had a raised seal and looked too legitimate- plus there had been no hesitation on the part of Cal Dollinger, who, according to the card, was indeed a special agent out of the Las Vegas office.

  She opened the door. Adam Yates entered first. Cal Dollinger ducked in as if he were entering a teepee. He stayed by the door, hands folded in front of him.

  "Nice weather we're having," Yates said.

  And then Dollinger closed the door.

 

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