The innocent, p.51
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       The Innocent, p.51

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 50

 

  AS MATT CROSSED into Pennsylvania in the white Isuzu, he was amazed at how much of what he'd thought of as useless information he'd retained from prison. Of course, prison is not the great education in all things crime many thought it was. You have to keep in mind that the inhabitants had all been, well, caught, and thus any claimed expertise had something of a shadow cast over it.

  He had also never listened too closely. Criminal activities did not interest him. His plan, which he'd maintained for nine years, was to stay away from anything even remotely unlawful.

  That had changed.

  Saul's stolen car method had borne fruit. And now Matt remembered other law-evading lessons from his time behind bars. He stopped in the parking lot of a Great Western off Route 80. No security, no surprise. He did not want to steal another car, just a license plate. He wanted a license plate with the letter P in it. He got lucky. There was a car in the employee lot with a plate that began with the letter P. The employee car would work well, he thought. It was eleven A. M. Most places would be in early- to mid-shift by then. The employee owner would probably be inside for several more hours at a minimum.

  He stopped in a Home Depot and bought thin black electric tape, the kind you use to repair phone cords. Making sure no one was watching, he ripped a strip and put it on the letter P, turning it into the letter B. It wouldn't hold up under close scrutiny, but it should be good enough to get him where he was going.

  Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

  There was no choice. Matt had to get to Reno. That meant flying on an airplane. He knew that would be risky. The prison tips for evading detection, even if good in their heyday, were all pre-9/11. Security had changed a lot since then, but there were still methods. He just had to think it through, move fast, and be more than a little lucky.

  First, he tried a little old-fashioned confusion and mayhem. He used a pay phone back on the New Jersey border to make flight reservations from Newark Airport to Toronto. Maybe they'd track that down and figure he was an amateur. Maybe not. He hung up, moved to another pay phone, and made his other reservation. He wrote down his booking number, hung up, and shook his head.

  This was not going to be easy.

  Matt pulled into the Harrisburg airport parking lot. The Mauser M2 was still in his pocket. No way he could take it with him. Matt jammed the weapon under the front passenger seat because, if things did not go as planned, he might be back. The Isuzu had served him well. He wanted to write a note to its owner, explaining what he had done and why. With luck there'd be a chance to explain in the future.

  Now to see if his plan worked. . .

  But first, he needed sleep. He bought a baseball cap in the souvenir store. Then he found a free chair in the arrivals area, folded his arms across his chest, closed his eyes, pulled the brim low across his face. People slept in airports all the time, he figured. Why would anyone bother him?

  He woke up an hour later, feeling like absolute hell. He headed upstairs to the departure level. He bought some extra-strength Tylenol and Motrin, took three of each. He cleaned up in the bathroom.

  The line at the ticket sales counter was long. That was good, if the timing worked. He wanted the staff to be busy. When it was his turn, the woman behind the desk gave him that distracted smile.

  "To Chicago, Flight 188," he said.

  "That flight leaves in twenty minutes," she said.

  "I know. There was traffic and-"

  "May I see your picture ID, please?"

  He gave her his driver's license. She typed in "Hunter, M. " This was the moment of truth. He stood perfectly still. She frowned and typed some more. Nothing happened. "I don't see you in here, Mr. Hunter. "

  "That's odd. "

  "Do you have your booking number?"

  "I sure do. "

  He handed the one he'd gotten when he made the reservation on the phone. She typed in the letters: YTIQZ2. Matt held his breath.

  The woman sighed. "I see the problem. "

  "Oh?"

  She shook her head. "Your name is misspelled on the reservation. You're listed here as Mike, not Matt. And the last name is Huntman, not Hunter. "

  "Honest mistake," Matt said.

  "You'd be surprised how often it happens. "

  "Nothing would surprise me," he said.

  They shared a world-is-full-of-dopes laugh. She printed out his ticket and collected the money. Matt smiled, thanked her, and headed to the plane.

  There was no nonstop from Harrisburg to Reno, but that might work in his favor. He didn't know how the airline computer system meshed with the federal government's, but two short flights would probably work better than one long one. Would the computer system pick up his name right away? Matt doubted it- or maybe hope sprang eternal. Thinking logically, the whole thing would have to take some time- gathering the information, sorting it, getting it to the right person. A few hours at a minimum.

  He'd be in Chicago in one.

  It sounded good in theory.

  When he landed safely at O'Hare in Chicago, he felt his heart start up again. He disembarked, trying not to look conspicuous, planning an escape route in case he saw a row of police officers at the gate. But no one grabbed him when he came off the plane. He let out a long breath. So they hadn't located him- yet. But now came the tricky part. The flight to Reno was longer. If they put together what he'd done the first time, they'd have plenty of time to nail him.

  So he tried something slightly different.

  Another long line at the airline purchasing desk. Matt might need that. He waited, snaking through the velvet ropes. He watched, seeing which employee looked most tired or complacent. He found her, on the far right. She looked bored past the point of tears. She examined IDs, but there was little spark in her eyes. She kept sighing. She kept glancing around, clearly distracted. Probably had a personal life, Matt thought. Maybe a fight with the husband or her teenage daughter or who knew what?

  Or maybe, Matt, she's very astute and just has a tired-looking face.

  Still, what other options were there? When Matt got to the front of the line and his agent wasn't free, he faked looking for something and told the family behind him to go ahead. He did that one more time and then it was his agent's turn to say, "Next. "

  He approached as inconspicuously as possible. "My name is Matthew Huntler. " He handed her a piece of paper with the booking number on it. She took it and started typing.

  "Chicago to Reno/Tahoe, Mr. Huntler. "

  "Yes. "

  "ID, please. "

  This was the hardest part. He had tried to set it up as smoothly as possible. M. Huntler was a member of their frequent-flier club- Matt had signed him up a few hours ago. Computers don't know from subtlety. Humans sometimes do.

  He gave her his wallet. She did not look at it at first. She was still typing into the computer. Maybe he'd get lucky here. Maybe she wouldn't even check his ID.

  "Any luggage to check?"

  "Not today, no. "

  She nodded, still typing. Then she turned toward his ID. Matt felt his stomach tumble. He remembered something Bernie had sent him by e-mail several years ago. It said:

  Here's a fun test. Read this sentence:

  FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.

  Now count the F's in that sentence.

  He had done it and ended up with four. The real answer was six. You don't see every letter. That's not how we're built. He was counting on something like that here. Hunter, Huntler. Would someone really catch the difference?

  The woman said to him. "Aisle or window. "

  "Aisle. "

  He'd made it. The security check went even easier- after all, Matt had already been ID'd at the counter, right? The security guard looked at his picture, at his face, but he didn't come up with the fact that the ID said Hunter while the boarding pass read Huntler. Typos are made all the time anyway. You see hundreds o
r thousands of boarding passes each day. You really wouldn't notice such a small thing.

  Once again Matt got to his plane right as the gate was about to close. He settled into his aisle seat, closed his eyes, and didn't wake up until the pilot announced their descent into Reno.

  The door to Mother Katherine's office was closed.

  This time there was no flashback for Loren. She pounded hard on the door and put her hand on the knob. When she heard Mother Katherine say, "Come in," she was ready.

  The Mother Superior had her back to the door. She did not turn around when Loren entered. She merely asked, "Are you sure Sister Mary Rose was murdered?"

  "Yes. "

  "Do you know who did it?"

  "Not yet. "

  Mother Katherine nodded slowly. "Have you learned her real identity?"

  "Yes," Loren said. "But it would have been easier if you'd just told me. "

  She expected Mother Katherine to argue, but she didn't. "I couldn't. "

  "Why not?"

  "Unfortunately it was not my place. "

  "She told you?"

  "Not exactly, no. But I knew enough. "

  "How did you figure it out?"

  The old nun shrugged. "Some of her statements about her past," she said. "They didn't add up. "

  "You confronted her?"

  "No, never. And she never told me her true identity. She said it would endanger others. But I know that it was sordid. Sister Mary Rose wanted to move past it. She wanted to make amends. And she did. She contributed much to this school, to these children. "

  "With her work or with finances?"

  "Both. "

  "She gave you money?"

  "The parish," Mother Katherine corrected. "Yes, she gave quite a bit. "

  "Sounds like guilt money. "

  Mother Katherine smiled. "Is there any other kind?"

  "So that story about chest compressions. . . ?"

  "I already knew about the implants. She told me. She also told me that if someone learned who she really was, they'd kill her. "

  "But you didn't think that happened. "

  "It appeared to be death by natural causes. I thought it best to leave it alone. "

  "What changed your mind?"

  "Gossip," she said.

  "What do you mean?"

  "One of our sisters confided to me that she had seen a man in Sister Mary Rose's room. I was suspicious, of course, but I couldn't prove anything. I also needed to protect the school's reputation. So I needed this investigated quietly and without my betraying Sister Mary Rose's trust. "

  "Enter me. "

  "Yes. "

  "And now that you know she was murdered?"

  "She left a letter. "

  "For whom?"

  Mother Katherine showed her the envelope. "A woman named Olivia Hunter. "

  Adam Yates was closing in on panic.

  He parked a good distance from the old brewery and waited while Cal quickly cleaned up. The clues would be gone. Cal's weapon could not be traced. The license plates they were using would lead to nowhere. Some crazy person might identify a huge man chasing a woman but there would be no practical way of linking them with the dead bartender.

  Perhaps.

  No, no perhaps about it. He had been in worse scrapes. The bartender had pulled a rifle on Cal. It would have his fingerprints on it. The untraceable gun would be left behind. They would both be out of state in a matter of hours.

  They would get through it.

  When Cal sat in the passenger seat, Adam said, "You messed up. "

  Cal nodded. "I did at that. "

  "You shouldn't have tried to shoot her. "

  He nodded again. "A mistake," he agreed. "But we can't let her go. If her background comes out-"

  "It's going to come out anyway. Loren Muse knows about it. "

  "True, but without Olivia Hunter, it doesn't lead anyplace. If she's caught, she will try to save herself. That may mean looking into what happened all those years ago. "

  Yates felt something inside him start to tear. "I don't want to hurt anyone. "

  "Adam?"

  He looked at the big man.

  "It's too late for that," Dollinger said. "Us or them, remember?"

  He nodded slowly.

  "We need to find Olivia," Dollinger said. "And I do mean we. If other agents arrest her. . . "

  Yates finished it for him. "She may talk. "

  "Precisely. "

  "So we call her in as a material witness," Yates said. "Tell them to keep an eye on the nearby airports and train stations but not to do anything until they notify us. "

  Cal nodded. "Already done. "

  Adam Yates considered his options. "Let's head back to the county office. Maybe Loren found something useful on that Kimmy Dale. "

  They had driven about five minutes when the phone rang. Cal picked it up and barked, "Agent Dollinger. "

  Cal listened closely.

  "Let her land. Have Ted follow her. Do not, repeat, do not, approach. I'll be on the next plane out. "

  He hung up.

  "What?"

  "Olivia Hunter," he said. "She's already on a plane to Reno. "

  "Reno again," Yates said.

  "Home of the deceased Charles Talley and Max Darrow. "

  "And maybe the tape. " Yates made a right up ahead. "All the signs are pointing west, Cal. I think we better get to Reno too. "

 

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