Page 12 of The Innocent

Answer—and yes, his reasoning was getting circular—she wouldn’t.

So who would?

Matt thought again of the cocky smirk on Blue-Black’s face. And his stomach roiled. When he was younger, he used to feel too much. Strange to imagine it now, but Matt had been too sensitive. He’d cry when he lost a basketball game, even a pickup game. Any slight would stay with him for weeks. All of that changed the night Stephen McGrath died. If prison teaches you one thing, it’s how to deaden yourself. You show nothing. Ever. You never allow yourself anything, even an emotion, because it will either be exploited or taken away. Matt tried that now. He tried to deaden the sinking feeling in the pit of his belly.

He couldn’t do it.

The images were back now, terrible ones blended in with achingly wonderful memories, the memories hurting most of all. He remembered a weekend he and Olivia had spent at a Victorian B&B in Lenox, Massachusetts. He remembered spreading pillows and blankets in front of the fireplace in the room and opening a bottle of wine. He remembered the way Olivia held the stem of the glass, the way she looked at him, the way the world, the past, his tentative, fearful steps all faded away, the way the fire reflected off her green eyes, and then he would think of her like that with another man.

A new thought hit him then—one so awful, so unbearable he nearly lost control of his car:

Olivia was pregnant.

The light turned red. Matt almost drove through it. He slammed on the brakes at the last moment. A pedestrian, already starting across the street, jumped back and waved his fist at him. Matt kept both hands on the wheel.

Olivia had taken a long time to conceive.

They were both in their mid-thirties and in Olivia’s mind the clock was ticking. She so badly wanted to start a family. For a long time their attempts at conception hadn’t gone well. Matt had started to wonder—and not just idly—if the fault lay with him. He had taken some pretty good beatings in prison. During his third week there, four men had pinned him down and spread-eagled his legs while a fifth kicked him hard in the groin. He had nearly passed out from the pain.

Now suddenly Olivia was pregnant.

He wanted to shut down his brain, but it wouldn’t happen. Rage started to seep in. It was better, he thought, than the hurt, than the awful gut-wrenching ache of having something he cherished ripped away from him again.

He had to find her. He had to find her now.

Olivia was in Boston, a five-hour journey from where he now was. Screw the house inspection. Just drive up, have it out with her now.

Where was she staying?

He thought about that. Had she told him? He couldn’t remember. That was another thing about having cell phones. You don’t worry so much about things like that. What difference did it make if she was staying at the Marriott or the Hilton? She was on a business trip. She would be moving about, out at meetings and dinners, rarely in her room.

Easiest, of course, to reach her by cell phone.

So now what?

He had no idea where she was staying. And even if he did, wouldn’t it make more sense to call first? For all he knew, that might not even be her hotel room he’d seen on the camera phone. It might have belonged to Blue-Black Hair. And suppose he did know the hotel. Suppose he did show up and pounded on the door and then, what, Olivia would open it in a negligee with Blue-Black standing behind her, a towel wrapped around his waist? Then what would Matt do? Beat the crap out of him? Point and shout “Aha!”?

He tried calling her on the camera phone again. Still no answer. He didn’t leave another message.

Why hadn’t Olivia told him where she was staying?

Pretty obvious now, isn’t it, Matt ol’ boy?

The red curtain came down over his eyes.


He tried her office, but the call went directly into her voice mail: “Hi, this is Olivia Hunter. I’ll be out of the office until Friday. If this is important, you can reach my assistant, Jamie Suh, by pressing her extension, six-four-four—”

That was what Matt did. Jamie answered on the third ring.

“Olivia Hunter’s line.”

“Hey, Jamie, it’s Matt.”

“Hi, Matt.”

He kept his hands on the wheel and talked using a hands-free, which always felt weird—like you’re a crazy person chatting with an imaginary friend. When you talk on a phone, you should be holding one. “Just got a quick question for you.”


“Do you know what hotel Olivia’s staying in?”

There was no reply.


“I’m here,” she said. “Uh, I can look it up, if you want to hold on. But why don’t you just call her cell? That’s the number she left if any client had an emergency.”

He was not sure how to reply to that without sounding somehow desperate. If he told her he had tried that and got the message, Jamie Suh would wonder why he couldn’t simply wait for her to reply. He wracked his brain for something that sounded plausible.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “But I want to send her flowers. You know, as a surprise.”

“Oh, I see.” There was little enthusiasm in her voice. “Is it a special occasion?”

“No.” Then he added extra-lamely: “But hey, the honeymoon is still on.” He laughed at his own pitiful line. Not surprisingly, Jamie did not.

There was a long silence.

“You still there?” Matt said.


“Could you tell me where she’s staying?”

“I’m looking it up now.” There was the tapping sound of her fingers on a keyboard. Then: “Matt?”


“I have another call coming in. Can I call you back when I find it?”

“Sure,” he said, not liking this at all. He gave her his cell phone number and hung up.

What the hell was going on?

His phone vibrated again. He checked the number. It was the office. Rolanda didn’t bother with hellos.

“Problem,” she said. “Where are you?”

“Just hitting Seventy-eight.”

“Turn around. Washington Street. Eva is getting evicted.”

He swore under his breath. “Who?”

“Pastor Jill is over there with those two beefy sons of hers. They threatened Eva.”

Pastor Jill. A woman who got her religious degree online and sets up “charities” where the youth can stay with her as long as they cough up enough in food stamps. The scams run on the poor are beyond reprehensible. Matt veered the car to the right.

Tags: Harlan Coben Thriller