Page 34 of The Innocent

Pete smiled at him. Matt relaxed the fist. The cops all stayed in place.

“Hey, Pete.”

“Hey, Matt.”

“Good to see you, man.”

“You too,” Pete said. “Look, I’m getting off now. Why don’t I give you a lift home, okay?”

Matt looked at the cops. Several were red-faced, ready to go. He turned back to his old friend. “That’s okay, Pete. I’ll find my way.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Look, man, sorry if I caused you any trouble.”

Pete nodded. “Good to see you.”

“You too.”

Matt waited. Two of the cops made a space. He did not look back as he walked out into the lot. He sucked in the night air and started down the street. Soon he broke into a run.

He had a specific destination in mind.

Chapter 17

LANCE BANNER WAS still smiling at Loren. “Come on, get in,” he said. “We’ll talk.”

She took one more look at Marsha Hunter’s house and then slid into the passenger seat. Lance started driving around the old neighborhood.

“So,” he said, “what did you want with Matt’s sister-in-law?”

She swore Lance to secrecy but still tossed him only the bare bones—that she was investigating the suspicious death of Sister Mary Rose, that they weren’t sure that there was even a murder yet, that Sister Mary Rose had possibly placed a phone call to Marsha Hunter’s residence. She did not tell him about the implants or the fact that they didn’t know the nun’s real identity.

For his part, Lance informed her that Matt Hunter was married now, that he currently worked as a “low-level, shat-upon” paralegal in his brother’s old law firm. Matt Hunter’s wife, Lance said, was from Virginia or Maryland, he couldn’t remember which. Lance also added, with a little too much enthusiasm, that he would be happy to help Loren look into this case.

Loren told him not to bother, that this was her investigation, that if he thought of something he should let her know. Lance nodded and drove her back to her own car.

Before Loren stepped out, she said, “Do you remember him? I mean, as a kid?”

“Hunter?” Lance frowned. “Yeah, sure, I remember him.”

“He seemed like a pretty straight shooter.”

“So do a lot of killers.”

Loren reached for the door handle, shaking her head. “You really believe that?”

Lance said nothing.

“I read something the other day,” Loren said. “I don’t remember the details, but the basic premise was that by the age of five, much of our future self is determined: how well we’ll do in schools, if we’ll grow up to be a criminal, our capacity to love. You buy that, Lance?”

“Don’t know,” he said. “Don’t much care.”

“You’ve caught a lot of bad guys, right?”

“Yeah.”

“You ever look into their past?”

“Sometimes.”

“Seems to me,” Loren said, “that I always find something. There’s usually a pretty obvious case of past psychosis or trauma. On the news, the neighbors are always like, ‘Gee, I didn’t know that nice man was chopping up little kids—he always seemed so polite.’ But you go back, you ask their schoolteachers, you ask their childhood friends, they almost always tell a different story. They’re never surprised.”

Lance nodded.

“So what about it?” she asked. “You see anything in his past that makes Matt Hunter a killer?”

Lance thought about it. “If it was all determined by the age of five, we wouldn’t have jobs.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Best I can do. You try to profile based on how a third-grader played on the monkey bars, we’re all screwed.”

He had a point. Either way Loren needed to keep her eye on the ball—right now that meant tracking down Matt Hunter. She got back into her car and started south. There was still time to get to Lockwood Corp. in Wilmington, Delaware, before it was too dark.

She tried to reach Matt Hunter at the law firm, but he was gone for the day. She called his house and left a message on the machine: “Matt, this is Loren Muse. I’m an investigator with the Essex County prosecutor’s office. We knew each other a lifetime ago, at Burnet Hill. Could you give me a call as soon as possible?”

She left both her mobile and office numbers before hanging up.

The usually two-hour ride to Delaware took her an hour and twenty minutes. Loren didn’t use the siren, but she did keep the small detachable flashing blue light on for the entire journey. She liked speeding—what’s the point in being in law enforcement if you can’t drive fast and carry a gun?

Randal Horne’s office was a cookie-cut attorney spread. His firm took up three floors in a warehouse of office buildings, one next to the other, an unending drone of boxed sameness.

The receptionist at Horne, Buckman and Pierce, a classic battle-ax who was comfortably past her prime, eyed Loren as if she’d recognized her from a sex offender poster. Full frown in place, the battle-ax told her to sit.

Randal Horne kept her waiting for a full twenty minutes—a classic, if not transparent, lawyer mind game. She passed the time reading the thrilling magazine selection, which consisted of various issues of The Third Branch, the newsletter of federal courts, and the American Bar Association Journal. Loren sighed. What she wouldn’t give for something with Lindsay, or Colin, on the cover.

Horne finally came out to the reception area and moved so that he stood directly over her. He was younger than she’d imagined, though he had that kind of shiny face Loren usually associated with Botox or Jermaine Jackson. His hair was a little too long, slicked back and curling around the neck. His suit was impeccable, though the lapels looked a little wide. Maybe that was back in.

He skipped the introductions: “I don’t really see that we have anything to discuss, Ms. Muse.”

Randal Horne stood close to her so that she couldn’t really stand. That was okay. He was trying to do the height thing with her. Loren was all of five-one as it was, so she was used to it. Part of her was tempted to smash her palm into his groin, just to get him to back up, but no, let him have his play.

The battle-ax receptionist—she looked about fifteen years too old to play the prison matron in B-movies—watched the scene play out, the hint of a smile on her dry, lipstick-caked lips.

Loren said, “I’d like the identity of the woman who purchased the breast implants with the serial number 89783348.”


Tags: Harlan Coben Thriller
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