Page 47 of The Innocent

Talley put both the stun gun and brass knuckles on the night table. He went back to his movie, still holding out hope that the porno flick would improve. Every once in a while he would glance at his weapons. There was arousal there too, no doubt about it.

He tried to think about what to do next.

Twenty minutes later, there was a knock on his hotel room door. He checked the bedside clock. It was nearly one in the morning. He quietly slid off the bed.

There was another knock now, more urgent.

He tiptoed to the door.

“Talley? You in there? We need to talk.”

He peeked through the peephole. What the . . . ?

It was Matt Hunter!

Panic flooded in. How the hell had Hunter tracked him down?

“Please open up, Talley. I just want to talk to you, that’s all.”

Talley did not think. He reacted. He said, “One second.”

Then he crept back toward the bed and slipped the brass knuckles on his left hand. In the right, he held the cell phone to his ear, as if he were in the middle of the conversation. He reached for the knob. Before he turned, he looked into the peephole.

Matt Hunter was still there.

Talley planned his next three moves. That was what the greats did. They planned ahead.

He would open the door, pretending he was on the phone. He would signal for Hunter to come forward. As soon as he was in range, Talley would hit him with the stun gun. He’d aim for the chest—a big target with the most surface area. At the same time he’d have the left hand prepared. With the brass knuckles, he’d use an uppercut to the ribs.

Charles Talley opened the door.

He started talking on the phone, pretending someone was on the other line. “Right,” Talley said into the stun gun. “Right, okay.”

He gestured with his chin for Matt Hunter to step inside.

And that was exactly what Matt Hunter did.

Chapter 28

MATT HESITATED in the doorway to Room 515 but not for very long.

He had no choice here. He couldn’t stay in the corridor and try to talk to him. So he started to move inside. He still was not sure how to present this, what role Talley was playing. Matt had decided to play it fairly straight and see where it led. Did Talley know he was part of a setup? Was he the guy in the video—and if so, why had the other picture been taken at an earlier time?

Matt entered.

Charles Talley was still talking on his mobile phone. As the door started to close, Matt said, “I think we can help each other out.”

And that was when Charles Talley touched his chest with the cell phone.

It felt like Matt’s entire body had suddenly short-circuited. His spine jolted upright. His fingers splayed. His toes went rigid. His eyes widened.

He wanted the cell phone away. Off him. But he couldn’t move. His brain shouted. His body would not listen.

The gun, Matt thought. Get your gun.

Charles Talley reeled back a fist. Matt could see it. Again he tried to move, tried to at least turn away, but the electrical voltage must have stopped certain brain synapses from firing. His body simply wouldn’t obey.

Talley punched him in the bottom point of the rib cage.

The blow landed against the bone like a sledgehammer. The pain burst through him. Matt, already falling, dropped onto his back.

He blinked, his eyes watering, and looked up into the smiling face of Charles Talley.

The gun . . . get the damn gun. . . .

But his muscles were in spasm.

Calm yourself. Just relax. . . .

Standing over him, Talley had the cell phone in one hand. He wore brass knuckles on the other.

Matt idly wondered about his own cell phone. The one on his belt. Cingle was on the other end, listening. He opened his mouth to call out to her.

Talley hit him again with what must have been a stun gun.

The volts raced through his nervous system. His muscles, including those in his jaws, contracted and quaked uncontrollably.

His words, his cry for help, never made it out.

Charles Talley smiled down at him. He showed him the fist with the brass knuckles. Matt could only look up and stare.

In prison, some of the guards used to carry stun guns. They worked, Matt had learned, by overloading and thus disrupting the internal communication system. The current mimics the body’s own natural electrical impulses, confusing them, telling the muscles to do a great deal of work, depleting energy.

The victim is left helpless.

Matt watched Talley pull back his fist. He wanted to grab his Mauser M2 and blow the bastard away. The weapon was just there, in his waistband, but it might as well have been out of state.

The fist headed toward him.

Matt wanted simply to raise an arm, wanted to roll away, wanted to do anything. He couldn’t. Talley’s punch was aimed straight for Matt’s chest. Matt watched as it moved as though it were in slow motion.

The knuckles smashed into his sternum.

It felt as if the bones had caved in on his heart. Like his sternum was made of Styrofoam. Matt opened his mouth in a silent, anguished scream. His air was gone. His eyes rolled back.

When Matt’s eyes finally regained focus, the brass knuckles were heading toward his face.

Matt struggled, but he was weak. Too weak. His muscles still wouldn’t obey. His internal communication network remained shut down. But something primitive, something base, was still there, still had enough survival instincts to at the very least turn away from the blow.

The brass knuckles scraped off the back of his skull. The skin burst open. Pain exploded in his head. His eyes closed. This time they did not reopen. From somewhere far away he heard a voice, a familiar voice, shout, “No!” But that was probably not real. Between the electrical currents and the physical punishment, the brain’s wiring was probably conjuring up all sorts of strange delusions.

There was another blow. Maybe another. Maybe there were more, but Matt was too far away to notice.

Chapter 29

“TALLEY? You in there? We need to talk.”

Cingle Shaker perked up when she heard Matt’s voice through the cell phone. The sound wasn’t great, but she could make out enough.

“Please open up, Talley. I just want to talk to you, that’s all.”

The reply was muffled. Too muffled to make out. Cingle tried to clear her head and concentrate. Her car sat double-parked by the front entrance. It was late. Nobody would bother her.

She debated heading inside now. That would be the smart play. Matt was on the fifth floor. If something went wrong, it would take her a while to get up there. But Matt had been fairly adamant. He felt his best chance was to brace this Talley guy alone. If she was spotted before they talked, that would only complicate matters.

Tags: Harlan Coben Thriller