Page 51 of The Innocent

Matt sat in a wheelchair. Olivia stood next to him. She looked straight forward, not at him. It was hot and sticky, but Olivia still stood with her arms wrapped around herself. She wore a sleeveless blouse and khaki pants. Her arms were toned and tan.

The taxi pulled up. Matt struggled to his feet. Olivia tried to help, but he waved her off. They both got into the backseat. Their bodies did not touch. They did not hold hands.

“Good evening,” the driver said, eyes in the rearview. “Where to?”

The driver was dark-skinned and spoke with some sort of African accent. Matt gave him their address in Irvington. The driver was chatty. He was from Ghana, he told them. He had six children. Two of them lived here with him, the rest were back in Ghana with his wife.

Matt tried to be responsive. Olivia stared out her window and said nothing. At one point Matt reached for her hand. She let him take it, but it felt lifeless.

“Did you visit Dr. Haddon?” Matt asked her.

“Yes.”

“And?”

“Everything is fine. It should be a normal pregnancy.”

From the front seat, the driver said, “Pregnancy? You’re having a baby?”

“Yes, we are,” Matt said.

“Is this your first?”

“Yes.”

“Such a blessing, my friend.”

“Thank you.”

They were in Irvington now, on Clinton Avenue. Up ahead the light turned red. The driver cruised to a stop.

“We make a right here, yes?”

Matt had been glancing out the window, preparing to say yes, when something snared his gaze. Their house was indeed down the street on the right. But that wasn’t what had captured his attention.

There was a police car parked on the street.

“Hold up a second,” Matt said.

“Pardon me?”

Matt cranked open the window. The police car’s engine was running. He wondered about that. He looked to the corner. Lawrence the Wino was staggering with his customary brown bag, singing the old Four Tops classic “Bernadette.”

Matt leaned out the window. “Hey, Lawrence.”

“. . . And never find the love I’ve found in y—” Lawrence stopped mid-lyric. He cupped his hand over his eyes and squinted. A smile broke out on his face. He stumbled toward them. “Matt, mah man! Look at you, all fine and fancy in a taxi.”

“Yep.”

“You been out drinking, right? I remember from before. Didn’t want to drink and drive, am I right?”

“Something like that, Lawrence.”

“Whoa.” Lawrence pointed to the bandage on Matt’s head. “What happened to you? You know who you look like, with your head wrapped like that?”

“Lawrence—”

“That dude marching in that old picture, the one playing the flute. Or is it the one on the snare? I can never remember. Had his head wrapped, just like you. What was that picture called again?”

Matt tried to get him on track. “Lawrence, do you see that cop car over there?”

“What”—he leaned closer—“he did that to you?”

“No, nothing like that. I’m fine, really.”

Lawrence was perfectly positioned to block the car’s view of Matt’s face. If the cop happened to look this way, he’d probably figure Lawrence was panhandling.

“How long has he been parked there?” Matt asked.

“I don’t know. Fifteen, twenty minutes maybe. Time flies by now, Matt. Older you get, the faster it goes by. You listen to Lawrence.”

“Has he gotten out of the car?”

“Who?”

“The cop.”

“Oh, sure. Knocked on your door too.” Lawrence smiled. “Oh, I see. You in trouble, ain’t you, Matt?”

“Me? I’m one of the good guys.”

Lawrence loved that one. “Oh, I know that. You have a good night now, Matt.” He leaned into the window a little. “You too, Liv.”

Olivia said, “Thank you, Lawrence.”

Lawrence saw her face and paused. He looked at Matt and straightened up. His voice grew softer. “You take care now.”

“Thanks, Lawrence.” Matt sat forward and tapped the driver. “Change of destination.”

The driver said, “Will I get in trouble for this?”

“Not at all. I was in an accident. They want to talk to me about how I got hurt. We’d rather wait until morning.”

The driver wasn’t buying it, but he didn’t seem ready to argue either. The light turned green. The taxi started up, heading straight instead of right.

“So where to?”

Matt gave him the address of MVD in Newark. He figured that they could pick up his car and find a place to go and talk. The question was, where? He checked his watch. It was three in the morning.

The driver pulled into MVD’s lot. “This is good, yes?”

“Fine, thanks.”

They got out of the car. Matt paid the man. Olivia said, “I’ll drive.”

“I’m fine.”

“Right, fine. You just got beaten up and you’re high on meds.” Olivia put out her palm. “Give me the keys.”

He did. They got into the car and started out.

“Where are we going?” Olivia asked.

“I’m going to call Marsha, see if we can crash there.”

“You’re going to wake up the kids.”

He managed a small smile. “Grenades in their pillows wouldn’t wake up those two.”

“And what about Marsha?”

“She won’t mind.”

But Matt suddenly hesitated. He really didn’t worry about waking Marsha—there had been plenty of late-night calls over the years—but now he wondered if she would be alone tonight, if maybe he wouldn’t be interrupting something. He also—and this was really weird—started worrying about something else right now.

Suppose Marsha got remarried.

Paul and Ethan were still young. Would they call the guy Daddy? Matt wasn’t sure if he could handle that. More to the point, what role would Uncle Matt have in this new life, this new family? All of this was silly, of course. He was getting way ahead of himself. It was hardly the time either, what with his other problems right now. But the thoughts were there, in his head, knocking to come out of some back closet.

He pulled out his cell phone and pushed the second number on his speed dial. As they hit Washington Avenue, Matt noticed two cars going past them in the opposite direction. He turned and watched them pull into the MVD lot. The cars were from the Essex County prosecutor’s office. They were the same make and model Loren had been using earlier in the evening.


Tags: Harlan Coben Thriller
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