Page 54 of The Innocent

“What?”

“With all due respect, sir, I don’t feel comfortable talking with the authorities here.”

She heard Seward sigh. “Guess who just called me, Cingle. Guess who called me at home at three in the morning.”

“Mr. Seward—”

“Actually, no, don’t guess. I’ll tell you because, hey, it’s three in the morning and I’m too tired for games. Ed Steinberg. Ed Steinberg himself called me. Do you know who that is?”

“Yes.”

“Ed Steinberg is the Essex County prosecutor.”

“I know.”

“He’s also been my friend for twenty-eight years.”

“I know that too.”

“Good, Cingle, then we’re on the same wavelength here. MVD is a business. A very successful business, or so I like to think. And a big part of our effectiveness—yours and mine—depends on working with these people. So when Ed Steinberg calls me at home at three in the morning and tells me he’s working on a triple homicide—”

“Hold up,” Cingle said. “Did you say triple?”

“You see? You don’t even know how deep this doo-doo goes. Ed Steinberg, my old pal, very much wants your cooperation. That means I, your boss, very much want your cooperation. Do I make myself clear?”

“I guess so.”

“Guess? What, am I being too subtle here, Cingle?”

“There are mitigating factors.”

“Not according to Steinberg. Steinberg tells me this all involves some ex-con. That true?”

“He works at Carter Sturgis.”

“Is he a lawyer?”

“No, he’s a paralegal.”

“And he served time for manslaughter?”

“Yes, but—”

“Then there’s nothing to discuss. There’s no privilege here. Tell them what they want to know.”

“I can’t.”

“Can’t?” There was an edge in Seward’s tone now. “I don’t like to hear that.”

“It’s not that simple, Mr. Seward.”

“Well, then let me simplify it for you, Cingle. You have two choices: Talk or clean out your desk. Bye now.”

He hung up the phone. Cingle eyed Loren. Loren smiled at her.

“Everything all right, Ms. Shaker?”

“Peachy.”

“Good. Because as we speak, our techno people are on their way to MVD’s office. They’ll comb through your hard drive. They’ll scrutinize every document you’ve got in there. Prosecutor Steinberg is right now calling back your boss. He’ll find out what files you accessed recently, who you talked to, where you’ve been, what you’ve been working on.”

Cingle stood slowly, towering over Loren. Loren did not back up a step. “I have nothing more to say.”

“Cingle?”

“What?”

“Sit your ass down.”

“I prefer to stand.”

“Fine. Then listen up because we’re coming to the end of our conversation. Did you know I went to school with Matt Hunter? Elementary school, actually. I liked him. He was a good kid. And if he’s innocent, nobody will be more anxious to clear his name than yours truly. But your keeping mum like this, well, Cingle, it suggests you might be hiding something. We have Talley’s brass knuckles. We know Matt Hunter was at the murder scene tonight. We know he got into some kind of fight in Room 515—that was Mr. Talley’s room. We also know that Mr. Hunter was out drinking at two bars this evening. We know that the DNA test on the brass knuckles will show that the blood is Hunter’s. And, of course, we know that Mr. Hunter, a convicted felon, has something of a history of getting into fights where someone ends up dead.”

Cingle sighed. “Is there a point to this?”

“Sure is, Cingle, and here it comes: Do you really think I need your help to nail him?”

Cingle started tapping her foot, looking for a way out. “Then what do you want from me?”

“Help.”

“Help with what?”

“Tell me the truth,” Loren said. “That’s all I ask. Hunter is already as good as indicted. Once he’s in the system—him being an ex-con and all—well, you know how that’ll go.”

She did. Matt would freak. He’d go nuts if they lock him up—his greatest fear come to fruition.

Loren moved a little closer. “If you know something that might help him,” she said, “now is the time to say it.”

Cingle tried to think it through. She almost trusted this little cop, but she knew better. That was what Muse wanted—playing good cop and bad cop in one package. Christ, an amateur could see through this charade and yet Cingle was almost ready to bite.

Key word: almost.

But Cingle also knew that once they got into her office computer, there would be huge problems. The last files she accessed were the photographs from Matt’s cell phone. Pictures of the murder victim. A video of the murder victim and Matt Hunter’s wife.

Those would be the final nails in any ex-con’s coffin.

As Investigator Muse had pointed out, they already had enough with the physical evidence. The photographs would add one thing more: motive.

Cingle had her own career to worry about too. This had started out as a favor to a friend, just another case. But how far was she willing to go? What should she be willing to sacrifice? And if Matt had nothing to do with the murder of Charles Talley, wouldn’t cooperating right from the get-go help bring the truth to light?

Cingle sat back down.

“You have something to say?”

“I want to call my lawyer,” Cingle said. “Then I’ll tell you everything I know.”

Chapter 34

“I HAVEN’T CHARGED you with anything,” Loren said.

Cingle crossed her arms. “Let’s not play semantics games, okay? I asked for my lawyer. The interview is over. The end. El fin.”

“If you say so.”

“I say so. Get me a phone, please.”

“You’re entitled to call an attorney.”

“That’s who I plan on calling.”

Loren thought about this. She didn’t want Cingle warning Hunter. “You mind if I dial the number for you?”

“Suit yourself,” Cingle said. “I’ll need a phone book though.”

“You don’t know your attorney’s home number by heart?”

“No, sorry.”

It took another five minutes. Loren dialed and handed her the phone. She could always check the call log later, make sure she didn’t sneak another call in. She turned off the microphone and moved into the monitoring room. Cingle, wise in the ways of the camera, turned her back to the lens, just in case someone could read lips.


Tags: Harlan Coben Thriller
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