Page 6 of The Innocent

Three days after they bought the camera phones, Olivia came home and headed straight upstairs. Matt poured a glass of lime-flavored seltzer and grabbed a few of those cigar-shaped pretzels. Five minutes later he followed her. Olivia wasn’t in the bedroom. He checked the small office. She was on the computer. Her back was to him.

“Olivia?”

She turned to him and smiled. Matt had always disdained that old cliché about a smile lighting up a room, but Olivia could actually do that—had that whole “turn the world on with her smile” thing going on. Her smile was contagious. It was a startling catalyst, adding color and texture to his life, altering everything in a room.

“What are you thinking?” Olivia asked him.

“That you’re smoking hot.”

“Even pregnant?”

“Especially pregnant.”

Olivia hit a button, and the screen vanished. She stood and gently kissed his cheek. “I have to pack.”

Olivia was heading to Boston on a business trip.

“What time is your flight?” he asked.

“I think I’m going to drive.”

“Why?”

“A friend of mine miscarried after a plane ride. I just don’t want to chance it. Oh, and I’m going to see Dr. Haddon tomorrow morning before I go. He wants to reconfirm the test and make sure everything is all right.”

“You want me to go?”

She shook her head. “You have work. Come next time, when they do a sonogram.”

“Okay.”

Olivia kissed him again, her lips lingering. “Hey,” she whispered. “You happy?”

He was going to crack a joke, make another double entendre. But he didn’t. He looked straight into those eyes and said, “Very.”

Olivia moved back, still holding him steady with that smile. “I better pack.”

Matt watched her walk away. He stayed in the doorway for another moment. There was a lightness in his chest. He was indeed happy, which scared the hell out of him. The good is fragile. You learn that when you kill a boy. You learn that when you spend four years in a maximum-security facility.

The good is so flimsy, so tenuous, that it can be destroyed with a gentle puff.

Or the sound of a phone.

Matt was at work when the camera phone vibrated.

He glanced at the caller ID and saw that it was Olivia. Matt still sat at his old partner desk, the kind where two people face each other, though the other side had been empty for three years now. His brother, Bernie, had bought the desk when Matt got out of prison. Before what the family euphemistically called “the slip,” Bernie had big ideas for the two of them, the Hunter Brothers. He wanted nothing to change now. Matt would put those years behind him. The slip had been a bump in the road, nothing more, and now the Hunter Brothers were back on track.

Bernie was so convincing that Matt almost started to believe it.

The brothers shared that desk for six years. They practiced law in this very room—Bernie lucrative corporate while Matt, barred from being a real attorney because he’d been a convicted felon, handled the direct opposite, neither lucrative nor corporate. Bernie’s law partners found the arrangement odd, but privacy was something neither brother craved. They had shared a bedroom for their entire childhood, Bernie on the top bunk, a voice from above in the dark. Both longed for those days again—or at least, Matt did. He was never comfortable alone. He was comfortable with Bernie in the room.

For six years.

Matt put both palms on the mahogany top. He should have gotten rid of the desk by now. Bernie’s side had not been touched in three years, but sometimes Matt still looked across and expected to see him.

The camera phone vibrated again.

One moment Bernie had it all—a terrific wife, two terrific boys, the big house in the burbs, partnership in a big law firm, good health, loved by everyone—the next his family was throwing dirt on his grave and trying to make sense of what happened. A brain aneurysm, the doctor said. You walk around with it for years and then, bam, it ends your life.

The phone was on “Vibrate-Ring.” The vibrate ended and the ringer started playing the old TV Batman song, the one with the clever lyrics that basically consisted of going nah-nah-nah for a while and then shouting “Batman!”

Matt pulled the new camera phone off his belt.

His finger hovered over the answer button. This was sort of weird. Olivia, despite being in the computer business, was terrible with all things technical. She’d rarely used the phone and when she did, well, she knew Matt was at the office. She’d call him on his landline.

Matt pressed down on the answer button, but the message appeared telling him that a photograph was “incoming.” This, too, was curious. For all her initial excitement, Olivia had not yet learned how to use the camera feature.

His intercom sounded.

Rolanda—Matt would call her a secretary or assistant but then she’d hurt him—cleared her throat. “Matt?”

“Yes.”

“Marsha is on line two.”

Still looking at the screen, Matt picked up the office phone to talk to his sister-in-law, Bernie’s widow.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” Marsha said. “Is Olivia still in Boston?”

“Yep. In fact, right now, I think she’s sending me a photo on our new cell phone.”

“Oh.” There was a brief pause. “Are you still coming out today?”

In another move signaling familyhood, Matt and Olivia were closing on a house not far from Marsha and the boys. The house was located in Livingston, the town where Bernie and Matt grew up.

Matt had questioned the wisdom of returning. People had long memories. No matter how many years passed, he would always be the subject of whispers and innuendo. On the one hand, Matt was long past caring about that petty stuff. On the other, he worried about Olivia and about his upcoming child. The curse of the father visited upon the son and all that.

But Olivia understood the risks. This was what she wanted.

More than that, the somewhat high-strung Marsha had—he wondered what euphemism to use here—issues. There had been a brief breakdown a year after Bernie’s sudden death. Marsha had “gone to rest”—another euphemism—for two weeks while Matt moved in and took care of the boys. Marsha was fine now—that was what everyone said—but Matt still liked the idea of staying close.

Today was the physical inspection of the new house. “I should be out in a little while. Why, what’s up?”


Tags: Harlan Coben Thriller
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