Page 69 of The Innocent

The gun was there.

Matt risked a peek.

The cop was staring directly at him.

Or at least he appeared to be. Matt quickly pulled back. Had the cop seen him? Hard to say. He waited for someone to yell, “Hey, he’s right there, right in the next yard behind that toolshed!”

Nothing happened.

He wanted to take another look.

He couldn’t risk it.

He stayed and waited.

Then he heard a voice—another cop, he guessed: “Sam, you see some—?”

The voice cut out like a radio turned off.

Matt held his breath. He strained his ears. Footsteps? Was he hearing footsteps? He couldn’t say for sure. He debated sneaking another glance. If they were on their way toward him, what harm would it do? Either way he’d be nailed.

It was too quiet back here.

If the cops were actively searching for him, they’d be calling out to one another. If they were being quiet, quiet like this, there was only one explanation.

He’d been spotted. They were sneaking up on him.

Matt listened again.

Something jangled. Like something on a policeman’s belt.

No question now—they were coming for him. His heart picked up pace. He could feel it hammering in his chest. Caught. Again. He pictured what would happen: the rough handling, the handcuffs, the back of the cruiser . . .

Jail.

Fear gripped him. They were coming. They’d take him away and throw him back into that pit. They’d never listen. They’d lock him up. He was an ex-con. Another man was dead after a fight with Matt Hunter. Forget everything else. This one would be a slam dunk.

And what would happen to Olivia if he was caught?

He couldn’t even explain the truth, even if he wanted to, because then she would end up in jail. And if there was one thing that terrified him more than his own incarceration . . .

Matt wasn’t sure how it happened, but suddenly the Mauser M2 was in his hand.

Calm down, he told himself. We’re not shooting anybody here.

But he could still use the threat, couldn’t he? Except that there were several cops here, four or five at a minimum, more probably on the way. They’d draw their weapons too. Then what? Were Paul and Ethan awake?

He slid to the back part of the toolshed. He risked a peek out from the back.

Two cops were no more than six feet away from him.

He had been spotted. No way around that. They were headed right toward him.

There was no escape.

Matt gripped the gun and got ready to sprint when his gaze was snagged by something in Marsha’s backyard.

It was Kyra.

She must have been watching the whole time. She was standing near her door at the garage. Their eyes met. Matt saw something that looked like a small smile on her face. He almost shook his head no, but he didn’t.

Kyra screamed.

The scream shattered the air and rang in the ears. The two cops turned toward her—and away from him. She screamed again. The cops sprinted toward her.

“What’s wrong?” one of the cops yelled.

Matt did not hesitate now. He used Kyra’s diversion and sprinted in the opposite direction, toward the woods. She screamed again. Matt never looked back, not until he was deep in the trees.

Chapter 43

SITTING WITH HER FEET on her desk, Loren Muse decided to call Max Darrow’s widow.

It was three or four in the morning in Nevada—Loren could never remember if Nevada was two hours or three behind—but she suspected that a woman whose husband gets murdered probably sleeps uneasily.

She dialed the number. It went into voice mail. A man’s voice said, “Max and Gertie can’t answer your call right now. We’re probably out fishing. Leave a message, okay?”

The voice from the grave made her pause. Max Darrow, retired cop, was a human being. Simple, but you forget that sometimes. You get caught up in the details, in the puzzle pieces. A life has been lost here. Gertie will have to change that message. She and Max won’t be going fishing anymore. Sounded like a small thing but it was a life, a struggle, a world now shattered.

Loren left a message with her phone number and hung up.

“Hey, what are you working on?”

It was Adam Yates, the FBI chief from Vegas. He’d driven to the county prosecutor’s office with her after their meeting with Joan Thurston. Loren looked up at him. “Just a few strange developments.”

“Such as?”

She told him about her conversation with Cingle Shaker. Yates grabbed a chair from a nearby desk. He sat, never taking his eyes off hers. He was one of those guys. Big on eye contact.

When she finished, Yates frowned. “I just can’t see how this Hunter guy fits in.”

“He should be in custody soon. Maybe we’ll learn something then.”

Yates nodded, kept up with the eye contact.

Loren said, “What?”

“This case,” Yates said. His voice was soft now. “It means a great deal to me.”

“Any reason in particular?”

“Do you have children?” he asked.

“No.”

“Married?”

“No.”

“You gay?”

“Jesus, Yates.”

He held up his hand. “That was stupid, sorry.”

“Why all the questions?”

“You don’t have kids. I don’t think you’ll understand.”

“Are you for real?”

Yates held up the hand again. “I don’t mean that the way it sounded. I’m sure you’re a good person and all.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“It’s just that . . . when you have kids, it just changes things.”

“Do me a favor, Yates. Please don’t give me that having-children-alters-you spiel. I listen to that crap enough from my painfully few friends.”

“It’s not that.” He paused. “Actually I think single people make better cops. You can focus.”

“Speaking of which . . .” She picked up some papers and pretended to be busy.

“Let me ask you something, Muse.”

She waited.

“When you wake up,” Yates went on, “who’s the first person you think about?”

“Excuse me?”

“Okay, it’s morning. You open your eyes. You start getting out of bed. Who is the first person you think about?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“Well, not to be insulting, but the answer is you, right? There’s nothing wrong with that. You think about you. That’s normal. All single people do that. You wake up and wonder what you’re going to do that day. Oh, sure, you might take care of an elderly parent or something. But here’s the thing. When you have a child, you are never number one again. Someone is more important than you. It changes your worldview. It has to. You think you know about protect and serve. But when you have a family . . .”


Tags: Harlan Coben Thriller
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