Your mother faints. Your father tries to be strong. Your sister runs out of the courtroom. Your brother, Bernie, stands frozen.
You are put in handcuffs and taken away. Your upbringing does little to prepare you for what lies ahead. You have watched TV and have heard all the tales of prison rape. That does not happen--no sexual assault--but you are beaten with fists during your first week. You make the mistake of identifying who did it. You get beaten twice more and spend three weeks in the infirmary. Years later, you will still sometimes find blood in your urine, a souvenir from a blow to the kidney.
You live in constant fear. When you are let back into the general population, you learn that the only way you can survive is to join a bizarre offshoot of the Aryan Nation. They do not have big ideas or a grandiose vision of what America should be like. They pretty much just love to hate.
Six months into your incarceration your father dies of a heart attack. You know that it's your fault. You want to cry, but you can't.
You spend four years in prison. Four years--the same amount of time most students spend in college. You are just shy of your twenty-fifth birthday. They say you've changed, but you're not really sure.
When you walk out, you step tentatively. As if the ground below your feet might give. As if the earth might simply cave in on you at any time.
In some ways you will always walk like that.
Your brother, Bernie, is at the gate to meet you. Bernie just got married. His wife, Marsha, is pregnant with their first child. He puts his arms around you. You can almost feel the last four years shed away. Your brother makes a joke. You laugh, really laugh, for the first time in so long.
You were wrong before--your life did not end on that cold night in Amherst. Your brother will help you find normalcy. You will even meet a beautiful woman down the road. Her name is Olivia. She will make you enormously happy.
You will marry her.
One day--nine years after you walk through those gates--you will learn that your beautiful wife is pregnant. You decide to buy camera phones to stay in constant touch. While you're at work, that phone rings.
Your name is Matt Hunter. The phone rings a second time. And then you answer it. . . .
Copyright Harlan Coben 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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