Page 23 of The Innocent

He stood next to her and looked at the Hopper. It worked like a bizarre mirror. He saw them as the two isolated figures—he Hopper’s usher, she the lone patron. For a long time they didn’t speak. Matt glanced at Sonya McGrath’s profile. He had seen a photograph of her in the paper once, the Sunday New York Times Style section. Sonya McGrath was something of a socialite. In the photograph, her smile dazzled. He had never seen that smile in person—wondered, in fact, if it could exist anywhere but on film.

“You don’t look so good,” Sonya said.

She was not looking at him—had not, as far as he could tell, yet glanced his way—but he nodded anyway. Sonya faced him full.

Their relationship—though the term “relationship” didn’t seem to capture it—began a few years after Matt got out of prison. His phone would ring, he would pick it up, and there would be no one there. No hang-up. No words. Matt thought that maybe he could hear breathing, but mostly there was pure silence.

Somehow Matt knew who was on the other end.

The fifth time she called, Matt took several deep breaths before working up the courage to speak. “I’m sorry,” he said.

There was a long silence. Then Sonya replied, “Tell me what really happened.”

“I did. In court.”

“Tell me again. Everything.”

He tried. He took a long time. She stayed silent. When he finished she hung up.

The next day she called again. “I want to tell you about my son,” she said without preamble.

And she did.

Matt now knew more than he really wanted to know about Stephen McGrath. He was no longer merely a kid who stepped into a fight, the log jammed onto the track that sent Matt Hunter’s life off the rails. McGrath had two younger sisters who adored him. He loved playing guitar. He was a little hippy-ish—he got that, Sonya said with a trace of a laugh, from his mother. He was a great listener, that was what his friends always said. If they had a problem, they went to Stephen. He never needed to be the center of attention. He was content on the sidelines. He would laugh at your joke. He had gotten in trouble only once in his life—the police caught him and some buddies drinking behind the high school—but he had never gotten into a fight, not even as a kid, and seemed deathly afraid of physical violence.

During that same phone call, Sonya asked him, “Did you know that Stephen didn’t know any of the boys in the fight?”

“Yes.”

She started to cry then. “So why did he step in?”

“I don’t know.”

They first met in person here at the Newark Museum three years ago. They had coffee and barely spoke. A few months later, they stayed for lunch. It became a steady thing, every other Thursday morning in front of the Hopper. Neither of them had ever missed one.

At first they told no one. Sonya’s husband and daughters would never understand. Of course neither of them understood it either. Matt could never explain why these meetings meant so much to him. Most would assume that he did it purely out of guilt, that he did it for her or for redemption or something like that. But that wasn’t the case at all.

For two hours—that’s how long their meetings lasted—Matt felt strangely free because he ached and hurt and felt. He didn’t know what she got out of it, but he assumed that it was something similar. They talked about that night. They talked about their lives. They talked about the tentative steps, the feeling that the ground could give way at any time. Sonya never said, “I forgive you.” She never said that it wasn’t his fault, that it was an accident, that he served his time.

Sonya started down the corridor. Matt stared at the painting another second or two and then followed. They moved back downstairs and into the museum’s atrium. They grabbed coffee and sat at their usual table.

“So,” she said. “Tell me what’s going on.”

She didn’t say this to be polite or as an icebreaker. This was not about how-are-you-fine-and-you? Matt told her everything. He told this woman, Sonya McGrath, things he told no one else. He never lied to her, never fudged or edited.

When he was done, Sonya asked, “Do you think Olivia is having an affair?”

“The evidence seems pretty clear.”

“But?”

“But I’ve learned that evidence rarely gives you the full picture.”

Sonya nodded. “You should call her again,” she said.

“I did.”

“Try the hotel.”

“I did.”

“Not there?”

“She wasn’t registered.”

“There are two Ritz-Carltons in Boston.”

“I tried them both.”

“Ah.” She sat back and put her hand on her chin. “So you know that, in some way, Olivia is not being truthful.”

“Yes.”

Sonya considered that. She had never met Olivia, but she knew more about Matt’s relationship with her than anyone. She looked off.

“What?” he said.

“I’m just trying to find a plausible reason for her behavior.”

“And?”

“And so far I’ve come up with nothing.” She shrugged and took a sip of her coffee. “I’ve always found your relationship with Olivia an oddity.”

“How so?”

“The way you hooked up ten years after a one-night stand.”

“It wasn’t a one-night stand. We didn’t sleep together.”

“Which may be the point.”

“I don’t get what you mean.”

“If you slept together, well, the spell might have been broken. People claim that making love is the most intimate thing in the world. In truth, it’s probably the opposite.”

He waited.

“Well, this is an odd coincidence,” she said.

“Why’s that?”

“Clark is having an affair.”

Matt didn’t ask her if she was sure or how she knew. He simply said, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not what you think.”

He said nothing.

“It has nothing to do with what happened to our son.”

Matt tried to nod.

“We like to blame Stephen’s death for all our problems. He’s become our big life’s-not-fair card. But the reason behind Clark’s affair is far more basic.”

“That being?”

“He’s horny.”

She smiled. Matt tried to smile back.

“Oh, did I mention that she’s young? The girl Clark is sleeping with?”


Tags: Harlan Coben Thriller
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