Page 24 of The Innocent


“Thirty-two. We have a daughter that age.”

“I’m sorry,” Matt said again.

“Don’t be. It’s the flip side of what we said before. About intimacy and sex.”

“How so?”

“The truth is, like most women my age, I have very little interest in sex. Yes, I know Cosmo and the like will tell you differently, what with all that nonsense about men peaking at nineteen and women in their thirties. But in reality, men are always hornier. Period. To me sex no longer has anything to do with intimacy. Clark, on the other hand, needs it. So that’s all she is to him, this young girl. Sex. A release. A physical need.”

“And that doesn’t bother you?”

“It’s not about me.”

Matt said nothing.

“When you think about it, it’s simple: Clark needs something that I have no interest in providing. So he goes elsewhere.” Sonya saw the look on his face. She sighed, put her hands on her thighs. “Let me give you an example. If Clark loved, say, poker and I didn’t want to play . . .”

“Come on, Sonya. That’s not the same thing.”

“Oh, but isn’t it?”

“Sex and poker?”

“Okay, fine, let’s keep it on the physically pleasing. A professional massage. Clark gets rubdowns at his club every week from a masseur named Gary—”

“That’s not the same thing either.”

“But don’t you see? It is. Sex with this girl isn’t about intimacy. It’s just a physical thing. Like a back rub or a handshake. So shouldn’t it be okay with me?”

Sonya looked up at him and waited.

“It wouldn’t be okay with me,” Matt said.

There was a small smile on her lips. Sonya liked mind games. She liked a challenge. He wondered if she meant what she said or if she was merely testing him. “So what are you going to do?” she asked him.

“Olivia comes home tomorrow.”

“You think you can wait till then?”

“I’m going to try.”

Her eyes stayed on him.

“What?” he asked.

“We can’t escape it, can we? I thought . . .” She stopped.

“You thought what?”

Their eyes locked. “I know it’s a terrible cliché, but it all felt like a nightmare. The news about Stephen. The trial. I kept expecting to wake up and find it was all some cruel joke, that everything was okay.”

He’d felt the same way. He was stuck in a bad dream, waiting for the Candid Camera climax when Stephen would show up unharmed and smiling.

“But now the world feels like the opposite, doesn’t it, Matt?”

He nodded.

“Instead of believing the bad is a nightmare from which you’ll awaken,” she went on, “you think it’s the good that’s an illusion. And that’s what this call on your camera phone did. It woke you from the good dream.”

He could not speak.

“I know that I’ll never get past what happened,” Sonya McGrath said. “It’s simply not possible. But I thought . . . I hoped maybe you could.”

Matt waited for her to say more. She did not. She rose suddenly, as if she had said too much. They headed together for the exit. Sonya kissed him on the cheek and when they hugged, they both held on longer than usual. He could, as always, feel the devastation emanating from her. Stephen’s death was there, in every moment, in every gesture. He sat with them, their forever companion.

“If you need me,” she whispered, “you call. Anytime.”

“I will.”

He watched her walk away. He thought about what she had said, about the fine line between the good dreams and the bad, and then, when she finally disappeared around the corner, he turned away.

Chapter 12

WHEN MATT REACHED Rolanda’s desk, she said, “Cingle’s waiting in your office.”


“Midlife wants me to buzz him the very second you arrive.” Rolanda looked up. “Have you arrived yet?”

“Give me five.”

She turned back to the computer terminal and started typing. Matt entered. Cingle Shaker was standing looking at the window. “Nice view,” she said.

“You think?”

“Nah. That’s just my idea of small talk.”

“You’re very good at it,” he said.

“I thought you were just a paralegal.”

“I am.”

“So why the fancy digs?”

“It was my brother’s.”


“So Bernie was a big rainmaker here.”

“So?” Cingle turned toward him. “I don’t want to sound cold, but he’s dead.”

“I think you were being hard on yourself before. You really are good at this small talk stuff.”

“No, I mean, he’s been dead for, what, three years now? I can’t believe they let an ex-con paralegal keep a space like this.”

He smiled. “I knew what you meant.”

“So what gives?”

“Maybe they’re being respectful to my brother’s memory.”

“Attorneys?” Cingle made a face. “Please.”

“Actually,” he said, “I think they like having me around.”

“Because you’re such a nice guy?”

“Because of the ex-con angle. I’m a fun oddity.”

Cingle nodded. “Kinda like having a lesbian couple at your hoity-toity soiree.”

“Something like that, but even more exotic. It’s funny. In some ways I’m the ultimate curiosity. Whenever they’re drunk, they all ask me, on the sly, of course, what it’s really like for a guy like them to go to the”—he made quote marks with his fingers—“Big House.”

“You’re like a local celebrity.”

“In a bizarre way, yeah.”

“And that’s why they don’t throw you out of the office?”

He shrugged.

“They might also be afraid of you,” Cingle said. “You already killed one man with your bare hands.”

He sighed and took his seat. Cingle took hers.

“Sorry,” she said.

He waved her off. “What’s up?”

Cingle crossed her long legs. It was for effect, he knew that, but he wondered if it had become something of an unconscious move on her part. “So tell me,” she said. “Why did you want the license plate traced?”

Tags: Harlan Coben Thriller