She smiled at me when I told her to keep the change, and I thought, I almost said it at the restaurant. I had nearly told Pen, “I love you.” A few more long kisses under the great oak tree and I might have. I had prided myself on not using those three words without meaning it. Prided myself on not being one of those guys. I could count on one hand the times I had actually told a woman “I love you” and the one time when I woulda, coulda, shoulda said it and didn’t. I wondered if this was going to be another one of those times as I sipped my coffee. I had not seen Pen for several hours, and so much had happened since then. Yet I was still thinking about her. I could still feel her presence.


I flashed on Nina. Had I told her that I loved her? I didn’t think so, but maybe I had. I couldn’t recall. I adored Nina, yet I hadn’t made any promises to her, nor had she made any to me. My impression: She didn’t want promises, she didn’t want a committment. She had been married. She had been in a long-term relationship. Both had ended ugly, and she was determined to avoid a three-peat. Which meant we were just friends, right? Which meant we were both free agents. Right? I decided not to think about it.

I liked the mocha so much I bought another and took it back to my room. Listening to the tape again, I heard Sykora arrive home. “Pen? Penelope?” He called her name like he was both surprised and disappointed that she hadn’t answered. Movement followed. I heard the sound of clinking glass, a refrigerator door opening, ice in a glass, liquid being poured. I wondered what Sykora was drinking. Whatever it was, he had two of them.

Later, lightheaded from the alcohol and caffeine, I thought I could make it work. I could live out my days as Jake Greene. Pen would leave Sykora and we would go away together. It would be a good life, an exemplary life. We’d be kind to each other. Loving. I’d find a way to reclaim my money and we’d buy a house, a cottage. She’d write Grammy-winning songs and I’d—I’d do what? Go into business. Buy a Subway franchise and hire some kids to run it for me. Or a bookstore. Or a music store. Maybe I could just keep doing what I was doing now. Favors for friends. Only Jake had no friends. At least none that I knew of. No Bobby, no Shelby, no backyard neighbors to flirt with. No Nina. And Shelby’s girls. Who was going to teach them the value of junk food and frivolous behavior? And what about the ducks?

That’s where it broke down, the fantasy, the wide-awake dream as phony as the driver’s license and credit cards I carried in my borrowed wallet. I wouldn’t be McKenzie anymore. And I liked McKenzie. He’d had his ups and downs over the years, but he was a good guy—like his father and Mr. Mosley had been good guys. Jacob Greene wasn’t a good guy. He was a liar. A fake. A fraud. He was willing to go to bed with another man’s wife.

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I was getting drifty when a loud noise snapped me back to full consciousness. It came from the receiver. Pen’s door opening and closing loudly.

“Where have you been?”

“Steve! You startled me. What are you doing sitting in the dark?”

“I’m sorry. It’s just when I came home and found that you weren’t here—my stomach is killing me. Where were you?”

“I went to dinner like I said I would. After I came back, I went for a long walk.”

“I’m sorry about dinner.”

“It’s okay.”

“Can I get you anything? A drink …”



“Steve, I’ve been thinking.”

“You have? Umm, what have you been thinking?”

“You and I should go back to New York. We should leave right away.”

“Oh, God …”

“Are you okay?”

“Oh, God …”


“I’m all right. Let me, let me—I have to sit down. Oh, man—my stomach just did a somersault.”

“What is it?”

“It’s all right. I was—I was just frightened for a minute.”

“What about?”

“I thought you were going to leave me. I thought you were going to ask for a divorce.”

“A divorce?”

“After we spoke on the phone and you hung up I started thinking, ‘She’s going to leave me. I’ve been treating her like crap for six months and now she’s going to leave me.’ And when you said you’d been thinking—I’ve never been so frightened in my life. I’ve had guys shoot at me and I haven’t been so scared.”

“I wouldn’t leave you, Steve. I love you.”

“Thank you. Thank you, yes. I love you, too. I love you more than anything. I forgot that for a while, and I’m sorry. I really am.”

“It’s all right.”

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