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Книга Third Degree. Содержание - Greg Iles Third Degree

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Greg Iles

Third Degree

Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh

Genesis 2:23

Chapter 1

Floating in the half-world between sleep and wakefulness, Laurel reached down and slipped her hand into the crack between the mahogany bed rail and the box springs, searching…searching for her connection to life. The cool metal of the Razr pricked her nervous system enough to make her freeze; a millisecond later she was fully awake and turning her head slowly on the pillow-

Her husband’s side of the bed was empty. In fact, it looked as though Warren had not come to bed at all. Resisting the compulsion to check the Razr for a text message, she slipped the cell phone back into its hiding place, then rolled out of bed and padded quickly to the bedroom door.

The hall was empty, but she heard sounds from the direction of the den. Not kid sounds… something else, a strange thumping. Laurel whisked down the hall and peered into the great room. Across the vast open space she saw Warren standing before a wall of bookshelves in his study. Half a dozen medical textbooks lay at his feet, more on the red leather sofa beside him. As she watched, Warren stepped forward and with an angry motion began pulling more books off the shelves, six or eight at a time, then piling them haphazardly on the couch. His sandy blond hair spiked upward like bushy antennae, and unless she was mistaken, he was wearing the same clothes he’d worn to work yesterday, which meant that he really hadn’t come to bed last night. On any other day this would have worried Laurel, but today she closed her eyes in gratitude and hurried back to the master suite.

When she entered the bathroom, her throat clenched tight. She had put this decision off for days, praying in vain for deliverance, but now she had no choice. Only now that she was set up to go through with it, something in her rebelled. The mind would do anything to deny certain realities, she thought, or at least to postpone them.

Kneeling before her washbasin, she reached into the cabinet, removed a Walgreens bag, and carried it into the private cubicle that surrounded the commode. Then she latched the slatted door, opened the bag, and took out a large tampon box. From this box she removed the small carton she’d concealed inside it yesterday afternoon. The side of this carton read e.p.t. With shaking fingers she removed a plastic bag, ripped it open, and took out a testing stick not much different from the one that had struck terror into her heart as a nineteen-year-old. Remarkably, she felt more fear in this moment than she had as an unmarried teenager.

Holding the stick between her legs, she tried to pee, but her urine wouldn’t come. Had someone walked into the bathroom? One of the kids? Hearing no breath or footfall, she forced her mind away from the present, to the parent/teacher conferences she had scheduled today. As she thought of the anxious mothers she would have to deal with later on, a warm rush of fluid splashed her hand. She withdrew the stick from the stream, wiped her hand with tissue, then closed her eyes and counted while she finished.

She wished she’d brought the Razr in with her. It was crazy to leave that phone in the bedroom with Warren home, crazy to have it in the house at all, really. The cell phone Laurel called her “clone” phone was a second Razr identical to the one on their family account, but registered in someone else’s name, so that Warren could never see the bills. It was a perfect system for private communication-unless Warren saw both phones together. Yet despite the danger, Laurel could no longer stand to be apart from her clone phone, even though it hadn’t brought her a single message in the past five weeks.

Realizing that she’d counted past thirty, she opened her eyes. The testing stick was fancier than the ones she remembered from college, with a tiny screen like the ones on cheap pocket calculators. No more trying to judge shades of blue to see if you were knocked up. Before her eyes, written in crisp blue letters on the gray background, were the letters PREGNANT.

Laurel stared, waiting for a NOT to appear before the other word. It was an infantile wish, for part of her had known the truth without even taking the test (her too tender breasts, and the seasick feeling she’d had with her second child); yet still she waited, with the testing company’s new slogan-We call it the Error Proof Test-playing in her mind. She must have heard that slogan twenty times during the past week, chirped confidently from the television during inane children’s sitcoms and Warren’s overheated cop melodramas, while she waited in agony for her period to begin. When the letters on the stick did not change, she shook it the way her mother had shaken the thermometers of her youth.

PREGNANT! the letters screamed. PREGNANT! PREGNANT! PREGNANT!

Laurel wasn’t breathing. She hadn’t exhaled since the letters first appeared. Had she not been sitting on the toilet, she might have fainted, but as it was, she sagged against the nearby wall, her face cold. The sob that broke from her chest sounded alien, as though a stranger were wailing on the other side of the door.

“Mom?” said Grant, her nine-year-old son. “Was that you?”

Laurel tried to answer, but no words came. As she covered her mouth with shaking fingers, tears streamed down her face.

“Mom?” asked the voice behind the door. “Are you okay?”

She could see Grant’s thin silhouette through the slats. No, I’m not, sweetheart. I’m going insane sitting right here on the toilet.

“Dad!” called Grant, staying put. “I think Mom’s sick.”

I’m not sick, baby, I’m watching the goddamn world end.…“I’m fine, sweetie,” Laurel choked out. “Perfectly fine. Did you brush your teeth already?”

Silence now, a listening silence. “You sound funny.”

Laurel felt herself gearing down into survival mode. The shock of the positive pregnancy test had caused a violent emotional dislocation; from there it was only a small step to full-blown dissociation. Suddenly her pregnancy became a matter of academic interest, one small factor to be weighed in the day’s long list of deceptions. Eleven months of adultery had schooled her well in the shameful arts. But the irony was shattering: they had ended the affair five weeks ago, without a single moral lapse since; and now she was pregnant.

She shoved the stick back into the e.p.t carton, carefully fitted the carton back into the tampon box, and stuffed it into the Walgreens bag. After stashing the bag on the floor behind the toilet, she flushed the commode and stood.

Grant was waiting beyond the door. His face would be alert for any sign of anxiety in his mother. Laurel had seen that watchful face many times in the past few months, and every time she did, a blade of guilt sliced through her. Grant knew his mother was in emotional turmoil; he knew it better than his father did, being far more perceptive when it came to such things.

Laurel carefully wiped away her tears with tissue, then gripped the doorknob, willing her hands to stop shaking. Routine, she thought. Routine will save you. Play your usual role, and no one will notice a thing. It’s June Cleaver time again-

She opened the door and smiled broadly. Wearing nothing but a Tony Hawk skateboard T-shirt, Grant stood looking up at her like a nine-year-old interrogation specialist, which he was. He had Laurel’s eyes in his father’s face, but the resemblance grew less marked every day. Lately, Grant seemed to change at the rate of a fast-growing puppy.

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