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Книга Third Degree. Содержание - Chapter 5

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As soon as Laurel entered the pantry, she knew something was wrong. Moving into the kitchen, she sensed that things were out of place, as though they had been moved and then put back by someone who didn’t know exactly where they went. She heard nothing, but there seemed to be a residue of anger in the air, as though the house itself were disturbed. She thought she smelled alcohol, a faint trace coming from deeper in the house…and maybe burnt food. Yes-there was a microwave carton in the sink, with something black leaking out of it. Warren had never been much of a cook. He didn’t care about food.

She left the kitchen and stepped down into the great room with its two-story windows and oversize fireplace. Several seconds passed before she realized that she was not alone. Warren was sitting so still that he didn’t seem to be alive. But his eyes were open, and they were watching her. Warren was hunkered down on the ottoman of Laurel’s Eames lounger, which he had dragged up to their thick glass coffee table. He was still wearing yesterday’s clothes.

“Warren?” she said. “Are you all right?”

The eyes blinked slowly, but he said nothing.

She took a step closer, then stopped, still five yards from him.

“Come sit down,” he said. “I need to talk to you.”

He motioned toward the sectional sofa that half surrounded the coffee table. Laurel started forward, then checked herself. Something in his voice had set off an alarm in her head. Or maybe something lacking from it. That was it. All the life had gone out of his voice.

“Warren, what’s the matter?” she asked gently. “Is it something to do with the tax audit?”

He pointed at something on the coffee table. A piece of paper. “I want to know about that.”

Laurel leaned forward and looked down, and an explosion of panic detonated at the base of her brain. Now she understood everything. The frantic searching she’d witnessed this morning had nothing to do with the IRS. Warren had somehow discovered the sole handwritten letter Laurel had kept from her relationship with Danny. She’d recognized it instantly, because Danny had written it in green ink. The block-printed letters shrieked up at her like an accusation of adultery. When did Warren find that? she thought frantically. Since he hadn’t come to bed last night, it was possible that he’d found the letter many hours ago. Found it, read it, and then begun tearing the house apart looking for more evidence. Probably the only reason he hadn’t snatched her out of bed and confronted her last night was because the letter wasn’t signed (except for the word “Me,” which on the day Laurel had received the letter made it sound like a note from a junior high school boy, but which she now thanked God that Danny had done).

“I’m surprised you kept that,” Warren said. “You’re usually such a detail person. I guess that letter means a great deal to you.”

Laurel stood frozen, her eyes on the letter. Other than outright panic-squashed by survival instinct-her mind was blank. She gazed at the green letters, trying to keep the muscles of her face motionless. She felt Warren staring relentlessly at her, not blinking, and blood rushed into her cheeks. Nothing could stop that. She could blame it on Warren’s confrontational posture, but that would only postpone the inevitable. From the moment Warren found that letter, the truth was bound to come out.

“Well?” he prompted, his voice exquisitely controlled. “Are you going to stand there and lie to me?”

Laurel knew what his exaggerated control signaled: rage. Danny had always warned her to be prepared for this moment. For getting caught. Anyone might have seen them on any day, without their even knowing it. Danny had told her that people who had affairs behaved as though they were invisible, as though passion created some sort of force field through which common people couldn’t see. But this was a chemical illusion, and it took only a single unexpected glance to destroy it. Danny’s letter was much more than that. It was as deadly as a shot fired through the heart, and it had probably destroyed Warren to read it. Worse, that shot had triggered an avalanche from the frozen heights above their marriage. Even now, mountains of denial and repression were hurtling down upon them at two hundred miles an hour. The silence in the room was the prelude to the roar of being buried alive.

“You’re not going to say anything?” Warren demanded.

Her mind grasped at the nearest concrete detail. “I’m getting a migraine. That’s why I came home early.”

“You poor thing.”

“Whatever,” she said, turning away. “I’m going to try to find the Imitrex.”

“Don’t try to walk away from this.”

As she looked back at him, Danny’s voice spoke softly in her mind: Never admit anything. No matter what he confronts you with, deny it. Deny, deny, deny. It may seem ridiculous, but he’ll be desperate for any excuse to believe you. If you admit cheating on him, you’ll regret it later. Think before you act. She knew Danny was right, but looking at Warren now, and knowing what was in the letter, she saw how impossible that advice was. She had no option but to tell the truth, even if it meant living alone forever. But first she needed the Imitrex. She couldn’t complete the destruction of her marriage while having a migraine.

“I’m going to find the Imitrex,” she repeated firmly, and walked away before Warren could respond. “Will you give me the injection?”

“Come back here!” he shouted. “Don’t walk away from me! Laurel!”

She waved acknowledgment but kept walking, her eyes brimming with tears.

“I said turn around, goddamn it!”

It was his tone that turned her, not the “goddamn.” There was something in it she had never heard before, a fury that bordered on madness, and she could imagine nothing more alien to Warren Shields than madness.

Facing him again, she saw that he’d gone pale. His right hand gripped the edge of the coffee table like that of a drowning man clinging to the gunwale of a lifeboat. The sight triggered something deep within her, something far deeper than thought, an impulse concerned with her survival alone. And then she saw why: Warren’s other hand was holding a gun. A black revolver, pressed against the outside of his thigh. Only part of the gun was visible, but there was no mistaking what it was.

“My head is about to explode,” she said, her eyes locked on to his by force of will alone. “Whatever that piece of paper is, I’ve never seen it before in my life.”

Chapter 5

“You’re lying,” Warren said, still clutching the gun beside his leg. “I have to say, that’s the last thing I expected from you.”

Laurel refused to acknowledge the gun’s existence, yet it filled her mind with terrifying power. Where had Warren gotten a pistol? He owned a rifle and a shotgun, but so far as she knew, there wasn’t a single handgun in the house. Yet he was holding one now. Should she acknowledge it? Was it riskier to pretend the gun wasn’t there? Would that reinforce the idea that she was lying? Warren was almost hiding it from her, though. For now, she decided, she would pretend she hadn’t seen it.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said in a level voice. She pointed at the letter on the coffee table. “What is that?”

He slid the letter toward her. “Why don’t you read it?”

She picked up the note and scanned the words she knew by heart, her eyes swimming.

“Aloud, please,” Warren said.


“Read the letter aloud.”

She looked up. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Do I look like I’m kidding? It’ll be so much more powerful that way.”


“Read it!”

“Will you give me the injection when I’m done?”

He nodded.

She’d read Danny’s last letter so many times that she could recite it from memory. She reminded herself not to glance away from the paper as she read, a mistake she might pay for with her life. She began reading in a lifeless monotone: “ ‘I know the first rule of this kind of relationship is Never Write Anything Down. But in this case I feel I have to. A-’ ”


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