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Книга Third Degree. Содержание - Chapter 10

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The smell of gun oil entered her nose. After a few moments, Warren lowered the gun, bent his knees, and squatted before her. Seeing a change in his eyes, she was sure she had broken through the anger and pain to reach him. He still looked shell-shocked, but the tenderness in his gaze had not been there before, however wounded it might be.

“Do you know what a family is?” he whispered. “What makes a family?”

She nodded, but Warren shook his head.

“Trust,” he said. “That’s what separates a family from the rest of the world. Blood isn’t enough. They say blood is thicker than water, but brothers betray each other all the time. Trust is the glue that protects a family from the chaos outside.”

She wanted to respond, but it was coming to her that Warren saw the world in a way that she did not, and never could.

“You,” he said with quiet force, “have destroyed that. Irrevocably. The damage is done, and I can never take you at your word again. Grant and Beth can never trust you again.”


“Don’t speak!” he commanded, standing suddenly. He looked down at her like some kind of Old Testament judge. “You chose to place your selfish desires over the welfare of your children. And you must pay the price for that. All of us will have to, I’m afraid.”

“Warren, you’re not yourself,” she said, starting to rise.

He slapped her with his left hand, driving her down to the floor. His palm had struck her right ear, which was now ringing like the three-o’clock bell at school. It hurt, but the shock of being hit far outweighed the pain. She held up her hands to prevent another blow.

“Do you think I haven’t been tempted?” Warren shouted. “Do you think I haven’t had nurses offer me any damn thing I wanted, no strings attached?”

“I’m sure you have.”

“Not only nurses. Wives of friends, teachers at the school, friends of yours! The signs are always up: ‘Pussy for rent’! Nobody has any honor anymore. Nobody keeps their promises.”

Laurel stayed on the floor, trying to recall a dark religious strain in Warren’s childhood, but she didn’t remember one. But the way he was talking…it was like he’d been possessed by some wild-eyed minister from another age. Or by her father on his worst day. But not even her father would have resorted to violence. He would have gotten her down on the floor to pray until God sent some sign that forgiveness was at hand. But Warren wasn’t waiting for a sign. He saw himself as the instrument of God’s punishment.

“I’m sorry you’re hurting,” she said. “But there’s no reason for it. I wish you’d believe me. I would never do anything to hurt our children. Never.”

“Get up!” he yelled, almost jerking her arm out of joint.

She scrambled to her feet. Warren seemed about to drag her somewhere, but then he shoved her back down on the sofa.

“I’m so stupid,” he said. “How could it take me so long to see it? My blood sugar must be in the basement.” He sat on the ottoman and started pecking at the computer again. “You can buy just about anything on the Web these days. I read an article in USA Today about identity theft and computers. Apparently, hackers have these programs called password crackers that will crank away for fifty hours in a row, if necessary, trying every possible combination of numbers and letters until they break into your e-mail account, or whatever. I’ll bet for the right price, I can download one of those cracker programs right into your little Sony.”

Laurel had mistakenly invested in the idea that the gun was the greatest danger in the room. This new digital wrinkle destroyed that illusion. Her computer was the real weapon, or rather the detonator that could trigger the use of the gun in earnest. If Warren actually got into her Hotmail account, he would have Danny’s name almost instantly. Soon after, he would read every piece of e-mail that had passed between her and Danny during the eleven months they had been together. There were even photos embedded in some of those messages! Some were intimate, others not, but every one had the power to shatter what remained of her husband’s sanity.

“Here we go,” said Warren, a note of triumph in his voice. “Merlin’s Magic. Sounds like just the ticket. Two hundred eighty-nine bucks, and they won’t even let you download a trial version. That means they know their program works, and they know the kind of situation someone’s likely to be in when they need it. A one-shot deal, with a lot riding on the outcome.”

Just as she began to hope that Warren would have to get up to retrieve a credit card, he said, “I’m going to use your PayPal account to buy this. Isn’t that sweet? One click, and we’re in business.”

Laurel closed her eyes while his fingertips clicked the keys. How many minutes until the kids got home? If she jumped up and raced for one of the house phones to call 911, would Warren shoot her? Even if he didn’t, had things deteriorated to the point that an armed siege was the best solution? They have, she said silently. As long as the kids aren’t in the house-

“All done!” Warren said brightly. He cut his eyes at her. “You might want to rethink your denial. It’s only a matter of time until I read those e-mails. And remember, confession is good for the soul.”

My soul is my own business, thank you, she thought, looking past him to the heavy vase lying against the wall. But if you turn your back on me before the kids get home, adultery might end up being one of the lesser sins marked against my name.

Chapter 10

“I have to tell you something, Vi,” Nell whispered. “I don’t want to, but I think you need to know. You deserve to know.”

She and Vida were sitting in the reception area of the office, and Nell had rolled her chair over next to her sister’s, away from the big patient window. JaNel, the lab tech, had passed by in the hall a couple of times, so Nell kept her voice low.

“Well, don’t take all day,” Vida said. “There’s work to do. I’m listening.”

Nell felt her lower lip quivering.

“Go on, baby girl. Whatever it is, I can take it.”

I hope so, Nell thought. I dearly hope so. “I think Kyle is cheating on you, Vi.”

Vida stared back in silence. “With who?”

“I don’t know.”

“What did you see? Or hear?”

“I heard him talking on his cell phone.”

Vida glanced over her shoulder at the hall door, then leaned closer. “When was this?”

“Day before yesterday. Back in the surgery room.”

“Go on.”

“Well, the conversation was pretty intimate. He had that tone, you know?”


“Mm-hm. It seemed obvious that he’s involved with whoever it was. And I-”

“Listen, honey,” Vida cut in. “I don’t doubt you. I’m sure Kyle’s poking God knows who all, and I wish he wasn’t. But let me tell you something you’re gonna learn one way or the other someday. They all do it. Every damn one of ’em. That’s the way men are. They live for tail, and they’re gonna chase it whether they’re married or single or whatever. It’s a natural law, like freakin’ gravity. Like the sun rising in the east. Soon as they get their ashes hauled, they’re trying to figure out how to get away from whoever did the haulin’. Unless they need you for something else. And that’s why I’m not worried.”

Nell sat quietly, working through her sister’s logic. She’d known Vida was hard, but she hadn’t thought her sister would be willing to put up with infidelity to keep a man at her side. Most of all, she hoped Vida was wrong about men-at least a few of them. She considered keeping back the rest of what she’d heard, but if she did, she’d regret it later. She could see Vida standing outside her apartment one night waiting for Dr. Auster’s Jaguar to swing by and pick her up, like a black carriage come to sweep her off to a castle. But that Jaguar would never arrive. It would be long gone, to pick up some princess who fit more smoothly into the castles of the rich and conscienceless.


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