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Книга Third Degree. Страница 29

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Laurel stared determinedly at the floor. The entire dynamic between them had changed, but she could not acknowledge this.

“I guess I’ll have to figure out your password on my own,” Warren said cheerily.

The keyboard started clicking again.

Laurel hugged herself and tried to think of a way to stop him, but nothing came to her. With the screen facing away from her, she couldn’t be sure what he was doing. But he would almost certainly begin with her birthday, then the kids’ birthdays, then her Social Security number. Then he’d move on to various inversions of those numerals. Warren had always excelled at puzzles, so this kind of thing was very much to his taste. Yet after several abortive attempts to log into her account, he got up, hurried over to his study, and quickly returned holding her copy of Pride and Prejudice.

“I should have started with this,” he said. “I guess we’ll try Darcy first? Any thoughts?”

Retrieving this book had been a brilliant intuitive leap, but it didn’t worry Laurel as much as Warren probably thought it did. Even with a copy of Pride and Prejudice to work from, it would take hundreds of hours to ever hit on FitzztiF, the password to her account. She’d created it by playing with the first half of Mr. Darcy’s Christian name: Fitzwilliam. It was an almost childish choice, but the odds against Warren trying that particular sequence of letters were astronomical.

“I wish I had a PET scanner that could read the folds of your traitorous little brain,” he said with sudden bitterness.

She pretended to ignore him, but she was rejoicing inside. Trying to guess someone’s password was about as much fun-and as difficult-as trying to open a safe by random turns of the dial.

“I know why you’re doing this,” he said over the screen. “Stonewalling, I mean. It’s because he doesn’t want you. The letter was definite about that. He used you and then he dumped you.”

She gave Warren nothing.

“If he’d wanted to run away with you, you’d be gone, wouldn’t you? You’re just afraid to jump ship without a lifeboat waiting to catch you. You’re gutless. That’s the ugly bottom of all this. I don’t know what the hell I ever saw in you.”

She knew she shouldn’t take the bait, but she couldn’t let this pass. “If that’s how you feel, why would you care if I’m seeing someone?”

“Because I’m stuck with you,” he said, still not looking up from the screen. “I take my marriage vows seriously. And I take our children’s well-being seriously. I happen to have the fortitude to stick it out and try, even with a slut who hasn’t got the nerve to bail out without a golden parachute.”

“Me?” she whispered. “I’m a coward? I’m gutless? What about you?”

The righteous indignation in her voice got his attention. He peered over the top of the screen. “What are you talking about?”

“You know. That night on Highway 24. On the way home from the Criterium race in McComb.”

Warren had gone still. His face was pale but for the dark circles around his eyes. He remembered, all right. They stared at each other over her computer, each recalling the night that had opened a chasm between them, one that had not been bridged since. Almost a year ago now, after one of the few bike races Laurel had traveled to watch. Warren had taken third place, which most riders would have been happy to win, but because it was only a regional race, he had dumped the diminutive trophy in a garbage can and demanded that they leave for home immediately.

They’d covered about half of the sixty-mile drive when it happened. Flames exploded out of the darkness far ahead, as though from an impacting meteor. As they drew closer, Laurel made out the silhouette of a burning pickup truck on the right shoulder, its nose wedged tight against a massive oak tree. More chilling, she saw a prone form on the asphalt, and it seemed to be moving. She kept waiting for Warren to hit the brakes, but he never did, and before she knew it, they were hurtling past the flaming wreck, the acrid stench of burning gasoline flooding through the AC vents like a ghostly accusation.

“Stop!” she’d cried, grabbing his arm, but he’d continued on, his jaw set tight. The argument that followed had altered her view of her husband forever. While she pleaded for him to turn back and use his medical skills to save the victim she had seen on the road (much less those who might be trapped inside the truck), Warren had calmly described the risks of such an act for him. Wasn’t there a Good Samaritan law on the books in Mississippi? Laurel shouted. Wouldn’t make a bit of difference, Warren told her, not once the personal-injury lawyers got into it. She’d been sobbing by then.

“Someone could be dying back there!” she screamed. “Right now, while we drive away. I saw someone moving on the road!”

But Warren remained unmoved. She still remembered his quiet soliloquy as they fled the scene: “Listen to me. That’s probably some drunk black guy wrapped around that tree. Or white trash, take your pick. He probably never paid a dime for car insurance in his life. I, on the other hand, studied for twenty grueling years to become a doctor. I’m not risking everything I’ve built for you and the kids to try to help somebody who’ll repay me for my efforts by suing me.”

While Laurel gaped in disbelief, Warren went on, and his words were still engraved in her soul. “I’ve gone so far out of my way to help those people…and I don’t mean all of them, you know that. But I drove a blood sample to Jackson late one Friday so a family could find out as soon as possible whether their kid had leukemia or not-he didn’t-and did I get one word of thanks? No, ma’am. Just a blank stare, and they’re gone. No ‘Thank you,’ no payment, no nothing. So tonight, we drive on.”

Laurel had settled back in her seat and closed her eyes, but the flaming truck still burned behind her eyelids, and the broken body still crawled along the lightless road. The next morning, she read in the newspaper that two people had died in a one-car accident on Highway 24-no witnesses, according to the highway patrol. The couple had been traveling home from the funeral of their grandson. Laurel could tell by their names that they were black. She never looked at Warren the same way again after that night, and two weeks later, she’d begun her affair with Danny McDavitt. Danny, she knew, would never abandon someone in trouble on the side of a road. He had the medals to prove it.

“You don’t know half what you think you know,” Warren said with eerie certainty. “You think I’m a coward because of that night?”

“I don’t want to think about that night ever again.”

He nodded slowly. “That’s a luxury you have, I guess. You think I don’t have reasons to check out of this marriage?”

She shrugged. “If you do, then you should.”

He shook his head like a man amazed. “Is it really that easy for you? You can look at Grant and Beth, smile, and say, ‘Sayonara, kids? It was fun while it lasted?’ ”

“You know it’s not that simple.”

Warren clenched his jaw muscles, then got up and stood over her with the pistol in his hand. She watched it hanging beside her head, an efficient little machine of death, dangling like a child’s toy in his tanned hand.

He pressed the barrel against the crown of her skull. “This is how simple it is. I know you had an affair. I know because you won’t give me that password. You think you’re sparing me pain by keeping the truth from me, but you’re not. You’re making it worse. For me and for you. Be sure you understand that. You’re not leaving this house until I know who’s been fucking you. Do you understand that?”

Laurel wanted to be brave, but she felt herself trembling.

“DO-YOU-UN-DER-STAND?!”

She waited until she knew she could speak without sounding terrified. “I want you to listen to me, Warren. I want you to think about all the things that have frightened us through the years. Everything that could take us away from our children. Cancer. Car accidents. Child molesters. An intruder in the house. We’ve taken steps to prevent all those things. But right now”-the gun barrel scraped her scalp as she lifted her face to look at him-“right now you are the greatest threat to this family. What if I did have an affair? I understand you would feel hurt. But does anything justify this? Would you murder the mother of your children? Think about Grant and Beth for just ten seconds. Picture them in your mind. How innocent they are.”

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