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Книга Third Degree. Страница 74

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Laurel stood on the sink side of the kitchen island, exactly opposite Warren and Beth, as Warren had instructed her to do when he cut the duct tape from her wrists and legs. Beth sat on a barstool with both hands wrapped around a mug of Borden chocolate milk that Warren had heated in the microwave. No one had said much since Beth calmed down, a feat accomplished by prodigious lying on Laurel’s part, more fluff about Mommy and Daddy playing a grown-ups’ game.

Warren’s discussions with Danny seemed to have drained him, or perhaps sleep deprivation was finally taking its toll. Laurel couldn’t remember going forty hours without sleep herself, except perhaps during final exams in college, and probably not even then. Warren had done it often as an intern, but that had been years ago. His nerves were stripped bare; the slightest sound made him jump, and he spoke in quick, snappish phrases. She had decided to focus on Beth and to avoid provoking him at any cost.

Earlier, when Danny’s helicopter had cranked up and hovered over the backyard, Laurel had felt sure that rescue was imminent. Yet this belief had not brought her joy. Even before she’d received Danny’s text message warning her to stay away from the windows, she’d become certain that the price of freedom would be Warren’s life. As Warren strode toward one of the great room windows to check out the hovering helicopter, Laurel had steeled herself for the sight of her husband’s head being blown apart like JFK’s in the Zapruder film, her own personal Technicolor nightmare, one that would haunt her till the day she died. In the end, though, nothing had happened. It was as though they had edged up to the brink of disaster, then pulled back.

Beth slid off her stool and walked over to the table where she’d eaten breakfast thirteen hours before. To Laurel, the memory of that meal was like a glimpse of some other universe, one far removed from the absurd one that contained them now. Warren tracked Beth with his eyes as though about to stop her, but he didn’t. Laurel watched her daughter pick up one of Grant’s miniature skateboards-Tech Decks, they were called-and start rolling the two-inch-long board across the glass table. With Beth diverted, Laurel looked across the island at Warren and stared until he had no choice but to make eye contact.

“I’m sorry for everything I’ve done,” she said. “And for everything I haven’t done. I want to make things better. Tell me what I can do.”

He stared back at her like a man who has forgotten how to speak. His bloodshot eyes roamed her face, perhaps searching for some clue to what had brought them to this pass. As he worked his jaw and swallowed with obvious effort, she realized that he was severely dehydrated. He hadn’t used the bathroom for hours, nor had he drunk anything. The left corner of his mouth was red; she thought she saw the budding vesicles of a fever blister, which he only got when he was under extreme stress.

“Let me get you some water,” she offered. “And some ibuprofen, maybe?”

He didn’t respond at first. Then he rubbed his mouth and said, “Ice water.”

As she turned toward the sink, Beth cried, “Christy! Dad, it’s Christy!”

The corgi had disappeared earlier, probably terrified by the thunder of Danny’s helicopter, but now she was back, scratching at the doggy door like a starving beggar.

“Can I let her in, Daddy?”

“Not now, honey.”

“Please?” Beth pleaded. “Please, please, please, please.

As Laurel filled a tumbler with water from the tap, Warren surprised her by saying, “All right. She probably needs food.”

Laurel heard Beth unlatch the pet door, then Christy’s claws scratching the planks of the hardwood floor.

“She’s got something in her mouth,” Beth said. “It’s a bag, Daddy. I wonder what’s in it.”

“Don’t touch that!” Warren snapped. “It’s dirty.”

Laurel turned from the sink as though moving underwater, certain even before she saw it that Christy had retrieved the Walgreens bag from behind the hedge. Survival instinct drove her toward the dog, but it was already too late to bury this evidence.

“I’ll throw that away!” she said, but by then Warren was taking the bag from Christy’s mouth.

As he opened the bag, an urge to bolt from the house almost overcame Laurel, but she forced herself to stay put. Warren looked into the bag, and his eyes narrowed in puzzlement. “Christy must have knocked over the tall container,” he said. “I didn’t know she could do that.”

Laurel felt like a cartoon character staring helplessly upward as a thousand-pound weight hurtled down from a cliff top. She was every bit as stupid as the Coyote-

“Wash your hands, Beth,” Warren said. Then he walked to the trash compactor, opened it with his foot, and tossed the Walgreens bag inside. “Use the pantry sink.”

“Aww, they’re clean.” Beth stroked Christy’s orange back as the dog ate noisily from her dish.


Beth jumped up and vanished into the pantry.

Laurel stood motionless before the island, recalling an afternoon in college when a bolt of lightning had blasted apart a tree just forty feet away from her on a golf course. The very air had seemed to ignite around her, and she’d stood in the ozone-tinged aftermath like an air-raid survivor, too dazed even to be thankful for her life.

“My water?” Warren said.

She looked down at the tumbler in her hand. “Oh.” She handed him the glass, her hand shaking.

“I guess I’ll get my own ice,” he said, going to the freezer.

“I’m sorry.”

As he shoved the glass into the automatic ice dispenser, Laurel realized that the dog, rather than almost delivering her destruction, might have delivered her salvation instead. Her plan would be risky, but she saw no safe way out of this trap.

“Warren? I have something to tell you.”

He took a thoughtful sip from his glass. “What is it?”

“I wanted to tell you this morning, but you were so upset about the audit-or that’s what I thought, anyway-that I decided to wait. But now that I know about”-she lowered her voice-“your illness…you need to know this. It just might change how you feel about everything.”

He set his glass on the table and folded his arms across his chest. “What are you talking about?”

Laurel suddenly sensed that she was making a mistake. But what other gambit did she have? “I’m pregnant,” she said simply. “I just found out this morning.”

He blinked once, slowly, like a lizard in the sun. Other than that, he gave no sign of having heard her.

“Did you hear what I said?”

“We’ve only had sex twice in the last month.”

She prayed that Danny wasn’t hearing this. “It only takes once, you know. It only took once with Grant.”

Warren looked down at her belly, but of course she wasn’t showing. If anything, she looked thinner than she had a month ago.

“More lies,” he said.

She somehow managed a confident smile. “Open the trash compactor. Look inside that bag Christy brought in.”

He stared at her awhile longer. Then he opened the compactor and fished out the Walgreens bag. Out came the tampon carton.

“Keep going,” she said.

He looked into the empty bag, then opened the tampon box. He stared for several seconds, then drew out the e.p.t box, and his expression changed from irritation to a kind of wonder. Pulling the used test strip out of its little baggie, he studied it for a while, then looked up at her with suspicion.

“When did you take this test?”

“I told you, this morning.”

“Why did you hide it?”

“Because you hadn’t even come to bed the night before, and you were obviously upset. I decided to wait until you’d resolved the audit.”

Warren stared at her like a parent listening to a lying toddler. “If you’re pregnant, the baby’s not mine.”

He seemed so utterly convinced of this fact that Laurel’s smile faded. “Why not?”


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