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Authors: Wendy Corsi Staub

Live to Tell

BOOK: Live to Tell
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Wendy Corsi Staub

Live to Tell

To Lucia Macro, for making this happen,

And to Joyce Mulvaney,
for being there to celebrate…

And to Morgan and Brody and Mark, with love.

With gratitude to Nick
at Grand Central Terminal!



He lunges across Sixth Avenue mid-block and against the light,…

Chapter One


Chapter Two

Do you want white or red? I brought both.” Holding…

Chapter Three

More than three weeks later, Lauren dangles her feet in…

Chapter Four

Okay, Daddy, we’ll see you then… I love you, too…

Chapter Five

Jay-Rod, his teammates called him, back when he was playing…

Chapter Six

Standing on the wooden deck off the master bedroom, Nick…

Chapter Seven

I can’t take your call right now, but if you’ll…

Chapter Eight

I can’t take your call right now, but if you’ll…

Chapter Nine

Perched on the front steps with her second cup of…

Chapter Ten

Back when she and Nick were still married, Lauren spoke…

Chapter Eleven

Higher!” Sadie calls, pumping her bare little legs as the…

Chapter Twelve

At dawn on Tuesday morning, Marin awakens in an empty…

Chapter Thirteen

Ryan really didn’t want to come to the pool today.

Chapter Fourteen

Dr. Rogel’s office is unusual, as medical offices go. It’s a …

Chapter Fifteen

Ryan opens his eyes to a dreary morning, rain pattering…

Chapter Sixteen

Hey, this is Byron. You know what to do. Do…

Chapter Seventeen

Sadie wore a blindfold once before, when she played piñata…

Chapter Eighteen

Walking into the house again, Lauren can feel the presence…


The sun is blistering hot today as he steps out…

Scared to Death

About the Author


Other Books by Wendy Corsi Staub


About the Publisher


New York City

e lunges across Sixth Avenue mid-block and against the light, leaving in his wake squealing brakes, honking horns, angry curses through car windows.

No need to look over his shoulder; he knows they’re back there, closing in on him.

Darting up the east side of Sixth, he blows through an obstacle course of office workers on smoke breaks, tourists walking four abreast, businessmen lined up at street food carts. Ignoring the indignant shouts of jostled pedestrians, he searches the urban landscape as he runs. July heat radiates in waves from concrete and asphalt. Sweat soaks his T-shirt.

Just ahead, across Fortieth Street, he spots the subway entrance. For a split second, he considers diving down the stairs. If a train happens to be just pulling in, he can hop on and lose them—at least for the time being.

If there’s no train, he’ll be trapped like a rat in a hole—unless he hoofs it through the dark tunnel and risks being electrocuted by the third rail or flattened by an oncoming express.

No thanks.

Nothing can happen to him. Not now. Not when the plan is about to come to fruition.

Not when sweet victory is so close he can taste it like sugar.

He races past the subway, his thoughts careening through various scenarios of how the next few minutes of his life might play out. They all end the same way: he’s apprehended. Incarcerated.

Even if he could possibly hide in midtown Manhattan in broad daylight with the cops hot on his trail, it makes no sense to try. The NYPD aren’t the only ones looking for him.

At least if he’s arrested, he’ll be safe—for now.

But first, he has to stash the file where no one can possibly stumble across it—and where he himself will easily be able to retrieve it and resume his plan. When he’s free.

Where? Come on, think. Think!

If only he had time to open a safe deposit box somewhere.

If only he could bury it like treasure, entrust it to a stranger for safekeeping, throw it into an envelope addressed to a trusted friend in a far-off place…

Before all this, he had a circle of confidants.

Now, he trusts no one other than Mike.

He tried to call his old friend yesterday, since he has a vested interest in this thing.

He did leave a message: “Mike, it’s me. Dude, I was right. It’s bigger than I thought. I’ll be in touch.”

Now that he’s had time to think things through, though, he’s glad he didn’t reach Mike. Better not to drag him into this dangerous game.

He bounds across Fortieth and up the wide concrete steps into Bryant Park, zigzagging northeast past dog walkers and the carousel; past stroller-pushing nannies and office workers eating lunch out of clear plastic deli containers.

Approaching the crowded outdoor dining patio of the Bryant Park Café, he spots a commotion beside the entrance. A young wife tries to soothe the screaming baby propped against her shoulder as her agitated husband argues loudly with the hostess about a reservation. The baby’s stroller is abandoned in his path, a fuzzy pink stuffed animal lying on the ground beside it.

Seeing it, he’s struck by an idea—one that’s either so far out there that it’ll never work, or so far out there that it
to work.

There’s no time to sit around considering the odds.

Rather than leap over the stuffed animal, he scoops it up as he passes, hoping bystanders are too busy watching the argument at the hostess stand to notice. He doesn’t bother to look back, and nobody calls out after him as he cannonballs down the wide concrete steps on the north side of the park.

Emerging onto West Forty-second Street, he hurtles eastward, passing the main branch of the library. He scoots across Fifth Avenue amid hordes of pedestrians in the crosswalk, then across East Forty-second against the red “Don’t Walk” sign. With the stuffed animal tucked under his right arm, high against his chest like a football, he sprints the remaining block and a half to Grand Central Terminal.

No one—not even the national guardsmen on patrol in this post–9/11 era—gives him a second glance as he races at full speed from the Vanderbilt entrance toward the cavernous main concourse. Otherwise-civilized people zip pell-mell through here all the time. The MTA conducts its Metro North commuter line on a precise schedule; a few seconds’ delay might mean waiting an hour to catch the next train to the northern suburbs.

It’s been a while, yet he knows the layout of the vast rail station very well. Knows the location of the ticket counters and subway ramps, the arched whispering gallery near the Oyster Bar, the upper and lower level tracks, the stationmaster’s office, the food court, the lost and found…

The lost and found.

Looking furtively over his shoulder, he spots a blue uniform at the far end of the corridor. Changing direction, he veers toward the steep bank of escalators leading to the subway station below Grand Central, slowing his pace just enough to be sure the cop has time to spot him. Then he skirts down the left side of the escalator with the harried walkers, past the lineup of riders holding the rubber rail along the right.

At the bottom, he hops the turnstile. Predictably, those behind him protest loudly. He races through the familiar network of corridors to an exit and a set of stairs leading up to Grand Central Terminal again, closer to Lexington Avenue. Again, he runs toward the main concourse, emerging at last beneath the domed pale blue ceiling with its celestial markings.

He takes the stairs beneath the balcony back down to the lower level, and then ducks into a doorway leading to an empty track.

Panting, huddled in the shadows against the wall, he turns the stuffed animal over and over, looking for the most unobtrusive spot.


With his index finger, he probes at a seam in the synthetic fur. The toy is well made; it takes a few moments before the stitching gives way. He creates a small tear just wide enough.

Then he takes the memory stick from his wallet and shoves it into the hole until it disappears into the stuffing.

Swiftly examining the toy, he convinces himself no one could possibly discover the gap in the seam unless he was looking for it.

He tucks the animal under his arm again and scurries back out into the station and down a short corridor to the lost and found.

“Can I help you, sir?” asks the middle-aged woman at the service window, looking up from sorting through a labeled bin marked “February: Mittens and Gloves.”

Winded, he holds up the stuffed animal. “I just found this.”

She reaches for a pen. “Where? On a train?”

“No…on the floor.”

“Where on the floor?”

“By the clock,” he improvises.

She doesn’t ask which clock. In this terminal, “the clock” means the antique timepiece with four luminescent opal faces that sits atop the information booth, a meeting spot for thousands of New Yorkers every day.

“All right—” She reaches for a form. “If you can fill this out and—”

“Sorry,” he cuts in, “but if I don’t catch the 4:39, my wife is going to kill me.”

“It’s only—”

He’s already out the door.

He takes the stairs back up to the main concourse two at a time. Nearby, at the base of the escalators leading up to the MetLife building, a transit cop scans the crowd while speaking into a radio.

A moment later, the cop spots him, and he knows it’s over.

For now.


Glenhaven Park, New York


Startled by her daughter’s scream, Lauren Walsh drops the apple she was about to peel and bolts from the kitchen, taking the paring knife with her, just in case.

Sadie is in the living room—in one piece, thank God, and sitting on the couch in front of the television, right where Lauren left her about two minutes ago. Tears stream down her face.

“What’s wrong, sweetie? What happened?”

“Fred! Fred’s gone!”

She immediately grasps the situation, seeing the contents of Sadie’s little Vera Bradley tote dumped on the couch beside her: a sticker album and stickers, a couple of Mardi Gras necklaces, a feather boa, and the pack of Juicy Fruit Lauren bought her at Hudson News right before they got on the train.

So there’s no intruder to fight off with a paring knife. She loosens her grasp on the handle, the notion of using it as a weapon suddenly seeming laughable.

Almost laughable, anyway.

Lauren has never been the kind of woman who checked the closets and under the bed. She spent dauntless years on her own, single in the city, before she met Nick.

But this is different. Living alone with a preschooler in a sprawling Victorian while the older kids are gone at sleepaway camp and their dad is—well,
—has bred a certain degree of paranoia, no doubt about it.

“Mommy, find Fred!” Sadie’s cherubic face is stricken, her green eyes filled with tears.

Before Nick moved out last winter, Fred was just another stuffed animal on Sadie’s shelf. Someone brought it to the hospital back when Sadie was born, with a Mylar “It’s a Girl” balloon tied to its wrist.

When Nick left, all three of the kids developed strange new habits. Ryan took to biting his nails. Lucy pulled out her eyelashes. Poor little Sadie, already a notoriously fussy eater, now lives on white bread, peanut butter, and the occasional sliced apple. She also regressed to thumb sucking and pants wetting, and started dragging the pink plush rabbit, newly christened Fred, everywhere she went.

Which wasn’t much of anywhere until recently, because Lauren couldn’t bring herself to leave the house most days. She felt as if the whole town was talking about her husband leaving her for another woman.

Probably because they really were talking about it. In a tiny suburban hamlet like Glenhaven Park, the gossip mill runs as efficiently as the commuter train line.


“It’s okay, Sadie. Where’s Chauncey? Maybe he took Fred.” God knows their border collie has been known to steal a fuzzy slipper or two—which is why he hasn’t been allowed upstairs in the bedrooms in years.

“No, Fred wasn’t in my bag. He didn’t come into the house with me.”

“Okay, so he’s probably in the car.”

“Go look! Please!”

Lauren is already headed for the kitchen to exchange the paring knife for her keys, biting her tongue. It’s probably not good parenting to say, “I told you so” to a four-year-old.

But she
tell Sadie not to bring Fred with them to the city today. And when she insisted, Lauren wanted to carry the stuffed rabbit herself, worried Sadie would lose it.

Sadie protested so vehemently that it was simply easier to give in. More bad parenting.

And the fact that Lauren’s about to serve apple slices with a side of peanut butter for dinner doesn’t exactly cancel it out. But why bother cooking for two—one finicky preschooler and one mom who lost her appetite, along with a lot of other things, in the divorce drama.

The screen door squeaks as Lauren steps out the back door into the hot glare of late afternoon sun. The neighborhood at this hour is so still she can hear the bumblebees lazing in the coneflowers beside the small service porch.

She could cut some of the purple and white blooms and bring them inside.

But again, why bother? It’s just her and Sadie.

Why bother…why bother…

So goes the depressing refrain.

There was a time when she didn’t consider cooking or gardening a bother at all.

She remembers wandering around the yard with pruning shears on summer days as Ryan and Lucy romped on the wooden play set. She’d fill the house with a hodgepodge of colorful flowers arranged in Depression-era tinted glass Ball jars discovered on a cobwebby shelf in the basement. Then she’d feed and bathe the kids early, letting them stay up just long enough to greet Nick off the commuter train. He’d tell her about his day as they shared a bottle of wine over a home-cooked dinner for two, something decadent and cooked in butter or smothered in melted cheese.

That was before Nick became overly health conscious—which, surprise, surprise, was not long before he left.

But she doesn’t want to think about that.

Nor does she necessarily want to think about the good old days, but she can’t seem to help herself. It was on one of those hot summer nights, Lauren recalls, that Sadie the Oops Baby was conceived, after an unhealthy, fattening romantic dinner laced with cabernet and Van Morrison.

The pregnancy put on hold their plans to remodel the house. They were going to expand the kitchen, add a mudroom, replace the back stoop with a deck—something that wouldn’t clash with the Queen Anne style. Nick was a big believer in preservation of architectural integrity.

Only when it came to marital integrity did he run into trouble.

They never did get around to remodeling.

Now they never will.

Lauren gazes up at the house—two stories, plus a large attic beneath the steep, gabled roof.

The clapboard façade, fish-scale shingles, and gingerbread trim are done in period shades of ochre and brick red. The classic Victorian design—tall, shuttered bay windows, a cupola, and a spindled, wraparound porch—charmed her the first time she laid eyes on it, years ago.

Painted Lady Potential
, proclaimed the ad in the
Sunday Times
real estate section.

She kept reading. It got better.

Four-bedroom, two-bath fixer-upper in family neighborhood. Eat-in kitchen, large, level yard, detached garage. Walk to shops, train, schools.

It was located, the Realtor told her when she called about the ad, on Elm Street in Glenhaven Park. Elm Street—evocative of leafy, small-town charm. Elm Street—where families live happily ever after.

Sight unseen, Lauren was sold.

Nick was not. “
Nightmare on Elm Street
,” he told Lauren. “Ever see that movie?”

She hadn’t. But lately, she’s been feeling as though she lived it.

How did she end up alone in the house of their dreams?

She’ll never forget the day she and Nick first set foot inside, looked at each other, and nodded. They knew. They knew this house would become home.

It—like the fact that they’d found each other, fallen in love, gotten married—seemed too good to be true.

They marveled at the china doorknobs, gaslight fixtures, cast-iron radiators, chair rails, and pocket doors; high ceilings with crown molding; the ornate wooden staircase in the entrance hall. There were even a couple of hidden compartments where the nineteenth-century owners had stashed their valuables.

Yes, the place needed work. So what? They were young and had a lifetime ahead of them.

Now Lauren wonders, as she often has for the past few months, whether she’ll have to sell the house. Some days, she wants to list it as soon as possible. Others, she’s certain she can’t bear to let go.

What’s the old saying?

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

She takes a deep breath, inhaling the green scent of freshly mown grass. The lawn service guys must have been here today while she and Sadie were in the city. The flowerbeds have been freshly weeded and the boxwood hedge has been shorn into a precision horizontal border.

The yard looks a lot tidier than it did in summers past, when she handled the gardening and Nick mowed. But when they moved up here from the city, they never wanted that manicured landscape style. They never wanted to become one of those suburban Westchester families that relied on others to maintain the yard, the house, and the pets, even the kids.

Yeah, and look at us now.

First came the weekly cleaning service Lauren’s friends insisted on hiring for her right after she had Sadie. By the time the two-month gift certificate expired, colic was in full swing, and Lauren was relieved to let someone else continue to clean the toilets and do the laundry.

She kept the cleaning service.

By the time Sadie was toddling, her older siblings’ traveling sports teams kept the whole family on the go. Chauncey was left behind so often that Lauren was forced to hire a dog-walking service. Sure, she occasionally misses those early morning or dusk strolls with Chauncey—but not enough to go back to doing it daily.

She kept the dog walkers, too.

Nick hired the lawn service last March, just in time for the spring thaw, as he put it—ironic, because it was also just in time for the killing frost that ended their marriage.

Yes, she had seen it coming. For a few months before it happened, anyway. That didn’t make it any easier for her to bear.

And the kids—Lauren hates Nick for their pain; hates herself, perhaps, even more. She was the one who’d gone to great lengths to maintain the happy family myth, such great lengths that the separation blindsided all three of them.

Nick had wanted to tell Ryan and Lucy last fall that they were seeing a marriage counselor. But Lauren was afraid they’d start piecing things together, suspecting the affair. Or that they’d ask pointed questions that would demand the ugly truth or whitewashed lies.

Nick was probably right—though she wouldn’t admit that to him. They should have given the kids a heads-up when things first started to unravel.

He was right, too, that sending Ryan and Lucy away to camp for eight weeks was the healthiest thing for everyone.

When he suggested it back around Easter, Lauren—who for years had frowned upon parents who shipped their kids hundreds of miles to spend summers in the woods among strangers—had taken a good, hard look at what their own household had become. She was forced to recognize that her older children would be better off elsewhere while she picked up the pieces.

Still, she didn’t give in to Nick about camp without a fight. God forbid she make anything easy on him in the blur of angry, bitter days after he left. She wanted only to make him suffer.

In the end, though, Ryan and Lucy went to camp.

They were homesick at first—so homesick Lauren was tempted, whenever she opened the mailbox to another woe-is-me letter, to drive up there and bring them both home. Now that it’s almost August, though, it’s clear from their letters that Ryan and Lucy are having a blast in the Adirondacks.

Lauren has only Sadie to worry about for the time being, while she figures out how to move on after two decades of marriage.

She has yet to come up with a long-term plan. It’s hard enough to keep her voice from breaking as she reads bedtime stories in an empty house, to fix edible meals for two—and to keep tabs on Sadie’s toys.

Find Fred.

She walks down the back porch steps, past fat bumblebees lazing in the flowers, and crosses over to the Volvo parked on the driveway.

Please let Fred be in the backseat…

Please let Fred be in the backseat…

Fred is
in the backseat.

A lot of other crap is: crumpled straw wrappers, a dog-eared coloring book and two melted crayons, a nearly empty tube of Coppertone KIDS, a couple of fossilized Happy Meal fries, and one of Sadie’s long-missing mittens whose partner Lauren finally threw away in May.

Lauren carries it all back into the house and dumps it into the kitchen garbage before returning, empty-handed, to the living room.

Sadie, tearstained and sucking her thumb, looks up expectantly.

“Sweetie, you must have dropped him, somewhere in the city. I couldn’t find—”

Cut off by a deafening wail, Lauren helplessly sinks onto the couch. “Oh, Sadie, come here.” She gathers her daughter into her arms, stroking her downy hair—not as blond this summer as it has been in years past.

Is it because she’s growing up?

Or because she’s been stuck hibernating with a shell-shocked mother who’s barely been able to drag herself out of bed and face the light of day…

Riddled with guilt, Lauren says, “I’m sorry, baby.”
About so much more than the lost toy.

“I want Fred! I love him! Please,” Sadie begs. “I need him back.”

I know how you feel.

In silence, Lauren swallows the ache in her own throat and fishes a crumpled tissue from the back pocket of khaki shorts that last August felt a size too small. Now they’re a few sizes too big, cinched at the waist with her fourteen-year-old’s belt.

The Devastation Diet. Maybe she should write a book.

Lauren wipes her daughter’s tears, then, surreptitiously, her own. “Come on, calm down. It’s going to be okay.”

“I want Fred!”

Lauren sighs. “So do I.”

I want a lot of other things, too.

Looks like we’re both going to have to suck it up, baby girl

“Please, Mommy, please…where is he? Where? Where?”

“Shh, let me think.”

Mentally retracing their steps, Lauren is sure the stuffed animal was with them in the cab from her sister Alyssa’s apartment to Grand Central, because it almost fell out of Sadie’s bag when they climbed out on Lexington. She remembers carrying both Sadie and the bag across the crowded sidewalk, through the wooden doors, along the Graybar passageway. She set Sadie down and gave the bag back to her when they stopped to buy a
New York Post
and some gum at Hudson News.

“You must have dropped Fred at the station or on the train. Next time we go to the city we can check lost and found,” Lauren promises.

BOOK: Live to Tell
9.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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