Read Third Degree Online

Authors: Greg Iles

Tags: #Family Secrets, #Mississippi, #Detective and mystery stories, #Physicians' spouses, #Family Violence, #General, #Autistic Children, #Suspense Fiction, #Adultery, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Physicians - Mississippi

Third Degree

BOOK: Third Degree
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Synopsis:

From
New York Times
bestselling author Greg Iles comes his latest tour de force thriller — an unforgettable plunge into a world of sex, violence, marital betrayal, medical malpractice, and Southern intrigue... all of which takes place in the span of one furious, terrifying day.

In
Third Degree
, Greg Iles takes us to the idyllic town of Athens Point, Mississippi, to probe beneath the surface of the modern American marriage — where the appearance of perfection conceals a soul-searing conflict of unnerving intensity and violent possibility. Packed with the storytelling brilliance and twisting suspense that mesmerized readers of
True Evil, Turning Angel, and Blood Memory
, Iles’s newest novel delivers a powerful, revelatory reading experience.

Laurel Shields, thirty-five and mother of two, awakens to find that her husband, Warren, a prominent local physician, is not in bed with her. Creeping out to the kitchen of their palatial home, she sees him through the doorway of his study, wildly pulling books from the shelves. Two weeks earlier, Warren and his partner were informed by the IRS that their medical practice was being audited; since then the stress on Dr. Shields has steadily ratcheted up.

But Laurel has problems of her own. Quickly returning to the bedroom, she locks herself in the master bath, opens a home pregnancy testing kit, and fearfully tests herself. PREGNANT, announces the digital readout. Laurel closes her eyes as though absorbing news of a death, then quickly hides the evidence. She is not sure who the father is. Summoning all her strength, she walks into the kitchen to carry out the acting performance of her life.

Later that morning, Laurel returns home and is surprised to find her husband’s car still parked in the driveway. The house has a strange stillness to it. In the den, she finds Warren sitting on the sofa in the same clothes he wore the previous day. His face is pale and unshaven, his eyes hollow with fear. Then, in come the children, innocent of it all....

So begins the most terrifying day in the history of a marriage, one that in less than five hours will make the Shields house the vortex of a nerve-wracking siege. While a nervous ring of armed men awaits its chance to storm the suburban home, inside the house the clock ticks down on exposure of Laurel’s terrible secret. But she is not alone in her lies. Before the siege is through, this terrifying drama will pull in desperate characters from the town and drive Dr. Shields, his wife, and her lover to the very brink of sanity and survival.

Rich with Southern atmosphere, and perceptively laced with the tacit deceptions and psychological cracks found in nearly all marriages,
Third Degree
delivers another knockout, page-turning read from Greg Iles, “the poster boy of southern gothic thrillers” (Kirkus Reviews), and proves again that Iles is today’s unparalleled master of the suspense novel.

 

 

THIRD DEGREE
Greg Iles

 

Copyright © 2007 by Greg Iles

 

 

Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh
Genesis 2:23

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Floating in the half-world between sleep and wakefulness, Laurel reached down and slipped her hand into the crack between the mahogany bed rail and the box springs, searching…searching for her connection to life. The cool metal of the Razr pricked her nervous system enough to make her freeze; a millisecond later she was fully awake and turning her head slowly on the pillow—

Her husband’s side of the bed was empty. In fact, it looked as though Warren had not come to bed at all. Resisting the compulsion to check the Razr for a text message, she slipped the cell phone back into its hiding place, then rolled out of bed and padded quickly to the bedroom door.

The hall was empty, but she heard sounds from the direction of the den. Not kid sounds… something else, a strange thumping. Laurel whisked down the hall and peered into the great room. Across the vast open space she saw Warren standing before a wall of bookshelves in his study. Half a dozen medical textbooks lay at his feet, more on the red leather sofa beside him. As she watched, Warren stepped forward and with an angry motion began pulling more books off the shelves, six or eight at a time, then piling them haphazardly on the couch. His sandy blond hair spiked upward like bushy antennae, and unless she was mistaken, he was wearing the same clothes he’d worn to work yesterday, which meant that he really
hadn’t
come to bed last night. On any other day this would have worried Laurel, but today she closed her eyes in gratitude and hurried back to the master suite.

When she entered the bathroom, her throat clenched tight. She had put this decision off for days, praying in vain for deliverance, but now she had no choice. Only now that she was set up to go through with it, something in her rebelled. The mind would do anything to deny certain realities, she thought, or at least to postpone them.

Kneeling before her washbasin, she reached into the cabinet, removed a Walgreens bag, and carried it into the private cubicle that surrounded the commode. Then she latched the slatted door, opened the bag, and took out a large tampon box. From this box she removed the small carton she’d concealed inside it yesterday afternoon. The side of this carton read
e.p.t.
With shaking fingers she removed a plastic bag, ripped it open, and took out a testing stick not much different from the one that had struck terror into her heart as a nineteen-year-old. Remarkably, she felt more fear in this moment than she had as an unmarried teenager.

Holding the stick between her legs, she tried to pee, but her urine wouldn’t come. Had someone walked into the bathroom? One of the kids? Hearing no breath or footfall, she forced her mind away from the present, to the parent/teacher conferences she had scheduled today. As she thought of the anxious mothers she would have to deal with later on, a warm rush of fluid splashed her hand. She withdrew the stick from the stream, wiped her hand with tissue, then closed her eyes and counted while she finished.

She wished she’d brought the Razr in with her. It was crazy to leave that phone in the bedroom with Warren home, crazy to have it in the house at all, really. The cell phone Laurel called her “clone” phone was a second Razr identical to the one on their family account, but registered in someone else’s name, so that Warren could never see the bills. It was a perfect system for private communication—unless Warren saw both phones together. Yet despite the danger, Laurel could no longer stand to be apart from her clone phone, even though it hadn’t brought her a single message in the past five weeks.

Realizing that she’d counted past thirty, she opened her eyes. The testing stick was fancier than the ones she remembered from college, with a tiny screen like the ones on cheap pocket calculators. No more trying to judge shades of blue to see if you were knocked up. Before her eyes, written in crisp blue letters on the gray background, were the letters
PREGNANT.

Laurel stared, waiting for a
NOT
to appear before the other word. It was an infantile wish, for part of her had known the truth without even taking the test (her too tender breasts, and the seasick feeling she’d had with her second child); yet still she waited, with the testing company’s new slogan—
We call it the Error Proof Test
—playing in her mind. She must have heard that slogan twenty times during the past week, chirped confidently from the television during inane children’s sitcoms and Warren’s overheated cop melodramas, while she waited in agony for her period to begin. When the letters on the stick did not change, she shook it the way her mother had shaken the thermometers of her youth.

PREGNANT!
the letters screamed.
PREGNANT! PREGNANT! PREGNANT!

Laurel wasn’t breathing. She hadn’t exhaled since the letters first appeared. Had she not been sitting on the toilet, she might have fainted, but as it was, she sagged against the nearby wall, her face cold. The sob that broke from her chest sounded alien, as though a stranger were wailing on the other side of the door.

“Mom?” said Grant, her nine-year-old son. “Was that you?”

Laurel tried to answer, but no words came. As she covered her mouth with shaking fingers, tears streamed down her face.

“Mom?” asked the voice behind the door. “Are you okay?”

She could see Grant’s thin silhouette through the slats.
No, I’m not, sweetheart. I’m going insane sitting right here on the toilet.

“Dad!” called Grant, staying put. “I think Mom’s sick.”

I’m not sick, baby, I’m watching the goddamn world end.
…“I’m fine, sweetie,” Laurel choked out. “Perfectly fine. Did you brush your teeth already?”

Silence now, a listening silence. “You sound funny.”

Laurel felt herself gearing down into survival mode. The shock of the positive pregnancy test had caused a violent emotional dislocation; from there it was only a small step to full-blown dissociation. Suddenly her pregnancy became a matter of academic interest, one small factor to be weighed in the day’s long list of deceptions. Eleven months of adultery had schooled her well in the shameful arts. But the irony was shattering: they had ended the affair five weeks ago, without a single moral lapse since; and now she was pregnant.

She shoved the stick back into the e.p.t carton, carefully fitted the carton back into the tampon box, and stuffed it into the Walgreens bag. After stashing the bag on the floor behind the toilet, she flushed the commode and stood.

Grant was waiting beyond the door. His face would be alert for any sign of anxiety in his mother. Laurel had seen that watchful face many times in the past few months, and every time she did, a blade of guilt sliced through her. Grant knew his mother was in emotional turmoil; he knew it better than his father did, being far more perceptive when it came to such things.

Laurel carefully wiped away her tears with tissue, then gripped the doorknob, willing her hands to stop shaking.
Routine,
she thought.
Routine will save you. Play your usual role, and no one will notice a thing. It’s June Cleaver time again—

She opened the door and smiled broadly. Wearing nothing but a Tony Hawk skateboard T-shirt, Grant stood looking up at her like a nine-year-old interrogation specialist, which he was. He had Laurel’s eyes in his father’s face, but the resemblance grew less marked every day. Lately, Grant seemed to change at the rate of a fast-growing puppy.

“Is Beth awake?” she asked. “You know we need to go over your spelling before we leave.”

Grant nodded irritably, his eyes never leaving her face. “Your cheeks are red,” he noted, his usually musical voice almost flat with suspicion.

“I did some sit-ups when I woke up.”

He pursed his lips, working through this explanation. “Crunches or the real thing?”

“Crunches.” Laurel used his preoccupation to slide past him and head for her closet. She slipped a silk housecoat over her cotton nightie and walked down the hall toward the kitchen. “Can you make sure Beth is up?” she called over her shoulder. “I’m going to start breakfast.”

“Dad’s acting weird,” Grant said in a jarring voice.

Sensing something very like fear, Laurel stopped and turned, focusing on the slim figure framed in the bedroom door. “What do you mean?” she asked, walking back toward her son.

“He’s tearing his study up.”

She remembered Warren pulling books from the shelves. “I think it’s just the tax thing we told you about. That’s very stressful, honey.”

“What’s an audit, anyway?”

“That’s when the government makes sure you’ve paid them all the money you’re supposed to.”

“Why do you have to pay the government money?”

Laurel forced a smile. “To pay for roads and bridges and…and the army, and things like that. We talked about that, honey.”

Grant looked skeptical. “Dad says they take your money so lazy people won’t have to work. And so they get free doctor visits, while working people have to pay.”

Laurel hated it when Warren vented his professional frustrations to the children. He didn’t understand how literally they took everything. Or maybe he did.

“Dad told me he’s looking for something,” said Grant.

“Did he say what?”

“A piece of paper.”

Laurel was trying to stay tuned in, but her plight would not let her.

“I told him I’d help,” Grant went on in a hurt voice, “but he yelled at me.”

She squinted in confusion. That didn’t sound like Warren. But neither did staying up all night in yesterday’s clothes. Maybe the audit situation was worse than he’d led her to believe. However bad it was, it was nothing compared to her situation. This was
disaster.
Unless…

No,
she thought with desolation,
even that would be a disaster.
She knelt and kissed Grant on the forehead. “Did you feed Christy?”

“Yep,” he replied with obvious pride. Christy was the children’s increasingly overweight Welsh corgi.

“Then please go make sure your sister is awake, sweetie. I’m going to start breakfast.”

BOOK: Third Degree
2.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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