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 (4 page)

BOOK: Third Degree
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She pulled out her file on Carl Mayer, her most serious ADD case, and tried to focus on the words and numbers on the page.
Mean, median, stanine
…no matter how hard she stared, the data wouldn’t coalesce into anything coherent. And why should it? In less than five minutes, she would be face-to-face with a woman she had willfully betrayed for almost a year. A woman who had never liked her, probably out of anxiety about being judged a bad parent. There was no way to avoid making those kinds of judgments, but Laurel always tried to keep them out of her eyes. The problem was, she didn’t respect Starlette McDavitt. Most of the mothers Laurel worked with bordered on sainthood when it came to dealing with their children; Starlette was on the opposite end of the spectrum. Laurel didn’t think she could have betrayed a woman she respected, although that might just be wishful thinking. As Danny had often said, you never knew what you would do until life tested you.

A soft knock sounded at the door, which should have given her a moment’s warning, but she was so busy putting up her defenses that she forgot Starlette always made grand entrances. So Laurel was totally unprepared when Danny McDavitt stepped into her classroom looking like a man hovering in some netherworld between life and death.

 

Chapter 3

 

“I’m sorry,” Danny said, closing the door behind him. “Starlette wouldn’t come.”

“Why not?” Laurel almost whispered.

Danny shrugged and shook his head.
You know what she’s like,
said his eyes.

“She found an excuse not to come.”

He nodded. “I had to cancel a flying lesson to get here.”

Laurel studied him without speaking. She hadn’t laid eyes on Danny for a week, and then she’d only caught a glimpse of him in his beat-up pickup truck, dropping Michael at the front door. The pain of not seeing Danny was unlike anything she had ever known, a hollow, wasting ache in her stomach and chest. She felt purposeless without him, as though she’d contracted an insidious virus that sapped all her energy—Epstein-Barr, or one of those. She was glad she’d been sitting down when he opened the door.

“Should I come in or what?” he asked diffidently.

Laurel shrugged, then nodded, not knowing what else to do.

She watched him walk toward the rows of miniature chairs near the back wall.
He’s avoiding the table,
she realized,
giving me time to adjust.
Danny moved with an easy rhythm, even when he looked as if he hadn’t slept or eaten for days. He stood an inch under six feet, with wiry muscles and a flat stomach despite his age. With his weathered face and year-round tan, he looked like what he was: a workingman, not a guy who had grown up privileged, moving from private school to college fraternity to whatever professional school he could get into. The son of a crop duster, Danny had gone to college on a baseball scholarship but quit after his second season to join the air force. There he’d aced some aptitude tests and somehow gotten into flight school. He was no pretty boy, but most women Laurel knew were attracted to him. His curly hair was gray at the temples but dark elsewhere, and he didn’t have it colored. It was his eyes that pulled you in, though. They were deep-set and gray with a hint of blue, like the sea in northern latitudes, and they could be soft or hard as the situation demanded. Laurel had mostly seen them soft, or twinkling with laughter, but they sometimes went opaque when he spoke of his wife, or when he answered questions about the battles he’d survived. Danny was in every respect a man, whereas most of the males Laurel knew, even those well over forty, seemed like aging college boys trying to find their way in a confusing world.

He turned one of the little chairs around and sat astride it, placing the back between them, as if to emphasize their new state of separation. His gray-blue eyes watched her cautiously. “I hope you’re not angry,” he said. “I wouldn’t have come, but it wouldn’t have looked right if one of us hadn’t.”

“I don’t know what I am.”

He nodded as though he understood.

Now that she was over the shock of seeing him here, need and anger rose up within Laurel like serpents wrestling each other. Her need made her furious, for she could not have him, and because her desire had been thwarted by his choice, however noble that choice might have been. The only thing worse than not seeing Danny was seeing him, and the worst thing was seeing him and being ignored, as she had been for the past month. No covert glances, no accidental brushes of hands, no misdirected smiles…nothing but the distant regard of casual acquaintances. In those crazed moments the hollowness within her seemed suddenly carnivorous, as though it could swallow her up and leave nothing behind. To be ignored by Danny was not to exist, and she could never convince herself that he was suffering the same way. But looking at him now, she knew that he was. “How could you come here?” she asked softly.

He turned up his palms. “I wasn’t strong enough to stay away.”

Honesty had always been his policy, and it was a devastating one.

“Can I hold you?” he asked.

“No.”

“Because there are people around? Or because you don’t want me to?”

She regarded him silently.

“I’m sorry for how it’s been,” he said haltingly. “It’s just…impossible.” His eyes narrowed. “You look really thin. Good, though.”

She shook her head. “Don’t do this. I’m not good. I’m thin because I can’t hold down any food. I have to pretend to eat. I’m barely making it, if you want to know. So let’s just stick to Michael and get this over with. There’ll be another parent outside my door in fifteen minutes.”

Danny was clearly struggling with self-restraint. “We really do need to talk about Michael. He knows something’s wrong. He senses that I’m upset.”

Laurel tried to look skeptical.

“Do you think he could?” Danny asked.

“It’s possible.”

“All I’m saying is, when I’m not okay, he’s not okay. And I think you come into it, as well.”

“You mean—”

“I mean when you’re hurting, he knows it. And he cares. A lot more than he does about his mother.”

Laurel wanted to deny this, but she’d already observed it herself. “I don’t want you to talk like that anymore. There’s no point.”

Danny looked at the wall to his right, where clumsy finger paintings of animals hung from a long board he had attached to the wall last year. While he drilled the holes, he’d confided to her what he thought the first time he saw the pictures: that the kids who’d drawn them were never going to design computers, perform surgery, or fly airplanes. It was a shattering realization for him, but he had dealt with it and moved on. And though Laurel’s students were unlikely ever to fly a helicopter, every one of them had ridden in one. With their parents’ joyful permission, Danny had taken each and every child on spectacular flights over the Mississippi River. He’d even held a contest for them, and the winner got to fly with him on balloon-race weekend, when dozens of hot-air balloons filled the skies over Natchez, thirty-five miles to the north. This memory softened Laurel a little, and she let her guard down slightly.

“You’ve lost weight, too,” she said. “Too much.”

He nodded. “Sixteen pounds.”

“In five weeks?”

“I can’t hold nothing down.”

Improper grammar usually annoyed Laurel—she had worked hard to shed the Southern accent of her birthplace—but Danny’s slow-talking baritone somehow didn’t convey stupidity. Danny had that lazy but cool-as-a-cucumber voice of competence, like Sam Shepard playing Chuck Yeager in
The Right Stuff.
It was the pilot’s voice, the one that told you everything was under control, and made you believe it, too. And when that voice warmed up—in private—it could do things to her that no other voice ever had. She started to ask if Danny had seen a doctor about losing so much weight, but that was crazy. Danny’s doctor was her husband. Besides, it didn’t take a doctor to diagnose heartbreak.

“I wish you’d let me hug you,” Danny said. “Don’t you need it?”

She closed her eyes.
You have no idea
…“Please stick to Michael, okay? What specific changes have you noticed in his behavior?”

While Danny answered, slowly and in great detail, Laurel doodled on the Post-it pad on her table. Danny couldn’t see the pad from where he sat; it was blocked by a stack of books. After covering the first yellow square with spirals, she tore it off and started on the next one. This time she didn’t draw anything. This time she wrote one word in boldface print:
PREGNANT.
Then, without knowing why, she added
I’M
above it. As soon as she wrote the second word, she realized she meant to give the note to Danny on his way out. She wasn’t going to tell him out loud—not here. There would be no way to avoid a tense discussion, or maybe something far less controlled.

The note would work. He could dispose of it on the way home, the same way she had disposed of the scrawled missives hurriedly passed to her at her classroom door. Like the e.p.t box she would ditch later today. All the detritus of an extramarital affair.
Like that baby you’re carrying,
said a vicious voice in her head.

The thing was, she couldn’t be sure the baby was Danny’s. She certainly wanted it to be, as absurd as that was, given their situation. But she didn’t
know.
And regardless of what Kelly Rowland had done in college, Laurel needed to find out who the father was. Only a DNA test could determine that. She was pretty sure you could analyze the DNA of an unborn child, but it would require an amniocentesis, another thing she’d have to go out of town to have done, if she was going to keep it from Warren. She would have to get some of Warren’s DNA without him knowing about it. Probably a strand of hair from his hairbrush would be enough—

“So, what do you think?” Danny concluded. “You’re the expert.”

For the first time in her life, Laurel had not been listening to what Danny was saying about his son. For more than a year, Michael McDavitt had been her highest priority in this classroom. It wasn’t fair, but it was true. She loved Danny, and because Michael meant everything to him, she had let the boy far inside her professional boundaries. Not that he was more important than the other kids; but until last month, she had believed she would one day become his stepmother, and that made him different.

“Danny, you’ve got to go,” she said with sudden firmness.

His face fell. “But we haven’t talked. Not really.”

“I can’t help it. I can’t deal with us right now.
I can’t.

“I’m sorry.”

“That doesn’t help.”

He stood, and it was clear that only force of will was keeping him from crossing the classroom and pulling her close. “I can’t live without you,” he said. “I thought I could, but it’s killing me.”

“Have you told your wife that?”

“Pretty much.”

A wave of anxiety mingled with hope swept through Laurel. “You told her my name?”

Danny licked his lips, then shook his head sheepishly.

“I see. Has she changed her mind about keeping Michael if you divorce her?”

“No.”

“Then we don’t have—”

“You don’t have to say it.”

She could see that he hated his own weakness, which had brought him here despite having no good news. Nothing had changed, and therefore nothing could change for her. He put his hands in his jeans pockets and walked toward the door. Laurel quietly tore the I’M PREGNANT Post-it off the pad and folded it into quarters. When Danny was almost to the door, she stood.

“Are you sleeping with Starlette?” she asked in a voice like cracking ice.

Danny stopped, then turned to face Laurel.
“No,”
he said, obviously surprised. “Did you think I would?”

She shrugged, her shoulders so tight with fear and anger that she could hardly move them. The thought of Danny having sex with Starlette could nauseate her instantly. Though he’d sworn he wouldn’t do it, her mind had spun out endless reels of pornographic footage in the lonely darkness before sleep: Danny so desperate from going without Laurel that he screwed his ex-beauty-queen wife just for relief—and found that it wasn’t so bad after all. Laurel was sure that Starlette would be trying extra hard to make Danny remember why he’d married her in the first place. Midnight blow jobs were her specialty. Laurel had dragged this out of Danny one night when he’d drunk more whiskey than he should have. Apparently, Starlette would wait until he was sound asleep, then start sucking him while he slept. Sometimes he wouldn’t wake until the instant before orgasm, and his expression when he’d told Laurel about this said all she needed to know about how much he enjoyed this little ritual. Once or twice she had thought of trying it herself, but in the end she decided it was better not to compete with Starlette at her game; better to stick to her own bedroom tricks or invent some new ones—and she had.

“We’re broken up,” Laurel said. “She’s your wife. I just assumed…”

Danny shook his head. “No. What about you?”

“No,” Laurel lied, hating herself for it, but too afraid of giving him an excuse to make love with Starlette to tell him the truth. Besides…if she admitted to sleeping with Warren—even just twice, which was the truth—the pregnancy would become a nightmare of doubt for Danny.

Danny was watching her closely. Then, as he so often did (and Warren almost never), he read her mind and did exactly what she wanted him to do. He marched up to her and smothered her in his arms. His scent enfolded her, and the strength in his arms surprised her, as it always did. When he lifted her off her feet, she felt herself melting from the outside in. The note stayed clenched in her hand, for until he let go, there was no way to slip it into his pocket. When he finally let her down, she would squeeze his behind, then slide the folded square into his back pocket. She could text him later and tell him to look in his pocket.

He was murmuring in her ear,
“I miss you…Jesus, I miss you,”
but she felt only the moist rush of air, which sent bright arcs of arousal through her body. As he lowered her to the floor, he slid her crotch along his hard thigh, and a shiver went through her. She would be wet in the time it took him to slide his hand past her waistband. She was thinking of helping him do just that when she saw a dark flash at the window in the door, as though someone had looked in and then jerked suddenly out of sight. She clutched Danny’s arm with her right hand and dragged it away from her stomach.

BOOK: Third Degree
5.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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