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 (7 page)

BOOK: Third Degree
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“I’m surprised you kept that,” Warren said. “You’re usually such a detail person. I guess that letter means a great deal to you.”

Laurel stood frozen, her eyes on the letter. Other than outright panic—squashed by survival instinct—her mind was blank. She gazed at the green letters, trying to keep the muscles of her face motionless. She felt Warren staring relentlessly at her, not blinking, and blood rushed into her cheeks. Nothing could stop that. She could blame it on Warren’s confrontational posture, but that would only postpone the inevitable. From the moment Warren found that letter, the truth was bound to come out.

“Well?” he prompted, his voice exquisitely controlled. “Are you going to stand there and lie to me?”

Laurel knew what his exaggerated control signaled: rage. Danny had always warned her to be prepared for this moment. For getting caught. Anyone might have seen them on any day, without their even knowing it. Danny had told her that people who had affairs behaved as though they were invisible, as though passion created some sort of force field through which common people couldn’t see. But this was a chemical illusion, and it took only a single unexpected glance to destroy it. Danny’s letter was much more than that. It was as deadly as a shot fired through the heart, and it had probably destroyed Warren to read it. Worse, that shot had triggered an avalanche from the frozen heights above their marriage. Even now, mountains of denial and repression were hurtling down upon them at two hundred miles an hour. The silence in the room was the prelude to the roar of being buried alive.

“You’re not going to say anything?” Warren demanded.

Her mind grasped at the nearest concrete detail. “I’m getting a migraine. That’s why I came home early.”

“You poor thing.”

“Whatever,” she said, turning away. “I’m going to try to find the Imitrex.”

“Don’t try to walk away from this.”

As she looked back at him, Danny’s voice spoke softly in her mind:
Never admit anything. No matter what he confronts you with, deny it. Deny, deny, deny. It may seem ridiculous, but he’ll be desperate for any excuse to believe you. If you admit cheating on him, you’ll regret it later. Think before you act.
She knew Danny was right, but looking at Warren now, and knowing what was in the letter, she saw how impossible that advice was. She had no option but to tell the truth, even if it meant living alone forever. But first she needed the Imitrex. She couldn’t complete the destruction of her marriage while having a migraine.

“I’m going to find the Imitrex,” she repeated firmly, and walked away before Warren could respond. “Will you give me the injection?”

“Come back here!” he shouted. “Don’t walk away from me! Laurel!”

She waved acknowledgment but kept walking, her eyes brimming with tears.

“I said turn around, goddamn it!”

It was his tone that turned her, not the “goddamn.” There was something in it she had never heard before, a fury that bordered on madness, and she could imagine nothing more alien to Warren Shields than madness.

Facing him again, she saw that he’d gone pale. His right hand gripped the edge of the coffee table like that of a drowning man clinging to the gunwale of a lifeboat. The sight triggered something deep within her, something far deeper than thought, an impulse concerned with her survival alone. And then she saw why: Warren’s other hand was holding a gun. A black revolver, pressed against the outside of his thigh. Only part of the gun was visible, but there was no mistaking what it was.

“My head is about to
explode,
” she said, her eyes locked on to his by force of will alone. “Whatever that piece of paper is, I’ve never seen it before in my life.”

 

Chapter 5

 

“You’re lying,” Warren said, still clutching the gun beside his leg. “I have to say, that’s the last thing I expected from you.”

Laurel refused to acknowledge the gun’s existence, yet it filled her mind with terrifying power. Where had Warren gotten a pistol? He owned a rifle and a shotgun, but so far as she knew, there wasn’t a single handgun in the house. Yet he was holding one now. Should she acknowledge it? Was it riskier to pretend the gun wasn’t there? Would that reinforce the idea that she was lying? Warren was almost hiding it from her, though. For now, she decided, she would pretend she hadn’t seen it.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said in a level voice. She pointed at the letter on the coffee table. “What is that?”

He slid the letter toward her. “Why don’t you read it?”

She picked up the note and scanned the words she knew by heart, her eyes swimming.

“Aloud, please,” Warren said.

“What?”

“Read the letter aloud.”

She looked up. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Do I look like I’m kidding? It’ll be so much more powerful that way.”

“Warren—”

“Read it!”

“Will you give me the injection when I’m done?”

He nodded.

She’d read Danny’s last letter so many times that she could recite it from memory. She reminded herself not to glance away from the paper as she read, a mistake she might pay for with her life. She began reading in a lifeless monotone: “ ‘I know the first rule of this kind of relationship is Never Write Anything Down. But in this case I feel I have to. A—’ ”

“You skipped the salutation,” Warren said coldly.

She sighed, then backed up and gave him what he wanted.
“ ‘Laurel,’ ”
she said. “Blah, blah, blah. ‘A transient wisp of electrons won’t do it. There’s no need to go over the facts. We’ve both done that until we’re almost insane. But before I say what I want to say, let me remind you that I love you. I feel things for you that I’ve never felt before—’ ”

She looked up and spoke sharply, “Warren, this is bullshit. Where did you get this?”

He looked back at her without speaking.

“Did someone give you this?”

An odd smile touched his lips. “I actually found it in your copy of
Pride and Prejudice.
But then you know that already, don’t you?”

“I told you, I’ve never seen this before in my life.”

He shook his head. “Deny till you die, huh? I
really
expected more from you than this. Where’s the woman of principle who’s always criticizing people? Why can’t you tell me the truth? Because this guy dumped you? Are you scared to leave me without another man to run to?”

The words rolled right over her. She couldn’t get past the gun. It seemed unreal in Warren’s hand, a mockery of everything he stood for. He had never liked guns. He knew how to shoot, of course, like any man raised in a small Southern town. But he wasn’t like a lot of the men she knew, who had fetishes about guns. Many homes in Athens Point held half a dozen firearms, and some forty or fifty. A couple of doctors actually carried guns on their person and had built pistol ranges on their property. She’d heard Warren make disparaging comments about those men, something to the effect that they used the idea of self-defense to justify the macho feeling that guns gave them. Laurel agreed, but Warren’s take on things had surprised her, because unlike most people, he had actually used a gun to defend his family.

When he was fifteen years old, a prowler had broken into his parents’ house, looking for anything he could steal to buy drugs. Warren had awakened, crept down the hall, and found a hopped-up teenager pointing a gun at his father’s chest and demanding money. Without thinking, Warren rushed to his parents’ room and grabbed his father’s loaded .45 from the top shelf of the closet. Then he ran back to the front room and shot the yelling prowler in the back. He didn’t yell out a warning or call 911. He saw his parents in mortal danger, and he responded with deadly force. The police saw things the same way, and within hours, Warren Shields was a local hero. A week later, the NRA sent a reporter to town to get the story, to run it in their “The Armed Citizen” column in
American Rifleman.
Warren and his parents declined this celebrity. As it turned out, the boy Warren had shot was only three years older than Warren himself. Warren had played baseball against him when he was still in high school. As far as Laurel knew, Warren had never fired another pistol since that day.

Yet now he was holding one in his hand.

Don’t look at the gun,
she told herself. “Somebody’s screwing with your head, Warren. That’s the only explanation for this.”

Another faint smile, as though he could appreciate her efforts to deny the obvious, the way Grant tried to deny peeing on the toilet seat. “Then it shouldn’t bother you to keep reading,” he said. “Maybe together we can figure out who wrote this.”

“Warren—”

“Read!”

She closed her eyes for a few moments, then continued. “ ‘I think of you in everything I do. You’re as much a part of my being as I am. This emotion feels unselfish, but it’s not, because you are my salvation. And not only mine, as you know. No lesser thing could keep me from coming to you. I know you know that, and that’s not why I’m writing you. I’m writing to tell you something else you already know, hopefully to give you the last push you need.

“ ‘You deserve more than I can give you, and that’s why we’re not together. But you also deserve more than Warren can give you. Much more. You have to leave him, Laurel. He can never make you happy, and you know it. He doesn’t even know you. If he did, he would never have let you give up so much to come here.’ ”

Over the top of the letter, she saw Warren’s mouth tighten into a grimace of hatred. She stopped, but he motioned for her to go on.

“ ‘You and Warren are complete opposites. He is cold, logical, held-in, almost sterile. You’re warm, vibrant, creative, sensual, all the things you’ve shown me this past year. I’m not trying to denigrate him. I know he has good qualities. He’s an honest man, a good provider. I don’t care much for his parenting style, but I’m not sure we have much choice in that. We’re all victims of our fathers that way. But your needs are so deep. Emotionally, sexually, intellectually…while his seem so limited and concrete. You’ve told me that yourself. He doesn’t really want a wife, but a beautiful servant. That role will never be enough for you, and the sooner you admit that, the better off you’ll be. Warren will be, too. The only way you could stay with him is by becoming a lifelong martyr to your children. I’ve known women who did that. Zoloft for the daytime, sedatives at night, a vibrator in the drawer, and too many glasses of wine at parties. They all regret it later.’ ”

Laurel paused for breath. Too afraid to look up, she pushed forward on autopilot.

“ ‘Please don’t choose that life. Don’t sell yourself short. The simple truth is that you married too young. Should you pay for that mistake for the rest of your life? I know, I know…Do as I say, not as I do. But we’re in very different situations. Grant and Beth will be all right. No matter what you choose, I’m going to abide by our agreement. I never thought of myself as weak until I was inside you. Now I know how weak I truly am. I’ll never get myself out of you, and I’ll never get you out of me. I’m sorrier than you’ll ever know.’ ” She paused, trying to blot Danny from her mind, as though not thinking of him might somehow protect him. “It’s signed, ‘Me.’ ”

“How convenient,” Warren said acidly. “Don’t you think? And the writer seems to have his finger on the pulse of our marriage, doesn’t he? Or he thinks he does, anyway. Who do you think might know us that well?”

She kept staring at the paper, wishing harder than she had as a child forced to sing in front of her father’s congregation that she could magically be transported elsewhere. As she stared, the periphery of her vision shrunk and went dark, until she was staring at the letter through a round window. Her dread of pain returned with enough force to take her out of the moment—almost.

“Just tell me the truth,” Warren said softly. “Please. I won’t be angry.”

Glancing up at his slitted eyes, she felt she had just heard a rattlesnake hiss,
Just step right here on my tail, I promise I won’t bite you.

“I have told you the truth. You don’t want to hear it.” She dropped the letter on the floor. “I got a migraine aura thirty minutes ago. If I don’t get that injection, I’ll be flat on my back all afternoon, unable to speak. You won’t be able to continue this ridiculous interrogation.”

He regarded her coolly. Withstanding his scrutiny as best she could, she tried to make a plan of action. Given the as-yet-unmentioned gun, she should probably get out of the house as fast as possible. But that wasn’t as simple as it sounded. She couldn’t outrun Warren, and no one could outrun a bullet. It seemed inconceivable that he would actually shoot her, but if someone had asked her whether Warren would threaten her with a gun, she would have declared that impossible, too. No…she was going to have to talk her way out of this. Talk and bluff.

“Is that a gun in your hand?” she asked in a neutral voice.

He lifted the pistol into plain sight. “This?”

“Yes, that.”

“It is.”

“Is it loaded?”

“Of course. An unloaded gun is useless.”

Oh, boy.
“Where did you get it?”

“I bought it a couple of months ago. Some punks hassled me one night when I was riding my bike on the south end of town. I carry this in my seat bag now. I’ve got a permit for it.”

Warren was still an obsessive cyclist; he’d won dozens of regional races, and even a couple of nationals a few years ago. He rode countless miles in training, but she’d heard nothing about any gun, or any incident where he’d needed one.

“You keep that in the house, with our children?”

She’d tried to sound suitably shocked, but Warren ignored her apparent concern. “I have a lockbox for it in the storeroom. Top shelf. It’s kidproof, don’t worry.”

It’s not the kids I’m worried about right now.
“That doesn’t mean it’s Grant-proof.”

A smile crossed Warren’s face as he thought of his mischievous son.

“Why are you holding it now?” she asked.

“Because I’m very angry. And this makes me feel better.”

Oh, God—

BOOK: Third Degree
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