Today's Reading

Returning downstairs, she doesn't know whether the ache has its source inside her or in the walls of her stripped house.

At her approach, Lucy disbands a conference with two of the movers and Fi senses she has rejected their offer of help—to deal with her, the intruder. "Mrs. Lawson? Fiona?"

"This is unbelievable," Fi says, repeating the word, the only one that will do. Disbelief is all that's stopping her from
hyperventilating, tipping into hysteria. "I don't understand this. Please, can you explain what the hell is going on here?"

"That's what I've been trying to do. Maybe if you see the evidence," Lucy suggests. "Come into the kitchen—we're blocking the way here."

The kitchen too is bare but for a table and chairs Fi has never seen before, and an open box of tea things on the worktop. Lucy is thoughtful enough to push the door to so as not to offend her visitor's eyes with the sight of the continuing invasion beyond.

Visitor.

"Look at these e-mails," Lucy says, offering Fi her phone. "They're from our solicitor, Emma Gilchrist at Bennett, Stafford and Co."

Fi takes the phone and orders her eyes to focus. The first e-mail is from seven days ago and appears to confirm the exchange of contracts on 91 Trinity Avenue, Alder Rise, between David and Lucy Vaughan and Abraham and Fiona Lawson. The second is from this morning and announces the completion of the sale.

"You called him Bram, didn't you?" Lucy says. "That's why it took me a minute to realize. Bram's short for Abraham, of course." She has a real letter at hand too, an opening statement of account from British Gas, addressed to the Vaughans at Trinity Avenue. "We set up all the utility bills to be paperless, but for some reason they sent this by post."

Fi returns the phone to her. "All of this means nothing. They could be fakes. Phishing or something."

"Phishing?"

"Yes, we had a whole talk about neighborhood crime a few months ago at Merle's house and the officer told us all about it. Fake e-mails and invoices look very convincing now. Even the experts can be taken in."

Lucy gives an exasperated half smile.

"They're real, I promise you. It's all real. The funds will have been transferred to your account by now."

"What funds?"

"The money we paid for this house! I'm sorry, but I can't go on repeating this, Mrs. Lawson."

"I'm not asking you to," Fi snaps. "I'm telling you—you must have made a mistake. I'm telling you it's not possible for you to have bought a house that was never for sale."

"But it was for sale—of course it was. Otherwise, we could never have bought it."

Fi stares at Lucy, utterly disoriented. What she is saying, what she is doing, is complete lunacy and yet she doesn't look like a madwoman. No, Lucy looks like a woman convinced that the person she is talking to is the deranged one.

"Maybe you ought to phone your husband," Lucy says finally.


GENEVA, 1:30 P.M.

He lies on the bed in his hotel room, arms and legs twitching. The mattress is a good one, designed to absorb sleeplessness, passion, deepest nightmare, but it fails to ease agitation like his. Not even the two antidepressants he's taken have subdued him.

Perhaps it's the planes making him crazy, the pitiless way they grind in and out, one after another, groaning under their own weight. More likely it's the terror of what he's done, the dawning understanding of all that he's sacrificed.

Because it's real now. The Swiss clock has struck. One thirty here, twelve thirty in London. He is now in body what he has been in his mind for weeks: a fugitive, a man cast adrift by his own hand. He realizes that he's been hoping there'll be, in some bleak way, relief, but now the time has come there is something bleaker: none. Only the same sickening brew of emotions he's felt since leaving the house early this morning, somehow both grimly fatalistic and wired for survival.

Oh, God. Oh, Fi. Does she know yet? Someone will have seen, surely? Someone will have phoned her with the news. She might even be on her way to the house already.

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