From Perfect Cover (Book 2)

From Chapter 2

Becca serves as a nurse at Ridgetop Hospital. Here, early one morning, we meet the hospital's security director. Gary will meet him, too —

"You disgust me," Deborah Christoff said.

Skip Christoff stood leaning forward, 880 feet above the Hudson River, palms flat on the window-wall, wishing he could fly. Stalled traffic clogged the George Washington Bridge, below to the left. Across the water a misshapen sun sat impaled on a Manhattan tower. New York was a toy city spread out in grids. He saw none of it.

Concentrating on himself, he imagined the reflection he couldn't see in the glare: blonde hair, gray eyes, a ruddy complexion, square shoulders, six foot one. He was deserving of more than--

"Despicable cheat!"

He turned and found his wife had moved closer to him in the living room. She was standing beside one of three low white couches grouped to showcase the view. The sunlight had electrified her messy honey-blonde hair and etched the lines in her face. He noticed crows-feet beside her blue eyes and skin beginning to loosen on her neck. Her cheerleader looks were turning sloppy.

"You'll never get over it, will you?" he said, for the first time not denying the claim she'd been throwing at him for a month.

She waved a hand toward him and spoke matter-of-factly: "I'll pay you back in kind." She tightened the belt of her robe and stood rooted there.

He heard spite mixed with alcohol; unfocused, he watched dust motes float through the room, pinpoints of reflected sunlight. She hadn't cooked in weeks. The apartment smelled of neglect. A dark-oak wall unit hung to his left. The large bi-level room led to a stairway up to the entry foyer, from which visitors were blown away by the panorama.

At this point, he could care less who she slept with. He could talk her out of anger but he couldn't deal with the newfound bitterness. "You know I'm sorry," he said. "Let me make it up to you. We have something good together. We can still —"

"Forget that." The softness of her voice had stopped him cold. She hugged herself, arms over her breasts, fingers kneading her arms. "You're groveling because my life's about to change, and without you. You'd better accept it."

"Money, you mean?" He combed back his hair with his right hand and tried to meet her stare. "Toss away me, our marriage, because you can afford to?"

Her hands slid down as if powerless. "We've worn out this topic."

She sounded weary, not angry, and that concerned him.

She went on. "Six years I spent at home — a home my daddy bought for us, you couldn't afford it — doing what you wanted, which was nothing but waiting for you to get back so I could have dinner on the table and ask, 'How was your day, dear?' Well, enough. Betrayal was the last straw. You're not getting one cent of Daddy's money, and I'm not spending one more day as your obedient wife." She nodded at what she'd said, exaggerating the motion.

"You've been drinking."

"That's right." Her hands flexed with the emotion absent from her voice. "And jumping into bed with anyone who wants, you know that, too. Chubby me — as you've told me so often — with my saggy tits. At least everything else is in demand. I'll get my boobs fixed, take my money and see how the jet-set lives. I'll send you postcards."

She leaned back against a couch and he thought she was done until she remembered something else and offered it with a chuckle. "Oh, and there's no point in contesting the divorce. I got a football team of Daddy's high-powered lawyers." She clasped her hands like a basket and tilted her head. "I've told you that before, but I like the sound of it."

"This was never what I wanted," he said, moving toward the couch furthest from her. But he couldn't sit. He had to leave for the hospital in ten minutes; he felt antsy. Her father had been dead two weeks, everywhere but in her head.

"Who is she — this woman who's swept you off your feet?" Deborah asked, robbing even that of emotion.

"Please."

Her head straightened, hands unclasped and she bent forward from the waist. "Who... is... she?"

So Deborah had finally found the courage to ask. There were bags under her eyes. They'd been sleeping in separate bedrooms when he was home; she must not be sleeping well. "Would it matter if I threw out a name? Would it make anything better?"

Her fingers stretched, then relaxed. "Nothing could do that."

"Then why give you another target?"

She smiled wickedly. "Five thou for the name?" She leaned closer, watching. "Six? Do I hear ten?"

He slapped his hands against his thighs, gripped them, and she retreated a half step. "You want me to stay at Ridgetop again tonight?" he asked.

"Oh, goody. Then I can bring Tom, Dick, and Harry home. A menage-a-whatever." Her smile faded. "Don't bullshit me. I know you haven't been sleeping at the hospital."

"I have, and there are witnesses." He knew it wasn't a complete lie.

She shook her head and chuckled as if what he said had been absurd. "Please, don't parade the military types and old farts in front of me. They owe you. Ridgetop Hospital's Vice President For Safety and Security, fancy uniform, you run your own army." She flipped a dismissive hand. "They'll say whatever you want."

He tried to catch her eye and come across earnest. "Is there anything I can do to change your mind?"

She smiled broadly and leaned toward him, pressing on her robe to keep it from blousing. "Say, 'Honey, I don't want a cent of your money and I'm willing to go quietly.'" When she turned away, she dropped the panel to the wall-unit bar and began mixing a drink.

He watched her back, made fists, flexed muscles, but didn't move. Of course he'd cheated. She'd begun drinking, gained weight, stopped being the vivacious girl he loved. She hadn't seemed to mind his affairs until he found someone he could care for. Deborah had smelled it.

Radiance was by then pouring into every corner of the apartment, illuminating her — no more sheer gowns, only the thick robe — and clarifying his thoughts. He'd spend tonight elsewhere. He glanced out the window, heard the bottle clink against the lip of her glass. The sun was whole above the skyscrapers but so heavy it might fall.

He still couldn't see his reflection. He was disappearing. He squinted and searched the windowpane for Skip Christoff, fast-track police officer, security director of a regional hospital, upholder of the law, and he understood where all this was going and what he had to do.

They were still married, she was about to inherit a ton of money, and his time to act was running out. If she was losing her looks, would he be far behind? If only one of them could live the jet-set life, why not him? Apt revenge on her bastard father, his spoiled daughter's death enriching the man who'd never been good enough.

He recalled Deborah's words, and suddenly knew how he'd have it done. "For your sake, I hope Tom, Dick, and Harry wear condoms." Her back was to him, so she couldn't see the smirk when he added, "They like your boobs?"

The drink almost escaped from her glass as she spun toward him. Her mouth was open but she breathed deeply, collecting herself. "Doesn't matter, does it? Soon I'll be a new woman." She glanced at the drink, swirled the Ketel One before going on. "You'll never get to see my new breasts." She looked up with a lopsided grin.

He clasped hands behind his back. "Can I ask a favor?"

"You can ask."

"Don't let anyone at Ridgetop know about us." He forced sadness onto his face. "I'm losing my love and my home. At least let me keep my job."

She took a sip and liked it. "Sure. I'm not evil — just gone."

He closed the front door gently and found it a poignant gesture, moving past the life he'd lived here. He was reluctant to step away until he noticed the name on the door: Deborah Bascombe-Christoff, it read. From the day they moved in, they'd lived in Daddy's apartment. From the grave, the man still had her by the throat. His name--well, she was going to lose both.