They wadded up sheets of newsprint and stuffed them under the kindling.
Ethan opened the damper, lit the paper.
As the fire grew, he called for Ben.
The boy appeared, sketchpad under his arm. “Yes?”
“Come draw by the fire.”
Ben looked at the butchered coffee table.
“Come on, son.”
The boy took a seat in a rocker beside the woodstove.
Ethan said, “I’ll leave the door open for you. When that fire gets going, add another piece.”
Ethan looked at Theresa, cut his eyes toward the hall.
He grabbed a plate from the kitchen and followed her back to the study.
Locked them inside.
The light coming through the window was gray, weak, and fading.
Theresa mouthed, “You sure they can’t see us in here?”
He leaned in, whispered, “Yeah, but they will be able to hear.”
He sat her down in the chair, touched his finger to his lips.
Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a slip of paper, which he’d folded thirty minutes ago at the station.
Theresa opened it.
I need access to the back of your left leg. Take off your pants and turn over. I’m sorry but this is going to hurt a lot. You have to keep quiet. Please trust me. I love you so much.
She looked up from the note.
Reaching down, she began to unbutton her jeans.
He helped her slide them down her thighs, something inescapably erotic as he tugged them off—the impulse to keep going, to keep undressing her. Was after all their f**k chair.
Theresa turned crosswise and extended her legs into the air like she was stretching.
Ethan moved around to the side of the chair.
Ninety percent sure he was out of view of the camera, which, from what he’d seen in Pilcher’s office, aimed down at the bookshelf across the room.
He set the plate on the floor and removed his coat.
Kneeling down, he opened one of the large flap pockets and took out everything he’d raided from his office that afternoon.
Bottle of rubbing alcohol.
Handful of cotton balls.
Tube of superglue.
A pair of forceps he’d pocketed from the OR in the superstructure.
A Spyderco Harpy.
He stared at the back of Theresa’s left leg as the scent of woodsmoke crept in from the living room under the door. It took him a moment to zero in on the old, white incision scar, which resembled the footprint of a tiny caterpillar. Opening the bottle of rubbing alcohol, he held a cotton ball to the mouth and turned it upside down.
The sharp bright smell of isopropyl filled the room.
He wiped the wet cotton ball across her scar and then scrubbed down the plate. He opened the Spyderco folder. Its blade was an evil-looking piece of cutlery—fully serrated and curving to a point like the claw of a bird of prey. He wet another cotton ball and sterilized the blade and then the forceps.
Theresa watched him, the look in her eyes something akin to horror.
He mouthed, “Don’t watch.”
She nodded, lips pursing, tension hardening her jawline.
When he touched the knifepoint to the top of the scar, her body went rigid. He didn’t have the nerve built up to just start cutting her, but he dove in anyway.
Theresa sucked a hard breath through her teeth as the blade entered.
Ethan’s eyes fixed briefly on her hands, balled into sudden fists.
He detached himself.
The blade was psycho-sharp, but this was a small gift. With no resistance—like cutting warm butter—he pulled it easily down the length of his wife’s scar. It didn’t feel like he was hurting her, but her face was scrunched and turning red while her knuckles blanched and a straight line of blood ran down the back of her leg.
He remembered this look on her face.
That fiercely beautiful determination.
Night of their son’s birth.
The knifepoint was in a quarter, maybe half an inch, and he wondered if he’d gone deep enough to expose the muscle.
He carefully withdrew the blade and laid it on the plate. Blood coated the end of the Harpy with the consistency of motor oil. The beads and spatters popped on the white porcelain. Theresa’s panties were stained red and blood pooled in the crevices of the chair.
Ethan took the forceps.
He turned on the penlight and stuck it between his teeth.
Leaned in close to study the new incision.
With his left hand, he spread the mouth of the cut open.
With his right, he worked the forceps inside the incision.
Tears streamed down Theresa’s face, her hair clutched in both hands. He doubted she could stand more cutting in the event he needed to go deeper.
Slowly, he opened the forceps.
Theresa made her loudest noise yet—something deep and guttural in the back of her throat.
Her fingers clawing the upholstered arms of the chair.
The hardest part was not offering her a single word of encouragement or comfort.
He shined the penlight into the wound.
Saw the muscle.
The microchip reflected a mother-of-pearl shimmer from the surface of Theresa’s hamstring.
He lifted the Harpy off the plate.
Sweat burned in his eyes.
Almost there, baby.
He pushed the blade back into the wound as blood poured down her leg. Theresa flinching when the tip of the Harpy touched the muscle, but he didn’t hesitate.
Ethan worked the knifepoint between the muscle and the chip and broke it free.
He withdrew the blade, the microchip barely clinging to the end.
He hadn’t been breathing.
Drew in a big gulp of air as he set the knife on the plate.
Theresa eyeing him, desperate to know.
He nodded and smiled and picked up a handful of gauze. She grabbed it, held it to the back of her leg. Blood came through almost instantly and Ethan handed her a fresh one.
The worst of the pain seemed to be retreating, the flush leaving her face like a fever breaking.
After five minutes, the flow became manageable.
After twenty, it had stopped altogether.
Ethan wet one last cotton ball with alcohol and cleaned the incision site while Theresa cringed. Then he pinched closed the gaping wound, ripped the top off the superglue with his teeth, and squeezed out a generous bead, which he extended down the length of her cut.
It was almost dark outside now and growing colder by the second inside the study.
He held the incision closed for five minutes, then let go.