The List

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Excerpt:

Summer Solstice
10:50 a.m.

The window air-conditioning unit clicked twice, then whirred to life. The building on Washington Square was too old to have central air. The cold air drifted through the swath of sunshine that faded the ancient Oriental rug’s reds to a brick shade. Special Agent Daniel Logan took up position at the left end of the love seat and braced his elbow on the arm as he noted the way light fell on the monument in Washington Square Park. Back in his NYPD days, before he left for the FBI, he’d trained himself to note not just date and time but the weather, moon, and astronomical events in his reports to anchor things in his memory. It was useful when he testified in court.

At this very moment the sun was at its highest point in the sky, and the summer would only get hotter.

Today he noted the solstice not because he’d be called to testify, but because he’d met Tilda the preceding summer solstice. One year had passed, the year of Tilda. They’d met, started dating or whatever Tilda called it, gotten married, and were now sitting in front of a marriage counselor, because Tilda thought they needed to divorce.

She folded herself into the opposite end of the love seat, as pale and textured as fine paper, wearing a sleeveless black sheath, her bare legs crossed. No wedding ring. No birthday bracelet. The therapist, a tall, thin man with dark brown eyes and a turban covering his hair, shook both their hands as he introduced himself as Dr. Bhowmick, then settled himself across from them.

“Daniel,” he said in a lightly accented voice. “Do you prefer Daniel or Dan?”

“Daniel.”

“The interpreter of dreams,” Dr. Bhowmick said. “Word origins are a hobby of mine. What do you do?”

“I’m with the FBI.” It wasn’t all that different from interpret- ing dreams. As an agent assigned to investigate white-collar crime, he reconstructed people’s dreams after they’d been stolen.

Dr. Bhowmick transferred his gaze to Tilda. “And Tilda. An unusual name.”

“It’s short for Matilda,” she said, but she lacked her usual smile.

“Ah,” the therapist said genially. “Do you know the origin of your name?”

“I do,” she said. “It’s German and a combination of two words meaning strength and battle.”

Her face wore her most pleasant expression, as if she batted away idle observations and trivial facts all day, deflecting the conversation down shallow gullies until everything they had left dissipated into the air.

“What brings you here today?”

“I think we need to divorce,” Tilda said.

“I think we don’t,” Daniel replied.

She smiled at Dr. Bhowmick. “And there you have it.” Crisp, clean, precise, the upper-class British accent the same temperature as the room. She must be freezing, in her sleeveless sheath. Daniel was comfortable in his suit, and he ran much hotter than Tilda, who lived like she could spontaneously combust at any moment but was always cold.

Dr. Bhowmick turned to a clean page in his legal pad, and wrote something at the top. Daniel’s gaze flicked to the words. He could read most handwriting from all angles, but Dr. Bhowmick appeared to be taking notes in some form of shorthand. Tilda was also studying the pen and paper, but Daniel doubted she was try- ing to read the handwriting. Cheap legal pad, a ballpoint pen that came in packs of ten at the Duane Reade is what Tilda, who owned an upscale stationery store, would see.

“How long have you been married?”

This information was on the intake assessment Daniel filled out before the appointment. He’d do the same thing to a suspect or witness, take information, ask again from a slightly different angle, then ask again from another. It’s how he pieced together the stories that solved crimes. Simple or complex, financial or physical, a crime was always about a story. People had goals, motivations, conflicts that escalated into theft and violence. Stories and numbers were his specialty. “Six months,” he said.

Dr. Bhowmick halted midscrawl. “You’ve been married six months? How long have you known each other?”

“A year.”

“Eleven months,” Tilda clarified.

Daniel slid her a look. “It’s the solstice. We met a year ago today,” he said, standing on the only solid ground in his earthquake-rattled world. That day was written on his bones, as real and solid as the love seat under him, the light on his skin, Tilda’s even breathing beside him.

“So you’ve been together for almost a year, and married for most of that time. Why don’t you want to be married to Daniel any longer?”

She looked away, out the large rectangular window in the living room. NYU were students crossing the square, pausing by the chess games going on at the south end of the park. Daniel remembered his student days, the freedom to explore everything body and mind had to offer. Tilda, four years younger, hadn’t crossed his path.

“Tilda,” Dr. Bhowmick prompted gently.

“I’m not comfortable opening our marriage to a stranger.”

“Neither am I,” Daniel pointed out.

The look she shot him was swift and fierce, like a silver blade. When she returned her gaze to Dr. Bhowmick, he straightened almost imperceptibly. “We married in haste. It was an impulsive decision that, in hindsight, was the wrong one. It would be foolish to repent at leisure, when both of us could be free.”

Words mattered to Tilda; she chose them carefully. She didn’t say to meet other people. She didn’t say she didn’t love him. She didn’t say it was a mistake. She didn’t even say she wanted a divorce. We need to divorce.

“Daniel?”

“I love her. I want to be married to her for the rest of my life.” Tilda’s unreadable gray gaze never left the window. Her slender, pale fingers, bare of any rings at all, sat unmoving in her lap while the rest of the session passed in silence. Daniel was comfort- able with silence, knew how to use it during an interrogation, so he sat and watched the sun shift on the rug as the seconds crawled by. When their time was up, Tilda collected her purse as she stood.

“I have an appointment. Thank you, Dr. Bhowmick,” and walked out the door.

“Tilda,” Dr. Bhowmick mused. Reflecting on her name, Daniel thought, not pining for her. He said it that way often enough. “These things take time, Agent Logan. Would you like to schedule a recurring session?”

“I need to talk to Tilda first. She travels for work.”

When he reached the street, Tilda was standing by the curb, her tote slung over her shoulder, one slender arm outstretched to hail a cab. Without looking at him, she asked, “Do you want to share a taxi to Midtown?”

Startled, he laughed. None of this was like Tilda, except it was. She was perfectly capable of walking right up to a ledge, a cliff, and peering over the edge to assess the landing. He loved surprises, loved pitting himself against the unexpected, loved even more his unpredictable wife. To get a better angle on oncoming traffic, she stepped off the curb between two parked cars. He took a moment, just a moment, to admire the taut swell of her calf in four-inch heels, the way her dress hugged her hips, the play of her shoulder blades, the seemingly vulnerable nape of her neck, exposed by the riotous tumble of chin-length black curls.

“I assume you’re still having lunch with the runners club?” she said over her shoulder. “I’m meeting Colin at Barneys before we leave for London. Do you want to share a cab?”

A cab slowed for her, the availability light flicking off as it braked. Her words were a challenge, a dare, a gauntlet thrown down onto the steaming city pavement. She was exactly the same as the day he’d met her, except she thought they needed to divorce. “Yeah,” he said, and slid into the backseat next to her.

“Sixtieth and Madison,” she said, then sat back and tucked her purse in her lap.

The cab crawled through midday traffic. Daniel stared out the window and thought. Tilda didn’t talk about emotions with him, much less strangers, some vestigial remnant of her English upbringing. In an era of constant oversharing on social media, it took months for Tilda to give him even the thinnest slivers of her story. When she did tell him something, she was ruthlessly honest.

“An impulsive decision to marry isn’t a solid foundation for a marriage,” she said, as if she could read his mind. Maybe she could. “We never really meshed as a couple. Your work and family. The deal is about to close, the situation with Sheba snowballed out of control, and I’m worried about Nan.”

Her grandmother lived in a fishing village in Cornwall, England, where Tilda had lived as a child. Two weeks earlier Nan had stumbled off the ramp leading to the henhouse and broken her ankle. If Tilda hadn’t been in the middle of a business opportunity that could make or break her, she would have been in Cornwall already.

The cab pulled to a stop on the east side of the street. She handed a twenty through the sliding window, while Daniel, seated on the sidewalk side, got out of the cab so she wouldn’t exit into the traffic rushing up Madison. Without thinking about it, he held out his hand; he suspected her taking it was equally a matter of habit. He stayed where he was, trapping her between his body and the cab door, and let her forward momentum bring her right up against his body. It was far too blatant and possessive for an on-duty FBI agent wearing his gun and his badge and standing on one of the busiest street corners in Midtown Manhattan. He was working the case of the decade; even a verbal reprimand could get him yanked back to investigative support. But this was Tilda, his wife, who said there was nothing between them worth building a marriage on.

Then he kissed her.

His mouth landed a little off center, her lips parting in surprise and then softening, heating under his. Her fingers spasmed as if she would pull away. He neither tightened nor relaxed his grip on her hand, but rather slipped his tongue between her lips to touch hers. Then it happened, a hint of flint and tinder, sparks flaring, the hitch in her breathing as she tilted her head just enough to align their mouths.

With one quick jerk she freed her hand and stepped back, her eyes dark with an anguish that triggered a sense of déjà vu. “Don’t, Daniel. If you really knew me, if you really knew me, the last thing you would have done is schedule an appointment with a therapist.”

She pushed past him onto the sidewalk, and disappeared around the corner. Daniel closed the cab’s door and tapped the roof twice with his fist. As the cab pulled out into traffic, Daniel withdrew his notebook and pen, and took refuge in habit. He made a list.

Risks Tilda Takes:

1. Sitting on ledges
2. Sliding over cliffs
3. Going after the deal that will make her a global brand

4. Asking for a divorce

He walked the few blocks to meet the ultramarathon runners for lunch, his mind only half on the discussion about training schedules, nutrition, hydration, and war stories. Instead he thought about the divorce rate for law enforcement officers, which was well above the national average. Just about every cop or agent he knew well enough to swap stories with fell somewhere on the spectrum from marriage counseling, separate rooms, separations, filing for divorce, to actually divorcing. Then, just out of curiosity, he walked back to Barneys, got an iced coffee from the coffee shop across the street, and stood in the shade under the awning of the coffee shop next to Judith Ripka, just in time to watch his wife get into another man’s car.

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