Larry Cole has everything a man could want. He loves his wife, Eve, and is devoted to their two small sons. His career as an architect is both creatively satisfying and financially rewarding. His house in suburban Pinecrest Manor is attractive and comfortable.
But then Larry sees a new neighbor standing at the school bus stop. Margaret Gault is young, blond, beautiful—and married. She’s everything Larry didn’t realize was missing from his life, and he must have her. Maggie tells Larry she’s never been in love. But this isn’t about love. It’s about need and desire. Touch and taste and risk. And lies.
Larry and Maggie surrender to lust, knowing their secret motel rendezvous and lunch-hour trysts will amount to nothing; they will always be strangers to each other. But actions have consequences. And sometimes consequences can be deadly.
Author Evan Hunter adapted his riveting novel of infidelity into a film starring Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak. A torrid tale of sexual compulsion and the secrets lurking beneath the most placid of surfaces, Strangers When We Meet is an early masterpiece from the creator of the bestselling 87th Precinct series.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Strangers When We Meet
By Evan Hunter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1958 Evan Hunter
All rights reserved.
Gray October, and an early-morning chill in the house and a sullen sky pressing against the windowpanes. The sound of the children in the kitchen, Chris haggling with David, hounding the younger boy over the fact that he'd wet his bed again the night before.
There is a routine in this house, as prescribed as the steady cadence of minutes ticking off time on the face of the bedroom clock. There is a routine here, he thought, and it governs the people living here, and the routine is broken only on Saturdays and Sundays, and even then it is replaced only by another routine, as disciplined and relentless as the first.
"Better get up, Eve," he said, and beside him, her head under the pillow, one arm tangled in the blanket, Eve mumbled something incoherently.
He looked across at the clock on the dresser, the drill-master, the sergeant who handled the Early Awakening Detail. 7:00 A.M. What a ridiculous hour to be facing the world! By 7:10, the sergeant would relinquish his duties, pass them on to the white-faced disciplinarian who scowled down from the kitchen wall. You could see him from the bathroom. You could poke your head around the door jamb while you were shaving and there he was, tocking off minutes in his rigid voice.
He rose and stretched. He was a tall, sinewy man with brown hair and dark-brown eyes, eyes which were almost black. He had high cheekbones, and a straight nose, and a full mouth which looked amused even when it was not. He raised muscular arms to the ceiling and opened his jaws wide in a great lion yawn, and then he unbuttoned his pajama top, took it off and threw it onto the chair alongside the bed.
"Eve," he said, "let's go."
"Is it time?" she asked.
"It's time," he answered.
In the kitchen, Chris said, "You're a big boy, and you shouldn't wet the bed at night."
"I di'n wet the bed," David answered.
With perfect adult logic Chris said, "Then who did?"
"A fairy made it in my pants," David said.
Abandoning the logic, Chris laughed hysterically. David joined him. Together they bellowed until they'd forgotten what was so funny, until the house reverberated with their delighted cackling.
"Quiet down in there," Larry called. He reached behind him, touched Eve's warm shoulder. "Hey," he said. "Come on."
"Are you up, Daddy?" Chris asked from the kitchen. "Will you make pancakes?"
"Pancakes are for Sunday. That was yesterday."
"Do I go to school today?"
"Does David go to school?"
"No." He paused. "Are you dressed yet? How about it?" He pulled on his trousers and then shook Eve vigorously. "Hey, honey," he said, "get up and supervise Chris will you?"
Eve sat bolt upright. "What time is it?" she asked.
He looked at the clock. "Seven-ten."
Eve rubbed her eyes. Her eyes were blue, and they always looked faded in the morning as if the color somehow drained out of them during the night. She had long black hair, and he knew her next gesture even before she made it. Yawningly, she put both hands to the back of her neck and then ran them up toward the top of her head, lifting the black hair, stretching the sleep from her body.
"Oh, God," she said, "I had a horrible dream. I dreamt you left me."
"I will if you don't get out of that bed," Larry said, tying his shoes.
"Seriously. You were a beast."
"Are you getting up?"
"I was pregnant when you left."
"Bite your tongue."
"It was terrible," Eve said. She shuddered slightly, and then swung her legs over the side of the bed. The shudder seemed to dispel all memory of the dream. She smiled sleepily and said, "Good morning, beast." He kissed her gently, and she said, "Pwhhh, I haven't brushed my teeth yet."
"You're not supposed to brush them until after your first meal."
"That's what dentists say. What do they know?"
His hand had settled on her knee. Effortlessly now, it glided onto the smooth flesh of her thigh, and his fingers settled in the pocket of warmth where the short nightgown ended.
Eve wriggled away from him, smiling. "Stop it," she said. "I have to go to the bathroom."
"You always have to go to the bathroom."
"Doesn't everybody?" she asked lightly. She winked at him and then started down the corridor to the bathroom at the end of the hall.
"Ma," Chris said, intercepting her.
"Don't call me 'Ma.'"
"Does David go to school?"
Chris turned. He was five years old, with his mother's black hair and blue eyes. "See, David?" he said. "You can't go to school because you wet the bed."
"Did you wet again, David?" Eve asked.
"Yes," David answered in a small voice.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with you."
"A fairy made it in my pants, Eve," David said, hoping his earlier joke would convulse his mother, knowing too that she thought it devilishly cute of him to call her by her first name.
"I'll talk to you later," Eve said, and she closed the bathroom door behind her.
"Are you dressed yet?" Larry asked, coming from the bedroom.
"No," Chris answered. "What shall I wear?"
"Ask your mother."
Chris banged on the bathroom door. "Ma, what shall I wear?"
"I'll be out in a minute," Eve answered. As an after-thought she said, "Larry, will you put up the coffee water?"
"Sure." He walked into the kitchen. David followed him like a penitent shadow. David had brown hair and brown eyes, and he was three years old. His wet pajamas hung limply on his spare frame.
"Hi, Dad," he said.
Larry filled the tea kettle and then tousled David's hair. "Hi, son. Have a good sleep?"
"I wet the bed," David said matter-of-factly.
"You've got to be careful," Larry answered, taking the kettle to the stove.
"I know," David solemnly agreed, "but it just happens without my knowing, Dad."
"Well," Larry said, "you've got to be careful."
"Oh, sure," David said.
The bathroom door opened. Eve disappeared down the corridor.
"Hurry it up, hon," Larry said.
"What time is it?"
He went into the bathroom and closed the door. He could hear the sounds of the house around him while he shaved, the oil burner thrumming in the basement below, the vents expanding as heat attacked the aluminium. Another day. Another day to gird on the armor and step into the arena. Lawrence Cole, knight in shining. Available for dragon slaying, honor salvation, and holy-grail searches.
Eve's voice. Part of the routine. Somewhere during the early-morning rush on his city days, the clocks and Eve would join forces, combining in their efforts to shove slothful, lethargic, lackadaisical Lawrence Cole out of the warmth of Abode into the coldness of Arena. He rinsed his face and dried himself. He went quickly to the bedroom then, opened the second drawer of the dresser — top drawer belongs to Eve, invasion of privacy — and hurriedly unwrapped a white shirt, noticing at the same time that there was only one other shirt in the drawer.
When he came into the kitchen it was 7:35. His juice, cereal and coffee were waiting on the table. Miraculously, Chris was fully dressed and eating a soft-boiled egg. David sat morosely in his damp pajamas.
"How do I look, Daddy?" Chris asked.
"Fine, Chris." He picked up his juice glass. "When's the laundry man coming?"
"I'm almost out of shirts."
"Again? Why don't you buy a few more? A man could get neurotic worrying over whether his shirts will last the week."
"Maybe I'll get some today, after I'm through with this character."
"You say you will, but you won't. Why do you hate to buy clothes?"
"I love to buy clothes," Larry said. He grinned. "I just hate to spend money." He drank his orange juice. "Good stuff."
"They had a sale at Food Fair."
"Good. Better than the stuff you had last week."
"You look handsome, Dad," David said.
"Thank you, eat your egg, son."
"You'll have to take Chris to the bus stop this morning," Eve said. "I'm not dressed."
"Are you going to the Governor's Ball, or are you dropping your son off at the school bus?"
"I'm doing neither. You're dropping him off."
"A mother's job ..."
"Larry. I can't go in my underwear! Now don't —"
"Why not? That would set lovely Pinecrest Manor on its ear."
"You'd like that."
"So would all the other men in the development."
"That's all you ever think of," Eve said.
"What's all he ever thinks of?" Chris asked. He shoved his cup aside. "I finished my egg."
"Go wash your face," Eve said.
"Sure." Chris pushed his chair back. "But what's all he thinks of?"
"S-e-x," Eve spelled.
"That's corrupting the morals of a minor," Larry said. "Go wash your face.
"Is s-e-x Santa Claus?" Chris asked.
"In a way," Larry answered, smiling.
"I could tell," Chris said triumphantly. "Because everytime you spell, it's Santa Claus."
"Is it almost Christmas?" David asked.
"Come on, come on," Larry said, suddenly galvanized, reaching for his coffee cup. "Wash your face, Chris. Hurry."
"You're not having cereal?" Eve asked.
"I don't want to stuff myself. I'm meeting this guy for breakfast."
"You'll never gain any weight the way you eat."
"Who wants to? A hundred and ninety-two pounds is fine."
"You're six-one," she said, studying him as if for the first time. "You can use a few pounds."
Larry shoved back his chair. "Chris! Let's go!" Chris burst out of the bathroom. "Am I all right, Ma?" he asked.
"You're fine. Put on a sweater."
Chris ran to his room. Larry took Eve in his arms.
"Be good. Don't make eyes at the laundry man."
"He's very handsome. He looks like Gregory Peck."
"Did you brush your teeth?"
"Do I get a kiss now?"
They were kissing when Chris came back into the kitchen. The moment he saw them in embrace, he began singing, "Love and marriage, love and —"
"Shut up, runt," Larry said. He broke away from Eve. "I'll call you later."
They went out of the house together. David and Eve stood in the doorway, watching. "When I get big next week, can I go with them?" David asked.
"First you've got to stop wetting the bed," Eve said absently.
From the car Chris yelled, "Bye, Ma!"
Larry waved and backed the car out of the driveway, glancing at the line of his small development house and hating for the hundredth time the aesthetic of it. Pinecrest Manor, he thought. Lovely Pinecrest Manor. His wrist watch read 7:50. He waved again when they turned the corner. The bus stop was five blocks away on the main road which hemmed in the development. He pulled up at the intersection and opened the door for Chris. "Have fun," he said.
"Yeah, yeah," Chris said, and he went to join the knot of children and mothers who stood near the curb. Larry watched him, proud of his son, forgetting for the moment that he had to catch a train.
And then he saw the woman, her head in profile against the gray sky, pale-blonde hair and brown eyes, her head erect against the backdrop of gray. She held the hand of a blond boy, and Larry looked at the boy and then at the woman again. One of the other women in the group, one of Eve's friends, caught his eye and waved at him. He waved back, hesitating before he set the car in motion. He looked at his watch. 7:55. He would have one hell of a race to the station. He turned the corner onto the main road, looking back once more at the pale blonde.
She did not return his glance.
The man's name was Roger Altar.
"I'm a writer," he said to Larry.
Larry sat opposite him at the restaurant table. There was something honest about meeting a man for late breakfast. Neither of the two had yet buckled on the armor of society. The visors had not yet been clanged shut, concealing the eyes. They sat across from each other, and there was the smell of coffee and fried bacon at the table, and Larry made up his mind that all business deals should be concluded at breakfast when men could be honest with each other.
"Go ahead, say it," Altar said.
"That you've always wanted to be a writer."
"Why should I say that?"
"It's what everyone says." Altar shrugged massive shoulders. A waitress passed, and his eyes followed her progression across the room.
Larry poked his fork into the egg yolk, watching the bright yellow spread. "I'm sorry to disappoint you," he said, "but I never entertained the thought. As a matter of fact, I always wanted to be exactly what I am."
"And what's that?"
"The best architect in the world."
Altar chuckled as if he begrudged humor in another man. But at the same time, the chuckle was a delighted release from somewhere deep within his barrel chest. "I enjoy modesty," he said. "I think I like you." He picked up his coffee cup with two hands, the way Larry imagined medieval kings might have. "Do you like me?"
"I don't know you yet."
"How long does it take? I'm not asking you to marry me."
"I'd have to refuse," Larry said.
Altar exploded into real laughter this time. He was a big man wearing a bulky tweed jacket which emphasized his hugeness. He had shaggy black brows and hair, and his nose honestly advertized the fact that it had once been broken. His chin was cleft, a dishonest chin in that it was molded along perfect classical lines in an otherwise craggy, disorganized face. But there was nothing dishonest about Altar's eyes. They were a sharp, penetrating brown, and they seemed to examine every object in the room while miraculously remaining fixed on the abundant buttocks of the waitress.
"It's a pleasure to talk to a creator," Altar said. "Are you really a good architect, or is the ego a big bluff?"
"Are you really a good writer, or is the ego a big bluff?" Larry asked.
"I try," Altar said simply. "Somebody told me you were honest. He also said you were a good architect. That's why I contacted you. I want someone who'll design a house for me the way he wants to design it, without any of my half-assed opinions. If I could design it myself, I would. I can't."
"Suppose my ideas don't jibe with yours?"
"Our ideas don't have to jibe. Only our frame of reference. That's why I wanted to meet you."
"And you think a breakfast conversation is going to tell you what I'm like?"
"Probably not. Do you mind if I ask a few questions?" He snapped his fingers impatiently for the waitress. "I want more coffee."
"Go ahead. Ask your questions."
"You'd never heard of me before I called, had you?"
"Should I have?"
"Well," Altar said wearily, "I've achieved a small degree of fame."
The waitress came to the table. "Will there be anything else, sir?" she asked.
"Two more coffees," Altar said.
"What have you written?" Larry asked.
"You must be abysmally ignorant," Altar said, watching the waitress as she moved away from the table.
Larry shrugged. "If you're shy, don't tell me."
"I wrote two books," Altar said. "The first was called Star Reach. It was serialized in Good Housekeeping and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. We sold a hundred and fifty thousand copies in the hard cover and over a million in the paperback. Ray Milland starred in the movie. Perhaps you saw it last year?"
"No, I'm sorry. What was the second book?"
"The Debacle," Altar said. "It was published last June."
"That's a dangerous title," Larry said. "I can see a review starting with 'This book is aptly titled.'"
"One started exactly that way," Altar said, unsmiling.
"Was this one serialized?"
"Ladies' Home Journal," Altar said. "And Literary Guild, and Metro bought it from the galleys. They're making the movie now."
"I see. I guess you're successful."
"I'm King Midas."
"Well, in any case, I haven't read either of your books. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. We can't expect to enlighten everyone with two brilliant thrusts."
"Jesus, you're almost insufferable," Larry said, laughing. "Will you get me a copy of The Debacle? I'm assuming that's the better of the two."
"If it weren't, I'd quit writing tomorrow."
"Will you get it for me?"
"Go buy one," Altar said. "I run a grocery store, and I don't give away canned goods. It sells for three-ninety-five. If you're cheap, wait until next June. It'll be reprinted by then, and it'll only cost you thirty-five cents."
"I'll buy one now. It may break me, but I'll buy it. How much do you want to spend on this house of yours?"
"About seventy-five thousand."
"I guess you are King Midas."
"Making money isn't the hard thing to do," Altar said, suddenly serious.
"What kind of house do you want?"
"Something to live in."
"I don't design gingerbread or colonials or ranchonials or any other bastard forms. I'll design a contemporary house, and that's all."
"What else would a contemporary architect design?"
"You'd be surprised."
Excerpted from Strangers When We Meet by Evan Hunter. Copyright © 1958 Evan Hunter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.