The first time she breaks in, she leaves no trace. She just drifts through the house, trying to imagine John there; watching TV on the sofa, eating dinner at the table, grabbing a bottle of beer out of the fridge. (There's actually no beer in there at all, just a half-full bottle of a rather good Chablis. She's not surprised; Mark doesn't strike her as a beer drinker.)
The bookshelves hold little of interest: law textbooks, cookery books, travel guides, some celebrity autobiographies that Alice assumes -- hopes -- were received as presents by misguided friends. She'd hate to think anyone, let alone John's wife, owned those things out of choice.
The bathroom is clean and a little sterile. No soap scum around the tub, no stray hairs caught in the plughole, no toenail clippings in the waste bin. If Alice were the type to practice voodoo, she'd be out of luck.
She keeps looking. There has to be something left of John, somewhere. You can wipe the surfaces, clear out the wardrobes, change the sheets (probably change every scrap of furniture and redecorate the entire place, if she knows Zoe. And she's confident that she does) but you can't dissolve the kind of energy raised by that kind of relationship. Love and hate can be transmuted, but not destroyed. Or forgotten.
There's probably going to be more hate left than love, but that's okay. She can work with that.
The second time she breaks in, she leaves a bottle of perfume -- a spicier scent that will suit Zoe better than the overly floral one she currently wears -- and a card on the table. It's doubtful that her meticulous handwriting could ever be mistaken for John's scrawl, but she signs the card anyway. She wants to see Zoe's reaction. She's interested in this woman, in what makes her tick. In what made John love her. In what makes him love her still.
She considered trying seduction, for a while. But as enjoyable as it would have been, it wouldn't have generated adequate data. Zoe is quite stunning, but no matter how good the sex, that's not what it was about. The physical might attract John, but it wouldn't keep him. No, there's more to it -- to Zoe -- than that.
So Alice leaves her gift on the table until Zoe gets home, laden with shopping bags, and sees it. From the shadows Alice watches Zoe's eyes widen, her brow contract. When Zoe finally looks away from the table, it isn't towards the phone; her first instinct isn't to call John for help. Instead, her gaze goes to the wooden knife block, which Alice can attest holds a nice selection of lethally sharp instruments.
Pleased, Alice smiles and slips out the back door.
The third time, she has to forcibly disable the expensive new security system Zoe and Mark have installed. She enjoys the process of this -- she's always loved taking things apart -- but she feels bad about the damage. She likes putting things back together again afterward (especially in new and interesting ways). She was never one to break her toys just for the sake of it. Her sin of choice is curiosity, not destructiveness.
She resolves to write them a cheque for the cost of the alarm.
This time, it's Mark she's most interested in. And for his own sake, not for what it tells her about Zoe. That's obvious:
Mark is so far at the other end of the spectrum from John that they practically end up side by side again. Mark is certainly pretty enough, but what really fascinates Alice is how it's possible for anyone of his age to be so young. The idealism, the compassion, the faith in human nature; a brand new soul that doesn't yet know any better, or a very old one that's learned how to forget?
She looks for clues among his clothes, his papers, the flora and fauna of his life. She wonders how resilient it is, this psychic shield of his. How impenetrable. She wonders how best to go about testing it.
She takes a leisurely shower, wraps herself in his robe and stretches out on the bed. She closes her eyes and lets her mind play. Popular wisdom says scientific types aren't supposed to be creative, but then she's never exactly conformed to societal standards. She's good at most things she tries, and visualisation is no exception (it's an essential ability for the successful execution of a crime; you have to be able to imagine what could go wrong in order to make sure it doesn't).
She imagines John and Zoe in this room, in this bed; bodies and minds laid bare for her examination. The images coalesce behind her closed eyelids and her hands move over her body in imitation of the patterns she sees. It's a rewarding exercise.
She wonders if Mark does this; if he creates John's presence in the bed even as he holds Zoe in his arms. She thinks it's likely, although she doubts that he finds it quite as stimulating.
There's no fourth time.
She'd never paid a great deal of attention to Ian Reed. Ripley she watched and enjoyed, because his growing love for John was clearly genuine. Reed's wasn't -- if there's one thing Alice can spot instantly, it's false emotion -- so he didn't keep her interest for very long.
His transgression, therefore, takes her as much by surprise as it does John. Alice doesn't inherently dislike surprises -- chaos has its own beauty, and the ability to handle unpredictability is another useful skill -- but she does dislike interference. With Zoe gone, her project is now destabilised, her findings forever inconclusive. This doesn't please her at all.
One of the immutable laws of the universe says that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Another says that if you displease Alice Morgan to that extent, there will be a heavy price to pay.
Ian Reed gave out death. When Alice opens up his chest cavity with a shotgun, he receives it. She considers that a satisfactory proof of both.
When the dust settles, John keeps his job, Mark changes his. He switches firms and starts specialising in cases of police corruption or injustice. Despite everything, that faith, that belief in making a difference, is still there. Alice doesn't know whether to feel awe or pity. Perhaps both.
Other people seem to find it strange that Mark and John spend so much time together, but to Alice it makes perfect sense. Zoe's death created a vacuum that pulls them both inexorably, if unwillingly, together. They fight constantly, in both the abstract and the specific, but they clearly wouldn't have it any other way. Sometimes we feel most comfortably defined by what we are not; Mark and John provide each other's negative space.
They fight about her a lot, too. Alice finds it highly amusing to listen to their debates about the nature of her influence and whether she should be allowed to have any place in their lives. As if it were up to them to decide.
Bless their cotton socks, as her mother would have said.
It's Friday, and both Mark and John will be working late. Alice thinks maybe she'll cook; have a cool drink and a hot meal waiting for her boys when they get home.
She has a key now, but she breaks in anyway. Just for old time's sake. She doubts if they'll notice.