The War of the Roses: The Children

BOOK: The War of the Roses: The Children
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Praise
Praise for Warren Adler's Fiction

“Warren Adler writes with skill and a sense of scene.”
—
The New York Times Book Review
on
The War of the Roses

“Engrossing, gripping, absorbing… written by a superb storyteller. Adler's pen uses brisk, descriptive strokes that are enviable and masterful.”
—
West Coast Review of Books
on
Trans-Siberian Express

“A fast-paced suspense story… only a seasoned newspaperman could have written with such inside skills.”
—
The Washington Star
on
The Henderson Equation

“High-tension political intrigue with excellent dramatization of the worlds of good and evil.”
—
Calgary Herald
on
The Casanova Embrace

“A man who willingly rips the veil from political intrigue.”
—
Bethesda Tribune
on
Undertow

Warren Adler's political thrillers are…

“Ingenious.”
—
Publishers Weekly

“Diverting, well-written and sexy.”
—
Houston Chronicle

“Exciting.”
—
London Daily Telegraph

Praise for Warren Adler's Fiona Fitzgerald Mystery Series

“High-class suspense.”
—
The New York Times
on
American Quartet

“Adler's a dandy plot-weaver, a real tale-teller.”
—
Los Angeles Times
on
American Sextet

“Adler's depiction of Washington—its geography, social whirl, political intrigue—rings true.”
—
Booklist
on
Senator Love

“A wildly kaleidoscopic look at the scandals and political life of Washington D.C.”
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Los Angeles Times
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Death of a Washington Madame

“Both the public and the private story in Adler's second book about intrepid sergeant Fitzgerald make good reading, capturing the political scene and the passionate duplicity of those who would wield power.”
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Immaculate Deception

Title Page

The War of the Roses

The Children

by Warren Adler

Copyright Page

Copyright © 2004 by Warren Adler

ISBN (EPUB edition): 978-0-7953-4570-8
2nd Edition

All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any form without permission. This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination based on historical events or are used fictitiously.

Inquiries: [email protected]

STONEHOUSE PRODUCTIONS

Produced by Stonehouse Productions

Cover design by David Ter-Avanesyan/Ter33Design

Published 2015 by RosettaBooks
www.RosettaBooks.com

Introduction

It's been three decades since my novel
The War of the Roses
was published and nearly 25 years since 20th Century Fox adapted it into the film starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito.

This cautionary tale about the perils of divorce and the destructive power of materialism burst upon the public consciousness at a time when divorce rates in the U.S. were at an unprecedented high. Since then, the story has not only proliferated globally, but it has also entered the zeitgeist and morphed into divorce nomenclature, both in legal proceedings and as a metaphor for a contentious breakup.

The book continues to be read in over 25 different languages, while the movie is shown around the world on television with great frequency. My play
The War of the
Roses
based on the novel has been successful internationally and will premiere on Broadway in 2016.

I have received countless comments, letters, and e-mails from people who have read the book, seen the movie or staged version of
The War of the Roses
. Many have expressed thanks to me, as it changed their lives in some way, which is the most gratifying response an author can receive. Some have confessed that they had abandoned any idea of fighting over property in the course of their divorces, or that the story motivated them to rethink their breakups. Frankly, I am humbled and astonished at the staying power of
The War of the Roses
, which takes a dark view of family dysfunction.

We are only beginning to get a glimpse into the long-term consequences of a traumatic divorce and how the painful process of breaking up a family impacts millions of children each year. The very concept of “family” is at risk globally. While divorces in the U.S. have declined since the 1980s, divorce rates across the world, especially in countries like Russia, South Korea, Belgium, and Sweden are soaring. The infamous tale of Jonathan and Barbara Rose is resonating with international audiences now more than ever before.

As more and more people became exposed to
The War of the Roses
, one question popped up frequently from readers and spectators:

Whatever happened to the children of the Roses?

The question is essential to our understanding of what children from broken homes endure. It is estimated that 50% of all North American children will experience the divorce of their parents before they turn 18, and 50% of the children of divorced parents in the U.S. will experience the breakup of their own marriages. It is the dilemma of our times, a tragedy of epic proportions as more and more parents opt to break up the bedrock of a civilized society—the family.

In the original novel it was the Rose children, Josh and Eve, who stood aghast in the immediate aftermath of their parents' demise by the falling chandelier. The movie was less bold, eliminating the children from that quintessential scene. Using the circumstances of the novel as my guide, I began to speculate what might happen to the children who had lived through such a bitter and ultimately fatal battle between their parents. Surely, children who live through these events must be profoundly affected.

The following saga,
The War of the Roses: The Children,
is the result of this speculation. It follows the trials and tribulations of the children and grandchildren of this star-crossed family with all the pathos, humor, and eccentricities that bedeviled Barbara and Jonathan Rose and brought on their own tragic demise.

As a novelist, I subscribe to the great Gustave Flaubert, who believed that the story was there all along in the author's mind, and all the author had to do was to call it out of his subconscious. My hope is that the influence of the original work will endure through
The War of the Roses: The Children
. It was an aftermath that ached to be told.

Warren Adler
New York, March 2013

Chapter 1

Victoria was on the checkout line at Safeway for the mid-week groceries when the cell had vibrated in the pocket of her slacks. It was there mostly for useful family communications and emergency situations.

On the line was Mr. Tatum, headmaster of Michael's school, which had her cell number on file. Her heart jumped to her throat. He was quick to reassure her.

“Michael is fine. Don't be alarmed,” he said.

Then why this call, she wanted to ask, but held off.

“It's the business about the candy,” Mr. Tatum explained. She sucked in a deep breath and expelled it with a sense of relief. Then disgust set in.

“That again,” Victoria sighed. “So it's reached the emergency level, has it?” she said with a touch of sarcasm. As she spoke, she watched the heavyset uniformed female clerk punch in the numbers. “They're three for two twenty,” Victoria barked. “Check your ad.”

“Damn,” the clerk blushed, embarrassed, rereading the list of promotional prices.

“Not you, Mr. Tatum,” she said into the phone. “I'm at the Safeway.”

“I don't want to complicate your life, Mrs. Rose,” Mr. Tatum said unctuously. “But we need you here as soon as possible.”

“You can't be serious. Why?”

“We would like Mr. Rose here as well.”

“That's impossible. You know he works in Manhattan. You know that, Mr. Tatum. Why the urgency?”

“It's happened again,” Mr. Tatum explained.

For a brief moment, a wave of panic washed over her. Was something terrible being hidden? Surely, this could not be about candy bars.

“Madeline's parents are not satisfied with Michael's previous denials, Mrs. Rose.”

“Are you saying that the girl is making yet another accusation?”

“I'm afraid so.”

“And the Crespos are buying it?”

“Completely, Mrs. Rose. We're, sort of, at an impasse.”

“It's no impasse as far as my husband and I are concerned,” Victoria said, feeling the heat rise in her body. Frustrated, she watched the clerk scowl at the register as if it were to blame for the error. “I've already explained this. We do not lie in our family.”

“I'm sorry, Mrs. Rose,” Mr. Tatum told her officiously. She sensed that Michael's accusers were witnessing his call. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”

“Can't it wait until tomorrow, Mr. Tatum?”

“I wish it could.”

“The Crespos,” Victoria hissed, weighing her comment with sarcasm. “They're there, aren't they, Mr. Tatum?”

“Yes, they are here,” Mr. Tatum replied.

“And Michael?” Victoria asked. “Under no circumstances do I want him disrupted.”

“At this point we hope we can resolve this without any additional trauma to the children, Mrs. Rose,” Mr. Tatum said.

“Good. I do not want him present as if he were a defendant in a courtroom drama, Mr. Tatum.”

“It has similarities, I'm afraid,” the headmaster sighed. It was obvious he detested the confrontation.

“Give me an hour,” Victoria said. “I have to carpool my daughter and her friends to ballet class.”

“We'll wait,” Mr. Tatum said, his voice indicating a struggle for neutrality.

Victoria ended the call and watched the clerk furiously punch in the last numbers. Her attention had strayed. Later, she would analyze the final tape against her purchases. Vendors were always making mistakes, some in her favor, some not. Either way, it opened up opportunities to exercise her moral superiority and mathematical acumen. She had minored in accounting at NYU, rejecting going for CPA and opting for law instead. Now she was majoring in Mommy with obsessive and awesome determination.

She paid her bill by Visa, wheeled the food basket to the rear of the Ford Explorer, loaded the groceries, then headed for Emily's school, cursing the conduct of the headmaster for allowing the situation to reach this level of absurdity.

She knew the Crespos from the various meetings and events involving the school—Pendleton Hall, tuition twenty-eight thousand a year, plus another five for incidentals. That, plus another twenty-five thousand for Emily at Episcopal. A rip-off, Victoria had concluded, making you pay over and above taxation because they let the public school system turn to
merde
. To Victoria, being suckered was a capital sin.

She quickly shrugged off the irritation. Parents preparing their children for success in the complex take-no-prisoners world ahead had no other alternative. Private schools in general, and this one in particular, provided the competitive edge. Improving the odds of attainment, in Victoria's estimation, was an essential component of good parenting.

The prospect of again confronting Helen Crespo and her big boobs and husband John with his bushy moustache and little round wire glasses made her ache with despair. He taught English at a local junior college, and she was an heiress from some pasta machine invention who did ceramics and talked a blue streak, never pausing to edit or absorb anyone else's commentary or response.

The families had also interacted at church, St. John's Episcopal, which they had joined when Michael was four, providing the obligatory spiritual component that both she and Josh had rarely been exposed to in their childhood.

Victoria had thought their initial confrontation had resolved the issue. They had met in an empty classroom after the school day with Mr. Tatum sitting behind the teacher's desk. Apparently the headmaster did not want to expose the children to the threatening environment of his office.

Michael, with all of his eleven-year-old indignation, had denied the accusation in the presence of both Crespos and their nerdy little Madeline who lisped, ogling them through goggles far too big for her pinched little face. Mr. Tatum had watched the proceedings with an expression of tolerant understanding. He was a tall, handsome man in his fifties with the tweedy, comforting look of a wise teacher. He was the respected King Solomon figure of Pendleton Hall, and he had laid down rigid standards of conduct and academic achievement. Parents and students deferred to him. His word was law.

“Did you see him take the Milky Way?” Victoria had asked the little girl, adopting her version of a sweet, non-threatening tone. The three parents who were present had been provided with adult chairs while the children sat at their regular child-size desks.

“Thee him?” Madeline replied, raising her voice, averting her goggled face from that of her interrogator. “How could I? He wath too thneaky.” She looked reassuringly toward her parents.

“Then how do you know he took it?” Victoria asked, with lawyerly innocence, noting that the child's lisp reacted negatively to excitement.

Madeline raised her little face and scrunched up her nose in an unpleasant gesture as if there was a foul odor in the room.

“He thaw me eating it in the wunch room and he thaid sharing food ith an act of wuvv and friendthip.”

Aunt Evie's puffed and rosy face had jumped into Victoria's mind.
Food is love
was her sister-in-law's mantra, and her bloated face and body was its logo. Madeline's assertion made her heart sink. Could it be true then? No way, she decided. In their household, telling lies was worse than the ten plagues visited upon the Egyptians in the Old Testament.

“That doesn't make him the thief, dear,” Victoria said still sweetly.

“I altho thaw him eating it.”

“A Milky Way? Michael?”

“Yeth. Twyth.”

“Twyth,” Victoria said. It was inadvertent. She had not meant to blatantly mock the child's lisp.

“Victoria!” Helen Crespo rebuked.

“That was insensitive,” John Crespo sneered.

“I'm sorry. Really, I hadn't meant….” She was getting off the track. She offered the child a painful smile. “How did you know it was your Milky Way, Madeline dear?” Victoria asked.

“Becauth it wooked wike mine.”

“All Milky Ways look alike,” Victoria said, rediscovering her old prosecutorial skills.

“It wath mine.”

“But it could have been given to him by someone else who might have gotten it out of a vending machine,” Victoria countered.

“We do not have candy vending machines in the building,” Mr. Tatum interjected.

“I never stole her Milky Way,” Michael had protested, blue eyes blazing, lips pursed, his little body ramrod straight, adding his own clinching comment. “My mom doesn't even let us eat candy in our house.”

Echoes of Aunt Evie again, but in a more positive mode. Her sister-in-law's gluttony and its obvious physical results had prompted an increase of her rejection of fatty foods and all other edibles containing high amounts of sugar and sodium. Before any food entered her kitchen, Victoria fanatically pored over nutritional tables, rejecting any foods that did not meet her strict dietary standards.

“How does Madeline get this candy?” Victoria asked, making no attempt to mask her disapproval.

“It's a treat,” Helen Crespo said defensively. “We put it in her backpack.”

Victoria shook her head with obvious disgust. A glance of disapproval from Mr. Tatum gave her pause.

“My son does not lie,” Victoria reiterated.

“Neither does my daughter,” John Crespo said.

“Perhaps,” Mr. Tatum said, making a cathedral with his fingers and peeking through the steeple, “we should allow this incident to pass without resolution. These things have a tendency to escalate. As you know, the standard at Pendleton is truth and tolerance. It could very well be that each child is looking at the incident from different perspectives, both of which are correct in their own minds. Call it the Rashomon effect. Let us hope that a similar incident does not reoccur.”

Which meant it was a standoff. That evening she had gone over the circumstances with Josh, who with fatherly solemnity had confronted Michael yet again.

“She's lying, Dad,” Michael said, offering not a hint of guilt in expression or gesture. “I did not steal her candy. Besides, I know candy isn't good for you.” He looked toward his mother. “Right, Mom?”

Victoria nodded and smiled.

“I don't mean to belabor the point, son, but this means a great deal to all of us.”

“I know that, Dad.”

“Truth no matter what the consequences,” Josh had intoned.

“Don't you believe me, Dad?” Michael said, his eyes begging, swallowing hard, his upper lip beginning to tremble. “Mom does.” He looked toward Victoria, who opened her arms and embraced him, rubbing his back.

“You know I do, darling,” Victoria said.

“Mikey wouldn't lie,” Emily suddenly squealed. She had been watching the proceedings from the foot of the stairs and was visibly upset by any questions concerning her brother's fidelity. “Nobody lies in our family.”

At nine, Emily lived in a world of complete belief in the goodness of all people. She particularly adored, doted upon, believed in, and supported her brother in all things. Happily for their parents, it was a two-way street. Both Victoria and Josh had nurtured this idea of sibling solidarity in their children and were delighted that their wish had become a reality.

Born, according to plan, one year apart, Victoria, an only child, had yearned for such an alliance. Josh, having experienced the strength and comfort of the sibling bond, had eagerly supported the idea. There was an irony in that, Victoria knew, since she was not exactly keen on the zealous solidarity of Josh's relationship with his sister Evie, although she understood why they had clung together so tenaciously over the years. Considering what had happened to their parents, the Roses, she had tried valiantly but unsuccessfully to temper her judgment.

“We didn't mean to upset you, darling,” Victoria said, turning to Emily, throwing her a kiss. Then she turned to her husband. “This is overkill, Josh.”

“You realize, Michael, that there's nothing to be afraid of,” Josh pressed, obviously ignoring her comment.

“I know that, Dad,” Michael said. His eyes had grown moist and the tip of his nose reddened. Victoria and Josh exchanged knowing glances and the interrogation abruptly came to end.

“I do believe you, son,” Josh said, adding, “One for all and all for one.” He reached out to tousle the boy's blonde hair. Victoria put her hand over Josh's and motioned to Emily who bounded to join the embrace.

“Trust is everything in this family,” Victoria said.

“I know that, Mom.”

Michael looked from one parent to the other, then crossed his heart.

“I never doubted you for a minute,” Josh said, kissing Michael's cheek. Then he kissed Emily on the head and Victoria on the lips.

“That ends it,” Josh said. “We will not have our children harassed.”

***

As she drove, panic had turned to indignation. The old lawyerly aggression had surfaced. Abuse that child and I'll sue your ass, she heard herself say in her mind.

Memories of earlier legal tangles surfaced, dramatic confrontations with smug lawyers from the greedy insurance companies defending their suspect turf from the equally suspect plaintiffs whose cases she had manipulated and manufactured, mostly from trumped up medical evidence and fictional scripting.

In those career days, as a single practitioner in the seedy negligence law business, she was living testimony to the case for tort reform. Once she had enjoyed the hurly-burly challenge of walking the thin wavy line between the micro margins of corruption and alleged legality. Love and marriage had demanded a higher level of moral turpitude and parenting had sealed her fate, motivating aggressive psychic reconstruction.

Hadn't Michael assured them of his innocence? The Rose family built their lives on a rigid standard of absolute honesty. It was the bedrock of their behavior. The Crespo girl was imagining things.

As she approached St. John's, the Episcopal school that went only to the second grade, she had worked up a good head of exasperation. Emily was waiting for her with her two friends at the school entrance.

BOOK: The War of the Roses: The Children
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