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Книга Third Degree. Содержание - Chapter 11

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Chapter 11

Kyle Auster gripped his office telephone with an almost bloodless hand. The man on the other end of it was Patrick Evans, executive assistant to the governor and Auster’s line into the Medicaid Fraud Office. Evans had opened the conversation with the warning “No names,” then explained that he was calling Auster from a pay phone. At Evans’s next words, Auster’s face went slack with fear.

“I don’t know what you said to Paul Biegler today, but he’s on his way down there with two other agents to chain your goddamn office shut. You are out of business, Kyle. For a while, anyway. It’s time to hire a good criminal lawyer.”

“But…but” was all Auster could sputter. “Today? Biegler said he was coming in the morning.”

Evans didn’t bother to respond to this evidence of idiocy. Auster heard traffic zooming by whatever pay phone Evans was using. He could see his old schoolmate standing by some shady downtown pay phone, watching every vagrant like a potential mugger.

“Patrick,” Auster said in a halting voice. “Isn’t there any way I can head this off?”

“I’m sorry, man. The ship has sailed. And…I’ve got to say this. Our relationship has to end at this point. I know we go back a long way, but I’m in a high-profile job. You’re a liability now. I can’t risk everything because we played ball together in high school.”

A big truck ground its gears in Auster’s ear. He felt as if Evans had just walked away from the roulette table, leaving him half a million down. “I’ve got to go,” Evans said. “Are we clear on that last? No calls to the governor’s office, not even from home, much less jail.”

Fear and indignation rose as one in Auster. “What about all the contributions I’ve given you guys? Hell, this year alone-”

“Wake up, Kyle. This is survival. Get a good lawyer. I’m out of here.”

The phone clicked in Auster’s hand. No more traffic sounds. Nothing but the hum of his air conditioner and the sound of a patient’s voice in the corridor outside. He felt the world collapsing around him, crushing him with its density. His allotted time as Kyle Auster, noted Athens Point physician, had shrunk to the time it would take Paul Biegler to cover the one hundred and twenty-six miles of road between Jackson and Athens Point. With traffic, that was about two and a quarter hours, but if Biegler really pushed it, he could do it in ninety minutes.

Christ, when did he leave? Auster fought the urge to race out to his car, visit the bank, empty his cash accounts, and skip town. I should have kept my damn mouth shut. He pressed the intercom button on his phone and waited for Nell to answer.

“Yes, Dr. Auster?” she said in a strangely cold voice.

“Would you ask Vida to come to my office?”

“Um…she’s not here, Doctor.”

“What? Where is she?”

“She went to the store.”

“The store? What store?”

“I’m sure I don’t know, Dr. Auster.”

Auster was flabbergasted. Vida never left the office during the day. Maybe she’d run out of cigarettes.

“Should I send her to you when she gets back, Doctor?”

“Ah…yes, Nell. Thank you.”

Auster’s heart was galloping. He scrabbled in his top drawer for another beta-blocker, which he swallowed with the remains of a flat Coke from his morning snack. Then for good measure he stuck an Ativan under his tongue. What the hell could he do to save himself in ninety minutes? Call Biegler and send him to Warren’s house to find the planted evidence? Claim that everything he’d done had been to protect his younger partner? Would Biegler buy that? Probably not. There was still too much evidence to be found at the office. Too many patients to buy off. Ten days simply hadn’t been enough warning. He needed Vida. Now.

He speed-dialed her cell phone, but it kicked him straight to voice mail. Either Vida was on the phone with someone else, or she was purposefully not answering his call. At a loss, Auster started to get up and see one of the patients waiting in his exam rooms. Then he sat back down, took the crystal Diaka bottle from his bottom drawer, and gulped a heroic slug right from the mouth.

“She’ll be back soon,” he gasped, thankful for the burn of alcohol in his gullet. “She’ll know what to do.”

Warren dragged Laurel down the hall to the guest room and threw her onto the bed. The horn sounded again outside, and then the doorbell rang.

“Let me answer it!” she begged. “I won’t try anything! I swear to God.”

Warren wasn’t listening. He shoved a chair under the doorknob, then began rummaging in the guest room closet, which they used to store junk that had no other place.

“What are you doing?” she cried, praying that since the front door was still locked, Diane would take the kids home to her house. But of course she would see both cars in the driveway. “Please don’t tape me up again, Warren. I don’t want the kids to see that!”

“No tape,” he said, walking out of the closet with a three-foot length of plastic-coated cable. A bicycle lock.

“No!” she yelled, but it didn’t matter.

He sat astride her chest and looped the cable twice around her neck, then cinched it tight and passed it through two slots in the wooden headboard. By the time he clicked the lock shut, she could hardly move without cutting off her air supply.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” he said. “Don’t do anything stupid.” He vanished into the hall. Laurel heard the front door open, then a squeal of joy from Beth at unexpectedly finding her father home early. The voices dropped to a muffled hum, and a moment later Laurel heard feet going up the front stairs.

Why?

Struggling to breathe with the bike lock choking her, she agonized over her decision at the front door. She’d read that experts advised women to try everything for freedom in a kidnap situation, even to risk being shot rather than be taken captive. But this was different. When Warren said he would kill himself, she had known by the timbre of his voice that he would do it. He would kill her and himself, too. For an instant, she’d wondered if even that would be better than letting the children fall under his power, but in the end she’d decided that they represented her last hope of bringing him to his senses. Warren had come unmoored from reality, but perhaps Grant and Beth could coax him back.

She heard soft footsteps in the playroom upstairs. The kids’ couch groaned under Warren’s unaccustomed weight. In that moment Laurel hated Danny McDavitt. Five weeks ago her life had been a beautiful dream. They had each decided to tell their spouse that they wanted a divorce on the same night, a Thursday. That way, no matter what happened, Warren would have to go to work the next day, and Danny would have flying lessons scheduled. They could almost surely find a way to see each other, even if Warren or Starlette had freaked out. They parted that Thursday afternoon with a feeling of elation that masked the deep anxiety Laurel felt at broaching the subject of divorce with Warren. After eleven months of soul-withering secrecy, they were finally stepping into the light.

Danny stuck by his side of the agreement. After he put his kids to bed, he sat Starlette down in the kitchen and told her he didn’t love her anymore. When she asked if he’d met someone, Danny admitted that he had and told her that he was truly in love for the first time in his life. Starlette went ballistic. Not only did she make clear that she had no intention of granting Danny a divorce (in Mississippi you had to have grounds), but she also stated that if Danny somehow forced her into one, his ideas on custody-him keeping Michael, for example-would never become reality. She would keep Michael, first to make Danny suffer as she would be suffering, and second because she wouldn’t let any of her friends think she was capable of relinquishing her autistic son with only minor regret (which was the truth). Danny spent that night in their kitchen, trying to find a way out of the cage he had constructed for himself.

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