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Книга Third Degree. Страница 33

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A few minutes ago Warren had typed on the Sony’s keyboard for nearly a minute. At first this frightened her, but when she realized he had not broken into her account, she decided he must be writing or answering an e-mail. She’d used this time to work harder at the duct tape. Yet even if she managed to free her legs, her wrists would remain bound. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve the vase and hit Warren over the head with it if her hands were bound together. And even if she succeeded at that, there remained the problems of trying to get her keys, reach her car, and drive away. Warren wasn’t going to lie peacefully on the floor while she did all that.

She was pretending to scratch her ankles when he got up from the ottoman and stared at her like a man trying to hypnotize someone.

“Why did you run to the safe room?” he asked.

“Because I thought I would be safe there. Duh.”

“Is that the only reason?”

“What other reason could there be?”

He pointed his right forefinger at her, then wagged it right and left like some cranky middle-school teacher. “Let’s find out.” He shoved the gun into his waistband, then walked out of the great room and into the kitchen.

Laurel bent nearly double on the couch and sawed frantically at the tape. A few seconds later Warren walked out of the kitchen with a knife and came straight to the sofa. Kneeling beside her, he cut through the tape around her calves, then the strips binding her ankles. She was terrified that he would notice her saw marks, but he was in too much of a hurry. He pulled her to her feet and marched her toward the foyer.

“Who are you talking to online?” she asked.

“Why do you think I’m talking to someone?”

“You’ve been typing and reading something. I figured it was e-mail. Or IMs. And you said before that someone told you to search for the letter. They just told you to look in the safe room, didn’t they?”

“Aren’t you the little detective.”

“I told you there was something else in the house. Somebody’s screwing with your head, Warren. Big-time.”

“We’ll see when we find out what it is, won’t we?”

I was right! Laurel thought anxiously. What the hell are we about to find? Just don’t let it be something I can’t explain-

He opened the closet that concealed the steel door of the safe room and told Laurel to turn her back to the door. After she did, he punched his new code into the child-protection key pad, which opened the steel door unless the master lock had been set from the inside. As Warren stepped into the metal room, a spark of excitement flashed through her. If she could get inside the safe room and somehow shove him out, then she could slam the door and lock it. With him outside, the kids would still be in danger, but there was a secure phone in the safe room, and she could use it to call Diane Rivers and stop her from bringing the kids home.

Laurel took a furtive step backward, instinctively realizing that this was the way to get into the safe room. Warren would be nervous that she was trying to break for the front door. As if on cue, he said, “That’s far enough. You come stand here, in the doorway.”

She shuffled forward like a reluctant prisoner. The air in the safe room was musty and stank of mildew. Warren began removing the canned goods stored on the shelves, grabbing shrink-wrapped packs of Bush’s baked beans and stacking them on the floor. Next came the bottled water. Laurel was ready to risk her life to get Warren out of there, but he outweighed her by sixty pounds, minimum. And that sixty pounds was almost all muscle. To complicate matters, her wrists were still taped together, and Warren was almost flush against the shelves on the back wall. How could she get behind him and shove him out the door?

She found her chance less than a foot away.

Where the reinforced wall met the steel door, a sharp piece of sheet metal protruded a half inch into the open doorway at shoulder level. It looked a lot like an old-fashioned razor blade, and she wasted no time testing it. As Warren cursed and dropped a six-pack of Dasani onto the pile behind him, she raised her arms and dragged the duct tape along the protruding metal. Warren paused at the ripping sound-which sounded like Velcro being unhooked-but by the time he turned, Laurel was holding her wrists together again.

He knelt before the deep shelves, then grunted in surprise.

Laurel picked up a heavy can of beans and drew it back as if to hurl it at his head. It seemed safer than moving close enough to hit him, but if she missed, he might shoot her out of simple reflex. Warren groaned in frustration. He was trying to pull something off the back of the bottom shelf. A white cardboard box. A banker’s box.

She sprang forward and drove the can down toward the base of his skull, aiming for the brain stem. With her children in danger, there was no point in half measures. Warren must have heard her approach, because he turned his head back and upward just as the can reached the end of its arc. Instead of knocking him into a vegetative coma, the flat of the can crashed into his neck and jaw.

He fell against the shelves, his eyes blank.

Laurel raised the can to deliver another blow, but Warren toppled sideways, out of reach. She darted forward, meaning to grab the gun from his waistband, but the light of awareness flashed in his eyes. She froze, aware that she had moved within his grasp, then whirled and lunged for the door.

The gun thundered like a cannon in the tiny room.

“DON’T TAKE ANOTHER STEP!” Warren screamed.

Laurel was too close to freedom to obey. She kept moving, and the pistol exploded again. A hole appeared in the foyer wall ahead of her. This image somehow penetrated the rush of panic driving her forward. She turned and saw Warren crawling through the door of the safe room with the pistol in his hand. She darted to her right, which carried her out of his line of sight and to the front door.

The door was bolted shut, but the key was in the lock. She was turning the key when a car horn sounded outside. Two quick blasts that told her Diane Rivers had just pulled to the end of the sidewalk with the kids. As the bolt clicked open, a shadow fell across the door. Laurel put her hand on the knob.

“Open that door, and I’ll kill you,” Warren said. “I’ll kill you with Grant and Beth watching.”

She gripped the brass knob with all her strength, willing herself to open the door. No way will he shoot me in front of them, she told herself. He’d spend the rest of his life in prison, and not one person would ever visit him. Not even his mother-

“And then I’ll shoot myself,” Warren said quietly.

Laurel froze, a thousand images from news stories she’d seen over the years playing in her mind. Murder-suicide! Distraught Dad barricades home and executes family! Stabs wife, strangles kids in their beds! Father crashes plane into mother-in-law’s house with children aboard! She let her hand fall from the knob.

Warren seized her by the neck and dragged her away from the door.


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