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Книга Third Degree. Страница 37

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“I told you someone was messing with your head,” she said softly. “Kyle had no idea what I was talking about. Do you believe me now?”

“You’ve got some kind of code!” Warren shouted. “Something you say if I’m around. Or something you don’t say. That’s it, isn’t it?”

A Kafkaesque dread descended in her soul. “Warren…the kids. Please keep your voice down.” She took a deep breath, then spoke with utter sincerity. “If you don’t believe what you heard with your own ears, I don’t know what I can do. The only place I’ve ever cheated on you is inside your head.”

“Are these in my head?” he cried, snatching up a bundle of bearer bonds.

“I can’t explain those,” she said with conviction. “But I’m not involved with Kyle Auster in any way. I’ll take a lie detector test, if you want.”

Warren was staring at the bonds, not at her.

“Think,” she said. “Use that big brain of yours. Who could have told you where to find this stuff except the person who put it there?”

“Maybe that’s how it is,” he said slowly. “Maybe when Kyle dumped you, you kept his money for revenge. Maybe he’s trying to get back at you like this.”

“That’s crazy!” she cried, causing the lock to jerk taut against her throat. “Think of the risks. And he’d never get his money back.”

“Maybe it’s his wife, then. E-mailing me, I mean. She’d damn sure have a reason to get back at him.”

“You think Kyle would tell his wife about hidden money? Come on.”

“I don’t know. But I guess you do.”

“I’m just guessing, for God’s sake. Just like you. All I care about are those two children upstairs. They’re going to know something’s wrong pretty soon, if they don’t already.”

Warren gave her the same odd smile as before. “You don’t have enough faith in them. They’re fine. Whatever I tell them, they’ll believe. They trust me, Laurel. They know who protects them.”

They know who takes care of them, she thought. “You’re right about one thing today. There’s something bad going on around you. But you’re wrong about me being part of it. Look how Kyle reacted just then. I offered the man a blow job, and he said no. Does that sound like Kyle Auster to you?”

Warren picked up the red ledger. He seemed to be trying to stare a hole through it.

Laurel said, “You need to forget about who’s screwing who and ask Kyle about this financial stuff. Before something really bad happens.”

She heard a bump upstairs. Then another. The kids were still up there.

“Maybe I will,” Warren said, staring at the other phone. “Maybe I will.”

Auster was swigging from the Diaka bottle again when his office door opened and Vida swept in the way his mother used to when he’d misbehaved as a boy. She shut the door behind her, then stood before his desk with a look so harsh that all his glib opening lines fled his brain.

“Are you drunk?” she asked.

“Vida…we’re in trouble. Bad trouble.”

Her expression didn’t change. “You just figured that out, Sherlock?”

Auster studied the bleach-blond harpy standing with her arms crossed over her chest and wondered why he’d ever gotten involved with her. He could hardly bear to look at her anymore, much less give her what she wanted after hours. Worse, he sensed that she didn’t even want the sex herself; it was simply a tool in her campaign to protect herself from a world that had always been less than kind to her.

“What’s happened now?” she asked.

“I got a phone call while you were gone.”

“From who? Biegler again?”

“No. Evans, up at the capital.”

“And?”

Auster blew out a lungful of air. “He said Paul Biegler’s driving down from Jackson to padlock the office. Now. As we speak.”

This shook Vida from her pose. Shock pinned her painted eyelids back for several seconds, but then her features went hard again. “Let me guess. When you had Biegler on the phone, you got up on your hind legs and roared like a drunk frat boy. You can’t keep that ego reined in, can you? I bet he’s ready to put you under the jail.”

Auster nodded in despair. “And I don’t see what we can do besides sic him on Warren and hope he’s content with that.”

Vida gaped as though Auster had suggested driving into a brick wall at sixty miles per hour. “Listen to me, Doctor. You’re as crooked as a barrel of fishhooks, but when it comes to actually committing a crime, you’re about as smart as a barrel of hair. The mystery is how you made it through medical school. They must have had a lot of lady professors up there, that’s all I can figure-”

“Vida-”

“Damn it, Kyle. Blaming Shields depended on a low-key investigation and things falling just right. On sanitizing this office of anything and everything that could contradict our version of things. Losing a lot of records. And most of all, on our special patients keeping their goddamn mouths shut. But we’re not near ready yet.” She dug a cigarette out of her back pocket, lit it, and began puffing furiously.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that.”

“Shut the fuck up, Kyle. I’m thinking. The only way we could dump this thing in Shields’s lap now is if he shot himself in the head with the evidence in his house. Then we’d be the only ones left to tell what happened, other than the patients. They’d be expensive, but-”

“What about the records?”

“Shut up! I’m trying to keep your ass out of jail.”

He reached into his bottom drawer for the vodka.

Vida watched him take a slug with obvious contempt. Then she blew out a long stream of smoke and said, “I know what you’re up to, mister. You’ve got some high-toned slut on the side, stashed and waiting for you to bug out with her. I don’t know who she is, but I will in about twenty seconds, because you’re going to tell me.”

Auster reached for the bottle again, but Vida lashed out with her hand and knocked it off his desk. The precious fluid gurgled onto the carpet.

“Don’t sit there gasping like a landed fish. Tell me who she is.”

“Vida, I wouldn’t cheat on you.”

“Jesus wept. Whoever she is, the slut is out of your life as of this moment. In exchange, I’m going to save you the indignity of nightly anal sex in Parchman Farm, where you most definitely would not be the top.”

“Shannon Jensen,” Auster whispered with the sound of a deflating balloon.

Vida’s eyes flashed with fury and disbelief. “The drug rep from Jackson?”

He nodded.

“She’s only twenty-three!”

Before Auster could reply, Vida said, “Of course she’s only twenty-three. Young enough to buy into your bullshit and throw her life away before it’s begun. God, you’re a prick. That smug little sorority princess prancing up these halls with a corncob up her butt…Jesus.

Vida was turning pale; primal anger was threatening to take over her higher brain functions. Before she could wind up again, Auster said, “I’m sorry, I’m an idiot. She’s history. Just tell me what to do.”

Vida flattened both hands on his desk and leaned over the charts lying there. “I’ve got half a mind to let Biegler clean your clock for you. I could turn state’s evidence, send you to Parchman for twenty years, and walk away rich. They give rewards for that kind of evidence now. Monetary rewards. I’d be getting a massage in Cabo, while you’d be doing research on whether size really does matter or not.”

Auster felt dizzy. “Vida, don’t lose sight of what’s-”

“I could do that,” she went on, as though he hadn’t spoken. “But I’m not. I don’t want Nell getting in any kind of trouble.”

“How can you prevent that?”

“By getting us all out clean.” Her eyes drilled into him like twin X-ray beams. “I just need to know two things, bub.”

“What?”

“One, that you’re done with that sorority slut.”

Auster nodded eagerly. “And?”

“Make the call, Kyle.”

“What call? To Shannon?”

37

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