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Книга Third Degree. Страница 41

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Grant nodded reluctantly. “Then Mom should, too. We all have to follow the same rules. That’s-”

“You sorry son of a bitch,” Laurel said under her breath. “You should be ashamed.”

Warren turned to her, his eyes red. “I should be ashamed? The shame is all yours today, my love. Did you ever think about these children when you were betraying them? Did you think about them for five seconds while you-”


“Be quiet, Elizabeth!” Warren snapped. “AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

Beth’s earsplitting scream made all other communication impossible. Warren stood over her as if to make her stop, but he was faced with the fact that nothing short of violence could do it, and that was likely to provoke even more screams-or worse, total silence. If Laurel could have snatched the gun from his pocket at that moment, she might have shot him through the heart. She had betrayed her duty to her children, yes. But nothing justified the psychological torture he was putting them through now. And for what? For revenge, the most useless thing in the world.

“Warren, you have to stop,” she said, while Beth recharged her lungs between screams. “You’ve made your point.”

“Have I?” he asked, scowling over his shoulder.

Beth cut loose with another shriek, and this time Laurel rushed forward and snatched her up off the sofa. “I’ve got you, darling, I’ve got you,” she murmured in Beth’s ear. “Everything’s all right now. Daddy was just telling a story.”

“Were you?” asked Grant, hope in his eyes.

“No, Son. I’m afraid not. And soon we’re all going to know who Mom’s new friend is.”

Something in Laurel snapped then. She turned far to the left, winding up, then flung out her right arm and backhanded Warren with all the force she could summon. The slap resounded through the room, leaving total shock in its wake. While Warren rubbed blood from the end of his nose, Grant gaped in shock.

“Mom just hit you, Dad,” he said, as though trying to get his mind around what his eyes had just seen. “She knocked the crap out of you!”

“It’s just a game,” Laurel said, gently rocking Beth in her arms while Warren watched her with madness in his eyes.

“What game is that?” Grant asked.

“Austin Powers,” Laurel replied, grabbing the first suitable image she could find amid the clutter of her pop-culture memory. “I think Beth needs a nap, gentlemen.”

She started to carry Beth to her bedroom, but Warren’s right hand slid into the pocket that held his pistol. “Think,” she said softly. “Think about what you’re doing.”

“You didn’t think.”

“You’re right. I should have-” Laurel stood with her mouth open, but no sound emerged. The doorbell had just rung. The echo of its musical ping was still fading.

“Someone’s at the door,” Grant piped up. “Maybe it’s UPS with my new trucks!”

The bell rang again, three times in quick succession. “Nobody move,” Warren said in the voice of a TV cop. He went to the dormer window and looked down toward the front entrance of the house.

“Who is it?” asked Grant.

“Probably some guy wanting to pressure-wash the house,” Warren muttered. “There’s a beat-up pickup parked at the end of the sidewalk.”

Wild hope flashed through her at the thought of Danny’s old Ford pickup.

“Jesus Christ,” Warren said, his whole body tensing at the window.

“What?” Laurel asked, her heart beating against her sternum.

Warren turned from the window, his face pale with fury. “It’s Kyle Auster.”

Ever since talking to Dr. Shields, Nell had been terrified that he would call back and speak to her sister. If he repeated some of the things Nell had told him, Vida would flip out. And Vida angry was not something anybody wanted to deal with. At sixteen, she’d become too much for even their father. But Dr. Shields hadn’t called back, nor had Dr. Auster reappeared. Vida kept leaving the reception desk and then coming back. The lights in the office had blinked a couple times, and once they’d gone off completely for a full minute, which kicked the computers into emergency-power mode. When Nell asked what was going on, Vida had just put her finger to her lips and smiled.

Now Vida returned from one of her little excursions and slid her chair right up to Nell’s. She smelled of rubbing alcohol.

“What’s going on?” Nell asked. “I’m nervous as a cat.”

Vida smiled and ran her hand through Nell’s hair the way their mother used to do. “So pretty. So dark and fine.”


“Shhh. I want you to get your purse and go home, sweetie. Right now.”

Nell drew back in surprise. “Go home? Now?”

Vida nodded. “Things are getting out of hand. I don’t want you around here for the last act.”

Nell felt a surge of concern for her sister. “What’s going to happen?”

“Nothing too bad. I told you there were revenue agents watching the office. There’s more coming to close us down this evening.”

Nell blinked in disbelief. “Close us down?”

“Yep. Padlock the building.”

Nell shook her head like a child hearing that her parents’ home was about to be repossessed. “But…are you saying it’s over? Everything?”

Vida smiled again. “I wouldn’t say that. You know I always keep a card or two up my sleeve. But the easy part’s over with. You need to get home, throw some clothes in an overnight bag-nothing too big-then go down to the bank and take out your money.”

Nell’s anxiety escalated into outright fear. “All of it?”

“You’ve got most of the liquid part in your brokerage accounts, right? With UBS?”

“Yes, just like you told me.”

“The government may have frozen those accounts, but I doubt it. They wouldn’t want to tip their hand. They’d freeze Kyle and Warren’s money first, not ours. Your real money’s in the house in Texas anyway, and they can’t take that from you. That’s where you should go. Withdraw about eight thousand in cash and light out in your car. Tell the girls at the bank you’re buying a used car and the seller wants cash. If things get dicey here, I’ll call your cell phone. If that happens, stop in Baton Rouge and get on a plane to Cancún. I don’t care what it costs, just haul tail. South of the border, you hear me?”

Nell nodded, but she was close to crying. “What about Dr. Shields?”

“He’s going to be fine, baby. Don’t you worry about Warren. Kyle’s on his way over there now to take out the stuff he planted.”

“You promise?”

“Honey, I scared the bejesus out of Kyle. That stuff is probably already in a Dumpster somewhere.”

Nell wiped away her tears, but more followed.

“I tell you, though,” Vida said thoughtfully, “there may be trouble in paradise.”

“What do you mean?”

“Kyle thinks Laurel and Warren are having marital problems. You think maybe you could be part of the reason for that?”

“Oh my God, no,” Nell protested, wishing it were true. “No way.”

Warren stood rigid in the foyer, his left hand clutching Laurel’s wrist, his right hand holding his gun. The doorbell rang again, for the sixth time. Kyle had obviously seen the cars in the driveway and did not intend to go away. Laurel wondered why Warren didn’t simply answer the door.

Then she saw why.

There was a scratching sound in the lock, and the bolt turned with a decisive snick. He backed her against the wall, so that they would be behind the door if it opened. The lock in the doorknob turned next. Then the door opened about twelve inches. Kyle stuck his head through the crack and looked toward the stairs.

The barrel of Warren’s gun touched his temple. “Come on in, partner,” Warren said softly. “Nice and easy.”

Auster stepped inside with his hands up and his eyes wide. If he hadn’t stuck his head in first, Laurel might not have recognized him. The noted clotheshorse was wearing garments that looked as if they’d been bought at the Salvation Army store downtown. And he stank.


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