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Книга Third Degree. Страница 42

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“What the hell are you wearing?” Warren asked.

“This is my new look,” Kyle said, but the fear in his voice killed his attempt at levity.

Warren studied him for a few seconds, then said, “It’s a disguise, isn’t it?”

Auster nodded, his face downcast.

“You decided you wanted that quickie after all?”

“Hell no,” Auster replied, slowly lowering his hands. “That’s not why I’m here. I knew that was a joke.”

“You’ve got a key to our house, though, huh?”

“You gave it to me. Don’t you remember? I fed your dog when y’all went to the Bahamas that time.”

Warren thought about this. “You gave that key back.”

“Well, I had a copy made. In case I lost the original. You know I’m always losing my keys. I didn’t want your kids’ dog to starve because I can’t keep up with anything.”

Warren looked at Laurel. “He’s a compulsive liar. Did you know that? I’ve seen him lie to patients, drug reps, other doctors, anybody-even when he doesn’t have to. It’s like an addiction or something.”

Kyle wasn’t listening. His full attention was on the pistol. “Warren, man…what’s with the gun?”

“I want truthful answers. This helps.”

It hasn’t helped so far, Laurel thought.

Auster looked at him long and hard. “No offense, buddy, but have you lost your mind? There’s no need for this kind of theatrics. We’re all friends here, right?”

“I lost my mind the day I went to work for you,” Warren said in a somber voice. “Only I didn’t know it.”

“Come on, partner. What kind of talk is that?”

“Straight talk.”

Auster held up his hands as though he knew where Warren was headed. “Look, I don’t need a Boy Scout lecture, okay? I’m a lost cause. Anyway, I thought you gave up all that Dudley Do-Right stuff last year. Huh?”

Laurel had no idea what Kyle was talking about, but Warren certainly seemed to. He looked as though Auster’s words had wounded him deeply. She glanced up the staircase to make sure the children hadn’t come to the rail to listen. Warren had warned them to stay in the media room, but they were so rattled, there was no telling what they might do. “Could we move this to another room?” she asked. “I don’t want the kids hearing this stuff.”

Warren grabbed Kyle’s wrist and dragged him down to the great room. Kyle was three inches taller than Warren, but Warren was in peak physical condition. Auster had spent the last twenty years going soft. They stood between the fireplace and the Roche-Bobois sectional like two boxers who might close at any moment. Laurel leaned against the sofa back and glanced over it at her computer, terrified that the Merlin’s Magic program might have cracked her password while they were upstairs. The Sony was still clicking away, but Warren seemed to have forgotten it.

“First you push me to bend the rules,” Warren said. “Then to break them. Then-”

“Whoa there, Dr. Welby,” said Kyle. “Sure I tried to get you more focused on the bottom line. But when you told me to back off, I did. It was you who came to me that last time, remember? Out of the blue. ‘I need to make more money, Kyle.’ That’s what you said. And do you remember what you said after that?”

Warren had turned to stare out the tall windows. There were two rows of them, one atop the other, and through them Laurel saw the pale, virginal green of early spring in the budding leaves. A hundred yards from the house, Christy trotted toward the line of trees that marked the creek’s ravine, her orange coat giving her the appearance of a well-fed fox. Only the darkening sky kept the picture from being perfect. It seemed that Mrs. Elfman’s augury of rain might be proved accurate after all.

“You said, ‘I don’t care how you do it,’ ” Kyle continued. “ ‘Just don’t tell me about it.’ ”

Warren scowled at him. “I didn’t mean for you to-”

“I know what you meant, brother. So I doubled your income, and you took the money. And here we are. That’s the way it works.”

Laurel stared at Warren in amazement. She couldn’t imagine the words Kyle had quoted ever coming from her husband’s mouth. But apparently they had, because Warren wasn’t arguing the point.

“We’ll have to agree to disagree about that,” Warren said. “But you going behind my back to screw my wife was definitely not what I asked for.”

Auster was clearly stunned, but he was a quick study when it came to matters sexual, and Laurel could see him working out the particulars of the current situation. Her strange telephone come-on, the gun, all of it.

“You really hate me, don’t you?” Warren said.

“Hate you? Warren, I love you, brother. You’re my hero, which is weird since I’m ten years older than you. But you’ve got to be the most dedicated doctor in this town. Like a young Doc Adams on Gunsmoke or something. You think I hate you?”

Warren was studying the maple floor. Kyle took this moment to risk full eye contact with Laurel, and the words she read in his face were What the hell is wrong with him?

“It doesn’t matter,” Warren said to the floor. “Just tell me what you’re doing here.”

“What do you think?” Auster’s eyes kept darting to the gun. “You didn’t show up for work, and that was a first. We were overrun with patients, but I thought I’d take the first chance to come see how you’re doing. I’m sure Laurel’s been taking good care of you. I figured she’d be at school, though.”

Warren looked up. “You figured she was at school when she called and asked you here for a quick fuck?”

“I figured she’d gone back, I mean.”

“It’s after three, Kyle.”

Auster couldn’t hide the blood rushing to his cheeks. “Look, bro, I don’t know what’s going on over here, and I don’t want to know. You guys are having some marital discord? That’s cool. I’ve been there. Everybody has. But I’ve got nothing to do with you guys’ problems, I’m happy to say.”

Warren moved closer to him, aiming the gun from his waist. “I’m not so sure of that, buddy. Not sure at all.”

“Why not?”

“What’s happening at the office, Kyle? Nell said there are Medicaid agents coming down.”

Auster’s face twisted with exasperation. “You know the government. Always interfering. They want six sets of paperwork on every patient, and they go batshit when you don’t give it to them.”

“Stop lying, Kyle. I know why they’re coming. But I have a feeling things are even worse than you’ve told me. What have you been doing besides up-coding?”

“Nothing, man. Nothing illegal, anyway. They just…they don’t agree with me about the necessity of certain tests on certain patients. Maybe some procedures, too, but you know how that is. They’re pencil pushers. They don’t have any sympathy for defensive medicine, because nobody’s gonna sue their ass if a patient croaks unexpectedly.”

Laurel wasn’t sure why they were talking about work when Warren’s primary obsession had been whom she might be sleeping with, but it was clear that they were in serious trouble.

“Tell me about your girlfriend,” Warren said.

Auster looked perplexed. “My girlfriend?”

“Aren’t you planning to run away with somebody? Isn’t that what you were going to use the bearer bonds for?”

At the mention of bonds, Kyle’s mouth hung slack. Then he gulped and started talking fast. “So you found that stuff? Thank God it’s safe. Are the ledgers in there, too?”

Warren nodded slowly.

“Good, good. Because that stuff’s dangerous, man.”

“Back to your girlfriend.”

Auster seemed to have trouble following the change of subject. “You mean Vida?”

“No. Your other girlfriend.”

Auster’s eyes flicked back and forth between Warren and the gun. “You mean Shannon?”

“Shannon?”

“Yeah, the drug rep for Hoche. The one with the tits and the eyes?”

Now Warren looked confused. “You’ve been seeing Shannon Jensen?”

“Uh-huh.”

“How old is she?”

“Twenty-three. Jesus, what’s the big deal? She’s legal. Everybody asks that.”

42

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