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Книга Third Degree. Страница 43

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“That’s not who I’m asking about, Kyle.”

“Who, then? Come on, man, we don’t have all day here.”

Warren tilted his head toward Laurel. Auster held out his hands like a rustler about to be hanged by angry ranchers. “Brother, I don’t know where you got this idea, but you are wrong. Way wrong.”

“What exactly have I got wrong?”

“This whole idea is ridiculous! Laurel wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot pole.” Kyle looked at her with complete confidence. “Would you?”

“No, I wouldn’t. I think I’ve always made that clear.”

Auster turned to Warren and held up his palms in apology. “I won’t say I never squeezed her ass at the hospital Christmas party, okay? But that’s just vodka talking. I do that because she’s hot and because I know it gets to her and because nothing’s going to come of it. Man, you don’t really think I’d try to snake your wife? That’s nothing but trouble for me. I’m gonna lose a productive partner over some tail? No way. Not in my DNA.”

Warren’s eyes flickered with a glow Laurel couldn’t read. “That kind of challenge is the cornerstone of your DNA, Kyle. But Laurel is more than the usual compulsive conquest. You’ve always been jealous of me. The way patients talk about me, the fact that so many of them request me specifically. Even the scores I made on my boards. You know you’ll never beat me at those things, so what do you do? You go after Laurel. Maybe she’s my weakness, right? If you can screw my wife and make her come, all will be right with the world. That’s how your mind works.”

Auster’s face fairly shone with disbelief. “Jesus, pal, you need to get a life. Or a psychiatrist. I don’t even try to compete with guys like you, except in income. That’s where I show my stuff. Medic for hire, that’s me. I leave the Doctors Without Borders shtick to you guys.”

“What are those bonds doing in my house?” Warren asked doggedly.

Something changed in Kyle then. The boyish facade fell away, and a weary man appeared from behind it. “We needed a storage room. That’s all. A safe one.”

“We?”

“Vida and me. It was her idea. Who was going to search your house, you know?”

“The Medicaid Fraud Unit, I imagine,” Warren said. “That’s why I’m here. Today is the day of reckoning, partner. I came here to remove the threat, to get you and your family out of harm’s way. So why don’t you let me do what I came to do? Then you two can continue your little tête-à-tête.”

Laurel surprised herself by speaking. “What exactly is going on here? What have you two been doing at work?”

“Ask him,” said Warren. “But you don’t have to, do you? You already know. You’re playacting just like he is.”

Damn it,” Laurel said, “would you get over it already? I don’t know anything, and I’m sick of being in the dark. What kind of trouble have you geniuses gotten us into?”

Warren turned back to Auster. “She has a secret Hotmail account, and she refuses to give me the password. I have a special program working to crack it. If your name doesn’t pop up as her secret pen pal, then you can go.”

Rather than calming Auster down, these words sent him into apoplexy. “Are you shitting me? That could take all night! The cops could be here in five minutes! With handcuffs!”

Despite Kyle’s panic, Warren remained unmoved. “Then you’re out of luck, unless the program finishes before then.”

Kyle turned on Laurel. “Give him the fucking password.”

Warren’s eyes flashed with interest. “Give it to him, goddamn it!” Auster screamed. “This is my life here!”

And mine, you bastard. And the life of someone I actually love. “I don’t even know the password,” she said. “Warren’s gone paranoid.”

Warren was watching Auster, trying to judge whether he was sincere or not. Without a word, Warren walked around to the coffee table, picked up Danny’s letter, then came back and held it out to Auster. “If you’re bored, here’s some reading material to pass the time.”

Kyle took the letter like someone forced to accept literature from a Hare Krishna. He scanned it quickly, then looked from Laurel to Warren. “You know I didn’t write this crap, partner.”

“Do I?”

“All that hokey can’t-live-without-you stuff? Are you kidding? You of all people should know I couldn’t even make that up. My love letters read like something out of the Penthouse Forum.”

“Maybe they did until you fell for my wife.”

Auster was turning purple. He had the face of an innocent man being dragged bodily into prison.

“Besides,” Warren went on, “I’ve recently discovered that my blushing bride might be a fan of the Penthouse Forum. She’s a closet porn addict.”

“This is insane,” Laurel muttered.

With sudden defiance, Kyle shook Danny’s letter under Warren’s nose. “This isn’t my handwriting, kemo sabe. It’s not even close.”

“Do you know whose it is?”

“How could I? It’s block print. It could be anybody’s. Or nobody’s. I don’t know any grown men who write this way. I think somebody’s messing with you. And you don’t have time for that right now. Look around you, man. You’re married to one of the greatest women ever. You’ve got two fine kids. Get past this high school bullshit and think about what really matters. Being free to raise your children, not stuck in a cell somewhere.”

Laurel found herself nodding. Amazingly, when the shit hit the fan, it was Auster who had his priorities in line, whereas Warren seemed lost.

Kyle dropped the letter on the floor and stared hard into Warren’s eyes. “You want the truth, buddy? Listen up. We were going to let you take the fall. Vida and me. That’s why the bonds and the ledgers are here. But it’s all happening too fast. The only way out for any of us now is to get rid of all the evidence. Everything, ASAP. Those ledgers have to go, and the bonds have to disappear.”

His pragmatic tone broke through Warren’s sarcastic front. “And how do you suggest we manage that?” Warren asked.

“We go down to the creek behind your house and have a little bonfire. Then I’ll take the bonds somewhere safe.”

Warren laughed. “As a favor to me, right? You’ll take that two hundred thousand off my hands?”

“Do you want the bonds for yourself? Is that what this is about?”

“I want to know what they’re really doing here!”

Kyle spoke as he might to a child. “I just told you. I planted them here last week-with the ledgers-so that you’d take the fall for what’s been going on at the office. That’s it. End of story.”

When Warren didn’t respond, Kyle turned to Laurel. “What the fuck is wrong with this guy?”

“He won’t take yes for an answer.”

Kyle tapped Warren on the shoulder. “You want my secrets? I was screwing Shannon Jensen, okay? Midlife crisis maximus. But Vida caught me, so I ditched her. But your wife was nowhere in my plans.” Kyle glanced at Laurel, then pushed on, his voice ragged with fear. “We’re standing on the edge of a cliff, partner. You wouldn’t believe the penalties they have now. I’m talking fifty years in prison and millions of dollars in fines. Tens of millions. That’s buried so deep you’ll never get another chance at life. We’ve got to take care of each other now.”

Contempt chilled Warren’s eyes. “Like you’ve taken care of me all along?”

Kyle groaned in frustration. “Buddy…most of the time, life is every man for himself. But sometimes, we all have to pull together. We have to hang together, or we’ll all hang separately, right? Ben Franklin said that.”

“The circumstances were rather different.”

“Yeah, well, the sentiment’s the same. Come on, bro. Don’t be a sucker.”

“But I am. That’s what I’ve always been.” Warren pursed his lips, his gaze far away. Laurel tried to read his face, but her old systems of spousal interpretation were no longer reliable. She had no idea how this new version of Warren reasoned. He looked from Kyle to her like a man trying to judge the lesser of two evils.

43

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