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Книга Third Degree. Страница 45

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Vida looked back at him with an almost playful smile. “You think?”

“Just step away from the wall, Ms. Roberts. And please join me in the hall.”

Vida almost preened like a cat being petted. In some perverse way, Nell knew, it gratified her sister that they knew her by name.

“Are you Biegler?” Vida asked.

“That’s right.”

“The pit bull with a tick up his ass?”

Biegler signaled to someone out of sight down the hall. “I haven’t heard that one, but I wouldn’t doubt they say that about me.” He looked at Nell. “Would you step into the hall, miss?”

Nell felt the man’s voice pulling her toward him. It was so calm and reasonable. He seemed nothing like a pit bull. More like a good, steady Labrador. Nell moved slowly toward him, her eyes imploring Vida to follow.

But Vida would not be led. Nell realized that her sister must have noted long before she did that Biegler wasn’t holding a gun, and that even if he were carrying one, he could not use it for fear of setting off the bomb that the fume-filled room had become.

“You want to take me to jail, don’t you, Mr. Biegler?” Vida said in a challenging voice.

“That depends. If you’ll cooperate with us in trying to achieve a just resolution, you might be able to avoid punishment altogether.”

Vida laughed harshly. “You mean if I squeal on Kyle Auster, you’ll give me a get-out-of-jail-free card?”

Biegler sighed and backed deeper into the hall. “Something like that. It depends on exactly what your role in all this has been.”

Nell saw something change in her sister’s eyes. Then Vida murmured, “Run, baby girl. Run.” Nell screamed, but Vida was already reaching into her pocket. She took out her cigarette lighter, a blue Bic, and held up her thumb. Strong arms seized Nell and dragged her toward the door. Someone charged up brandishing a gun, and then a muted roar sucked the air from Nell’s lungs.

Laurel sat cross-legged on the floor behind the couch, watching Kyle Auster. Warren had forced his senior partner to sit on the hearth with his back against the marble fireplace. Warren himself was pacing the great room and periodically checking the progress of Merlin’s Magic on the laptop. Thankfully, the children had not appeared. Laurel figured Warren’s bizarre behavior upstairs had frightened them enough to keep them out of sight until someone else came for them. It hurt Laurel’s heart to think of Beth terrified, but Grant would comfort her. He happily picked on his sister every day, but if anything truly hurt or upset her, he immediately went into a protective mode.

Laurel felt a strange kinship with Kyle. After all, they both wanted the same thing, short term. Escape. Beyond that, Auster was trying to keep both himself and Warren out of jail, which made sense to her. But Warren seemed to be in the grip of some sort of guilt reaction to whatever had been going on at the office. He was like a killer who wanted to be caught. Conversation had dropped to nothing, and Auster appeared resigned to being stuck where he was. Yet something told Laurel he was only acting. Twice she had seen him wipe tears from his cheeks. Warren must have seen this, too, but when he deigned to look at his partner, his face held only disgust. Laurel tried to stay ready for anything. Even a futile escape attempt by Auster might give her a chance to smash the Sony against the floor, or even to get the kids out of the house.

“May I say something, Warren?” Kyle asked in a shaky voice.

“If you must.”

“All your life you’ve done the right thing. All your life you’ve been the golden boy. But this past year, you’ve done some things you don’t feel good about. Things you probably never thought you’d do.”

Laurel watched her husband, trying to judge the effect of these words.

“Your reasons are your own business,” Kyle went on, “but right now, you’re overcome with guilt. You think you’re about to be exposed. Ruined. You’re going to lose the respect of all those patients who think you’re Albert Schweitzer. So what do you do? Try to pull the whole house down around you before that happens. You want to show the world that nobody’s more disgusted with Warren Shields than Dr. Shields himself.”

Auster laughed ruefully. “Partner, I know about self-disgust. And I know about confession. I can tell you from experience, it doesn’t help the soul one bit. You’ll feel better for about five seconds. Then you’ll pay for the rest of your life. And if you keep doing what you’re doing now, all those bad things you’re dreading will come true. Patients won’t ever look at you the same way again. You may even lose your right to practice medicine. Is that what you want?”

When Warren refused to acknowledge him, Kyle gestured at Laurel. “Look at your wife. You’re browbeating her, trying to make her confess that she fooled around with somebody. Well, what if she did? Whose fault is that? You want to feel bad? Ask yourself that. Laurel’s a good woman, a beautiful woman, and if she’s looking somewhere else for love, then you haven’t been taking care of business at home.”

Warren’s eyes ticked up from the computer, but Kyle pressed on.

“If she confessed right now and gave you what you think you want-all the dirty details-where would you be then? Fucked, that’s where. Nine ways from Sunday. The two of you would have nowhere to go, because you’re never going to get over it. I know you, man.”

Warren’s eyes smoldered. “I didn’t know you’d specialized in psychiatry.”

Kyle actually laughed. “I wouldn’t waste my time. I already know more about human weakness than most of those cranks ever will. I went to school on myself.”

Warren’s gaze dropped back to the computer.

“I know you’re listening to me,” Kyle said stubbornly. “You’re a control freak, Warren. Everybody knows it. And that’s fine most of the time. Good for business. But now things are slipping out of control. That’s how life is, okay? It’s in the nature of things. Entropy, whatever. And a guy like me, when the water starts rising, I go with the flow. I let the current carry me, and I make the necessary adjustments to keep things in proper trim. You, on the other hand, are like a robot optimized to run within a certain set of parameters. When life breaks outside those parameters, you’re lost. Your programming no longer suits the environment. You’re like a submarine stranded in the middle of an interstate. And partner, there is a big-ass tractor-trailer headed straight for you. I’m trying to drag you out of the way, but you just won’t let me. You’re staying where you are because you don’t know how to move.”

“What’s your point?” Warren said in a monotone.

“Just let me do what I need to do, and you’ll have the rest of your life to find out who Laurel’s been kissing behind the barn, if that’s what you really want. But if you go to jail, she’ll be screwing anybody she feels like anytime she wants to, because you’re not going to be there to service her.”

“I’ll take that chance.”

Auster was about to speak again when the telephone rang. Warren made no move to answer, so the machine in the kitchen picked up. Laurel’s greeting played, and then a panicked woman’s voice reverberated through the house.

“Please pick up, Dr. Shields! Please! This is Nell from the office. Everything’s gone crazy! Everything blew up! Vida’s hurt bad. She might die. Hello? Hello…? Are you there?”

“Everybody into the kitchen!” Warren shouted, bounding for the answering machine. He looked back to make sure Laurel and Kyle were following, then stabbed a button on the machine, putting it into speakerphone mode.

“Nell, this is Dr. Shields.”

“Thank God!” Nell sobbed, and then a car horn sounded in the kitchen.

“Where are you?” Warren asked. “A pay phone. I’m scared to go to my apartment. I didn’t know what to do.”

“Calm down, Nell, and tell me exactly what happened.”

45

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