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Книга Third Degree. Страница 46

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Suddenly everything tumbled out of her in a frantic rush. “Vida tried to burn the patient records at the office, the computers, too. She lit everything off with me and Agent Biegler in the room with her. Everything just exploded! Gas, alcohol, they almost didn’t get the fire out. The whole building could have gone up!”

Kyle had gone pale. He leaned over to Warren’s ear and whispered, “Ask her if the records were destroyed.”

Warren angrily shoved him away. “Where’s Vida now, Nell?”

“The ICU at St. Raphael’s. I haven’t seen her since the explosion. I called the hospital, and a nurse told me they’re going to fly her to the burn center in Greenville, if they can get her stable. What should I do, Dr. Shields?”

While Nell talked, Laurel had been studying Warren’s pocket, the one that held his gun. The butt had sunk completely out of sight, but she wondered whether she might be able to get it out with a quick grab. Should she call Kyle’s attention to it? Kyle was stronger, but then his hand was bigger. He might not be able to get it into the pocket before Warren flattened him. She considered grabbing a pot from a cabinet and trying to hit Warren over the head, but something stopped her. Maybe it was Nell’s story, which was obviously affecting him deeply. Or maybe it was her memory of the attack with the can of beans, which hadn’t worked out so well.

“You mentioned an Agent Biegler,” Warren said. “He didn’t try to arrest you?”

“When the fire blew up, something hit him. One of his men said I was arrested, but they didn’t have handcuffs or anything. I don’t really get it, because I was closer to the explosion. Biegler was trying to save me, but…” Nell sobbed once, then went on, “Something knocked him down, and then this other guy came charging in, but he was trying to take care of his boss. There was so much smoke…and blood. I tried to get Vi up, but she was knocked out, and…she’s burned really bad, third-degree for sure. Oh, God…”

“Slow down, Nell. Take your time.”

“When I saw that Vida couldn’t move, I crawled into the hall for some air. Then I just kept crawling, and suddenly I was outside. When I realized I was by myself, I started running. The fire engines were coming then. I shouldn’t have left Vi, but I was so scared, Dr. Shields-”

“It’s all right. Anybody would have done the same. Where are you now?”

“Not far from the office. Should I turn myself in or what?”

Auster shook his head violently.

“Do you think you can get downtown?” Warren asked.

“I think I can get a ride, maybe.”

“Okay. Go to my lawyer’s office on Bank Street. Don Billings is his name. Tell him I sent you to him, and he can call me to verify. Tell him I said I’d pay all your bills.”

Kyle was gaping now.

“What should I tell him?” Nell asked. “What should I say and not say?”

“Once you’re with Billings, he’s your attorney. Don’t waste time trying to protect Kyle or me. You’re the important one. You’ve got your whole life in front of you.”

Kyle looked as if he were about to stroke out, but he was obviously afraid to speak on a line that might be tapped.

“I wouldn’t lift a finger to help Dr. Auster,” Nell said. “That cheating bastard screwed my sister over so bad…I hate him.”

“I know what you mean,” Warren said, looking back at his partner. “Don’t worry. Kyle’s going to get what he deserves before this is over.”

“Don Billings?” Nell repeated, her voice shaky. “Bank Street?”

“That’s right. Everything’s going to be all right, Nell.”

“Thank you so much, Dr. Shields. I knew you’d help me.”

“Good-bye, Nell. Be careful.” Warren hung up and confronted Auster, who was backing toward the foyer. “Did you tell Vida to burn our records?”

“Hell, no! You know Vida. She spearheaded every scam I ever tried up there. She told me this afternoon that the records had to disappear, but that’s all. Man, she’s the one who told me to come over here and get the bonds and ledgers. She even put these damn rags on me!”

“Let’s talk about Vida and Nell for a minute.”

“We don’t have a minute!” Kyle cried, his face blotched red. “You heard Nell. They arrested her. You can bet your ass they have warrants out for you and me. Biegler’s liable to pull up here any second, now that you answered that phone.”

“If he does, so be it.”

“What?”

“I don’t care if I go to jail, so long as I go knowing the truth.”

“The truth? About what?”

Warren turned on his heel and walked back down to the great room. Laurel knew he was going to check the Sony again. She said a silent prayer that the program hadn’t cracked her password, then grabbed Kyle’s stinking shirt and pulled him close.

“He changed the code for the safe room, but it doesn’t matter. The bonds and ledgers are on the guest room bed. Go!”

Auster was already moving, but he looked over his shoulder and whispered, “What about you?”

“I’ve got to get my kids out.”

As Laurel started for the stairs, she saw a blur in the corner of her left eye that might be Warren moving. She sprinted up to the landing, but paused when Warren screamed, “Put that box down, Kyle!”

“Can’t do it, partner,” Auster replied. “Let me pass.”

Laurel peered over the rail of the landing. Kyle stood in the hall below, just within her sight, while Warren waited at the intersection of the hall and the foyer, blocking his exit. They were separated by less than ten feet, with Warren’s pistol pointed at the box covering Auster’s belly.

“Move aside, Warren,” Kyle said with surprising force. “I’m not your problem.”

“Put the bonds down,” Warren repeated. “Right now.”

Laurel wanted to continue up the stairs, but if one step creaked, Warren would hear her. She waited without breathing, terrified that Kyle would try to bluster his way past Warren to the door. After about five seconds, Kyle sighed, then bent and set the box on the floor. “At least Laurel got away,” he said.

Stunned, Warren looked around in panic, then up the staircase. As Laurel’s eyes met his, she sensed movement just beyond him.

Incredibly, Kyle now held a gun in his hand, a small nickel-plated automatic. Laurel stared in amazement as he aimed at Warren’s chest, silently urging him to pull the trigger. Then she heard herself scream a warning: “Warren, watch out!”

Warren ducked left as Kyle fired, the sound like a solitary firecracker. A red flower bloomed high on Warren’s shoulder, and then his gun boomed twice in reply.

Auster dropped like a sack.

Laurel stood frozen above this surreal tableau until a drumroll sounded overhead. Grant and Beth suddenly appeared above her, looking down from the second-floor rail.

“Mom, what happened?” Grant cried in alarm. “Are you okay?”

Beth’s face was nearly bloodless, her eyes round and white. “I’m scared, Mama!” she whimpered. “Come get me!”

A groan of agony rose from below. Laurel looked down and saw Kyle lying facedown on the floor, a pool of blood soaking his lower back. He was trying to crawl, but only his upper body was moving. Warren was looking up at Laurel and the kids, his right hand gripping his left shoulder.

“Mama, come get me!” Beth wailed. “Mama, pleeease!”

Warren nodded permission. “Go! I’ll take care of Kyle.”

Laurel raced up the stairs and swept Beth into her arms without even slowing. “Come on,” she hissed at Grant. “Move!”

“Where are we going?” Grant asked, running after her.

“Your room.” They reached the upstairs hall.

“How come?”

“We have to get out of here!”

“How?”

“Your tree.”

Grant’s eyes widened. “But you told me never to climb on that anymore!”

“Today you get to.”

She darted into Grant’s room and crossed to his right-hand window. Outside, the roof sloped steeply down to a gnarled mass of oak branches already thick with spring leaves. There was a tree house in the oak, and from its platform a zipline ran forty meters into the backyard, where it terminated over a sand pit. A few weeks ago, Grant had learned that he could sneak out of his window, slide down the roof, and climb down to his tree house using the high branches of the oak. Laurel had forbidden this dangerous activity, but that was before her husband went nuts. The only question now was, could a six-year-old girl do what a nine-year-old boy could? Laurel was betting she could, with her mother’s help. She knelt and looked Beth in the eyes.

46

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