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Книга Third Degree. Страница 49

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CODE BLACK/THIRD DEGREE.

Danny’s ass puckered as he stared at the coded message.

Code Black meant a hostage situation.

Third Degree meant loss of life.

With visions of Columbine and Virginia Tech in his head, he twisted the throttle, pushed the chopper to 122 knots, and stormed toward the thunderheads rolling down from the northwest.

Kyle Auster was dead.

Laurel saw his body lying on the hall floor when she followed Warren down the stairs with Beth in her arms. She buried her daughter’s face between her breasts, then looked over the rail. Kyle lay faceup with his eyes open, as still as a human body could be. His absurd shirt was hiked up to his nipples; Warren must have done that while working on him. How strange, she thought, to shoot a man and then immediately try to save him. Despite Warren’s two shots, she saw only one wound, at the midline, above Auster’s navel but below his heart. Dark blood covered his pale belly, matting the hair that so many gullible women had lain against in adultery.

“Did you call 911?” she asked from the landing.

Warren had already reached the ground floor. “No point.”

“He died before you came upstairs?”

“No, but he was slipping away fast. I think the bullet hit his spine. He couldn’t move his legs. It must have clipped his descending aorta as well, because he seemed to be bleeding out internally.”

“What a shot you are,” she said bitterly.

Warren was looking down at the body. “He shot first. You saw it.”

“Such a waste. I can’t…I guess I can’t really believe it.”

“Mommy, I can’t breathe,” Beth said.

Laurel turned her daughter’s head but kept her facing away from the rail. Beth hadn’t spoken since the events on the roof; she only sucked her thumb and lay glassy-eyed against Laurel’s chest.

“Cover him up with something,” Laurel said.

“You do it. Let me have Beth.”

“You’re not touching this child.”

Warren looked up, his jaw set hard. “Don’t think anything has changed. Kyle is dead because of a choice he made. Every choice has consequences. Yours included.”

“Who the hell do you think you are? God? Get over yourself! You just shot a man. This insanity is over.

“Come downstairs. Into the kitchen.”

Laurel shielded Beth’s eyes and walked down to the foyer, then followed Warren to the kitchen. Beth was a lot heavier than she’d been only a year ago. Laurel’s back and shoulders were already aching. While Warren stared out the kitchen window, she took a glass down from the cabinet.

“What are you doing?” he asked, still looking out over the front lawn.

“Getting her some water. She’s tired out. No, actually she’s not. She’s traumatized by what you did upstairs. Probably scarred permanently. What is wrong with you?”

“Give her a teaspoon of Benadryl.”

“Is that your professional advice? Drug our daughter to sleep?”

Warren rolled his eyes. “This will be a lot less traumatic for her if she sleeps through it.”

Laurel’s stomach tightened. “What will?”

“Don’t worry about it. She can sleep in the safe room.”

Laurel felt as though she were having a conversation with a robot. “Warren, you just killed your business partner. Your office almost burned to the ground. Your employee tried to kill a federal agent. Don’t you realize the police will be here any minute?”

“That’s why she needs to be in the safe room.”

Laurel whispered, “You’re not putting our daughter into that room alone. She’d be terrified.”

“She’d also be safe. Bullets can’t penetrate an inch of steel plate.”

A bolt of alarm shot through Laurel, despite her fatigue. “Do you seriously intend to hold us hostage inside a ring of armed men?”

At last Warren’s face betrayed some emotion. “This is our house, Laurel. My house. My land. I expect the police to respect our rights and leave us alone to deal with our own family problems.”

She closed her eyes, trying to blot out his face long enough to think, but it was impossible. The enormity of what had happened finally sank into her soul, and the floodgates opened. As she cried, she experienced an epiphany that revealed the road to freedom. The password to that road was a lie. But unlike the lies of omission she had been telling for the past year, she was going to have to sell this story. At least Kyle won’t have died for nothing, she thought. In death, he was going to do her a service he could never have done in life.

She carried Beth to the built-in banquette in the corner of the kitchen. Beth tried to cling to her, but Laurel set her firmly on the seat and rubbed her forehead for half a minute. “Warren,” she said, straightening up and putting her hands on her hips, “I can’t let you put Beth at risk like this. I’m going to tell you what you want to know. But first I’ve got to know that you’ll bring this insanity to an end. I don’t care what you do to me, but you’ve got to let Beth leave the house.”

Hearing resolve in her voice, he looked away from the window and focused on her. “Do you really think Beth is in danger from me? You’re the one who put our children at risk. If you tell me the truth, the real truth, you might be surprised by how things turn out.”

Laurel tried to read his meaning, but it was impossible. “Send Beth outside first. As a sign of good faith. Then I’ll tell you.”

He smiled sadly. “I can’t do that. You haven’t proved yourself worthy of trust. She’s in no danger.” He took a step toward Laurel. “Tell me.”

She realized then that he wasn’t holding the gun. Was it still in one of his pockets?

“I’m waiting,” he said.

She pictured the awful scene upstairs, when he had told the kids she was having an affair. That was sufficient to bring more tears to her eyes. “It was Kyle, okay?” she said softly. “I saw him for almost a year.”

Warren’s eyes narrowed, and he moved closer. Close enough to hit her. “Kyle. You were having an affair with Kyle?”

She nodded. “I didn’t love him. But I wanted to hurt you. I knew that would hurt you more than anything else. If I cheapened myself like that.”

Warren moved closer, close enough to kiss. “You made love with him?”

“No. I fucked him.”

Warren flinched. She expected a blow any second.

“And you knew about the other women? About Vida? The nurses?”

Laurel nodded. “That was part of it, I think.”

“Did Kyle love you?”

She was about to say no, but then she thought of Danny’s letter. “He thought he did. Kyle was crazy. He’d never had anyone like me before. He said he would give up all the others if I would run away with him. But I didn’t want that. I just wanted to make you realize what you were doing to me. How you were ignoring me.”

Warren tilted his head to the right, like a scientist studying an animal in the midst of some curious act. “You’re lying,” he said at length.

“You don’t know the truth when you hear it.”

“If Kyle was the one who wrote that letter, you would have let him shoot me. But you didn’t. You warned me.”

“Of course I did! I didn’t love Kyle! I love you. Besides, you’re the father of my children.”

Warren shook his head. “You’re lying now. Kyle could have smashed your laptop while I ran to answer the kitchen phone, but he didn’t. He didn’t care about that Hotmail account at all.”

“I could have done the same thing.”

“No, I was watching you. And you did try, once. Kyle never did. He even screamed at you to tell me the password. He didn’t care about your computer, because he knew it was no threat to him.”

She searched her mind for some rational argument, but there was none.

“You’re still trying to protect someone,” Warren said, his voice low and dangerous. “Who is it?” He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her violently. “Tell me who he is!”

49

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