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Книга Third Degree. Страница 50

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“Daddy, stop it!” Beth screeched. “You’re hurting Mama!”

“Mom’s fine,” Warren said, stopping his assault but not taking his eyes from Laurel’s face. “If you were really having an affair with Kyle, you can answer one simple question for me.”

Her stomach rolled over.

“Kyle had a unique feature below the waist. What was it?”

She lowered her voice. “I’m not going to discuss another man’s genitals with you in front of our daughter.”

“Let’s go to the great room, then.”

Laurel closed her eyes as though disgusted, but she was thinking desperately.

“You don’t know,” Warren whispered. “Because you’ve never seen Kyle’s…package.”

But she had seen it, once. A couple of years ago, at a Halloween party that lasted into the wee hours. A few drunken guests had peeled off their costumes and leaped into their hosts’ heated pool. Naturally one of them was Kyle. He’d been standing behind a plastic cubicle that served as a changing room, out of Warren’s line of sight but well within Laurel’s. After stripping off his pants, he’d turned toward her long enough for her to take in his full nudity; then he’d burst into the open and dived into the steaming water. Laurel had a clear memory of the event, but no matter how hard she focused, she saw nothing but a normal, middle-aged penis of average size.

“Time’s up,” Warren said. “You lose.”

“There’s nothing different about him.”

Warren’s smile was triumphant. “Kyle had hypospadias. Do you know what that is?”

Laurel had heard the word, but she couldn’t recall what condition it described.

“His urethra opens on the underside of his penis, rather than at the tip. It’s fairly common. One in three hundred live births. And if you’d been sleeping with him, you would definitely know about it.”

She looked away.

“You can go check his corpse, if you’re curious. No? Then I repeat: tell me who you’re trying to protect. If you don’t-”

The kitchen phone rang loudly. Warren let go of her, glanced at the caller ID, then walked to the kitchen window. “And awaaay we go. It’s started now.”

Laurel stood on tiptoe. Over the hedges in front of the window, she saw a Sheriff’s Department cruiser parked at the end of their driveway. One man inside.

Warren pressed the speakerphone button, then came back to the window. “This is Dr. Shields. Who’s this?”

“This is Deputy Ray Breen, Doctor.”

“Afternoon, Ray,” Warren said in a cheerful voice. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, Doc, I just drove out to check on some things.”

“Is that right? What things would those be?”

“Well, your wife and daughter for one. We heard y’all might be having some trouble out this way.”

Laurel closed her eyes as Breen’s deep drawl echoed through the house. This was why she hadn’t called 911 in the beginning.

“No trouble,” Warren said. “Nothing serious, anyway.”

There was a long pause. Then Ray Breen said, “Well, I’m afraid your boy says different. He’s over to the neighbors’ house scared half out of his wits. He says maybe you shot somebody.”

Warren laughed loudly. “No, no. Kyle Auster and I were cleaning a pistol, and it accidentally discharged. Put a hole in the floor, but other than that, no harm done.”

This time the pause was longer. “I’m glad to hear it, Doc. But I’d feel a whole lot better if I could just say hey to everybody for a second. One at a time, if you please.”

Warren’s tense face gave the lie to his nonchalant voice. Maybe Deputy Breen wasn’t so dumb after all. Warren took the phone off speaker, picked up the receiver, covered the mouthpiece with his palm, and whispered to Laurel, “Tell him you’re fine. Everything’s fine.”

“I won’t.”

“If you don’t-if you say something’s wrong in here, or that I shot Kyle-you can bet your life they’ll come busting in here with guns blazing. And I can’t be responsible for what happens after that.”

She wondered if this was true. So far, she’d seen only one car outside. But there had to be more. And the local cops she’d met seemed more likely to use guns than diplomacy to resolve a standoff. She nodded once, and Warren held the phone up to her face. “Deputy Breen?”

“Yes, ma’am. Can your husband hear me?”

At that moment, Warren pressed his ear to the receiver. “No.”

“Are you all right today?”

“Yes.”

“Are you in any danger?”

“Danger?”

“We heard there might have been some gunplay in the house.”

“Just an accident. It’s all right now.”

“And your daughter? Is she all right?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Could I talk to her?”

“Of course.”

Warren knelt in front of Beth and said, “Say hello to the man, Beth. He’s a nice man.”

“Hel-lo,” Beth said, reverting to her usual telephone ritual. “What’s your name?”

“She’s busy, Ray,” Warren said, standing erect with the phone. He listened for a few seconds, then said, “Kyle’s busy right now, too… Uh-huh… I understand that. Look, our practice is being audited by the IRS right now, and we’re having a pretty tense day going over our books. Kyle is deep into them with the calculator right now, but as soon as he’s done, I’ll have him call you.”

Laurel couldn’t believe what she was hearing. In all the time she had known Warren, she had hardly ever heard him lie. Now he was spinning out bullshit with the facility of Kyle Auster. As he continued to evade Breen’s questions, she thought about what the deputy had said. Grant had obviously reached a neighbor’s house, probably the Elfmans’. He would be terrified, but Bonnie Elfman would take good care of him.

“Listen, Ray,” Warren said, his tone growing testy. “The thing is, I’m waiting for something in here. We’re running a computer program, and we’re waiting for a certain result. Once I have that, we’ll all come out and visit with you guys for the rest of the evening, if you want. But this is business, Ray. It’s important. You know what I mean?…Of course you do. All right. As soon as I have what I need in here, we’re all coming out… Kyle, too, absolutely… Good talking to you, too.”

Warren hung up, jerked the curtains over the kitchen window, and turned to Laurel with manic energy. “Get some sheets out of the laundry room to cover Kyle. I’ll stay with Beth.”

Laurel started to argue, but then she remembered that her clone phone was sitting on the shelf in the laundry room. Warren was letting her go alone because he knew she wouldn’t leave Beth inside the house with him. “I’ll be right back,” she said, touching Beth’s arm. She walked into the pantry, which led to the laundry room.

“The door to the garage is bolted,” Warren called, in case she had a lapse of maternal judgment.

She reached up and slid her Razr off the detergent shelf. Her heart leaped when she saw 3 NEW MESSAGES on its LCD screen. Flipping open the phone, she bent over the laundry basket and made rummaging noises among some folded sheets. The first message read, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll b close by if u need me. I love u. So much hope and relief suffused her heart that she felt giddy. The second message read, Saw both cars home. What should I do?

“What’s the holdup?” Warren called.

Laurel picked up two folded sheets as she read the third message: Text me the instant u r out of there! Crazy with worry!

“Me, too,” she whispered, sliding the phone into her back pocket.

She carried the sheets out to the kitchen and set them on the granite countertop. “What now?”

“I’m going to move Kyle out of the hall,” Warren said softly. “You’re coming with me.”

“I think I’m going to give Beth that Benadryl after all,” Laurel murmured. “If we’re lucky, it’ll cause short-term memory loss.”

He frowned and picked up the sheets. “I need some food. We all do.”

“I’ll cook something,” Laurel offered. “Breakfast would be easiest.”

He nodded.

She looked at Beth lying on the banquette. “Would you like an egg with a hat on it?”

50

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