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Книга Third Degree. Страница 51

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Beth actually sat up at this suggestion. “And grits and biscuits? And grape jelly!”

“Tell you what,” Warren said to Laurel, “you do the work with the sheets. Leave Beth with me. I’m going to shut all the blinds, then start the food.”

Laurel hesitated, then nodded in agreement. She took the sheets and went down the hall with Danny’s messages running through her mind. She hadn’t thought to check the time stamps, but he obviously hadn’t followed her advice to leave town. Running simply wasn’t in him. So where was he now? He must have driven by the house at least once, she thought. Or else that was his plane I heard before. He knows I’m here with Warren. And that, combined with me not showing up in the clearing, started him worrying. But what can he do? Danny sometimes flew the Sheriff’s Department helicopter and so was fairly tight with the sheriff. If he’d heard the report of a shooting out here, Laurel was sure he would find a way to get himself into the loop. Once that happened, it would only be a matter of time before someone came to save her and Beth. Danny would have a tricky job trying to explain his concerns without betraying their affair, but she felt sure he could do it.

She looked down at Kyle’s body. His eyes were still open, but the opaque irises held no life. The dead face already looked more like a wax figure of Kyle than the man himself. Pity rose in her, but she knew that her duty was to the living, not the dead. She thought of texting Danny that Kyle had been shot, but Warren might be watching from the end of the hall.

Unfolding one of the sheets, she laid it gently over Kyle’s corpse, then with considerable effort rolled the body over. Then she stood and dragged it to the guest room door. With the sheet under him, Kyle slid fairly easily on the polished hardwood. Getting him over the threshold was harder, but she turned away from him, grabbed his ankles under her arms as though hitching a cart to a mule, and in three great heaves dragged him onto the carpet and clear of the door.

With the walls of the guest room around her, an almost irresistible compulsion to call Danny took hold of her. As she reached out to close the door, Warren appeared there with Beth in his arms.

“Good enough,” he said, keeping Beth’s head turned away. “We miss you.”

She swallowed hard, then followed Warren back to the kitchen. Danny knows I need help, she told herself. He knows everything he needs to know. I’ve got to keep the phone secret, no matter what. It might make the difference between life and death.

“You take over,” Warren said, pointing at the iron skillet heating on the stove. An egg carton and a can of Pillsbury biscuits lay beside it. “I’m going to check the computer.”

The computer. As it had been from the beginning, her laptop remained the greatest danger to her. At any moment, the Merlin’s Magic program could give Warren access to hundreds of messages from Danny: love letters, embedded digital photos, all the stuff she’d been insane ever to put on her hard drive. All the things someone in love can’t live without. “No worries,” she said brightly. “Beth and I have got it under control.”

Warren seemed about to take Beth with him to the great room, but then he walked away alone. “All the doors are bolted,” he reminded her. “And I took out the keys.”

“Thanks for that information,” Laurel replied in a tone that said, Stop upsetting our daughter.

“Don’t open the blinds,” he added. “And tap the skillet with a fork while I’m down there.”

“Just go already!”

He vanished into the great room.

She clanked the skillet a couple of times, then lifted Beth onto the counter beside the Viking cooktop. Laurel felt almost drunk with adrenaline. A new plan had come to her, and she had no time for second thoughts. There was risk, yes, but she was almost certain that she and Beth would survive it. She cracked four eggs open and dumped them into the skillet with her right hand while holding Beth’s hand with her left. “Daddy’s not right in the head now, punkin,” she whispered. “Can you tell that?”

Beth nodded with wide eyes and whispered, “Daddy lied to that policeman on the phone.”

“Yes, he did. I need you to do one thing for me, darling. One easy thing, and then we can go outside where Grant and the nice policemen are. Will you do that for me?”

Beth nodded again.

“Do you remember where my laptop is? Down on the coffee table?”

“Uh-huh. Where Daddy is.”

“After Daddy comes back up here, I want you to take your glass of water down to the great room like you’re going to play. Then I want you to unplug the computer and dump your water into my keyboard.”

Beth opened her mouth in shock. “What?”

“Pour it right into the keys, where the letters are. But be sure you unplug it first. And don’t touch the computer with your hands afterward. That’s important. Just dump the water into the keyboard from high above it. Far away. No touching.”

Beth blinked several times, processing Laurel’s request. “I can do that. But won’t Daddy be mad?”

“He’s going to be mad at me, not you. But that’s what we have to do to make all this stop. Okay?”

Beth smiled. “Okay.”

“Unplug the computer first. And don’t touch it with your hands.”

“I know. Electricity, right?”

Laurel smiled with satisfaction, then retrieved Beth’s glass from the table by the banquette. She knew from experience that it would take a couple of seconds for the water to penetrate the Sony’s keyboard, and unplugging the computer from the wall socket would step it down to battery power rather than the 110 volts coming from the mains. The danger of lethal voltage arcing back to Beth was almost nonexistent, but the probability of frying the computer itself was high. As Warren came back to the kitchen, Laurel said, “Any luck with your computer program?”

“It’s coming along,” he said without looking at her. “A seven-space password has seventy-eight billion possible combinations. Even more, really, depending on how many characters you choose from.”

“How interesting.”

He looked at her oddly. Stay cool, she told herself. Don’t get cocky. He’s going to go ballistic in about two minutes-

“Where are you going?” he asked Beth, who had been spinning in circles like a ballerina on Warren’s side of the island, but now was walking toward the hall.

“Nowhere!” she said breathlessly. “I’m tired of sitting around.”

“Well, we have to sit around awhile longer.”

Laurel saw that Beth didn’t have the water glass in her hand, but it was nowhere in sight either. She had stashed it somewhere, like a good little conspirator. Probably on the floor.

Laurel needed Warren to move to her side of the island. She rotated the burner control beneath the eggs to HIGH, then turned toward the sink and began loudly washing the bowl she’d used to hold the broken eggshells.

“Hey,” Warren said. “Hey! You’re burning them!”


“You’re burning the eggs!”

She spun from the sink and let her anger show. “Is your butt nailed to that stool?”

He got up and stalked around the island. Laurel went back to rinsing the bowl. She was turning off the water when a cracking sound came from the great room, followed by a screech.

“What the-?” Warren looked around anxiously. “Elizabeth?”

He scanned every corner of the kitchen and den, then ran for the great room. Laurel scrambled around the island and went after him.

“Where are you?” Warren shouted. “What are you doing?”

Laurel heard a primal scream of fury just before she reached the great room. The acrid stink of burned plastic filled her nostrils. Beth was cowering by the arm of the sofa, the empty water glass still in her hand, her eyes on to her enraged father.

Warren stood over the silent Vaio, staring down with mute incomprehension on his face. When he looked down at Beth, she bolted toward Laurel, tossing the glass aside as she ran. She leaped into her mother’s arms, and Laurel backed slowly toward the arch behind her.


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