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Книга Third Degree. Страница 68

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Laurel could see the edge of Warren’s face behind his monitor. He was nodding. “That’s exactly what I’m doing now, Danny. Balancing the scales.”

“How do you figure that?”

“You think I’m going to leave my kids to be raised by her? Raising children is a sacred charge. I can’t trust her to do that any longer.”

Fear and shame began eating through Laurel’s shock.

“Well, what other option do you have?” Danny asked.

“That’s what I’m thinking about.”

“Well, why don’t you tell me what you’re thinking?”

Another long silence. “I don’t think you’d understand. You still look at things the old way.”

Laurel had never heard a voice so bereft of hope. Warren’s whole life for the past year had been an exhausting round-the-clock performance carried out for her and the children. An imitation of health.

“I might surprise you there, buddy,” Danny said. “You want to talk about randomness? I’ve seen a lot of men on the south side of twenty die for no reason at all. Shot or mortared out of a clear blue sky, sometimes by their own side. I’ve heard them screaming in the back of my chopper with no hope of getting to a field hospital in time. And they don’t scream to God, Doc. They don’t scream to Daddy, either. They scream to Mama. Because they know Mama loved them more than anyone else ever could. More than even God, if there is one. You hear me, Warren? I don’t care how much you love Grant and Beth-when the shit hits the fan, it’s Mama they’ll cry for. And the shit has hit the fan, okay? Daddy’s going to die. And the last thing you want to do is leave those kids at the mercy of somebody besides their mother. I don’t care how angry you are, brother. I don’t care what she did to you. And they don’t either. I know you don’t like hearing this. This is tough love, buddy. This is the stuff that makes a battlefield seem like a safe place.”

“I hear you,” Warren said quietly. “I do. But it just doesn’t register. I can’t explain it to you.”

“Well, try. Nobody’s going anywhere just yet.”

Laurel saw Warren sag back in his chair, but she still couldn’t see his eyes. She wondered if Danny was lying, if armed policemen were preparing to burst into the house. She tried to stay ready for it. Her first move would be toward Beth, though she doubted she could reach her with taped ankles.

“I had a dog when I was a kid,” Warren said. “Did I ever tell you that?”

“I don’t believe you did.”

Laurel faintly remembered Warren telling her he’d owned a dog as a boy, but he hadn’t gone into detail. In fact, he’d only revealed this on the day he agreed to buy Christy for the kids. He’d never spoken of it before or since.

“He was just a mutt,” Warren said. “I found him out in the woods. A neighborhood kid was pouring drain cleaner on him. I took him home and washed him off, named him Sam. We went everywhere together. He was my…my best friend, I was going to say. My dad didn’t like Sam, but he put up with him. Anyway, a couple of years later, we got a bad rain. The neighborhood drainage ditch ran right behind our house. An open ditch, you know? About five feet deep. In a bad rain, it became a torrent. Five feet of water rushing through there like a locomotive. Just past our house, it turned into a massive whirlpool, because all that water was being forced into a twelve-inch pipe that ran underground to the creek.

“That particular day the wind blew a yellow ball Sam always chased into that water, and he went after it. He got the ball, but by that time the current had him. He couldn’t get back to the bank. I went to jump in after him, but my dad ran off the patio and grabbed me, held me back. I would have drowned, but I didn’t care. When you’re eight, you don’t worry about stuff like that.”

Laurel was scarcely breathing.

“Sam fought for maybe a minute after he got to the whirlpool, and then it sucked him down. I was crying and praying he could hold his breath till he shot out the other end of the pipe, but it was a couple of hundred yards, at least. Maybe three hundred. I found him just before dark, down in the creek. Drowned. I’ve thought about him a lot, banging through that long black pipe, trying to fight, struggling to breathe…but the pipe was just too long. He never had a chance. That’s how I feel now, Danny. A year ago, the current pulled me into the ditch. I’ve fought like hell to stay afloat, but I’m just about out of gas. And when I found that letter this morning, it just…I finally got sucked into the pipe. I can’t breathe…I can’t see. And I sure as hell can’t get back to where I started. All I can do is wait to shoot out the other end of the pipe.” Warren’s chair creaked as he leaned backward. “And you know how that story ends.”

Laurel tasted salt in her mouth. Her face was covered with tears. How could she have been married to a man for twelve years and not heard that story? How could she be the kind of wife that a man would not want to confide his worst nightmare to?

“You’re in a bad place,” Danny said. “I can hear that. All I’m going to say to you is this. You need to look at this marriage situation as if you weren’t sick. If you weren’t sick, and there was another man in your wife’s life, what would you do? You’d be angry, sure. But in the end, I think you’d have to let her go and be the best father you could be. Show her what a bad mistake she’d made by leaving you. But you show a woman that by being what you already are-a man of honor, not a pissed-off redneck who can’t keep his shit in one sock.”

Laurel wondered if Danny had gone too far.

“I think it just comes down to this,” Warren said. “Other people’s problems look simple, but when it’s your own problem, it’s complicated. I’m glad you talked to me, Danny. But in the end, I’m the one who has to decide how to end this thing.”

The finality in his voice summoned a new kind of fear from Laurel’s soul.

“Don’t go yet,” Danny said quickly, his voice betraying stress for the first time. “You said a while ago that you were waiting for something. Something on your computer. Are you still waiting?”

“I am. Laurel caused me some problems there, but I’ve got another computer working on it.”

“What is it you’re waiting for?”

“The name, Danny.”

“The name?”

“The guy who was screwing my wife. Still is, for all I know.”

Laurel wondered if Danny was alone, or if other men were watching him right now.

“She’s got that on a computer in there? The guy’s name?”

“I’m pretty sure she does. Don’t worry about it. I’ll let you guys know once I have it.”

“How long is that likely to take?”

“No way to know. It’s a probability thing. Could be ten minutes, could take ten hours.”

Danny cleared his throat. “I don’t think we have that kind of time, Warren. Not anything like.”

“Why not? The sheriff getting antsy out there?”

“I told you about the manual. Remember? These guys have a list of steps out here. They cross one off, then go to the next one.”

Warren thought about this. “I see. Well…I wouldn’t advise anybody to trespass in this house. The yard’s all right. But a man’s home is his castle. Even the law says that. And as far as I can tell, nobody’s got cause to come into this house uninvited. Uniformed or not. I wouldn’t take kindly to that, Major. Not at all.”

“I hear you, Doc. I’ll relay that to the sheriff.”

“You do that. Maybe we’ll talk again.”

Warren’s hand reached out from behind the computer and switched off the speakerphone. In the silence that followed, Christy’s scratching paws became the dominant sound in the house. It made Laurel think of Warren’s drowning dog.

“Shouldn’t you let Christy in?” she called. “I know she’s starving by now.”

Warren didn’t answer for a while. Then he said, “Are you hoping they’ll shoot me when I bend down to unlock the pet door?”

Laurel closed her eyes and wondered how two human beings who had shared a bed for so long could grow so far apart.

68

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