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Книга Third Degree. Страница 75

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“Because I can’t father a child anymore.”

There was a roaring in her ears like the birth of an avalanche. “You…why not?”

“Because of the drugs I’m taking. Massive doses of steroids, plus some experimental compounds Kenneth Doan prescribed for me. He got me into a Genentech trial. I’d be surprised if I have even one viable sperm left.”

“You must have!” she said quickly. “There’s no other explanation.”

“Of course there is.”

“All clean!” Beth announced, bounding into the kitchen with her wet hands held high. She patted Christy on the back, earning a warning growl, then climbed onto a chair and started rolling a Tech Deck across the table.

“Let’s continue this later,” Laurel said, wringing her hands. “Please.”

Warren eyes looked even more reptilian than they had before. “Beth, honey?”

“What?” She twirled the little skateboard in a circle.

“Mommy’s got a surprise for us.”

Beth looked up from the board, her eyes on Laurel. “What is it, Mommy?”

“You’re going to get a new brother or sister soon,” Warren said.

Beth’s mouth and eyes opened wide. “A baby sister?”

“Maybe,” Warren said. “We don’t know yet.”

“I want a baby sister! No more boys!”

Warren set the Walgreens bag gently on the counter. “Do you have any more surprises, Mom?”

“It’s your baby,” she whispered. “There’s no other option but virgin birth, and I’m no virgin.”

“That’s for sure.”

“Where’s Grant?” Beth asked. “I want to tell Grant we’re getting a baby sister!”

“Grant’s spending the night with Gram,” Warren said, his eyes never leaving Laurel’s face. Gram was Laurel’s mother; she lived thirty-five miles up the river in Vidalia, Louisiana.

“I want to stay with Gram, too! No fair!”

“Hush, Elizabeth,” Warren said. “We’ll see about that later.”

“Does Gram know about my baby sister?”


Beth’s head snapped down, and she went back to twirling the skateboard.

Warren stepped close enough to Laurel to kiss her. “If this baby was mine, you would have told me as soon as you heard I was sick. After I got off the phone with Danny.”

“Who’s sick?” Beth asked. “Is Daddy sick?”

“Quiet, baby,” Warren said in a silky voice.

“Please don’t do this,” Laurel implored.

“You were trying to give me hope before. You would have told me about it then, if it was true.”

She answered with quiet urgency, trying not to communicate her growing panic to Beth. “I wasn’t sure if it would make things better or worse. I was afraid you’d feel you were missing that much more.”

“A man lives to pass on his genes. You know that.” He lifted his hand and tenderly brushed a strand of hair from her eyes. She shuddered. “There’s only one reason you would have kept this secret from me.”

“You’re wrong.”

He picked up the Walgreens bag and slapped her with it.

Beth screamed.

“Dad, stop it!” shouted a voice from the hallway.

Everyone froze as Grant stepped from the hallway into the kitchen. “Stop yelling at Mom! She hasn’t done anything!”

Warren looked his son from head to toe, and Laurel saw pride in his eyes. “There’s my son,” he said. “It’s written all over him.”

It was true. Grant had Warren’s muscular body and regular facial features; but it was her eyes that looked out of his face.

Warren took three steps toward Grant and held out his right hand. “I knew you’d come back, Son. You had the wrong idea before.”

Grant drew back, but then Warren raised his hand, and Grant slapped it in some kind of high-five ritual. “There’s guys outside with guns,” Grant said. “Lots of them, and some of them are mean. We have to get ready.”

“Yes, we do,” Warren said calmly. “We’re all here now, just as it should be. I want you kids to go into the safe room.”

Laurel shivered at the name.

“Are you and Mom coming?” Grant asked.

“In a minute, yes.”

“I’ll wait until you go, then.”

“Mind me, Son.”

Grant looked back at his father with a combination of disappointment and defiance. “I’m not a little kid anymore, Dad. I want to help. I can do stuff now. Grown-up stuff!”

Warren looked appraisingly at his son, then knelt and beckoned him closer. When Grant came forward, Warren spoke softly into his ear. Grant nodded several times, then hurried past Laurel into the pantry.

“Where’s he going?” Laurel asked.

Warren smiled. “Don’t worry about it.”

Chapter 21

Danny was so stunned by the revelation of Laurel’s pregnancy that he could hardly think. He and Sheriff Ellis sat shoulder to shoulder in the helicopter, headsets on, with the rotors already whirling at full rotational speed.

“I don’t think we can wait until Carl gets a clear shot,” the sheriff said, his worried face illuminated by the cockpit lights. “I know you want to, but I can’t risk Shields barricading his family in that panic room. He could cut their throats and laugh at us while he was doing it.”

“He hasn’t done that yet,” Danny pointed out.

“No, but he’s coming apart in there. I didn’t like the sound of his voice. I’ve got that Jim Jones, Kool-Aid feeling.”

Danny wanted to argue, but his mind kept jumping back to the fact that Laurel had lied to him about sleeping with her husband. This morning she’d told him flat out that she hadn’t. But she had.

“Shields doesn’t believe her about that pregnancy either,” Ellis added. “I think that pushed him over the edge.” He elbowed Danny. “You think Shields is the father of that baby?”

Jim Jones, Danny thought, twenty seconds behind the conversation. Kool-Aid. “I don’t know. Might be the guy who wrote the letter.”

“Shields is a doctor, so he must know what he’s talking about. He says he couldn’t have got her pregnant. Aw…in five minutes it won’t matter anyway.”

Danny closed his eyes, trying to work his way to the heart of what had really been going on in his life.

“Fuck this,” Ellis said, abandoning his deacon’s rectitude. “Take us up, Danny!”

Danny pulled pitch and the Bell leaped into the night sky. In seconds he was looking down at the glowing yellow windows of the Shields home in miniature, an aerial shot of the perfect suburban home. A Steven Spielberg movie.

“This is Black Leader,” Ellis said. “TRU will carry out explosive entry on my command. Acknowledge by turns.”

Danny gripped the controls with too much force, trying in vain to bleed off his anxiety.

“Black One, in position.”

“Two, in position.”

Ellis pointed down toward the front yard. “I want you to flare out there and hit your light, pull him to a window. He might come alone, and I’ll blow the doors then.”

Danny shook his head as though to clear it. “You can’t send Ray in there, Sheriff. You’ve got to let Carl take the shot.”

“There’s no more time! And Carl’s still on the back side of the house.”

“Move him!”

“It’s too late! We’re going in. Shields has left us no choice.”

“Six, in position.”

Danny descended to 150 feet and flew left turns as he waited for the acknowledgments to come in. From this altitude, the beating of the rotor blades would sound to someone in the house like a giant robot pounding on the roof. Maybe that baby is Warren’s, he thought. But the sheriff was right; Shields was a doctor and he’d sounded certain about his inability to father a child. Danny flashed back to the morning’s school conference, when Laurel had started to tell him something, then pulled back at the last moment, when the next parent showed up at the door-

“This is Black Six,” crackled the headset. “I’ve got movement on the front thermal cam. It’s real faint, but it looks like a large figure moving from the pantry toward the central hall. The foyer area.”

“What’s he doing?”


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