Читать онлайн "Vixen"

Автор Пронзини Билл

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... te on it, and a cot pushed in against the side wall. Kenneth Beckett lay prone on the cot, unmoving under a blanket, one cheek turned toward the door and draped with lank black hair half again as long as it had been when the snapshot was taken. The one visible eye was shut. No sound came out of him.

From the doorway Runyon couldn’t tell if he was asleep or unconscious. Or even if he was breathing.

4

JAKE RUNYON

He went inside. The interior was full of odors-dampness, mustiness, stale food, soiled clothing. None too tidy, either: empty cans of pork and beans and beef stew, empty milk cartons, unwashed glasses, plates, utensils in the sink and on the drainboard. Beckett, on his own without supervision, seemed to care little about cleaning up after himself.

Runyon leaned over the motionless figure on the cot. The kid was breathing, all right, in a fluttery kind of way-stoned, maybe. There was no visible evidence of drugs or drug paraphernalia in the room, but that didn’t mean there was none hidden away somewhere.

Leave him be, make his call? What he should’ve done, probably, but instinct dictated otherwise. He gripped Beckett’s shoulder and shook him, kept shaking him until the kid moaned and tried to pull away. Runyon put both hands on him then, turned him over on his back. That woke him up.

He stared up at Runyon through pale blue eyes that took several seconds to focus and then filled with scare. He said thickly, “Who’re you? I don’t know you…”

“My name is Runyon, Jake Runyon. I’m here to help you.”

“Help me? I don’t need any help…”

Beckett struggled to sit up. Runyon let him do that, but held him with a tight hand on his shoulder when he tried to lift himself off the cot. The left side of his face began a spasmodic twitching.

“You high on something, Ken? Amphetamines?”

“What? No! I don’t use drugs.”

“It won’t do you any good to lie to me.”

“I’m not lying. I’ve never used-” Beckett’s head jerked suddenly, as if he’d been touched by a live wire. His mouth bent into a transverse line. “Oh, Jesus! She told you that, didn’t she? She sent you!”

“If you mean your sister-”

“Another one, a new one.”

“You’re not making sense-”

Without warning Beckett lunged upward, tearing loose from Runyon’s grip, thrust a shoulder into him, and streaked for the door. There was surprising strength in the kid’s wiry body; the contact sent Runyon reeling sideways into the table, barking his shin against one of the wooden legs and almost taking him off his feet. By the time he recovered, Beckett was through the door.

Runyon hobbled out after him, spotted him running for his van. Beckett pulled up when he saw the Ford blocking escape. He stood poised indecisively for a couple of seconds, then lunged past the van at an angle toward the river’s edge.

The tide was on ebb and the bank mostly mud and sparse patches of grass. Beckett lurched and slogged along it to where an old rowboat was drawn up, caught hold of the stern and tried to shove it into the water. But it was mired deep in the brown ooze; he couldn’t break the mud’s hold. Runyon was almost on him by then. Beckett threw a panicky look over his shoulder, tried again to run. This time he got no more than ten feet before his feet slid out from under him and he went down in a sideways sprawl.

When Runyon reached him, the kid was dragging himself onto his knees. He hauled him upright and spun him around. He had forty pounds on the kid, plus his years of judo training when he was on the Seattle PD; he was prepared to use force if Beckett tried to knee or kick him. But that didn’t happen. Struggled some, that was all.

Runyon said sharply, “Quit it! Stand still! You’re not going anywhere until we talk.”

The squirming stopped. Beckett stood with his eyes downcast, his breath coming in short, quick pants. Streaks of mud made the right side of his face look like he’d put on half of a brown mask.

“I don’t want to talk to you.”

“You’re going to whether you like it or not. Back inside. Come on, no argument.”

Beckett gave him none on the slog back to the shack, but he held tight to the kid’s arm to make sure. He shut the door behind them and walked Beckett to the cot, sat him down on it again.

“You calm enough now to listen to me?”

“Why can’t she leave me alone?” Beckett muttered. “Why can’t everybody just leave me alone?”

“Listen, I said. I’m not involved with your sister; I’ve never even met her. I’m a private investigator-the agency I work for was hired to find you. You understand?”

“Investigator?” It seemed to take a few seconds before the meaning of the word computed. “You mean… Cory hired you?”

“Her and your bail bondsman.”

Beckett drew a long, shuddery breath. Then he pushed up off the cot again, but he wasn’t trying to run this time. “Thirsty,” he said, and groped his way to the sink, ran water into a milk-scummed glass, gulped it down.

“Better wash some of that mud off while you’re at it,” Runyon said.

The kid did as he was told, splashing water, scrubbing with both hands. He didn’t make much of a job of it; he was still smeared with brown streaks when he finished. He toweled off and came back to sit on the cot again with his chin lowered, not making eye contact.

“I won’t go to prison for something I didn’t do,” he said. “Not for Cory, not for anybody.”

“If you don’t show up for your trial, you’ll go to prison whether you’re innocent or not. You’ve already violated the terms of your bail.”

“You can’t make me go back.”

“That’s right,” Runyon said. “But if you don’t return voluntarily, I’m required by law to report the violation and the judge’ll issue an arrest warrant. Is that what you want?”

Beckett stared off into space, eyes bright with misery. After a time he said thickly, “None of this’d be happening if Cory hadn’t talked me into it.”

“Into what?”

Headshake. Runyon repeated the question twice more before he got a low-voiced response.

“Taking the blame.”

“The blame. For the crime you’re charged with?”

“Pretending it was me she was out to get.”

“She? Who are you talking about?”

“Mrs. Vorhees.”

Runyon backed away from the cot, swung one of the chairs away from the table and straddled it. “Let’s get this straight. Did you steal Margaret Vorhees’ necklace?”

“No. Nobody stole it.”

“Then how did it get into your van?”

“Chaleen put it there. She told him to.”

“Mrs. Vorhees did?”

“No, no. Cory.”

“Why would your sister do that to you?”

Headshake.

Runyon asked, “Who’s Chaleen?”

“That bastard. She’s letting him do it to her, too.”

Trying to make sense of what Beckett was saying was like riding on a fast-moving carousel. Round and round, round and round, and not getting anywhere. “Where did Chaleen get the necklace?”

“From Mrs. Vorhees. She wanted him to hide it in Cory’s car so it’d look like she stole it.”

“How could Cory be blamed if you were the only other person on the boat that day?”

“I wasn’t. She was there when Mrs. Vorhees showed up.”

“To see you, you mean?”

“No. Mr. Vorhees. She… No, I’m not supposed to talk about that.”

“Talk about what?”

Headshake.

“Who told you not to talk? Cory?”

Headshake.

“All right,” Runyon said. “So your sister was the intended target, but she talked this Chaleen character into framing you instead. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yeah. She can make anybody do anything she wants. Anybody. Anything. Any time.”

“Why would Mrs. Vorhees want to frame your sister?”

“She hates Cory.”

“Why?”

Headshake.

“When did Cory tell you you had to take the blame? Before or after Chaleen planted the necklace in your van?”

“Before.”

“And you just let it happen?”

“… I told you, she always gets what she wants.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“She said we had to, we couldn’t rock the boat.”

“What boat?”

Beckett said in a mimicking falsetto, “‘Trust me, Kenny. I know what’s best for both of us. You won’t go to prison, I promise.’” He seemed close to tears now. “She doesn’t care about me. She says she does, but she doesn’t, not anymore. She never cared about anybody but herself. It’s all that goddamn Hutchinson’s fault…”

“Hutchinson. Who’s he?”

Headshake.

Ramblings. Yet as improbable and inconsistent as Beckett’s story sounded, it didn’t strike Runyon as lies, delusions, or drug-induced fantasy. The kid was an emotional weakling strung out on fear, not a chemical substance. Fear of his sister, it seemed, as much as of being sent to prison.

“Anything more you want to tell me, Ken?”

“No. I shouldn’t have… I… no.”

“So what’s it going to be? Back to San Francisco voluntarily, or do I notify the authorities?”

A rapid series of headshakes this time. “I want to stay here,” he said. “I like it here.”

“You can’t do that. I told you, it’s either your apartment or a jail cell on an unlawful flight charge. Be smart. Let me take you back.”

“No.”

“Then let your sister come and get you-”

“No!”

“I have to tell her as well as the authorities where you are.”

Beckett flattened himself facedown on the cot again, yanked the blanket up to his neck. “No more talking… my head hurts, I can’t think. Go away, leave me alone.”

“Listen to me-”

“No! Go away!” Another upward jerk on the blanket so that it covered his head. Burying himself under it. Hiding. “Go away