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.It had been three years since I’d handled my.38, but it felt familiar and right in my hand.I sat at my kitchen bar and took my gun apart and cleaned and oiled it.When I was done, I popped a magazine in the butt and put two extra magazines in the pocket of the cargo shorts I would wear the next day.I laid the gun on the bathroom counter while I showered and brushed my teeth.When I went to bed, I put it on the bedside table where I could get it quickly.Somebody had already killed two people and had tried to kill a third.I didn’t intend to be next.I drifted to sleep and dreamed that Marilee was clutching a cat exactly like Ghost to her voluptuous bosom, but his name was Phillip.She was pleading with me to save him.“You have the key, Dixie.All you have to do is use it.”When the alarm sounded, it took me a few seconds to remember where I was.I went to the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror.Was it possible that my dream had actually been a message? If not from Marilee’s spirit, then from my own subconscious? Crazy as it seemed, I thought it was.Somehow, I had the key to solving the murders and to fingering the person who had attacked Phillip.I just didn’t know what it was.I brushed my teeth, splashed water on my face, and pulled my hair into a ponytail.I pulled on a knit top and the cargo shorts I’d laid out the night before, and stepped into my Keds.Holding my.38 ready, I raised the storm shutters.The porch was empty, and I slid the gun into the right pocket of my shorts, where it made a satisfying pressure on my thigh.I had no idea what I was going to meet, or if, in fact, I needed to take a gun with me, but I wasn’t taking any chances.By 4:15, I was halfway to my first stop, and the morning went smoothly.I didn’t find a single dead body, nobody got beat up, no reporter accosted me, and none of the cats on my schedule had done anything naughty that I had to clean up.While I fed cats and groomed cats and changed cats’ litter boxes, my mind was on the strange message I’d gotten in my dream.I take dreams seriously because they’re the only way our subconscious can communicate with us.I went over the dream again and again—Marilee holding Ghost, except it wasn’t Ghost, but a cat named Phillip.Was that because I saw Phillip as a pet? No, I really didn’t.Was it because Phillip was similar to Ghost in some way? Maybe, but how? Ghost knew who the murderer was because he had been in the house when both murders happened.Did Phillip know, too? Had he recognized the woman he’d seen that morning and wasn’t saying? What was the key that I was supposed to have to all this? A key is like a code breaker, something that unlocks secrets, but if I had such a key, I didn’t know what it was.At Kristin Lord’s house, she greeted me coolly and left me alone while I groomed Fred.She didn’t mention anything about Dr.Win’s allegations, but I wondered if she had been on the phone trying to find another cat groomer.Guidry called a little after nine o’clock, just as I was leaving Kristin Lord’s house.“Can you be at the hospital in fifteen minutes? I’d like to talk to Phillip Winnick now.”I thought about my promise to Michael to end my involvement in this case.I thought about the two cats still on my morning schedule.I thought about how Guidry seemed to think that I had nothing to do except jump when he called.For all those reasons, I knew I should say no.I said, “Okay.”Twenty-FourWhen I got to the hospital, I stashed the gun and the spare magazines in the glove box after I parked.I stopped in the gift shop to get some reading material for Phillip, then took the elevator up to his floor.In the ICU unit, Guidry was outside Phillip’s glassed cubicle, talking to a nurse.Beyond him, I could see Phillip.He no longer had the ventilator, but his swollen face was a mass of purple bruises.Guidry didn’t speak to me, just held his hand out and took my arm while he finished his conversation with the nurse.He said, “Is he medicated?”The nurse raised his eyebrows and gave Guidry a tight smile, the kind you’d give the village idiot.“Of course he’s medicated.He’s able to talk, but it will hurt.Try to keep it to a minimum.”The nurse followed my gaze toward Phillip and shook his head.“It’s hard to take in, isn’t it? You just never dream that somebody would deliberately do this much damage to a kid.”Guidry said, “Come on,” and gave my arm a firm tug.Phillip’s eyes were closed, and when he heard us enter, he opened them with a hopeful look that quickly changed to polite disappointment.I felt like apologizing for not being the person he hoped to see.I said, “Hey, Phil, good to see your eyes open.You look like hell.Blink twice if that’s how you feel.”He managed a weak smile, winced at the pain it caused, and slowly blinked two times.“I brought you some things to read,” I said.“But they didn’t have much of a selection.You have a choice of Reader’s Digest, House & Garden, or Sarasota Today.When you’ve enjoyed as much of those as you can stand, I also got you a Carl Hiaasen book.”I was prattling to cover my dismay at how devastated he looked.Even without the ventilator down his throat, he looked pathetically vulnerable and ravaged.He closed his eyes, either from exhaustion or the effects of his medication, and I shut up.I knew he would recover from his injuries, but the sight of his sweet face so swollen and bruised made me want to go find the person who had done this to him and hurt him really, really bad.I took one of his big hands and stroked it, wishing I could make all his pain go away just by rubbing him.The normal reaction to being beaten around the head and shoulders is to hold your hands over your head to protect your skull.I suddenly realized that Phillip must have tucked his hands under his armpits during his attack.Awed, I couldn’t even imagine the incredible willpower it had taken to protect his hands and leave his head exposed.I said, “Phillip, I know you didn’t see the person who attacked you, but was there anything at all about the person that seemed familiar? Footsteps, scent, sound of his breathing, anything?”His eyes opened, and for an instant the look he gave me seemed absurdly hostile, the way a drowning animal looks at its rescuers.He rolled his head side to side in slow denial, then closed his eyes again [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]