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Книга Third Degree. Страница 48

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“What’s the problem there?” Marilyn asked. “You don’t think Laurel would do it?”

“She probably would. I’ll have to talk to her about it.”

“You do that. Every day counts, Danny.”

He forced a smile. “I sure appreciate you taking this time.”

“Oh, I expect a free lesson in return.”

“I’ll make it two.”

“One’s enough. How’s Starlette acting now?”

“You don’t want to know. Bitch city. Running up my credit cards like the Germans are about to roll into Paris.”

“SOP for a woman who thinks her husband’s about to dump her. You need to get out while you can. Take your chances.”

Danny was about to reply when his legitimate cell phone rang. He checked the LCD and saw that the call was from the Sheriff’s Department. “Excuse me, I need to take this.”

Marilyn turned up her Schaefer and drank it off with an unladylike gurgle.

“Danny McDavitt,” he said.

“Major McDavitt, this is Dispatch. I’ve been told that the sheriff needs the aerial unit to pick him up at Lake St. John. You know where that is?”

“I do.” Lake St. John was a popular recreation spot forty miles up the river. “When are we talking about, Carol?”

“Now, sir.”

“Now? What’s going on?”

“Radio silence on this one, Danny. No specifics on cell phones either. You’re the pilot on the board. Jim’s in Las Vegas with his wife for his anniversary. How soon can you get to the airport?”

“I’m at the airport now.”

“Good. I called Mr. Markle already. They should be getting the aerial unit ready now.”

The unit. Danny almost laughed, but something in her voice stopped him. “This is a real emergency?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What’s the sheriff doing at Lake St. John?”

“Fishing. I’ll give you his GPS coordinates once you’re airborne.”

Danny didn’t want to spend his afternoon searching the river for some lost fisherman when Laurel might need him. But there were only two chopper pilots, and if Jim Redmond was out of town, then Danny had no way out of the duty. “Roger that,” he said in a tone of surrender. “Call me back in ten minutes with the coordinates.”

“What’s the emergency?” asked Marilyn.

“Our illustrious sheriff wants a chopper ride back from Lake St. John. He’s tired of fishing.”

“Are you serious?”

“Nah,” said Danny, getting to his feet. “It’s probably somebody lost on the water. Unless one of the sheriff’s campaign contributors sprained an ankle wakeboarding.”

Marilyn laughed. “That sounds like the Billy Ray Ellis I remember from high school.”

“You’re not that old, I know.”

She winked. “I was a ninth-grader when Billy Ray was a senior. He was the cat’s meow back then. Big football star, all the girls after him. Of course, it was mostly white boys then. Different game.”

“You’d better believe it.”

“I think it’s safe to say Billy was elected sheriff on his high school rep and his status in the Baptist church,” Marilyn said in an arch tone.

“Politics. The same everywhere. He’s okay, actually. I’ve known a lot worse in ranking uniforms.”

The lawyer nodded thoughtfully. “We should do this more.”

“I agree.”

“If you’d hire me, we could.”

Danny’s smile faded. “I’m thinking about it.”

By the time Danny reached the hangar, the mechanics had rolled out the Sheriff’s Department helicopter and prepped her for flight. She was a Bell 206B, eight years old but still in good shape. White with blue and gold stripes, and a big gold star painted on the fuselage. The machines he’d flown in the air force were five times this size and infinitely more sophisticated, but the Bell handled well in the air, a kite compared to the massive predators he once flew. A Pave Low IV could carry twenty-four fully equipped commandos into battle; the Bell 206 had two seats up front and room for one passenger and a stretcher in back. Not much else.

“How goes it, Danny boy?” called Dick Burleigh, the silver-haired chief mechanic. “Ready to crank and bank?”

Burleigh had served as crew chief on a Huey with the First Air Cav in Vietnam. After surviving the Ia Drang and A Shau valleys, he’d moved to Baton Rouge and serviced news choppers for thirty years. At sixtysomething, Burleigh decided to retire to Athens Point, where he started filling in at the airport for kicks. Pretty soon, he was running the maintenance department. For Danny he was a godsend.

“You tell me, Dick,” he said. “How’s she running?”

“Hot as a preacher’s daughter.”

Danny laughed and shook hands with Burleigh, then nodded to a blond kid in coveralls trailing behind him. “Let’s forget about those beers, huh, guys?”

Burleigh smiled. “Long as you’re okay to fly, Major.”

Danny gave the old crew chief a salute. “My inviolable rule is, don’t drink and fly. However, one night in the Caribbean, I had to go up and chase down a Bolivian drug boat with half a bottle of tequila in me. Long story, but we knocked down ninety keys of marching powder that night.”

“You get to keep any of it?” asked the kid, his eyes twinkling.

Danny chuckled. “Nah. But there were reports of confiscated reefer weighing in a little light after some of those takedowns. MPs never got to the bottom of it, either.”

“You take her easy, Major,” said Burleigh, his smile gone. “Wind’s getting up, and you got thunderheads blowing in from the northwest.”

“That’s the way I’m headed, too.”

“Maybe the sheriff ought to drive back to town. He could make it in the time it takes you to fly both ways.”

No, Danny thought, Billy Ray likes the chopper too much for that. “I’m just an old rotorhead, Chief. I live to serve. Have a good one.”

The mechanic winked and opened the Bell’s door. Danny climbed into the right seat, fastened his harness, cinched it tight, and hit the starter. Then he put on his headset and ran the preflight checklist. He didn’t miss having to put on his helmet, night-vision goggles, body armor, or any of the other gear required to fly the Pave Low. Compared to his military flying, this was like barnstorming in the 1920s.

When the main rotor system hit 360 rpm, Danny felt the chopper reach neutral buoyancy. He pulled up on the collective, which put the Bell into a low hover. After trimming the ship with his left foot pedal, he lightly touched the cyclic and tilted the rotor disk forward. A few moments later, the bird gained translational lift and launched herself into the sky.

At that moment, Danny’s cell phone vibrated. He applied friction to the collective and let go long enough to grab the phone from his pocket, assuming that Laurel had finally texted him back. To his surprise, he found himself holding his legitimate phone instead. The Bell drifted a little as he flipped it open. The new message was from the Sheriff’s Department dispatcher. There were only four words in the text box:

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