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Книга Third Degree. Страница 52

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“Elizabeth?” Warren snapped. “Did your mother tell you to do that?”

“No!” Beth shouted, stunning Laurel. “I hate that computer! It’s making you crazy!”

Warren glared at his daughter like a sea captain staring down a mutinous member of his crew.

“Of course I told her to do it,” Laurel said with a calm she did not feel. “It had to be done. I’m sure you can hire a lawyer to get those e-mails from the company, and that’s probably what you should do. But this nightmare has to end. It has ended. I’m not playing this game anymore.”

He opened his mouth but did not reply. Then he squeezed his hands into fists, which he pressed hard against his temples. Laurel was starting to believe that she had actually won when he closed the space between them in four quick bounds and backhanded her to the floor.

Beth screamed as they fell.

Chapter 15

Deputy Carl Sims turned right off of Highway 24 and drove through the wrought-iron gate into Avalon, a subdivision he had only seen through the windows of his patrol cruiser. Carl had grown up in Sandy Bottom, an all-black neighborhood in the river lowlands of Lusahatcha County, well outside the city limits. The only whites who spent any time in Sandy Bottom were the well-checkers who operated the oil wells owned by the white businessmen in Athens Point. When Carl was a boy, pumping units had operated right in people’s yards, but few of the residents ever saw a dime of the money that oil generated. Even if they managed to save enough to buy the land their houses stood on, they weren’t going to get mineral rights with it. Not in Sandy Bottom.

Carl drove past several six-thousand-square-foot houses set deep in the trees, then turned onto Lyonesse Drive and stopped at a makeshift roadblock. Deputy Willie Jones had parked his cruiser so that it blocked most of Lyonesse, and a sawhorse with orange tape on it blocked the rest. Willie was twenty-six, four years older than Carl, but he always treated Carl as if they were the same age. He walked up to Carl’s Jeep Cherokee and grinned broadly.

“What’s up, my brother? You off duty, huh?”

“Was. Not anymore.”

“This be some shit, don’t it?” Willie said with nervous excitement. “Dr. Shields all barricaded in his house and shit? Don’t make no sense to me.”

Carl nodded soberly. Warren Shields had been treating both his mother and father for the past six years, and they spoke of him almost reverently. Or they had until Carl’s mother had her stroke, which was what had brought Carl back to Athens Point rather than to Atlanta, where his girlfriend lived. Now only Carl’s father could praise Dr. Shields in intelligible words. Dr. Shields had spent several hours with Carl and his father over the past year, advising them on how best to care for Eugenia Sims, and Carl had instinctively liked the man. Shields treated his father with the respect due an older man, and he treated Carl just as he would anybody else, no better or worse. Carl liked that. Shields reminded him of doctors he’d known in the service, truly color-blind and focused on their work.

“You don’t think they’ll tell you to shoot Dr. Shields, do you?” Willie asked, his smile suddenly gone. “I mean, not without trying to talk him out first?”

Carl shook his head. “Let’s hope not.”

Willie gave an exaggerated nod.

“Is the sheriff here?” Carl asked.

Willie shook his head. “He fishing over in Louisiana. They sent Major Danny up to get him in the helicopter.”

Bad luck, Carl thought. “Who’s in charge now?”

Willie curled his lips and shook his head. “You know who. They done called out the TRU, ain’t they? Old Cowboy Ray hisself. Him and his little brother are up there unloading all their SWAT shit. Looks like the FBI at Waco or something.”

The Tactical Response Unit was Athens Point’s version of a SWAT team. It comprised fifteen officers recruited from both the municipal police and the Sheriff’s Department. About half had military experience, most in the National Guard. Carl was one of the few who had served in Iraq; he was the team’s designated sniper.

“Hey, Willie!” crackled Jones’s radio. “Any sign of Carl yet?”

Willie rolled his eyes at the heavy redneck accent coming from his radio. “Deputy Sims just pulled up, sir.”

“Well, send him back here. We’re setting up the position, and I want to get his input on interlocking angles of fire.”

“Jesus,” said Carl.

“Uh-huh,” Willie agreed.

“Has anybody even talked to Dr. Shields yet?”

Willie shrugged. Then his radio crackled again.

“We’ve set up the command post in the Shieldses’ front yard, under a stand of trees. Tell Carl to get his ass up here, ricky-tick.”

“You heard the man,” said Willie.

Carl exhaled long and slow, trying to prepare himself for the blast of testosterone he would encounter a few hundred yards up the street.

“I hope the sheriff gets here soon,” Willie said.

“You and me both, brother.”

Carl took his foot off the brake and idled up Lyonesse. Nearly two months since the TRU was last called out. In that case, they’d received a report of a man barricaded in his downtown house with his family. What the TRU found when it arrived on the scene was quite different: a local engineer lying in his bathtub with a homemade bomb in his lap and his family safe outside. The TRU didn’t have a trained hostage negotiator, so anybody might wind up talking to the subject, depending on circumstances. In the engineer’s case, the sheriff had spent two hours talking to him through the bathroom window, shielded by the wall, a flak jacket, and a bulletproof helmet. Sheriff Ellis had less than two years on the job, and his last law-enforcement experience had been as an MP in Germany twenty years before. He was a God-fearing man who had a good rapport with people, but it hadn’t been enough. The engineer blew himself up while the sheriff prayed for his immortal soul, repainting the bathroom with what had been his insides a millisecond before. Sheriff Ellis was wounded by ricocheting shrapnel that turned out to be a chunk of jawbone.

Carl had watched all this through his 10X Unertl scope, from a deer stand he’d mounted in a tree in a neighbor’s yard. He’d wanted to destroy the bomb’s works with a bullet, but since the device was clutched in the engineer’s lap, he couldn’t do it without killing the man. The hand holding the detonator was concealed behind the cast-iron side of the tub, so that option was out. The only other way to stop the bomb from exploding would have been to fire a round through the engineer’s brain stem, short-circuiting his nervous system, but the rules for bombers were different in Mississippi than they’d been in Iraq-at least when the only people they threatened were themselves.

Carl put the incident out of his mind as he rolled up Lyonesse, because thinking about it only led him to the incident before that one-the one that had caused friction between him and the sheriff. He didn’t need to cloud his mind with that right now.

Ahead, five cruisers sat parked on the street before a big Colonial set fifty meters back from the road. Mixed among them were civilian vehicles that belonged to the off-duty TRU men who’d been called up. Carl knew that his tactical commander was anxious, but he obeyed the speed limit and slowed for the speed bumps. He wanted to give the sheriff every opportunity to arrive before Ray Breen did something ill-advised.

Law enforcement in Athens Point was a curious thing. The police department had jurisdiction over the city, and by tradition the Sheriff’s Department took the outlying county. But technically the sheriff had jurisdiction over the city as well. Before 1968, both departments had been 100 percent white, but gradually the police department came to more closely resemble the city itself, which was 55 percent black. The county as a whole had a similar percentage, but geographically blacks tended to congregate in the city, while the outlying county was mostly white. This had somehow resulted in an unbroken line of white sheriffs (Carl figured it was the shape of the voting districts). He would have preferred working for the black police chief, but the pay and benefits were better in the Sheriff’s Department, so he’d opted to work in the county.

52

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