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Книга Third Degree. Страница 53

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Most of his fellow TRU deputies were white country boys of a type Carl knew well. The majority were ten to fifteen years older than he, and some were over fifty. In a town with high unemployment, men didn’t give up jobs with benefits unless they were pushed out-usually after an election. But despite the age and background of the men, there was an attitude of benign tolerance toward black officers in the unit. Prejudice still existed, but it was an amorphous thing, difficult to point at and impossible to prove, except in a few cases. Even the hard-core, Southern-rock NASCAR types accepted that civil rights reforms were here to stay, and they tried to make the best of it.

Beyond this, Carl was a special case. His military record as a sniper gave him an almost magical immunity to prejudice. In his experience, white country boys were fairly primitive in their social habits, creatures of dominance and submission, like the hunting dogs he’d raised as a boy. Physical prowess meant a lot, the ability to withstand pain meant more, but nothing ranked higher in their estimation than combat experience. If a man had shed blood in the mud and held his nerve under fire, then it didn’t make a damn bit of difference what color he was-not to most of them, anyway. As a sniper with a near-legendary number of confirmed kills, Carl occupied rarefied air in the redneck firmament. The fact that he was black had put some of those good old boys in the curious position of almost fawning over a guy they might have tried to kick the shit out of if he’d wandered into their neighborhood at night.

Carl parked his Cherokee behind the rearmost cruiser and got his rain slicker out of the cargo compartment. He decided to leave his rifle case locked in the vehicle. The slower things moved, the more time there would be for hormones to stabilize and adrenaline to be flushed away.

He saw the mobile command post over the roofs of the cruisers. The camouflage-painted camper trailer had been towed under a small stand of trees and braced with cinder blocks. The steady rumble of a generator echoed over the flat ground, which meant lights in the trailer, if not air-conditioning. Carl reminded himself that he was only a deputy, not the ranking member of an autonomous sniper-scout unit, as he had been in Iraq. His job when he stepped into the trailer would be to take orders, not give them. And any advice he offered was likely to be rejected unless it reinforced what his superiors had already decided.

His biggest worry right now was the Breen brothers, one of whom was the commander of the Tactical Response Unit, subject only to Sheriff Ellis in a situation like this one. The Breen brothers looked to have been cut from the same piece of wood. They had farmer’s tans, cracked skin, and slit eyes that betrayed so much meanness it made people take a step back, even when they were out of uniform. Both were lean and gaunt, the younger one, Trace, so much so that Carl wondered if he’d suffered some nutritional disease like rickets as a child. But maybe Trace just stayed so pissed off all the time that his anger had begun to consume him. Ray, the elder of the pair, was bulkier and had a more open face than his brother, despite his cowboy mustache. He’d served in the army during the lean years after Vietnam, as an MP, like Sheriff Ellis. He was also a Weekend Warrior like Ellis, but though Ray’s unit had been called up for Bosnia, he hadn’t seen action there either. He’d worked as a welder for a while, but got fired because he kept getting into fights. Only when he hired on with the Sheriff’s Department had he found his calling; he wore the uniform like a suit of armor, and Carl could tell that the power of the job was what got Ray Breen out of bed every morning.

Ray reveled in the high-tech equipment of his Tactical Response Unit. Over the past few years, he had somehow scrounged together an arsenal that could adequately supply an urban SWAT unit. The TRU had automatic weapons, flash-bang grenades, shaped charges, advanced commo gear, and night-vision devices. In his off hours Ray read Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, and Larry Bond, or played Rainbow Six: Splinter Cell on his son’s Xbox 360. If Carl chanced to meet Ray Breen in Wal-Mart or at a high school football game, the commander would squint and give a slight nod, as though to say, We’re part of an elite team. These civilians know we’re always on the lookout for trouble.

Ray had pulled Carl aside dozens of times to talk shop, asking detailed questions about the capabilities of various sniper rifles, scopes, and night-vision systems. But inevitably, after all the hardware questions had been answered, Breen would circle down to the question he’d really wanted to ask: What’s it like to blow some unsuspecting raghead’s shit away from a thousand yards? Carl always answered the same way: I tried not to think about that side of it, sir. It was a job, and I focused on the mechanics of it. Guys like Ray Breen never grasped the true nature of sniping. It was as much about concealment as it was about shooting. Carl had once spent two days constructing a hide in Baghdad, then another waiting motionless with his scout to take a single shot that a twelve-year-old kid could have made in his backyard in Sandy Bottom. But he didn’t blame the TRU commander. The homeboys he’d played ball with at Athens Point High had asked the same question after they got a couple of beers in them. All human beings, Carl had learned, were fascinated with death. Only those who knew death intimately, as he did, understood its essential mystery.

Carl’s eyes tracked a thin form slinking out of the CP trailer. Trace Breen. In the vernacular of Carl’s father, Trace was a skunk. Lying was mother’s milk to him. He had no military experience, and Carl assumed he’d ridden his brother’s coattails onto the TRU, as nominal communications officer. From scuttlebutt around the department, Carl had gathered that Trace had worked a dozen different jobs before becoming a deputy, none of them productive. He’d been a roustabout at construction sites (where materials tended to disappear at night); he’d sold stereos out of the back of a van (most of those stolen, too); he’d worked as a hunting guide (poaching alligators at night); he’d also run dogfights, and pursued various other fly-by-night enterprises that went nowhere. Even now, Trace had some kind of cell phone scam going, selling disposable phones out of his car. Carl figured a truckload of the things must have been hijacked over in Texas or somewhere.

“Hey, Red Cloud!” Trace had caught sight of Carl. “Ray wants you in the CP like yesterday. You better double-time it, soldier.”

Carl let the nickname roll off him. He didn’t like anyone outside the Marine Corps using it. The local guys only got wind of Red Cloud after discovering an article about marine snipers in Baghdad on the CNN Internet archives. Carl raised his left hand to acknowledge the remark, then headed for the command post.

Unlike the other white deputies, Trace Breen made no effort to conceal his dislike of African-Americans. If Carl passed him alone in a corridor, Trace would look pointedly at the ceiling or chuckle softly, as though amused at the idea of a black man in a deputy’s uniform. If they met in public, Trace either pretended Carl didn’t exist or snickered in the ear of whatever trashy blonde happened to be hanging off his arm. Lately, Carl had heard rumors that Trace might be dabbling in the drug business-specifically crystal meth-a trade he’d apparently worked at as a teenager. Carl had already decided that if he picked up concrete information about this activity, he would follow wherever it led. The sheriff might not want to bust his own deputies, but Carl figured if he made the arrest, Billy Ray Ellis would have no choice but to follow through.

Carl stopped before the trailer door and looked up at the Shields house. If what the dispatcher had told him was true, his mother’s soft-spoken physician was barricaded behind the idyllic facade of that house, and he might already have killed someone. If Shields had done that, Carl might well be asked to take the man out, and soon. Before darkness fell, probably. He scanned the northern sky, hoping to see Danny McDavitt’s chopper zooming out of the dark clouds gathering there, but he saw nothing.

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