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Книга Third Degree. Страница 54

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The trailer door opened suddenly, and Carl stood face-to-face with Ray Breen. Breen wore a dark brown cowboy hat pulled low over his mustached face, but it was the flak jacket that startled Carl. Body armor was SOP for hostage situations, but still. Carl realized then that deep down he had not quite accepted that Dr. Shields had taken anyone hostage.

“Where’s your weapon, Deputy?” Breen asked.

“In my Jeep.”

Ray frowned. “It ain’t gonna do us any good there, is it? Come on, Carl. We don’t have a lot of daylight left.”

“Eighty minutes,” Carl said. “Less, if those clouds come over, which it looks like they will.”

Breen gave a tight grin and slapped his shoulder. “I knew you were already thinking. Get your gear, son. This is big.”

Carl didn’t move. “Could I ask you something, sir?”

The grin vanished. Breen sensed resistance, and he didn’t like it. “Go ahead.”

“Has anyone talked to Dr. Shields yet?”

“Yeah, me. His wife and daughter are in there, and probably his partner, Dr. Auster. I spoke to the wife and kid, but I think Auster’s dead.”

“Why?”

“Shields wouldn’t let me talk to him. We know there were shots fired, but the kid who got out isn’t positive who fired them. He thought he saw a man lying on his back in the hall, but he was on the second-floor landing and didn’t get a good look.”

Carl wondered if this was the best intel they were going to get.

“We think they’re in the main downstairs room now,” Breen went on. “What they call the great room. I talked to the architect, and he’s bringing a set of plans out here. There’s big windows facing the backyard, but they’re those fancy ones with the blinds built into them, between two panes of glass. They pretty much wipe out all visibility.”

Carl nodded, surprised to find himself grateful for this obstacle.

“That ain’t all,” Breen said. “There was a fire at Dr. Shields’s office about an hour ago. We don’t have many details, but right now it’s possible that Shields set that fire himself. A nurse at the hospital also told me there are some state or federal agents in the ER. There might be some kind of investigation going on that we don’t know about. Something to do with Dr. Shields.”

Carl said nothing. None of this made sense to him, but then he had few facts to work with. For the time being, he’d have to leave the situation in the less-than-masterful hands of Ray Breen and pray that the sheriff got here quick. Even that prospect made him feel only slightly better. The sheriff had been a petroleum land man for much of his life. The only thing that might stop Sheriff Ellis from doing the same thing Ray Breen would do was fear of a negative reaction from the voters in the next election. What gave Carl the most comfort was knowing that Danny McDavitt would be sitting beside the sheriff during any negotiations that might happen in the next few minutes.

“Get your rifle, Carl,” Ray said. “The sheriff’s still thirty minutes out. The wheels could come off this thing any second.”

“Yes, sir,” Carl said, starting back toward his Jeep.

He kept looking northward as he walked. More rain was coming; he would have known that with a blindfold on. Carl was a country boy, too.

He could smell rain ten miles away.

Danny crossed the Mississippi River just east of Lake Concordia and dropped out of the rain clouds at five hundred feet. This leg of the Mississippi was dotted with oxbow lakes, and Lake St. John lay just ahead. He flew around the eastern rim of the C-shaped lake, his eyes tracking the well-trimmed lots that bordered the eastern shore. As he neared the midpoint of the seven-mile horseshoe, he saw a cluster of brightly colored pavilion tents beside a large cypress lake house. A group of men had gathered in a muddy cotton field across the road, and they began waving him down when they caught sight of the helicopter.

Danny descended rapidly toward the group, then flared at the last moment and touched down softly in the newly planted field. A big man wearing a brown uniform and clutching a Stetson to his head ran beneath the spinning rotor blades and opened the door on the Bell’s left side. Billy Ray Ellis was a big man, still muscular at fifty-three, with burly forearms covered in black hair. Despite his limited law enforcement experience, he was so popular in the county that he’d beaten the incumbent sheriff by twenty percentage points. Ellis heaved his bulk into the seat beside Danny, yanked the door shut, pulled on the second headset, and started talking as he fastened his harness.

“Get this baby back in the air, Danny. Push her hard as she’ll go. We got a bad situation waiting for us.”

Danny pulled pitch and applied power with the collective, then nudged the cyclic. The Bell tilted forward and bit into the sky. “What’s happened? The message I got said Code Black. Is it a school shooting or something?”

Ellis shook his big head. “Do you know Dr. Shields? Warren Shields?”

Danny felt as though the bottom had fallen out of the chopper. “Yeah,” he managed to choke out. “I taught him to fly last year.”

“That’s right, I forgot. Well, apparently, Dr. Shields has barricaded himself inside his residence, and he’s holding his wife and daughter hostage.”

Danny closed his eyes, fighting vertigo. After several moments of composing himself, he opened them again, picked out a landmark on the ground, and said, “How do you know that?”

“Shields’s nine-year-old son managed to escape the house and get to a neighbor’s place. Jumped off the roof or something. It’s the daughter who’s still in the house. The boy thinks his daddy shot somebody. We don’t know who that was yet, but it could be Shields’s partner, Kyle Auster.”

“That’s unbelievable,” breathed Danny, trying to mask his panic.

“I agree. There was also some kind of fire at their medical office a little while ago. Details are sketchy, but some people were hurt bad. It may be that Shields set the fire. I don’t know if the man’s lost his mind or what. I always liked him myself.”

“Who’s on the scene now?”

“Ray Breen’s assembling the TRU as they arrive.”

Shit. “Good, good.”

“Ray talked to the wife and little girl on the phone-”

Relief flooded through Danny like a narcotic.

“-but Shields wouldn’t put Dr. Auster on. Sounds fishy, don’t it?”

Danny nodded and pushed the engine to its limit. As soon as the sheriff got distracted, he would take out his clone phone and see whether Laurel had managed to send him any messages.

“Shields sure has a pretty wife,” Ellis said thoughtfully. “You know her?”

“She teaches my son.”

“Oh,” said the sheriff, his voice suddenly grave. “That’s right.” Ellis was a deacon in the Baptist church, and he tended to assume the manner of a pastor when discussing anything he saw as a sad circumstance. An autistic son obviously qualified in his book. “Have you heard any rumors of marital problems?” he asked, changing the subject. “Anything like that?”

Danny stared stone-faced through the windshield. “Nothing. But then I never hear anything like that.”

“Me either. But in my experience, when this kind of thing happens, there’s marriage trouble at the bottom of it. Does Shields have a hot temper?”

“No. The opposite, in fact.”

The departmental radio suddenly crackled to life in Danny’s headset.

“Sheriff, this is Ray at the command post. I got a fella down here claiming to be a government agent, and he’s causing me all kind of problems.”

Ellis picked up the mike and keyed it angrily. “What kind of government agent? An FBI man or what?”

“One ID says he’s a special investigator for the attorney general, and another says he’s with the state Medicaid office. Name’s Paul Biegler. Says he’s down here investigatin’ Dr. Shields and Dr. Auster for some sort of fraud.”

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