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Книга Third Degree. Страница 55

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The sheriff knit his heavy brows in puzzlement. “Is he standing right there, Ray?”

“No, sir. I got him waitin’ outside the trailer. He claims he was in that fire over at Dr. Auster’s office. Claims one of the employees tried to blow the place up. He’s got bandages on his face, and he says he was wounded by shrapnel or something. He’s got two other boys with him, and he’s trying to take over the damn scene.”

What? Repeat that.”

“I said, Biegler says he’s got federal warrants for Dr. Shields and Dr. Auster, and that makes this a federal case. He says if we don’t give him tactical command, he’s going to call the FBI down from Jackson to take over.”

Danny saw the sheriff’s knuckles go white. “Bullshit he’s going take over our scene. You keep that son of a bitch on ice until I get there, you hear?”

“Yes, sir. A big ten-four on that.”

“How far out are we, Danny?”

Danny scanned the river for landmarks, then checked his airspeed. “Twenty minutes, tops.”

“Tell him I’m almost there now, Ray. And put a man on him. Let me know if he makes any calls to Jackson.”

“You got it, Sheriff.”

“Out.”

Ellis turned to Danny. “What in the Sam Hill is going on? Sounds like our good doctors have got themselves into serious trouble. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Kyle Auster was up to no good. But Dr. Shields? I just can’t see that one.”

“Me, either,” Danny agreed. “He’s a straight arrow.”

“I got to think about this. You remember what happened with that engineer on Milburn Street? Blew hisself all over me without so much as a by-your-leave. And he was alone in the house. If Dr. Shields really has his wife and daughter in there, and if he’s really shot his partner, I might have to send the TRU in there hard.”

Danny closed his eyes in silent prayer. Most of Ellis’s deputies had only moderate training, and their practical law enforcement experience was limited. Worse, the TRU was commanded by a deputy with juvenile delusions of heroism. The possibility that those men might make an assault into Laurel’s house with grenades and automatic weapons nauseated him with fear. He could not allow that to happen.

When Sheriff Ellis settled back in his seat with his thoughts, Danny let go of the collective and pulled his cell phone out of his pants pocket. No new messages. Nevertheless, he flipped open the phone and began keying a message with his left hand. The first he sent read, On my way there wi sheriff. u or Bth hurt? Auster alive? If yes, condition? He started to put the phone away, then sent an immediate follow-up: No one knows we have this link. Tell me all u safely can. How W armed? He intend imminent harm? As Danny slid the phone beneath his left leg for easy access, Sheriff Ellis spoke again.

“Must be pretty important messages to slow us down for.”

Danny gritted his teeth. “We’re not going any slower. This is like taking your hand off the wheel in a car, but leaving your foot on the gas. I increased friction on the collective, so it stays in place.”

Ellis’s eyes were still on the cell phone.

“Problems with taking care of my boy,” Danny lied. “My wife didn’t come home to let the babysitter go on time.”

“You can’t just call her?”

“We don’t talk so much these days.”

Ellis grunted. “That’s a shame. Marriage ain’t easy, but you got to stick with it.”

Thanks a million, Dr. Phil.

“You don’t go to church, do you, Dan?”

Oh, boy. “Not much, Sheriff. Not for a while now. I’m not much for group worship. I get my quiet time in the woods. And in the air.”

“I hear you, brother. But it’s not the same, you know. You ought to come see us at First Baptist. I think you’d be surprised.”

Not if this is any indication. “I may give it a try.”

“At least talk to Reverend Cyrus about your marital problems.”

Danny cleared his throat and spoke as diffidently as he could. “Sheriff, could I offer a little input on the hostage situation?”

“Absolutely. This is one of those situations where there’s ten tragic things that could happen, and only one good thing.”

“You’re right. Sheriff, I would think long and hard before I considered sending Ray Breen and his boys into that house. Even the people who do that kind of thing for a living-I’m talking about Delta and the SEALs-they’re hesitant to go into a situation with innocent friendlies in a confined space. I’m not saying anything against Ray, but if you turn insufficiently trained men loose in a house with automatic weapons, God only knows who’ll wind up dead. The wife, the little girl, some of our own guys maybe. I’d sure hate to see that, and I know you would, too.”

Ellis was nodding as though in agreement. “You said a mouthful there. A standoff’s a tricky thing. On the other hand, I’ve got a responsibility to that wife and little girl, not to mention this community. How would it look if we just stood by while Dr. Shields executed his wife, his daughter, and his partner? That wouldn’t say much for my department, would it?”

Danny tried to hide his true feelings. Ellis was already as focused on how the drama would play out before the voters as he was on the safety of the people inside the house. “No, you’re in a tough position, that’s a fact. And I wouldn’t presume to tell you what to do.”

“But…?” Ellis prompted.

“If it comes down to having to take Dr. Shields out, I’d have Carl Sims do the shooting.”

“From long range, you mean.”

“Yes, sir. I’ve seen that boy shoot, and he’s as good as the snipers in the Secret Service. He could take out Shields with zero collateral damage, even if the doctor was holding his little girl in his arms.”

“He could,” said the sheriff. “But will he? That’s what’s on my mind.”

Danny cringed inside. Six months ago, Sheriff Ellis had given Carl Sims authorization to shoot a young black man who had taken a hostage while robbing a local bank. In Ellis’s mind, he had given a clear order to kill, effective as soon as Sims had a clean shot. But Carl interpreted the order differently and blasted the robber’s gun hand into pulp instead. Danny heard that the sheriff had nearly had a stroke over this, and only the media praise he’d gotten afterward for his “restraint” had saved Carl Sims’s job. Instead of getting a pink slip, Carl got a medal, one that probably didn’t mean much after the hatful he’d received from the Marine Corps.

It’s all fucking politics, Danny thought. Even the life-or-death calls.

He wanted to beg Ellis to at least consult with the FBI in Jackson, but he knew the sheriff would reflexively reject this idea. Why? Because the FBI could have a SWAT team at the Shields house in three hours, even if they had to come by road. If they used a chopper, they could be fully deployed in two. And unlike the Sheriff’s Department, the Bureau had strict rules of engagement for hostage situations, written in the wake of Waco and Ruby Ridge. They would only assault the Shields house as a last resort, after all other means of resolution had been exhausted. Billy Ray Ellis wanted no such constraints on his decision-making. Short of a written order from the governor, he would not hand over tactical command of the scene to a federal agency, not in his county. Some men might see a federal assumption of authority as the ultimate out, an ideal way to cover their ass, but ex-football stars didn’t think that way. Danny kept his mouth shut, figuring he could accomplish more from inside the tent than out of it.

“Are you pedal to the metal, Danny?” Ellis asked tersely.

“We’re at the VNE now, sir.”

“The what?”

Danny pointed at a small gauge in front of the sheriff. “Velocity never exceeded. She can’t do another knot without burning up the engine.”

“Okay, then. Just keep her at the redline.”

As the sheriff glanced out at the ever-darkening clouds, Danny checked his phone for text messages.

55

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