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Книга Third Degree. Страница 56

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There were none.

Carl Sims slowly worked his way back to the front of the Shields property, naturally moving from tree to tree, assessing the cover-and-concealment potential of each position. Snipers liked open spaces about as much as deer and rabbits did; they would do almost anything to avoid them. Twelve minutes after he’d started, he returned to the stand of trees that half hid the trailer serving as the TRU’s tactical command post.

He needed to take a leak. The most sheltered spot was a narrow space between the trees and the rear of the trailer. He set his rifle butt-first on the ground and leaned it against a pine, then unzipped his fly and began to urinate against the next tree. He’d developed this habit as a boy and refined it in Iraq. Pissing against a tree or a wall could be almost silent, if you did it right; this practice had probably saved his life once in Baghdad. He was half-finished when he heard voices on the air. He quickly zeroed in on the source as a small, screened window in the back of the trailer. After zipping up, he moved toward the opening and peered through it from an off angle.

Ray and Trace Breen sat hunched over a Formica table, smoking cigarettes and talking in low voices. A pack of Camels and a.40 caliber pistol lay between them on a topographic map of the area. The smoke was so thick in the trailer that a steady draft of it was being forced through the window beside Carl’s face. He had to struggle not to cough.

“Hell, I wish he’d pop off a round in there,” said Ray. “Something. Shit, if he don’t, we’re liable to be here all night listening to the sheriff holler through a bullhorn.”

Trace nodded and blew out a long stream of blue smoke. “Yep.”

“I tell you what else worries me. Our sharpshooter.”

Trace snickered at the word.

“You know what I’m talking about?” Ray said.

“Damn straight. That nigger might of killed a bunch of towel-heads over in Iraq, but I don’t think he’s got the stomach for shootin’ Americans.”

Ray was nodding. “You saw what happened at the bank. Sheriff told him to take the perp out, and what did he do?”

“Blowed the motherfucker’s hand off instead. What if he missed? A hand’s a hell of a lot smaller than a head.”

“Moves a lot more, too,” Ray observed. “That coon can shoot, I’ll give him that. But what he can’t seem to do is follow orders. Which is strange in a marine.”

“Awful strange.”

Carl was tempted to shove the barrel of his Remington 700 through the window screen and scare the piss out of both Breen brothers, but he didn’t. He had been quiet before, but now he stood with the sniper’s stillness, a motionless state he equated with absolute zero, that condition of coldness in which not even electrons spin around their respective nuclei. Carl could remain in that state for many hours, and had, more times than he could remember. His respiration and heartbeat slowed until it seemed an age between each, an age during which he had almost infinite leisure to pull his trigger without being disturbed by the movement of breath or blood.

“You want to know something?” Trace said. “Something you don’t know?”

“If you ain’t told me yet, maybe I don’t need to know. ’Cause Lord knows you can’t keep a secret.”

“I kept this one.”

Ray chuckled and took a drag on his cigarette. “How long you kep’ it?”

“Twenty years.”

Ray coughed up smoke. “If this has anything to do with my wife, I’m gonna kill your ass. I’m telling you that right now.”

Trace shook his head. “It’s about that cocky sumbitch up in the house. The doctor.”

“Shields?”

“Yep.”

“What do you know about him?”

Trace’s eyes smoldered with secret knowledge. “Plenty. Remember when he kilt that boy in his parents’ house? Jimmy Birdlow?”

“Course I do. We were just talking about it outside.”

Trace nodded. “Well, I was there.”

Ray sat up at the table. “What?”

“Sure was. This was back when I was gettin’ high a lot. And Jimmy was always gettin’ high. He wanted some Dex to stay awake, and we didn’t have no money. We just happened to be over in that neighborhood, and the Shieldses’ house was the closest one that didn’t have no lights on. Jimmy figured he’d just slip in and grab a TV, something he could trade for the pills. But the old man must have been awake, ’cause next thing I know, I’m staring in from the back patio at Jimmy and Mr. Shields screaming at each other. Jimmy was trying to explain, but the old man wouldn’t give him a chance. He started yelling how he was going to call the police. And the next thing I know, Jimmy pulls out a gun.”

Ray was staring at his younger brother with wide eyes. Carl blinked slowly, then leaned forward so as not to miss a word.

“Jimmy wouldna shot him,” Trace asserted. “He just didn’t want the man to call the law.”

“Why didn’t he just run, then?” Ray asked.

“He tried to, but Shields’s daddy tripped him up. Then he got between Jimmy and the door. Then the mama come in there, too, wearing her damn housecoat.”

“When did Shields show up?”

“Hell, I didn’t even know he was there till he shot Jimmy in the back. Sumbitch didn’t give Jimmy no warning or nothing.”

Ray leaned back in his chair and silently regarded his brother.

“Bastard,” Trace muttered. “Blew Jimmy’s heart out the front of his chest.”

Ray shook his head. “You said Jimmy was holding a gun on his daddy.”

“He wouldna shot him!”

“You think Shields knew that? Jimmy broke in their goddamn house! I’d of shot him, too. You’re lucky he didn’t shoot your ass through the window.”

Trace shook his head bitterly. “I tell you one thing, if I had a gun that night, I’d of killed that motherfucker dead.”

“Boy, if a bird had your brains, he’d fly backwards. I can’t believe you didn’t wind up in Parchman before your twenty-first birthday.”

“I ain’t stupid. And I’ll tell you something else. I hope that sumbitch tries something up in that fancy house. I hope the sheriff sends us in there. ’Cause I will blow his shit away, no lie. For what he done to Jimmy.”

“Jesus, Trace. You need to calm down.”

“You said the same exact thing a minute ago!”

Ray sucked thoughtfully on his cigarette.

“I don’t like him,” Trace insisted. “People act like he’s a damn saint or something. You ever see him out at the baseball field? Sumbitch thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Or his kid, neither.”

“I forgot,” said Ray. “Shields’s team beat your boy’s like a drum last spring, didn’t they?”

“Cheated us, is what they done.”

Ray stubbed out his cigarette and stood as best he could in the low-ceilinged trailer. “Nobody’s called on the radio. Let’s get out there and see if we can’t make something happen before Billy Ray gets here.”

“Damn straight. What about that government man? Beagle.”

“Fuck him. Billy Ray ain’t gonna give him the time of day.”

Trace pushed himself up off the table, leaving his cigarette burning in the ashtray. “Damn straight.”

Like a lizard clinging to the window screen, Carl watched the two deputies leave the trailer. He wasn’t sure what, if anything, to do about what he’d heard. Sheriff Ellis wasn’t going to change the makeup of the Tactical Response Unit in the middle of a crisis. And Trace Breen’s presence at a shooting twenty years ago couldn’t be corroborated by anyone; therefore, his motive for revenge could not be proved. As for the racist remarks about Carl, that was just the reality that underlay the veneer of courtesy he encountered every day. The president of the United States couldn’t change that, much less the sheriff of Lusahatcha County. But Ray Breen was right about one thing: marine sniper Carl Sims did not intend to kill another living soul unless it was to save a life in clear and present danger.

He shouldered his Remington and walked soundlessly around the trailer to join his fellow deputies.

56

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