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Книга Third Degree. Страница 63

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“Are you and Shields pretty tight?”

“Not at all. We coached ball together, like I said. And I taught him to fly. But he’s not the kind of guy who makes friends easy. There’s always a distance there.”

Ellis nodded. “That’s my feeling, too. So what does he want with you? I don’t get it.”

Danny shrugged again. “Do you want me to talk to him?”

“Somebody needs to. Or the next thing that’s gonna happen is him getting shot.”

“I’d hate to see that happen. But I’d hate to see an assault even more.”

“You’ve made your point.” Ellis spat in the little sink against the wall, then grabbed a pot of coffee off the counter. After sniffing it, he poured some into a Styrofoam cup. “Take a short break, Danny. I need to think for a minute. There’s something we’re not seeing here.”

“Seems like it,” Danny said, wondering if Ellis was smarter than he was given credit for being.

“I need to pray about this, is what I need to do.”

“I’ll leave you alone, then.”

“Don’t stray far. I may call you any second.”

Danny nodded. “I’ll be right outside.”

Grant Shields was sitting on the sofa in the Elfmans’ TV room, trying and failing to focus on the first Harry Potter movie, which Mrs. Elfman claimed her grandkids loved best of all of them. Grant had seen all the Harry movies so many times that he could recite the lines with the characters. The bad thing was that Harry was always thinking about his dead parents. The lady deputy sitting beside Grant didn’t seem to notice, but he could feel himself clenching his fists and bouncing his feet up and down. He had no idea what was happening at home. All he knew was that something very bad could happen, and soon. The way his dad had been acting worried him, but not nearly so much as all the cops and guns he’d seen outside.

“How’s our little man doing?” Mrs. Elfman asked, poking her head into the room for the fifteenth time.

“He’s doing fine,” said Deputy Souther.

Mrs. Elfman walked in and set a big orange bowl beside Grant. It was filled with tortilla chips and bright green paste.

“Guacamole!” she announced. “I know you love it, because your mom told me so.”

Grant nodded and mumbled thanks, but he didn’t want any guacamole. He did like it, most of the time, but only his mom’s. Mrs. Elfman’s tasted funny. Too much lemon, or something.

“You call me if you need anything else, young man,” she said.

Grant nodded and kept his eyes on the TV, so Mrs. Elfman wouldn’t see how worried he was.

After she left the room, the lady deputy said, “She’s kind of pushy, huh?”

Surprised, Grant nodded and stole a glance at his babysitter. Her first name was Sandra. She was younger than his mom, but not by much. She seemed nice, too, and not fake nice. As he looked back at the movie, he felt her warm hand cover his.

“I know you’re scared,” she said. “But it’s going to be all right. They’re going to get everybody out of there safe. Your mom, and your sister, and your dad, too.”

Grant’s eyes burned, then filled with tears. Deputy Sandra sounded like she believed what she said, but he wasn’t sure. Not at all. And right then he decided that he couldn’t just sit there while whatever happened, happened. He had to see it for himself. There might even be something he could do to help. Since he’d turned nine, his mom had been relying on him more and more for physical things. He was almost as strong as she was, and he could already outrun her.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” he said, holding his belly as if he had a stomachache.

“I’ll ask Mrs. Elfman where it is,” Sandra said, starting to get up.

“That’s okay, I already know.” Grant got up and walked out of the room, his mind already racing through the Elfmans’ backyard and down to the creek, where no policeman would be able to see him.

Sandra stood and followed him to the hall door, where she could watch him go into the bathroom. She smiled the way his mom did when he was sick, and Grant sensed that she might be able to read his mind a little, the way his mom could sometimes.

That was okay.

Mrs. Elfman’s bathroom had a window.

Deputy Willie Jones was tired of manning the roadblock. Gawkers just kept coming, more and more every few minutes. They came on foot and in cars, the neighbors on foot, the townspeople in cars. Willie didn’t know how the rumor spread so fast. Probably cell phones. Turning back the cars was no trouble, but the foot traffic was another matter. Fifty people were standing along Cornwall Street, most in little groups of five or six. Some had tried to walk up Lyonesse, but Willie had nipped that in the bud. They had some nerve, though.

Several men had tried to question him, but he’d kept as quiet as one of those guards outside Buckingham Palace. The things they said, though. Half the people out here believed that Dr. Shields had already murdered his whole family, and some thought he’d taken his neighbors hostage. From what Willie had gathered, though, not much had happened since he’d arrived.

He’d been keeping a close eye on Agent Biegler, as Ray Breen had instructed. Biegler and the two men with him had spent most of their time huddled around the trunk of a black Ford Crown Victoria parked a little way up from the roadblock. Then a couple of minutes ago they’d climbed into the Ford and driven off toward town, which suited Willie fine.

He was thinking of calling Ray Breen and asking to be relieved when a young white woman with dark hair walked quickly up to the roadblock. Another white woman about her age was trying and failing to keep up with her. Willie started to hold up his hands, but something in her eyes stopped him. She looked like the witnesses he’d spoken to after bad highway accidents, pale and shaken, with eyes like a wounded deer’s.

“Can I help you, miss?”

The woman looked nervously over her shoulder. “I hope so. I need to see the sheriff.”

“The sheriff’s kind of busy right now.”

“I know, but I think he’ll want to talk to me.”

“Why’s that?”

“I was at the fire today. At Dr. Shields’s office.”

This got Willie’s attention. “Are you a patient of his or something?”

“No. I work for Dr. Shields. I met you when you came for your physical. It was my sister who almost got killed in that explosion. I’ve been trying to talk to you for a while, but that Agent Biegler’s been watching the roadblock. He just drove off, so I came right up. Can we hurry? If he sees me, he’ll arrest me for sure.”

Willie thought about calling Ray for an okay, but then he realized he could kill two birds with one stone. “Hey, Louis!” he shouted, waving to one of the deputies who were turning back the rubbernecks in cars. “Get over here and man the barricade!”

As soon as Louis started toward him, Willie took the woman by the arm and led her to his cruiser.

Danny found Carl Sims sitting on a camp stool beneath a pavilion tent someone had set up outside the command trailer. The sniper was putting a light coat of oil on the long, gray barrel of his rifle, a Remington 700 with a custom stock. The air out here felt twenty degrees cooler than the musty air in the trailer.

“Rain’s almost here,” Carl said. “Got to maintain your equipment.”

“Amen,” Danny agreed, glancing at the chopper sitting in the open space beyond the trailer. He thanked his stars yet again for Dick Burleigh’s Vietnam experience.

As Carl wiped down the gun, his dark, corded arms rippled. He looked like a teenager preparing for a deer hunt in the dawn light. Danny had seen hundreds of boys like him over the years, seemingly too young for the jobs they were asked to do, but maybe the only ones resilient enough to do them and survive.

“You been in the shit, ain’t you, Major?” said Carl. “Overseas, I mean.”

63

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