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Книга Third Degree. Страница 64

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“I’ve been in a few places I wouldn’t want to go back to.”

Carl smiled, his teeth bright in the false dusk. “I know what you mean.”

Danny reached into an Igloo on the ground and pulled out a can of Dr Pepper. “Something on your mind, Carl?”

Sims held the rifle at a right angle to his body and looked down the length of the barrel, checking something Danny couldn’t even begin to guess at.

“That guy at the bank,” Carl said. “The one whose hand I shot?”

The one the sheriff’s hung up on. “Yeah.”

“I recognized him from grade school. Soon as I saw him in my scope.”

“I thought it might be something like that.”

Carl lowered the rifle and began working at it again. “Wasn’t just that, though.” He looked around to make sure they were alone, then spoke in a softer voice. “I killed a lot of people in Iraq, Major. More than the twenty-seven they credited me with.”

Danny waited for whatever was coming.

“I knew why I was killing those people, you know? Most of ’em, anyhow. But this stuff here…I don’t know. In a few minutes, I’m going to have my mama’s doctor in my crosshairs. And it just don’t feel right.”

“I know.”

Carl looked confused. “But inside the trailer…you were talking like you want me to shoot the man.”

Danny sighed heavily. “I’m not in command here, Carl. If it were up to me, the FBI would be running this scene, and you and me would be waiting for word somewhere dry. But that’s not going to happen. Not with these boys.”

The sniper nodded dejectedly. “I heard that.”

“There’s exactly two professional soldiers here tonight,” Danny said with quiet conviction, “and they’re both under this tent. If the sheriff reaches the point of ordering an explosive entry, you are the best hope that Mrs. Shields and her daughter have of surviving this night. You alone. Do you understand?”

Carl stopped wiping the gun. “You’re saying I should knock down the doctor before Ray and them screw things up.”

Danny moved closer to the sniper, then squatted so that their eyes were level. “You want my opinion? If we’re within two minutes of an assault, and you have a clean shot…take it.”

Carl’s eyes widened. “Without waiting for authorization?”

“Sheriff Ellis thinks you’re slow on the trigger, right?”

The sniper nodded resentfully.

“Prove him wrong.”

The trailer door popped open behind them. Danny looked around and saw Sheriff Ellis walking toward them.

“Danny,” Ellis said, “I think you need to talk to Dr. Shields. We’re losing our light. If we have to go in, I don’t want to wait till dark to do it.”

Danny took a swig of Dr Pepper and held it in his mouth till it burned. If he was going to talk to Warren Shields, he needed to be awake and alert.

“Sheriff!” someone called. “Sheriff Ellis! I got somebody you need to talk to!”

Danny swallowed and turned. Willie Jones was hurrying up with a pretty, young woman beside him. As they drew closer, Danny saw terror in the woman’s face.

“Who’s this?” asked the sheriff.

“Nell Roberts,” Willie said. “She works for Dr. Shields. She was at the fire today. She’s been trying to avoid that Biegler dude. He tried to arrest her earlier today.”

Ellis motioned Nell under the pavilion tent. “What are you doing out here, miss?”

“I didn’t know where else to go! I’m worried about Dr. Shields.”

“Worried about Dr. Shields?” Sheriff Ellis gave Danny a look that said, What did I tell you? “Are you and Dr. Shields personally involved, miss?”

Nell’s cheeks reddened. “No! He wouldn’t do anything like that. And I wouldn’t either. He’s not like Dr. Auster.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“That’s what I came out here to tell you. Dr. Auster is a liar-a liar and a crook. He’s gotten Dr. Shields in trouble, but it’s not Dr. Shields’s fault. Dr. Shields is a good man. Ask anybody. I don’t know what’s going on out here, but I can promise you Kyle Auster is behind it.”

Sheriff Ellis took a long breath, then slowly expelled it. “So, if I told you that Dr. Shields is holding his family hostage in his house, and he maybe killed Dr. Auster, what would you say?”

Nell shook her head as though this were an impossibility. “I’d say Dr. Auster asked for it somehow. He probably tried to kill Dr. Shields.”

Danny recalled Laurel’s text message: KA dead by W. Self-defense. Nell Roberts apparently knew her bosses well.

The sheriff turned to Danny. “What are we going to do with this young lady? I don’t want Biegler to get ahold of her.”

“Why don’t you put Willie with her, and keep her close to the trailer? If I’m going to talk to Shields, I may want to ask her some questions. Psychological stuff.”

Ellis nodded. “You heard the Major, Willie. You’re Miss Roberts’s babysitter from now on. Stay right outside the trailer.”

“Yes, sir,” Willie said with a grin.

“You ready, Danny?” Ellis asked. “This may be our only chance to end this thing without casualties.”


“Oh, shit,” said Carl. “Sheriff?”

Danny and Ellis turned together. Flanked by two subordinates, Paul Biegler was marching toward the pavilion, and he was marching like a man in charge. He brought the rain with him. Before he reached the edge of the tent, a staccato rattle of heavy drops sounded on the nylon overhead.

“I don’t need this,” said Ellis.

“Bad omen for sure,” Carl muttered, a note of superstition in his voice.

Biegler stopped outside the pavilion and stood in the rain like a visiting captain awaiting permission to come aboard a ship.

Sheriff Ellis offered the opposite of hospitality. “I thought I told you not to come back here unless you had information that would improve our tactical situation.”

Biegler nodded. “That’s exactly why I’m here. Mind if we get out of the rain?”

As Ellis took a slow step back, Danny sensed a subtle shift in the balance of power at the scene. From the moment Biegler and his men stepped under the protection of the tent, everything changed.

“What have you got?” the sheriff asked. “We don’t have much time for talk.”

“Warren Shields is dying,” Biegler said.

Ellis’s mouth went slack. “Say what?”

“He’s got an inoperable brain tumor.”

“Lord have mercy,” Carl breathed.

“How do you know that?” Ellis asked. He turned to Nell Roberts. “Did you know that?”

Nell shook her head, clearly in shock. “I knew something was wrong, though. He’s been acting different for a while now. Oh my God…oh, no.”

Biegler’s voice gained authority as he spoke. “Shields was diagnosed eleven months ago at the office of a neurologist at the Stanford Medical School. One month later, he applied for a life insurance policy in the amount of two million dollars. He was approved.”

“How?” asked Danny.

“The neurologist at Stanford recorded Shields’s office visit and tests as something else. The two of them went to medical school together. Roommates.”

“Jesus,” said Danny, realizing that he and Laurel had begun their affair at about the same time her husband was diagnosed.

“How did you find this out?” Ellis asked.

Biegler drew himself to his full height. “Unlike some people, I cultivate contacts outside my own agency. I’ve had everybody I know running Dr. Shields through national computer databases. When the neurologist’s name came up, I called him. It didn’t take much pressure to get the truth out of him.”

“How could Dr. Shields keep something like that secret?” asked Carl.

“He’s essentially treating himself,” Biegler explained. “With steroids mostly. Every three weeks or so he flies out to Stanford, under cover of going to a bicycle race.”

Ellis shook his head in disbelief. “Are you saying his wife doesn’t even know?”

“Nobody knows. Nobody but Shields and his neurologist. The guy said Shields has only one mission in life now: providing for his wife and kids before he dies. Nothing else matters to him.”


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