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Книга Third Degree. Страница 65

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In the silence that followed this remark, Nell Roberts began to sob, but the sound was mostly covered by the rain.

“Well, hell,” said Sheriff Ellis. “That’s a shocker, and no mistake. But I’m not sure how it changes anything.”

Biegler’s eyes went wide in wonder. “Are you kidding? It changes everything.

The trailer door banged open again, and this time Trace Breen jumped out, shielding his eyes with his hand. “It’s him again, Sheriff! Dr. Shields. He’s still asking for Major McDavitt!”

Biegler gave Danny a long look. “Why is he asking for you?”

“Let’s go find out,” said the sheriff.

Chapter 18

Danny sat at the Formica-topped table in the command trailer, waiting to speak to Warren Shields. The odors of sweat and mildew had mingled into an unpleasant soup in the cramped space. To Danny’s surprise, Sheriff Ellis had allowed Paul Biegler to follow them into the trailer; he stood two steps behind Danny, his posture tense. Trace Breen was present to work the comm gear, and his brother stood by the door with Carl Sims at his shoulder. Danny figured Ellis would kick Carl out when he saw him, but the sheriff’s attention was on weightier matters.

“Put those on,” said Trace, pointing at a headset on the table.

Danny picked up the headset, which was connected to a small gray box that read HELLO DIRECT on the top. Wires ran from this to a rack of audio gear against the trailer wall. A portable DAT recorder and three small speakers sat atop the rack.

“If those speakers are going to be on,” Danny said, “turn them way down. I want Shields to think it’s just him and me on the phone.”

Sheriff Ellis nodded to Trace, who made an adjustment in the rack.

Danny tried to remember all he knew about Warren Shields. Danny had thought he was under stress from the effort of hiding his cell phone link to Laurel. But hearing that Shields was suffering from terminal cancer had blasted his perception of the past year to smithereens. Every assessment he had ever made of his and Laurel’s relationship had been missing a critical factor. Moreover, it seemed impossible that Laurel would not notice an illness that serious. Had she known about the cancer and kept it from him? If so, she wasn’t the person he’d thought she was. What have I done to that poor man? he thought. What have I done to that family? When Danny first began falling in love with Laurel, he had struggled hard against his feelings. Laurel had done the same, or so it had seemed. Even after they lost that battle, guilt had shadowed their relationship for a while. But eventually it faded, in the growing certainty that they were meant to be together for the rest of their lives. Now that old guilt had broken up through the dark soil at the bottom of Danny’s heart, where he’d buried it, like some poisoned flower after a heavy rain-

“Danny?” prompted Sheriff Ellis. “You still with us?”

“I need a pen and paper. To make notes.”

“I don’t think we got any here,” Trace said.

“In a command post?”

“Here,” said a deep, even voice.

Bodies moved behind Danny, and then Carl handed him a small notebook he’d been holding, along with a waterproof pencil. “Logbook,” Carl explained. “All snipers carry them.”

“Thanks, Sergeant,” Danny said, using Sims’s former military rank instead of deputy.

Carl melted into the back wall again.

Danny picked up the headset, thinking that if Warren knew he was Laurel’s lover, this would be the shortest hostage negotiation in history. He made eye contact with the sheriff and Agent Biegler in turn. “Anybody has any suggestions, tell me now. When I start talking, I’m going to face the wall so I’m not distracted. I’m not a trained negotiator. I’ll be flying by the seat of my pants. You don’t want me doing this, I’m happy to step aside. But once I start, please stay out of it. No second-guessing on the fly.”

Sheriff Ellis nodded, but Biegler stepped forward and looked down at Danny. “Don’t mention his illness, if you can help it. For some reason, this man trusts you. You want to keep him on an even keel and get him out of there peacefully. Stay away from anything that aggravates the emotional component.”

“What am I supposed to talk about? The weather?”

“You won’t know that until Shields starts talking. But keep him cool. And don’t offer him anything without getting something in return. No food, no medicine, absolutely no reduction in criminal charges. Only I can grant that, through the attorney general. Anything Shields requests gives us leverage, and we have to gain a concession for it.”

Danny had a feeling that Biegler had flown up to Quantico for a weekend course in hostage negotiation. “I don’t think he’s concerned with criminal charges, Agent Biegler. And I don’t think we have anything he wants.” Unless he wants me. “But I’ll keep your advice in mind.”

“I need to know if Auster is dead or alive,” Biegler added.

He’s dead as a hammer, Danny thought. “Understood.”

“Just get the little girl out of there,” Sheriff Ellis said. “We don’t want her in the line of fire if we have to assault the house.”

“I think I’ve got the gist,” Danny said. “Let’s get to it.”

“Dialing now,” said Trace.

Danny put on the headset and waited. After three rings, he heard a click. Then Warren Shields, sounding not at all like himself, said, “Dr. Shields.”

“Warren?” Danny said, feeling more than a little awkward. “This is Danny McDavitt.”

“Finally,” Shields said, with obvious relief. “It’s good to hear your voice, Major.”

“Yours, too.” Danny wasn’t sure how to begin, so he just went with his gut. “Doc, we’ve got a lot of confusion out here today. You want to tell me what’s going on?”

Shields sighed heavily. “Laurel betrayed me, Danny. She’s been having an affair with somebody. Worse than that…she’s in love with him.”

He doesn’t know it’s me, Danny realized. Elation almost lifted him out of his chair. “That doesn’t sound like your wife to me. How do you know?”

“I found a letter from the guy.”

God. He must have found a handwritten letter. If he’d gotten into her e-mail account, he’d know everything. Danny had always signed his handwritten letters “Me,” just in case someone saw them. “That’s what all this is about?” he asked. “An affair?”

“Afraid so. Pretty pathetic, huh?”

“Not really. That’s a big blow, finding out a person isn’t who you thought they were. That the world isn’t the way you thought it was.”

“You got it, Major. That’s exactly it. You’re living your life under certain assumptions, and then you find out they’re all wrong. You thought you were walking on firm ground, but you’re really walking through a swamp of shit.”

Danny wrote Depressed/Wronged man in Carl’s logbook. He’d known plenty of guys who got Dear John letters while serving overseas. A few had shown their letters to Danny in the hope that he could read something between the lines that they couldn’t. He’d never found a way to lessen the pain for any of them.

“You must be pretty angry,” Danny said. “I know I would be. The thing is, though, I don’t get what you’re trying to do in there. You’re talking about a man-and-wife kind of problem. But you’ve got a lot of trouble stirred up out here. A lot of firepower. Can you help me out on your thinking?”

“It’s simple, really,” Shields said, as if it really might be.

“Is it?”

“Absolutely. I just need to know who the guy is.”

Danny’s gut clenched. “The guy she’s having an affair with?”

“Yep. That’s it in a nutshell.”

“And Laurel won’t tell you?”

“Nope. She’s protecting the guy. I mean, the asshole dumped her-it’s right there in the letter-but she’s still protecting him. Do you believe that?”

Danny had forgotten to turn toward the wall. He did so now and tried to block out all the eyes staring at the back of his head. “Maybe she figures it could only make things worse, since it’s over. You know?”

65

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