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Книга Third Degree. Страница 69

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Chapter 19

Danny ripped off the headset and shoved his chair away from the table.

“What was all that stuff about God?” Ray Breen asked from the door. “Did you hear that shit? Sounds like he’s gone atheist or something.”

Sheriff Ellis shook his head. “Dr. Shields is questioning his faith, that’s all. Death is the most difficult test of the spirit, Ray. I’ve seen many a devout man question God in the face of cancer. Especially when it hits children. No, the truth is, I feel for the man.”

“Well, I’m happy to hear it,” Biegler said sarcastically. “But none of that brings us any closer to a resolution. I suppose you noted that we heard nothing whatsoever from Kyle Auster?”

Ellis nodded. “I think Dr. Auster’s dead. Danny?”


“Well,” said Ray. “What are we waiting for then? Shields ain’t gonna let his little girl out of there. And he sure as hell ain’t gonna let his wife out. I don’t think we got any choice but to go in and get them.”

“We need to know what’s going on inside that house,” said the sheriff.

“Randy’s got the directional mikes on the windows,” Trace said, “but he’s getting a lot of noise. No clear voices. He texted me while Major Danny was talking. He thinks Shields is in the study. The wife and kid aren’t saying anything. Nothing audible, no how. The thermal-image gadgets got here, but they ain’t set up yet.”

“Audio’s enough for what we need,” Ray said. “Let’s get a location on Shields and go.”

Sheriff Ellis still looked reluctant to give the order.

“What else are we gonna do?” Ray said impatiently. “The man’s in hell already. You heard him.”

“The man’s scared to death,” Carl said softly. “That’s what I heard.”

Everyone turned and looked at the sniper.

“We need to focus on Mrs. Shields and her daughter,” said Danny, trying to plumb his own motives even as he spoke. “God knows Dr. Shields is in a bad place, but he poses a serious threat to his family. An imminent threat, if you ask me. There’s no telling what he’ll do if that computer finally tells him who his wife’s been seeing.”

“He’ll kill her,” said Ray. “You tell a guy that crazy who’s been doing his wife, he’s gonna off ’ em both. Or the one he can get to, anyway. No question about it.”

“Damn straight,” Trace said from the comm rack. “I would.”

“Maybe,” said Sheriff Ellis. “I want the signal from those directional mikes routed in here.”

“I got it now,” said Trace.

“Well, turn it on!” Ellis snapped. “The worms are eating us up in here, I swear.”

Agent Biegler said, “We need to be ready to go at a second’s notice, Sheriff. Is the rest of your team in position?”

“We?” said the sheriff. “What’s this we stuff? You ain’t got a dog in this hunt, Biegler.”

“I’m part of this operation, whether you like it or not.”

“My men are in position,” Ray said. “The charges are already set on the windows. Sonny Weldon’s on the switch.”

“Good,” said Ellis.

“What’s the chance of flying glass hurting the hostages?” Danny asked.

Ray shrugged. “There’s a thin bead of explosive around each of those big panes. We’re going to cut the glass, basically. It should drop pretty much straight down. With really bad luck, somebody could get hit by small shards, but I don’t think so.”

Shards moving at 12,500 feet per second, Danny thought, making a mental note to text Laurel to stay far from the windows prior to the assault. And to lie on top of Beth, if possible. With this thought came the realization that the men in the room were not watching Sheriff Ellis expectantly, but him. Even Ellis seemed to be waiting for Danny to give some last-minute guidance. Danny figured they must have bought into the plan he’d outlined earlier, whether they’d voiced their agreement or not.

“Let’s put one thermal imager in front of the house and one in back,” Danny said. “Make sure the one in back is at Carl’s position. The operator will serve as his spotter. Carl’s used to working that way. Make sure the fireman who’s read the manual is operating the unit by Carl. He’ll have some idea what he’s looking at.” Danny peered between sweat-soaked uniforms to the sniper’s face. “Sound okay to you, Carl?”

“Best we can do, probably. I had a thermal rifle scope in the Corps when I needed it, but this ought to be good enough for general target acquisition.”

“Let’s pray it is. After Carl has a positive lock on Shields-and I mean positive-I’ll take the chopper up, hover over the backyard, and hit the searchlight. That’ll bring Shields to the windows.” Danny looked at Ray. “Then you blow them out, and Carl takes his shot.”

Danny looked at the sheriff, worried that he’d usurped the man’s authority, but Ellis only nodded in agreement. In this kind of situation, the natural hierarchy asserted itself.

Trace Breen held up his hand for silence. “Listen! I got a mike signal ready. It’s noisy, but just be patient. Your ears’ll sort out the words after a minute or so.”

“Wait a second,” said Ray. “I think it’s time our shooter got into position.”

“Deputy Sims,” said the sheriff, “get to your sniping position.”

Danny was surprised that Ellis had let Carl stay so long. But when he thought about it some more, he understood. Carl Sims was Death. In the command trailer, death was contained. But once they put Carl behind that tree in the backyard-with clearance to shoot-Warren Shields was a dead man. This certainty roiled Danny’s gut in a way few things ever had, and only one thing weighed against the essential wrongness of it. Shields’s cancer.

He’s dead anyway, Danny told himself.

Carl hesitated at the door, looking back to Danny for a final, unspoken authorization. Danny closed his eyes, then gave the slightest of nods, knowing that his gesture carried the weight of a Roman emperor’s thumb in the arena.

While Carl slipped silently out to his position, Laurel struggled like a mangy dog to scratch beneath the duct tape binding her ankles. Her soul might be in free fall, but her body could still drive her mad. Red welts had risen where the tape chafed her skin, and she had already scratched two of them bloody. As soon as she got momentary relief, her mind went back to Warren.

In the past ten minutes, she had seen deeper into her husband’s heart than she had during her entire marriage. The despair he’d revealed to Danny had shattered her so completely that hope seemed only a quaint dream dimly recalled from childhood. Guilt suffused every cell of her being, and yet to dwell on it now was pointless. She had to act.

“Warren?” she said. “Could I speak with you for a minute?”

“What about?” came the disembodied voice from behind the computer monitor. “My tumor?”

“Not only that.”


“Would you please come over here?”

“I can hear you fine from here.”

This was going to be much harder without eye contact. “I think you know what I’m going to ask you. Why didn’t you tell me about your diagnosis when you first got it?”

“There was no point.”

“No point?”

“It would only have made things worse.”

“Why do you think that?”

He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I’ve seen it again and again in my practice. People get cancer, and everything in their lives changes. Sometimes it’s not so bad…a thyroid cancer, testicular, some lymphomas, things that are caught early and dealt with. But if you get one of the big ones, the deadly ones, people never look at you the same way again. It’s almost a tribal reaction, or an evolutionary one. People avoid you. You’re tainted by death. Even if the surgeons swear they got it all, people think, ‘Any day now, it could come back. He’s a goner.’ ”

“I don’t think that’s necessarily true anymore.”


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