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Книга Third Degree. Страница 72

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Chapter 20

Danny crashed through the door of the command trailer on Sheriff Ellis’s heels. Trace Breen’s head whipped up from his comm gear, a dip of Skoal bulging his bottom lip. Ellis walked to within a foot of him and demanded to know what was happening in the house. Trace shrugged like a crackhead being asked for directions.

“Do you hear the boy?” Ellis asked. “Grant Shields?”

Trace shook his head.

“Any violence?” Danny asked.

“I don’t know. The last thing I heard after Dr. Shields screamed so crazy was the little girl crying and asking for chocolate milk.”

“Chocolate milk?” Ellis echoed.

“Uh-huh. They’re in the kitchen now. The mikes don’t pick up much there, ’cause it’s deeper in the house.”

“Chocolate milk,” the sheriff repeated, grabbing some paper towels to wipe the sweat and rain from his face. “Christ. What about the thermal camera?”

Trace keyed a walkie-talkie. “Black Six, this is base. What do you see on the thermal?”

“I saw three figures turn into two. I think maybe the mother picked up the girl. They’re real faint now. Deeper in.”

“Any sign of a fourth figure?” Ellis asked.

“You see anybody else?”

“I picked up a reading after Carl lost the boy on the back side, just a little green glow, but it’s in and out. Fades almost as soon as I see it.”

“Where at?” Trace asked, before Danny could prompt him.

“Kind of central, I guess, almost like it’s between floors. Stairs, maybe?”

Danny looked at Sheriff Ellis. “The boy might not have let his parents know he’s inside. He might be looking for a way to help his mother. I’ll bet that’s why he went back.”

“This is a Chinese fire drill,” Ellis said. “They’re in there drinking chocolate milk, and two minutes ago we were about to blow the man’s head off.” He tossed the crumpled paper towels onto the blueprints on the table. “Should we just pack up and get the hell out of here? Let these folks solve their own problems?”

Danny was about to say Maybe, when Paul Biegler stepped through the door and said, “You should flush your badge down the toilet if that’s your plan. You didn’t have any idea what this job was about when you stood for election, did you?”

Ellis sniffed and regarded the Medicaid investigator with unconcealed disdain. “I thought it was about catching criminals and protecting the community. Not getting between husbands and wives in domestic disputes.”

“Warren Shields is a criminal,” Biegler asserted. “He may not be in Kyle Auster’s class, but he has committed multiple felonies. Would it ease your conscience if he’d hit an old lady over the head and grabbed her purse instead of committing fraud?”

“Get out of my command post,” Ellis said mildly. “Before I knock you out of it.”

Biegler stepped fearlessly up to the sheriff. “You should have blown the windows and taken him out while you had the chance. Now you’ve got three hostages instead of two.”

Ellis stared back silently, but Danny saw a vein bulging in his neck.

“What do you say, Major?” Biegler asked Danny, his voice edged with mockery. “I say it’s time to get the FBI in here. Past time. Old Billy Ray here just proved he hasn’t got the sand for this job-”

The sheriff hit Biegler so fast that Danny didn’t see his fist cross the space between them, and so hard that the government agent dropped where he stood and lay motionless on the floor.

“I warned him,” Ellis said. “Get him out of here, Trace.”

Trace Breen jumped up from the radio and dragged Biegler out of the trailer by his heels, gulping in awe all the way.

“Lock the door when you come back,” Ellis ordered.

After Trace had locked the door, the sheriff said, “Ray’ll be coming in any second, soon as he calms down. Tell your brother to guard the door and keep Biegler out. I don’t want to see that son of a bitch again tonight.”

“Biegler or Ray?” Trace asked.

“Biegler!”

Trace nodded and went back to his radio.

Sheriff Ellis led Danny to a corner and spoke softly. “I hate to admit it, but I’m about out of ideas. Do we just wait, or what?”

Danny shook his head. Grant Shields’s sudden reappearance had given him a chance he had thought lost moments ago. “Sometimes the best thing is to do nothing, but this isn’t one of those times. If things aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse. You know?”

Ellis nodded. “Agreed.”

“I’ve got one idea, and I want you to seriously consider it.”

“I’m listening.”

“I want to go into the house. Physically go in and talk to Shields face-to-face.”

Ellis stared back in disbelief. “Unarmed, you mean?”

“If I go in with a gun, he’s liable to shoot me.”

As Ellis’s eyes searched his, Danny realized that the sheriff wasn’t the middling-dumb country boy that people like Marilyn Stone thought he was.

“I get the feeling I’m missing something,” Ellis said. “First off, Shields asks to talk to you-not me, not his lawyer, not his pastor-you. Then he talks to you like you are his pastor. And now you want to walk unarmed into a house where a disturbed man who’s probably already murdered one person is holding his family at gun-point. Have I got that right?”

Danny had tried not to think too much about the risks of his plan, but Ellis wasn’t going to let him off that easy. He hadn’t known himself how he felt until a split second before Ray Breen was going to blow the windows-before the 7.62 millimeter bullet in Carl’s rifle would have blasted Warren Shields’s laboring heart into mush. After Carl sighted the boy on the roof and Sheriff Ellis turned to Danny for guidance, Danny could easily have said “Go,” rather than “Abort.” If he had, Shields would be dead now, and Laurel would be a widow. A single woman, free to spend her life with whomever she chose. Danny wanted Laurel more than he’d wanted any woman in his life. But when the power had been given him to possess her-twice now, he realized-he’d been unable to take her. The first time because he wouldn’t give up his son to have her; this time because he couldn’t live the rest of his life with a decent man’s blood on his hands. But something deeper than this had stopped him, something he still couldn’t quite pin down. He was trying to unravel the feeling when five sharp bangs rattled the trailer door.

“Open up, damn it!” roared a muted voice. “It’s me, Ray!”

Trace got up, but the sheriff waved him back to his seat.

“Talk to me, Danny,” Ellis urged. “Time’s short.”

Danny raised his hand to his mouth as though he were about to throw up. The dark epiphany that had begun as he hovered over the backyard had finally revealed itself to him. “Shields wants us to kill him.”

Ellis’s eyes went wide. “What? You mean…like suicide by cop?”

“Exactly.”

“Because of the cancer?”

“I don’t know. Yes and no. Deep down, he’s a John Wayne type. No matter how bad Shields may want to kill himself, he sees suicide as a coward’s way out. I don’t think dying of cancer scares him. The pain of it, I mean. It’s the indignity. He’s too proud for that.”

Ellis’s eyes seemed focused on something beyond Danny. “I can relate to that. My daddy died of lung cancer, and I watched every minute of it. That’s no way to go.”

Ray Breen’s next bovine bellow shook the aluminum skin of the trailer. “I’m soaking wet, goddamn it! Let me in!”

“In a minute!” Ellis roared back. Then his jaw muscles clenched, and he stroked his incipient jowls. “Tell me why I should let you go in that house. What hope have you got?”

“Shields trusts me. I might be able to get close enough to get the gun away from him.”

Ellis snorted. “If that’s your plan, forget it. That’s begging to get killed. Ask any cop.”

Danny almost felt emboldened to confide in the sheriff about Laurel. The man had a grasp of the complexities of life; but how far would a Baptist deacon bend the rules?

72

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