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Книга Third Degree. Страница 77

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“Coach Trace! Coach Trace!”

The shadow whirled toward the piercing scream, and Warren spun also. His gun went up as he turned, and Laurel saw then that the shadow had made a fatal mistake, one that Grant must have known it would. By spinning toward the sound, the stranger had turned his back on Warren, and by the time he tried to correct his error, Warren had already fired. Grown-up stuff indeed…

Warren’s bullet struck the shadow somewhere vital, because she heard the heavy thud of dead weight dropping onto wood, a sack of feed hitting a barn floor. Then Grant charged out of the dark and snatched a pistol from the fallen man’s hand.

“You got him, Dad! You got him!”

Grant leaped into his father’s arms and hugged him tight.

“What the fuck was that?” Sheriff Ellis shouted into his headset mike.

“Gunshot,” said Danny, terrified that Warren had just executed Laurel. “Sounded like a pistol, but what was that the boy screamed?”

“We gotta go now!” Ray Breen yelled. “Give the order, Sheriff!”

“Negative!” Ellis shouted. “Somebody yelled Trace. Trace, was that you? What are we hearing down there? Did anybody fire?”

The communications officer didn’t respond.

Danny tilted the chopper to get a better view of the house. Rain still peppered the windshield, making it hard to see clearly.

“Trace!” Ellis yelled. “Get me Dr. Shields on my radio!”

“We can’t wait!” Ray shouted. “We gotta go!”

“Shut up, Ray! Keep this channel clear!”

The radio hummed and crackled, and then a woman’s voice filled Danny’s headset. “Sheriff, we’ve got a problem.”

“Who’s this?”

“Sandra Souther. I’m in the command trailer.”

“Where’s Trace?”

“Um…I think he’s in the house.”

Ellis blanched. “What?”

“Dr. Shields just called the phone in here. Nobody was answering, so I came in and picked up. Dr. Shields said Trace just tried to shoot him in the back, and he had to kill him.”

Sheriff Ellis looked at Danny with dawning horror.

“You’d better put a rope around Ray Breen,” Danny said. “Fast.”

“Ray, this is Billy Ray,” the sheriff said in a voice Danny had never heard from him before. “I know you heard that, brother. You’re to stand down and let me handle this, copy? Get a grip on yourself for sixty seconds and let me handle it.”

“Fuck that,” Ray muttered. “I lead the TRU. We’re going in.”

“Ray!” Ellis balled his right hand into a fist and spoke harshly. “If you enter that house without authorization, you’re out of a job.”

“I don’t give a shit! Black Team, prepare to go on my command. Five seconds-”

“I’ll arrest you for murder, Ray. As God is my witness, you’ll go to death row in Parchman. And you’ve put too many men there to want to see it from the inside.”

Danny listened in dread for Breen’s go order, but it didn’t come.

“Sandra, this is Sheriff Ellis. Can you hook me up to Dr. Shields?”

“Maybe. Hang on.”

“Why in God’s name would Trace do that?” Ellis murmured, seemingly lost.

“He had a personal grudge against Shields,” Danny said. “I don’t know what it was. I just found out myself. I should have told you.” Danny touched the sheriff’s arm. “You can’t let Ray into that house. Now or later, you can’t do it.”

“He’s the TRU leader,” Ellis said. “Those boys down there trained under him, and I’m not changing horses in midstream.”

Danny looked hopelessly down at the house glowing in the dark.

“He’ll kill Shields, no matter what you tell him.”

“Shields put us all here. That’s the bottom line. If it ends ugly, it’s on his head. Trace Breen didn’t start this nightmare. Warren Shields did it all by himself.”

No, I helped, Danny thought. With a little hands-on assistance from the man’s wife-

“I’ve got Dr. Shields for you, Sheriff,” Sandra said. “Go ahead.”

“Dr. Shields, this is Sheriff Ellis. Can you hear me?”

“It’s faint, but I hear you.”

“Did you just shoot one of my deputies?”

“Yes, sir. Trace Breen snuck in here and tried to shoot me in the back. If my son hadn’t warned me, I’d be dead now.”

“You’re a goddamn liar!” screamed Ray.

“Keep this channel clear!” Ellis ordered. “Doctor, no matter how justified you may feel, you just shot a duly appointed officer of the law. You have only one option. You must surrender. I’m giving you three minutes to walk out of your house with your hands held high in the air. You must walk out alone, unarmed, without any member of your family. Do you understand?”

Shields didn’t reply.

“Dr. Shields? Did you hear me?”

“Yes.”

“The clock starts now. I beg you to come out peacefully.”

Shields said nothing else.

“Hang up, Sandra,” Ellis said.

“He already broke the connection.”

Ellis looked at his watch. “Whoever’s on those thermal cams, tell me if it looks like they’re going into the panic room.”

“The kids may be in there already,” said a voice. “But I think the adults are in the kitchen.”

Ray Breen said, “I never seen no chickenshit like this in my life, Billy Ray. The son of a bitch killed one of our people, and you-”

“Shut up and listen!” Ellis hollered like a quarterback silencing his linemen in a fourth-quarter huddle. “We’re not waiting three minutes! We’re going in one minute. Copy?”

Danny wasn’t sure he had heard right until Ray Breen said, “I got you now. We’re ready.”

“Black Six,” Ellis said, “if Shields gets within thirty feet of that panic room, we’re going in. Keep me posted.”

Christ, Danny thought. Shields could be in there thinking about giving up, and he’ll still be thinking about it when Ray Breen blows his head off. Sheriff Ellis’s strategy was sound; giving an unbalanced man a real deadline could easily push him into executing his hostages. But Danny couldn’t shake the feeling that they hadn’t done all they could to talk Shields out of the house. Or was that simply his guilt talking? Was there any hope that Shields would surrender? The doctor believed he’d just defended himself against an intruder trying to murder him. He was deep into a siege mentality. He was also terminally ill. Did it even matter to Warren when or where he died?

“Take us up another hundred feet,” Sheriff Ellis ordered.

Danny started ascending. Where’s Laurel now? he wondered. What will she do when they blow the doors? Drop to the floor or stand there like a doe in the headlights while bullets spray through the house? Is there any chance she’ll try to protect her husband? Danny didn’t think so, but even the slightest prospect of this terrified him, because he was certain that Ray meant to kill Shields no matter what.

“Thirty-five seconds,” Ellis said, his eyes on his wristwatch. “Stay ready, Ray. Everybody key off your watches. Thirty seconds…”

A silver sheet of rain hit the windshield, and Danny fell through a black hole, straight into Afghanistan. Forty-two marines were trapped on a mountaintop in the worst storm the company’s Tajik adviser could remember. Taliban guerrillas commanded by mujahideen who’d fought the Russians twenty years earlier were scaling the rock walls like ants to finish off the Americans. It was only a sideshow to the battle raging at Tora Bora, but to the marines marooned on the mountain, it was the end of the world. An army Black Hawk had already been shot down as it hovered to fire a Hell-fire missile into a cave mouth. An Air Force A-10 had held off the guerrillas for a while, but now even the Warthog had been grounded. When night fell, there would be no stopping the Taliban. They were already too close to the marines for artillery to knock them off the mountain, and the Spectre gunships in the theater were committed to Tora Bora. At any moment, Danny expected the marines to call in artillery on their own position, as Joe Adams had famously done on Hill 385 in Korea. Anything was better than being captured by Afghan tribesmen.

77

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