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Книга Third Degree. Страница 83

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Warren concealed the gun beneath his bloody shirttail and slid the headset off of his right ear. “That’s right, Son.”

“Where’s Mom?”

“Home.”

Danny kept his face expressionless.

“Is she okay?”

“She’s fine. Those men weren’t there for her. You’ll see her soon. Get back into a seat and fasten your harness.”

“What about you? Your shoulder’s bleeding bad.”

“I’m fine,” Warren said, touching his shirt, which was now matted against his wounded shoulder.

“Wow!” Grant cried. They had crossed over the bluff at Natchez, and the land fell precipitously away. Two hundred feet below the old city, the lights on a long string of barges winked up at them. “Cool,” the boy said. “They have two bridges here.”

“Get into a harness, Son!”

“Okay, okay.” Grant’s head vanished.

“You don’t know Laurel’s okay,” Danny said softly. “You didn’t even check.”

Warren grimaced. “Shut up.”

“What?” asked Grant. “What are y’all saying up there?”

“Nothing, Son. Look for landmarks down there. Can you see the riverboat casinos?”

While Grant searched the broad black river, Warren said, “Laurel’s mother lives just off Carter Street, the main drag. Right behind the levee. Maybe you know that already.”

“No.”

Danny started descending after he passed over the two great bridges spanning the river. There was only one brightly lit road in Vidalia, the highway leading westward across Louisiana. The section that ran through the town was called Carter Street. Danny found it easily, and soon he made out the grassy hump of the levee, running at right angles to the highway.

“That’s it,” said Warren, pointing down at a small house with an older Lincoln Continental parked on the street in front of it.

“Where do you want me to land?”

“Street’s fine. There’s no traffic.”

The neighbors began opening their doors and windows as the chopper dipped under two hundred feet. By the time it landed in the middle of their street, a crowd had gathered in the rain, thinking they were witnessing either a crash or an invasion.

“I see Gram!” Grant shouted. “She’s standing on the porch!”

“Jump out and run to her, Son.”

Grant’s head reappeared above the junction of shoulders. “What about you?”

Warren seemed unable to find his voice. Danny leaned forward and saw tears in the doctor’s eyes. “Major Danny and I have to help the police do something,” Shields croaked. “But Mom will be here soon.”

“Are you sure? What’s wrong, Dad?”

Warren covered his eyes with his left hand, but his right still gripped the gun. Danny wondered if Shields would really shoot him in front of the boy. On balance, Danny figured he would.

“I’ve just got a headache,” Shields said. “I stayed awake too long. You need to go, Son. You take care of your mother, all right?”

Grant stared at his father in confusion. “Till you get back, you mean?”

“That’s right. Go on, now. We’re late already.”

Grant turned to Danny, his eyes dark with foreboding. “Mr. Danny…?”

“Do what your father told you. It’ll be all right.”

“Go!” Warren snapped.

Grant seemed on the verge of tears. Danny’s heart went out to the boy, but then Grant fell back on his loyalty to the man he trusted above all others. He nodded to his father and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of Mom.” Then he climbed out of the chopper and ran toward a small, gray-haired woman standing on the porch of the little house with the Lincoln out front.

“I’m sorry,” Warren said almost inaudibly.

“You owe that boy every second you have on this earth,” Danny said. “I know you hate my guts, but you need to stop this suicide trip and get your family back together.”

People in the crowd were venturing toward the helicopter. Shields stabbed the gun into Danny’s side. “Get us airborne.”

“Where are we going?”

“Heaven. How does that sound?”

“I don’t believe in it. And neither do you.”

Shields’s eyes shone with something like madness. “Valhalla, then. Isn’t that where heroes go when they die?”

“Only if they die in battle.”

An ironic chuckle. “Well, then. That’s where we’re going.”

Danny didn’t know if it was better to die on the ground or in the air. But one thing he did know: in the air, he had a chance to live, because he would have control of the aircraft. A passenger bent on both homicide and suicide complicated matters, but that was better than the bullet he would get for refusing to take off.

He pulled up on the collective, touched the cyclic, and lifted the Bell over the streetlights, swinging gracefully back toward the bridges. There was no real advantage in flying over Natchez, but something was pulling him to the Mississippi side of the river.

“Why don’t we call the sheriff and check on Laurel?” Danny suggested.

Warren lifted the shiny pistol and pressed its barrel against Danny’s left temple. “Why don’t you shut up and fly.”

“Tell me where.”

“Just keep us over the river.”

“How high?”

“Two thousand feet’s fine.”

Danny spiraled upward in a slow climb, wondering how long the gun would stay at his head. It didn’t leave him much maneuvering room. He’d already begun forming the rudiments of a plan. If he could roll the chopper and pull enough g’s, he might be able to open Shields’s harness and dump him out before the doctor shot him. But he couldn’t do that with a gun to his head.

“Are you afraid to die, Major?”

Shields had asked the question in a philosophical tone. Danny shrugged. “To tell you the truth, I should have died long before now.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“I don’t want to die.”

The gun barrel entered the shell of Danny’s left ear. “But are you afraid to die?”

Danny thought about it. He felt a lot of things at this moment, but the least of his emotions was fear. “I’ll tell you what I think. It isn’t dying that’s hard. It’s living.”

Shields’s jaws flexed angrily. “What are you trying to say? Are you saying I’m a coward?”

“No. I’m saying life ain’t a bowl of fucking cherries. I’m saying you owe that little boy whatever time you can give him, no matter what shape you’re in. I think he’s tough enough to watch you die. It might not be pretty, but he’ll get over it. A hell of a lot easier than he’ll get over this shit.”

Shields’s jaw was working so hard it looked as if he were trying to grind his teeth away. “You’ve got all the answers, don’t you? Or so my wife seems to think.”

“I don’t have any answers!” Danny snapped, tired of Shields’s paranoia. “I’m just trying to get by, same as the next man. All I’m saying is, it’s living that takes courage. In my experience, the hero who charges the machine-gun nest is sometimes the guy who didn’t have anything to go home to. To me, the real hero is the guy who goes home to face whatever life hands him, no matter how tough it might be.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You’re a lucky son of a bitch. And life handed you my wife.”

Danny put the Bell into a hover above the river. Far below, through sheets of rain, twinkling headlights moved steadily between Louisiana and Mississippi. “I’ve caught the short end a few times. You’ve been dealt a tough hand, I’ll grant you. But I’ve seen guys get a lot worse, with no time to set things right or even say good-bye to the people they loved. In muddy holes, on piles of sand, burned alive in a fucking Humvee. It’s like you said back at the house. It doesn’t make any sense. You want an answer, Warren? You’ve got two kids who love you. Two healthy kids who need everything you can give them, and who’ll give you everything they have in return. That means more than you know. Take it from me.”

Shields lowered the gun back to Danny’s waist. “I killed a cop tonight,” he said in a guilt-ridden voice.

“Well, I’d say he asked for it. He was a mean bastard who would have caught it one way or another down the road.”

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