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Authors: Greg Iles

Tags: #Family Secrets, #Mississippi, #Detective and mystery stories, #Physicians' spouses, #Family Violence, #General, #Autistic Children, #Suspense Fiction, #Adultery, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Physicians - Mississippi

Third Degree (30 page)

BOOK: Third Degree
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Most of his fellow TRU deputies were white country boys of a type Carl knew well. The majority were ten to fifteen years older than he, and some were over fifty. In a town with high unemployment, men didn’t give up jobs with benefits unless they were pushed out—usually after an election. But despite the age and background of the men, there was an attitude of benign tolerance toward black officers in the unit. Prejudice still existed, but it was an amorphous thing, difficult to point at and impossible to prove, except in a few cases. Even the hard-core, Southern-rock NASCAR types accepted that civil rights reforms were here to stay, and they tried to make the best of it.

Beyond this, Carl was a special case. His military record as a sniper gave him an almost magical immunity to prejudice. In his experience, white country boys were fairly primitive in their social habits, creatures of dominance and submission, like the hunting dogs he’d raised as a boy. Physical prowess meant a lot, the ability to withstand pain meant more, but nothing ranked higher in their estimation than combat experience. If a man had shed blood in the mud and held his nerve under fire, then it didn’t make a damn bit of difference what color he was—not to most of them, anyway. As a sniper with a near-legendary number of confirmed kills, Carl occupied rarefied air in the redneck firmament. The fact that he was black had put some of those good old boys in the curious position of almost fawning over a guy they might have tried to kick the shit out of if he’d wandered into their neighborhood at night.

Carl parked his Cherokee behind the rearmost cruiser and got his rain slicker out of the cargo compartment. He decided to leave his rifle case locked in the vehicle. The slower things moved, the more time there would be for hormones to stabilize and adrenaline to be flushed away.

He saw the mobile command post over the roofs of the cruisers. The camouflage-painted camper trailer had been towed under a small stand of trees and braced with cinder blocks. The steady rumble of a generator echoed over the flat ground, which meant lights in the trailer, if not air-conditioning. Carl reminded himself that he was only a deputy, not the ranking member of an autonomous sniper-scout unit, as he had been in Iraq. His job when he stepped into the trailer would be to take orders, not give them. And any advice he offered was likely to be rejected unless it reinforced what his superiors had already decided.

His biggest worry right now was the Breen brothers, one of whom was the commander of the Tactical Response Unit, subject only to Sheriff Ellis in a situation like this one. The Breen brothers looked to have been cut from the same piece of wood. They had farmer’s tans, cracked skin, and slit eyes that betrayed so much meanness it made people take a step back, even when they were out of uniform. Both were lean and gaunt, the younger one, Trace, so much so that Carl wondered if he’d suffered some nutritional disease like rickets as a child. But maybe Trace just stayed so pissed off all the time that his anger had begun to consume him. Ray, the elder of the pair, was bulkier and had a more open face than his brother, despite his cowboy mustache. He’d served in the army during the lean years after Vietnam, as an MP, like Sheriff Ellis. He was also a Weekend Warrior like Ellis, but though Ray’s unit had been called up for Bosnia, he hadn’t seen action there either. He’d worked as a welder for a while, but got fired because he kept getting into fights. Only when he hired on with the Sheriff’s Department had he found his calling; he wore the uniform like a suit of armor, and Carl could tell that the power of the job was what got Ray Breen out of bed every morning.

Ray reveled in the high-tech equipment of his Tactical Response Unit. Over the past few years, he had somehow scrounged together an arsenal that could adequately supply an urban SWAT unit. The TRU had automatic weapons, flash-bang grenades, shaped charges, advanced commo gear, and night-vision devices. In his off hours Ray read Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, and Larry Bond, or played
Rainbow Six: Splinter Cell
on his son’s Xbox 360. If Carl chanced to meet Ray Breen in Wal-Mart or at a high school football game, the commander would squint and give a slight nod, as though to say,
We’re part of an elite team. These civilians know we’re always on the lookout for trouble.

Ray had pulled Carl aside dozens of times to talk shop, asking detailed questions about the capabilities of various sniper rifles, scopes, and night-vision systems. But inevitably, after all the hardware questions had been answered, Breen would circle down to the question he’d really wanted to ask:
What’s it like to blow some unsuspecting raghead’s shit away from a thousand yards?
Carl always answered the same way:
I tried not to think about that side of it, sir. It was a job, and I focused on the mechanics of it.
Guys like Ray Breen never grasped the true nature of sniping. It was as much about concealment as it was about shooting. Carl had once spent two days constructing a hide in Baghdad, then another waiting motionless with his scout to take a single shot that a twelve-year-old kid could have made in his backyard in Sandy Bottom. But he didn’t blame the TRU commander. The homeboys he’d played ball with at Athens Point High had asked the same question after they got a couple of beers in them. All human beings, Carl had learned, were fascinated with death. Only those who knew death intimately, as he did, understood its essential mystery.

Carl’s eyes tracked a thin form slinking out of the CP trailer. Trace Breen. In the vernacular of Carl’s father, Trace was a skunk. Lying was mother’s milk to him. He had no military experience, and Carl assumed he’d ridden his brother’s coattails onto the TRU, as nominal communications officer. From scuttlebutt around the department, Carl had gathered that Trace had worked a dozen different jobs before becoming a deputy, none of them productive. He’d been a roustabout at construction sites (where materials tended to disappear at night); he’d sold stereos out of the back of a van (most of those stolen, too); he’d worked as a hunting guide (poaching alligators at night); he’d also run dogfights, and pursued various other fly-by-night enterprises that went nowhere. Even now, Trace had some kind of cell phone scam going, selling disposable phones out of his car. Carl figured a truckload of the things must have been hijacked over in Texas or somewhere.

“Hey, Red Cloud!” Trace had caught sight of Carl. “Ray wants you in the CP like yesterday. You better double-time it, soldier.”

Carl let the nickname roll off him. He didn’t like anyone outside the Marine Corps using it. The local guys only got wind of
Red Cloud
after discovering an article about marine snipers in Baghdad on the CNN Internet archives. Carl raised his left hand to acknowledge the remark, then headed for the command post.

Unlike the other white deputies, Trace Breen made no effort to conceal his dislike of African-Americans. If Carl passed him alone in a corridor, Trace would look pointedly at the ceiling or chuckle softly, as though amused at the idea of a black man in a deputy’s uniform. If they met in public, Trace either pretended Carl didn’t exist or snickered in the ear of whatever trashy blonde happened to be hanging off his arm. Lately, Carl had heard rumors that Trace might be dabbling in the drug business—specifically crystal meth—a trade he’d apparently worked at as a teenager. Carl had already decided that if he picked up concrete information about this activity, he would follow wherever it led. The sheriff might not want to bust his own deputies, but Carl figured if he made the arrest, Billy Ray Ellis would have no choice but to follow through.

Carl stopped before the trailer door and looked up at the Shields house. If what the dispatcher had told him was true, his mother’s soft-spoken physician was barricaded behind the idyllic facade of that house, and he might already have killed someone. If Shields had done that, Carl might well be asked to take the man out, and soon. Before darkness fell, probably. He scanned the northern sky, hoping to see Danny McDavitt’s chopper zooming out of the dark clouds gathering there, but he saw nothing.

The trailer door opened suddenly, and Carl stood face-to-face with Ray Breen. Breen wore a dark brown cowboy hat pulled low over his mustached face, but it was the flak jacket that startled Carl. Body armor was SOP for hostage situations, but still. Carl realized then that deep down he had not quite accepted that Dr. Shields had taken anyone hostage.

“Where’s your weapon, Deputy?” Breen asked.

“In my Jeep.”

Ray frowned. “It ain’t gonna do us any good there, is it? Come on, Carl. We don’t have a lot of daylight left.”

“Eighty minutes,” Carl said. “Less, if those clouds come over, which it looks like they will.”

Breen gave a tight grin and slapped his shoulder. “I knew you were already thinking. Get your gear, son. This is big.”

Carl didn’t move. “Could I ask you something, sir?”

The grin vanished. Breen sensed resistance, and he didn’t like it. “Go ahead.”

“Has anyone talked to Dr. Shields yet?”

“Yeah, me. His wife and daughter are in there, and probably his partner, Dr. Auster. I spoke to the wife and kid, but I think Auster’s dead.”

“Why?”

“Shields wouldn’t let me talk to him. We know there were shots fired, but the kid who got out isn’t positive who fired them. He thought he saw a man lying on his back in the hall, but he was on the second-floor landing and didn’t get a good look.”

Carl wondered if this was the best intel they were going to get.

“We think they’re in the main downstairs room now,” Breen went on. “What they call the great room. I talked to the architect, and he’s bringing a set of plans out here. There’s big windows facing the backyard, but they’re those fancy ones with the blinds built into them, between two panes of glass. They pretty much wipe out all visibility.”

Carl nodded, surprised to find himself grateful for this obstacle.

“That ain’t all,” Breen said. “There was a fire at Dr. Shields’s office about an hour ago. We don’t have many details, but right now it’s possible that Shields set that fire himself. A nurse at the hospital also told me there are some state or federal agents in the ER. There might be some kind of investigation going on that we don’t know about. Something to do with Dr. Shields.”

Carl said nothing. None of this made sense to him, but then he had few facts to work with. For the time being, he’d have to leave the situation in the less-than-masterful hands of Ray Breen and pray that the sheriff got here quick. Even that prospect made him feel only slightly better. The sheriff had been a petroleum land man for much of his life. The only thing that might stop Sheriff Ellis from doing the same thing Ray Breen would do was fear of a negative reaction from the voters in the next election. What gave Carl the most comfort was knowing that Danny McDavitt would be sitting beside the sheriff during any negotiations that might happen in the next few minutes.

“Get your rifle, Carl,” Ray said. “The sheriff’s still thirty minutes out. The wheels could come off this thing any second.”

“Yes, sir,” Carl said, starting back toward his Jeep.

He kept looking northward as he walked. More rain was coming; he would have known that with a blindfold on. Carl was a country boy, too.

He could smell rain ten miles away.

 

 

Danny crossed the Mississippi River just east of Lake Concordia and dropped out of the rain clouds at five hundred feet. This leg of the Mississippi was dotted with oxbow lakes, and Lake St. John lay just ahead. He flew around the eastern rim of the C-shaped lake, his eyes tracking the well-trimmed lots that bordered the eastern shore. As he neared the midpoint of the seven-mile horseshoe, he saw a cluster of brightly colored pavilion tents beside a large cypress lake house. A group of men had gathered in a muddy cotton field across the road, and they began waving him down when they caught sight of the helicopter.

Danny descended rapidly toward the group, then flared at the last moment and touched down softly in the newly planted field. A big man wearing a brown uniform and clutching a Stetson to his head ran beneath the spinning rotor blades and opened the door on the Bell’s left side. Billy Ray Ellis was a big man, still muscular at fifty-three, with burly forearms covered in black hair. Despite his limited law enforcement experience, he was so popular in the county that he’d beaten the incumbent sheriff by twenty percentage points. Ellis heaved his bulk into the seat beside Danny, yanked the door shut, pulled on the second headset, and started talking as he fastened his harness.

“Get this baby back in the air, Danny. Push her hard as she’ll go. We got a bad situation waiting for us.”

Danny pulled pitch and applied power with the collective, then nudged the cyclic. The Bell tilted forward and bit into the sky. “What’s happened? The message I got said Code Black. Is it a school shooting or something?”

Ellis shook his big head. “Do you know Dr. Shields? Warren Shields?”

Danny felt as though the bottom had fallen out of the chopper. “Yeah,” he managed to choke out. “I taught him to fly last year.”

“That’s right, I forgot. Well, apparently, Dr. Shields has barricaded himself inside his residence, and he’s holding his wife and daughter hostage.”

Danny closed his eyes, fighting vertigo. After several moments of composing himself, he opened them again, picked out a landmark on the ground, and said, “How do you know that?”

“Shields’s nine-year-old son managed to escape the house and get to a neighbor’s place. Jumped off the roof or something. It’s the daughter who’s still in the house. The boy thinks his daddy shot somebody. We don’t know who that was yet, but it could be Shields’s partner, Kyle Auster.”

“That’s unbelievable,” breathed Danny, trying to mask his panic.

“I agree. There was also some kind of fire at their medical office a little while ago. Details are sketchy, but some people were hurt bad. It may be that Shields set the fire. I don’t know if the man’s lost his mind or what. I always liked him myself.”

“Who’s on the scene now?”

“Ray Breen’s assembling the TRU as they arrive.”

BOOK: Third Degree
5.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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