T. Parker: The Jaguar

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T. Parker The Jaguar
  • Название:
    The Jaguar
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    Триллер / на английском языке
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T. Jefferson Parker

The Jaguar


The black van rolled across the barnyard in the rain and stopped beneath an enormous oak tree. It was a large vehicle but under the canopy it was poorly visible, a dark shape within greater darkness. From it the men spilled and advanced quietly to a stable where they paused, then to the flank of the barn, then in single file to the ranch house where they pooled in the overhang of the deck.

Upstairs a young man watched through a window as he buttoned on his jeans. He saw the dull glint of the van under the tree and men snaking through the night. He counted ten of them. He looked back across the bedroom at his security monitors but they told him that the gate had not been breached and none of the doors or windows of the outbuildings had been disturbed. No warning indicators, no audio alerts. Yet this. The dogs were kenneled for the storm. The rain belted the roof and he saw the silver lines of it slanting outside the windows and he understood that he might die here tonight but she did not have to. He was twenty-one years old.

He went to her and put a hand over her mouth and rocked her upward from sleep as he whispered. Men are here.

What men?

Men with guns. We only have seconds, Erin. Get up now. Please.

How can this happen?

They beat the security. Up. Hurry. We have our plan.

She let out a small cry and held his hand tight and pulled herself up and out of bed. In the near darkness he put his arm around her and walked her across the suite and down a hallway and into another room lit by a faint nightlight. Her shoulders were white and her hair was red. Outside the wind hit the walls and the rain raked down upon the world. He let go of her and slid open the door of a walk-in closet and threw a hidden switch. The interior pivoted away with a motorized hum and was replaced by an alcove with a leather recliner and a fire extinguisher and a small refrigerator and a rack of weapons along one wall.

He kissed her and pressed a hand against her middle and felt the slight warm bulge through her nightgown.

I love you, Erin.

I love you, Bradley. Is this a nightmare? Why us? I hear things downstairs.

I’ll handle it. You wait here and I’ll come to you by moonlight. Like in your song. This is a promise. Hurry.

He guided her by the hand into the alcove. She sat on the recliner and he kissed her and pushed the switch and they held hands and gazes until Erin glided away and was gone. Bradley pulled the silenced machine pistol from the upper shelf and slung it over his shoulder, then took another and pushed off the safety and trotted back out into the hallway.

He heard feet on the stairs. He backed away from the balustrade and when the first man came up and looked from under the brim of his helmet Bradley shot him and he arched back down into the stairwell. Another followed and Bradley shot him also but three more boiled up hydralike, shoulders hunched and faces down, and Bradley sprayed them but they surged toward him while he loosed his last few rounds and raised the second gun.

They knocked him over just before he could fire and pinned his arms to the floor. More men piled on. He expected their knives but he could barely move beneath their weight. He could smell their bodies and their breath and the gunpowder in the air and he could feel the hard ballistic armor that crushed down on him and none of his clawing or tearing or biting could damage that armor or the men inside it.

They grunted and cursed in Spanish and they kept their voices low and they had not fired a shot. He felt his lungs being squeezed empty and still the men were piling on, heavier and heavier upon him until the last spark of his breath flickered and he could not catch it. Bradley thrashed and grunted against them. He entered the darkness cursing them and he heard their voices above his own-profanities and nervous laughter.

He awoke and opened his eyes and saw nothing but black. He was on his back and tried to sit up but hit his head on something just a few inches from his face. He touched it with his hands: fabric over metal. There was a smell he knew. His knees were bent and he tried to straighten them but the space was too small. When he tried to raise them they too hit the low ceiling and Bradley felt the panic gathering in his body. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Breath, sweet breath. Calm. The panic sat and waited. Bradley had always suffered in close places-in sleeping bags and crowded elevators and below decks-as had his mother and their ancestors deep into history.

He reached out and felt the curve of his enclosure and the smallness of the space. He heard one of the terriers yapping. I’m in the barn, he thought. His fingers found a plastic crate and when he got a hand into it he felt the familiar air compressor with its power cord wrapped snug around the bottom, and the spray can of tire treatment that smelled of cherry, and the rubber blade of the window wiper. The Cyclone, he thought: I’m in the trunk of my old Cyclone, in the barn. Nineteen seventy, aftermarket trunk release. Broken.

The panic launched and Bradley shoved the crate away and braced both hands on the lid and pushed mightily but it did not give. He wriggled over onto his front side and got his knees under him and he drove his back up into the top. He felt the muscles of his thighs and groin flaring but the lid was unmoved. He turned over, breathing fast and hard, strangling on the closeness. Sweat ran off his face and neck and he felt it accumulating in the cleft below his larynx. He wondered how much oxygen was left. He heard voices from above him. He tried to calm his heart and listen to them but he could not.

The panic came again and he chopped at the ceiling with both elbows but the ceiling did not give. He flipped over again, and again drove his back against the lid but the trunk was Detroit-built and it gave not even the smallest sign of coming open. So he pushed up on his young strong arms, arms that could easily press his own weight and more, but they were no match for the steel.

Bradley flipped over onto his back again and screamed the scream of the living and he knew that if he screamed loud enough the sound would rip a hole through the metal and he would be able to reach an arm through.

And the lid lifted. He sat up and looked into the faces of men and the barrels of their guns. Most wore helmets or bandanas or balaclavas. Beyond them he saw the lights and rafters of his barn. Some of the men poked at him with their barrels. Erin stood not ten feet away, one large armored man holding each of her arms, her nightgown torn and her feet bare and her eyes wild. Beyond her, along the far side, was the kennel and behind the chain link the twelve dogs paced or stood or sat and the terrier kept barking.

He gathered himself to climb out but a gun butt hit him square in the forehead and he dropped back into place in the trunk and looked dizzily at the man who had hit him.

“Excuse me, Deputy Jones. My name is Heriberto. You are now living because I have been asked to be merciful to you.” He was tall and wide, his face below the eyes hidden by a bandana. His voice was soft and lilting. Bradley noted his new white athletic shoes, jeans, and the Mexican Army-issue armored vest and helmet.

Bradley nodded faintly and looked again at Erin. He didn’t know how long he’d been unconscious and it was his belief that she had not been beaten or raped. He wondered how they had breached his security and discovered the hidden room so easily. He tried to climb out again but the gun butt corrected him as before. He saw the tears running down her face but he tried to stare at her in a way that imparted calm and strength. He felt the blood running from his scalp and down his lips and off his chin.

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