Four-Part Dissonance, Chapter 19, by Edward Doughtie. For previous chapters, go to archives.

Chapter 19

As Branch approached the road leading to the compound, he noted with approval that the police cars were parked as if it were an ordinary speed trap, one on each side of the main road, but not blocking either side road. Branch parked and approached one of the cars, his shield out. The trooper in the driver’s seat got out, shook his hand and introduced himself as Scott Truscott, a name Branch thought not very euphonious. Truscott opened the back door of the car and Branch slipped in. Truscott’s partner leaned back and shook his hand.
“I’m Benny Macdonald. I talked to you a while ago.” He was a beefy thirty-something. His partner was maybe forty; when he adjusted his Smoky Bear hat, Branch saw a fast receding hairline.
“Right. How do things stand?”
“No movement that we’ve noticed. The hostage negotiators got hung up, but they’re on the way.”
Branch explained how he had been imitating Boomer, hoping to keep Doc and Bledsoe at home and the hostages alive. “I have an idea. They’re expecting Boomer to arrive at any moment with the film. They’re not expecting anyone else, so it’s likely that they’re not in the same room with the hostages.” He hesitated a moment, thinking about the relative risks. “How about this? Two of you guys could get down in the back seat of my car. I keep playing Boomer until we get through the gate. Then we move fast and keep them away from the hostages.” He explained the setup: Mattingly was in the room over the garage, but Teresa was probably in the house, or maybe in the third building Branch had seen but not entered.
Truscott frowned. “Pretty risky. I’m inclined to wait for the negotiators.”
“Ordinarily I would too. But these guys are fanatics. I don’t think they would be easily persuaded. And we would lose the element of surprise. That might put the hostages at greater risk if they decided to leave, using the hostages as shields.”
Truscott looked at Macdonald. “What do you think?”
Branch spoke before Macdonald could answer. “Time is a problem. If they have to wait much longer for Boomer they might get suspicious and do something, either try to leave or at least get close to the hostages.”
Macdonald looked steadily at Branch for a moment. Sharp black eyes, Branch noted. He spoke to Truscott while still looking at Branch. “Stover said some good things about this guy. I think we should give it a shot. I could ask Wharton or James if you’d rather not go in.”
Truscott shook his head. “What are you saying? Of course I’ll go if we decide that’s the thing to do.”
“No offense, I just meant—”
“I understand.” He turned to Branch. “Let me tell the others and then we’ll go.”
Truscott got out and crossed the road to the other squad car. Macdonald asked if Branch had a gun.
“They got mine, but I borrowed a little .38.”
“There’s a shotgun in the trunk.”
“Good. I’ll take that. Just the sight of it might intimidate them.”
They both got out as Truscott returned. Branch put the shotgun on the passenger side of his car, the troopers got in the back, and they proceeded slowly down the road. When they reached the gate, Branch called the house. Bledsoe answered.
“Twenty-three. Buzz me in?”
“Ok. Anybody follow you?”
The lock buzzed and the gate swung open. The troopers crouched down and Branch pulled the car in, stopping between the house and the garage. “I’ll take the house,” he whispered, “You get Mattingly out of the garage. The stairs are around that corner.”
Branch rushed up the steps, crossed the porch, and opened the door, shotgun at the ready. He stepped into the kitchen-dining room and faced Bledsoe, a cup halfway to his mouth. Bledsoe’s eyes widened, and he set the cup down with a clump. He made several swallowing motions and slowly raised his empty hands.
“Where’s Doc?”
Bledsoe motioned outside, his mouth working, but making no sound. He reached up and patted his wig with a shaking hand. Damn. Branch had hoped to find them together. He now hoped Doc was not with Mattingly.
“Where’s Teresa?”
He waved one hand upwards and finally managed to croak “Upstairs.”
“Get the key and let her out. Now! Move!”
“All right.” He steadied his hands on the table and rose with some effort. He took a key from a hook by the door and indicated the way he would go. “Please don’t shoot that thing.”
“Just don’t make me.” As they went up the stairs, Branch wondered how the troopers were doing. At that moment, he heard a shot. He hoped it was a trooper shooting at Doc, rather than the reverse. “Hurry up!” Bledsoe had stopped at the sound of the shot. Branch prodded him into motion with the shotgun; he trotted up the stairs and stopped by a door. His hand shook as he fitted the key into a padlock.
Teresa turned from the window as the door opened and relief lit up her face when she saw Branch. “Quick,” he said. She slipped past him out the door. “You stay.” He pushed Bledsoe into the room, knocking his wig askew.
“I heard a shot,” Teresa said as Branch snapped the padlock shut and pocketed the key.
“Yeah, let’s see what’s going on. Stay behind me and be ready to hit the floor.”
They went down the stairs more cautiously than Branch had ascended them. Teresa spoke softly, “Boy, am I glad to see you. Is Clint ok?”
“Don’t know yet.” Branch hugged the wall until he reached a window. He took a quick look out. Nothing. He moved to another window with a better view of the garage.
“Shit!” He saw Doc, walking backwards, holding Mattingly by the back of his shirt, making him face the garage, his other hand digging a gun into Mattingly’s back. Doc was looking toward the garage, but moving toward the third building, a one-story frame structure with a door facing the house. No windows were visible. Doc opened the door, pulled Mattingly in behind him, and slammed it shut. Branch let out his breath with a rush when he saw Macdonald and Truscott dash from the garage to the building, apparently unharmed.
“Doc has Clint,” Branch told Teresa, who put her hand to her mouth. “Do you know what’s in that building?”
“No. Oh, God. Is Clint hurt? Could you tell?”
“He seemed all right. Look, you take this—” he reached down and pulled out the .38—“here’s the safety. If Bledsoe gets out or Doc comes this way, just shoot the bastards. I’m going to see if I can help out there.”
Teresa looked at the gun in her hand as if it were a toad; but she flipped the safety and nodded. “Be careful.”
“Ok. Maybe lock yourself in the bathroom.”
Branch went to the door. He could see Truscott covering the door to the building. Macdonald must have worked his way around one of the sides. Branch ran up to Truscott.
“Mac’s gone to the right. I hear noises in there but we’d better wait until we know more about the setup here.”
“Right. You stay here and I’ll go left.”
Branch glanced around the corner of the building. A blank wall, no window. As he was about to move to the next corner, he heard a creaking and then the roar of an engine. He dashed forward in time to see something that wouldn’t compute. Some strange vehicle was headed down the hill toward the gate by the lake. It looked like a boat with wheels.
“A duck!” Branch now identified the vehicle as an amphibious craft. They had some in Boston, he remembered. You could tour the city and the harbor in one. Branch ran after it, calling to Macdonald to follow. He could see Doc’s bald head behind the windscreen, but not Mattingly. The duck sped down the slope, pausing briefly as the gate opened, and plunged into the lake. Branch stood panting on the shore watching the duck, moving more slowly in the water, slip away.
Macdonald came pounding up. “What the flying fuck!”
“Is there a road over there?”
“Yeah.” He turned on his radio and called the other car, telling them to try to get over and intercept. “It’s a damn boat with wheels! Yes, goddamn it.”
Truscott arrived. Branch said, “Go back and check out the shed this thing was in. Maybe he left Mattingly there.” Not likely, Branch thought, though one could hope. Branch wilted, feeling hopeless as the duck drew further away. The rodents had a back door after all. Well, he thought, at least we have Bledsoe and Boomer, and Teresa is safe. He thought of Mrs. Mattingly and the story he might have to tell her, and grimaced.
The duck was now about halfway across the lake, heading toward an opening Branch could barely make out in the trees on the opposite shore where the other road must be.
Suddenly the duck seemed to lurch and swerve. It straightened out, but rocked from side to side, then swerved again. Something fell over the far side with a large splash. The duck righted itself and continued, though it was now headed toward the shore a few hundred yards from where they stood. No one was visible.
“Come on!” Branch yelled and started running toward the spot where the duck would come ashore. He tripped over clumps of driftwood, and splashed through shallows when the muddy beach shrank under an overhanging bank. Macdonald labored behind him. Ahead, the duck rose from the water as it ran up a sandbar and came to a stop entangled in brush.
Branch, breathing heavily and with a stitch in his side, reached the duck and looked in. There was no one inside.


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