Home > Consumed (Firefighters #1)(15)

Consumed (Firefighters #1)(15)
Author: J.R. Ward

“Ah . . . sure. Yes.”

The vet smiled. “Come this way. He’s been neutered, by the way, so he was owned by someone at some point.”

Anne followed the woman out and down the corridor of exam rooms, the muffled barks and meows behind the closed doors suggesting the practice was a busy one. Entering a more clinical space, they proceeded over to a line of cages. The stray was down at the far end, curled in the corner as if he were terrified but used to being helpless.

“Hey, big guy,” Anne murmured as she went across and got down on her haunches. “How you feeling?”

A tentative wag greeted her, just the tip of the tail moving.

“He recognizes you,” Dr. Delgado said. “Anyway, you can pick him up tomorrow, assuming he does well on the antibiotic shot. I had to give him some powerful—”

“Pick him up?” Anne got to her feet. “I don’t understand.”

Now the vet’s face grew remote. “I thought you were adopting him.”

“I can’t— I mean, no. I’m not a dog person. I’m not a pet person.” She rushed on with, “But I mean, I’ll pay for the charges. And his food and stuff until he’s adopted.”

“We’re not really equipped to hold onto him after he’s been treated.”

“You must have people who want dogs, though.”

“I’ll do what I can. But he’s part pit and that can be a problem. If we can’t find someone, he’ll have to go to a shelter.”

Anne took a deep breath. “Okay, and someone will take him home from there, then.” There was a pause. “Right? I mean, people adopt all the time. He’ll find somebody to care for him.”

“He’ll have a week. If he’s lucky. But again, with the pit in him, I’m not sure anyone will want him.” The vet took a step back. “We have your credit card. I’ll keep you posted on the charges.”

“And how he is?”

“If you want”—the vet put out her hand—“I’ll be in touch.”

Anne shook the palm that was offered and then looked back through the steel weave of the cage. The dog stared up at her, his exhausted, pale brown eyes suggesting that all the things getting done to him and the stuff being pumped into his frail body was just one more scene in a nightmare that had started a long time ago.

“I’m sorry,” she said to the dog. “I really am.”

He wagged one last time and put his head down on the paw that wasn’t bandaged. As Anne turned away, she got busy checking out the clinical space, everything so neat and clean, the techs and vets walking with purpose, the stainless steel tables and X-ray machines and clear-fronted cabinets of supplies as professional as any human-grade clinic she’d ever been to.

The next thing she knew, she was behind the wheel of the municipal sedan in the parking lot. Looking over to the front seat where the dog had been, she noted smudges of dirt and some stains she knew were blood. She was going to have to clean that all up.

As her phone rang, she jumped and fumbled in her bag. When she saw who it was, she cursed. “Hello? Mr. Marshall?”

“I told you, call me Don,” her new boss said. “I just wanted to see how you’re doing. Making progress?”

She stared at the outside of the vet office. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.” Reaching forward with the key, she started the sewing-machine engine under the hood. “I should be back in the office in an hour. Or two.”

“Well, that would be good, sure. But tell me, are you planning on spending any time at the scene?”

“I’m sorry?”

“The GPS on the vehicle you were assigned to is reporting you’ve been about seven miles away from the fire scene for the last hour and twenty minutes. I’m just curious what you’re doing and where?”

Grimacing, she put her forehead down on the steering wheel. “I, ah, I found a stray.”

“Bullet?”

“Dog.”

There was a beat of silence. “I’d like you to come back to the office if you don’t mind. I need to have a word with you.”

“Yes, sir.”

Don Marshall hung up, and Anne didn’t waste time. Putting the sedan in drive, she lowered the window and took off, making her way back to the Fire and Safety building. Traffic was pretty light, and it took her less than ten minutes to trade one parking lot for another.

As she was getting out and locking up, she composed a little speech along the lines of how seriously she was taking her new job and how much she wanted to work for—

Don was waiting for her at the front entrance of the sprawling black, steel, and glass building, the man standing in the sunshine, eating something. He was a tall, thin guy, built like the basketball player she’d heard he’d been, and his tightly trimmed Afro had all kinds of gray at the temples. Rumor had it he’d dropped out of Syracuse, where he’d been playing Division I college ball, and joined the Army. Considering how cut-and-dry he was, she could see him in a military uniform.

And he certainly had the been-through-it-all affect of somebody who had seen combat action.

“I’m so sorry,” she said on the approach. “I won’t ever get distracted again—”

“Walk with me,” he ordered as he turned away, not waiting for her to catch up.

It was a bagel. He was eating half an onion bagel that had about two inches of cream cheese on it.

“So you know how many people wanted your job?” he asked as she fell into step with him on the sidewalk that made a square around the building.

“No, sir. I don’t.”

“Take a guess.”

She thought about how bad the economy was. “Ten? Fifteen?”

“None.” He stopped and looked down at her. “No one. The position was vacant for six months before you applied.”

“Oh.” Was she supposed to apologize? “I’m sorry.”

“I think you and I need to be clear with one another.” He put the last bite in his hopper and wiped his mouth with the napkin he’d been using as a plate. “I will fire you and go back to an empty desk before I put up with crap for effort. I took a chance on you—”

“Because of my arm,” she said bitterly.

“No, because I know you don’t actually want to work here.” He resumed his long stride. “You’d rather be back on an engine, dragging hoses into a fire. The reality, however, is that you’re out of options, and I’ve got a back load of cases that need to be looked at with only three investigators—one of whom is relocating because his wife took a job in St. Louis. Oh, did I mention another is pregnant and probably going on bed rest in a week? I won’t have her back until after she’s through with maternity leave. But allow me to reiterate. I would rather have an empty desk than someone who isn’t getting work done. I don’t care if I have to go out into the field myself. So you either get real and be serious about this opportunity, or you can file for unemployment for the twenty-four hours you’ve earned it for.”

Anne shook her head. “You don’t know me.”

“Yeah, I do. You’re someone who walks off the job site before she gets started. And lies to me when I call her and ask her how things are going.”

“I’m sorry. That was the wrong thing to do, and from now on, I’m not going to let you down.”

“Me? You’re not going to let me down?” Don Marshall stopped again and frowned. “Wrong way to look at this. Someone died in that fire you blew off so you could make a trip to the vet’s. A crime against property was committed, and in the course of it, somebody died. Maybe it was a vagrant. Hell, it probably was. But they had a mother and a father or they wouldn’t be on the planet. What you fail to understand is that this job you think is a step down from your calling, your passion? It’s actually justice at work. Unless there was faulty wiring involved—which is impossible because the grid to that block was shut down two years ago—someone walked in there, set a fire, and let the structure burn to the ground. I can’t make you care about helping the police find that criminal. I can’t wake you up to the fact that this work you no doubt consider a desk job is critical to making people safe. But what I will do is boot you out of my department if you don’t prove to me you’re worthy of my standards. You had your calling. This is mine. Are we clear?”

   
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