Home > Consumed (Firefighters #1)(3)

Consumed (Firefighters #1)(3)
Author: J.R. Ward

Accept. Adapt. Change.

“Okay,” Danny said. “Fine.”

He shoved Duff off his jacket like the two-hundred-and-fifty-pounder was nothing but lint. Then he hooded up and strapped on that air tank.

“What do you need that for?” Duff asked.

“The wind just changed. I’m not going over there with a hose without an oxygen supply. That okay with you? Or do you want to try to make out with me again.”

He didn’t give the man a chance to answer that one. And everybody got out of his way as he went around to where he’d been assigned to go.

Firefighting followed in the military’s chain-of-command boot steps. You took orders or you were out. Even if that meant leaving the love of your miserable wasteland of a life in the middle of a now two-alarm fire to get burned to death inside her turnouts.

Happy Friday night, motherfuckers.

* * *

Trapped underneath debris and fallen wooden beams, the first thing Anne did after checking in on her radio was get enough freedom of movement so she could secure her mask over her face and turn on the airflow. As she breathed that metallic-and-plastic swill of oxygen, she did an internal assessment of her body. Her left arm was wrenched up above her head, and one leg was twisted at the foot and straining at its knee joint.

Her helmet beam was off, and she pulled her right hand loose to feel around for it. No go. The unit had snapped off, and there was no reaching her box light.

“Check in, twelve-ten!” Captain Baker said over the radio. “Twelve-ten, what’s going on?”

Forcing her lungs to work, she rasped, “It’s getting hot in here.”

In her mind, she heard Danny’s voice: So take off all your clothes. I . . . am . . . getting . . . so . . . hot . . . Iwannatakemyclothesoff.

She thought about the hell she was going to catch when Captain Baker found out she had split up from Emilio. Although maybe the man would be dead if they’d stayed together down here.

“We’re coming for you, Anne,” the captain said. “Injuries?”

“Negative.”

Twisting her head to the right, she only made it halfway around, her helmet getting crammed into something—

Through the visor of her mask, she got a crystal-clear on the field of orange flames roiling out of the stairwell and across the ceiling, the bubbling movement like a hundred rats fleeing rising water in a sewer, its escape the large hole above her that had been a ten-by-fifteen-foot section of the second floor, but was now the debris field trapping her in place.

Pushing against anything that was on her, she phoenix’d-from-the-ashes like out of The Walking Dead, a stiff, bad-angled version of herself rising from the floor. As she made it halfway to full height, it was a relief that her legs were fully capable of holding her weight.

That was the last piece of good news she got.

“Twelve-ten, check in,” came over the radio

“I’m okay.” She looked around and tried to place herself directionally. “I’m up on my feet.”

“Good girl—”

“Don’t call me ‘girl.’ ”

“Roger that. We’re coming for you—”

There was a sudden shifting overhead, one of the old timbers groaning as it was forced to shoulder an unexpected burden. She glanced up. The fire was closer, and she could feel the heat more. Smoke was beginning to build, too, bringing with it a galaxy of cinder stars that floated around, innocent and beautiful as fireflies in a summer meadow.

Anne realized she was trapped when she attempted to fully straighten her spine. Her right side was fine. The left half of her came up only so far as her arm would permit.

Leaning back, she pulled against the tether. Her hand, fat from her glove, refused to yield, some triangulation of trash turning the extremity into a rope with a blood supply.

The pulsating orange waves licking above her threw off enough illumination for her to see the problem. Desk. There was a desk that had fallen through the ragged hole in the ceiling, and somehow, the thing had managed to mate with one of the massive ceiling beams. No, two old beams.

Her hand was the bad-luck hole-in-one in the middle of the tiddlywinks from hell.

Planting her gloved right palm on the closest length of oak, she braced her feet in her steel-toed boots and shoved hard.

Nothing.

She tried a different hand position on the beam. And then an alternate angle of counterforce. Her big-ass glove was the problem, and with no way of reaching over things to release it, she was stuck with a Popeye problem at the base of her wrist.

And all the time, the fire spread, eating its way down the flammable, ancient carpeting on the stairs, spreading through the beams still on the ceiling, consuming the cheap particleboard that had been used to make walls.

“Twelve-ten, hang on in there—”

Another collapse rumbled all around her, more sparks flying, another helping of debris added to her plate.

She pulled harder. Pushed more.

Inside her turnouts, something welled and river’d. She prayed it was sweat and not blood—and as much as she told herself to preserve oxygen, her lungs started to inflate and deflate like she was on a sprint, her cognition, her thoughts, fragmenting.

Talking into her radio, she tried to make like she was calm. “You guys almost here? Are you—”

The third collapse brought down a wooden beam that was breeding open flames two inches in front of her mask.

“Twelve-ten!” Captain Baker yelled through the radio. “Check in—twelve-ten!”

Chapter 3

New Brunswick Firehouse No. 617

McGinney Street and Benedict Avenue

Fire Chief Thomas Ashburn stared over his messy desk at the two geniuses before him. Idiot number one, on the left, was a third-generation Italian firefighter, a stand-up guy who was built like a pro wrestler, never blinked in the face of death, and, aside from an intermittent off-duty drinking problem, had no red checks after his name.

If he had a dozen Chuck Parnesi’s in his firehouses, he wouldn’t be prematurely gray and divorced.

Okay, fine, he’d probably still be divorced. But his hair wouldn’t be almost white.

Genius number two was the problem—and the carrier. Spike-haired and heavy-metal-loving Damian Reichmann was a walking hemorrhoid, the Typhoid Martin of Bad Behavior, a man capable of reducing even a relatively tight guy like Chuckie P to the lowest common dominator of a twelve-year-old at summer camp. Damian absolutely, positively measured his life’s worth on how many people around him were pissed off. Nickname? Damnit. Because pretty much every time the asshat was addressed, it was along the lines of “Damnit, why did you . . .”

“I am too old for this shit.” Tom glared at Damian. “And so the fuck are you.”

Damnit’s smile had fat-kid-loves-cake all over it. “What I do?”

Tom leaned back in his old wooden chair. And stared at the guy.

Damnit shrugged. “Look, Chuckie P got no game. I thought I was helping.”

“You set up an eHarmony account,” Chuck cut in. “And sent women to my house. To go on dates. With me.”

“Did any of it work?” Damnit gave a two-thumbs-up. “Did we get it in?”

“They were fetish models!”

Tom had to give that detail a “huh.” “I didn’t know those type of women were on eHarmony.”

Damnit shook his head. “It was an ad on Craigslist, actually.”

“What the fuck!” Chuck glared at the guy. “People get killed off that thing!”

“Annnnd you’re still breathing. Also haven’t answered the question. What about that redhead who was into bondage—”

“Enough.” Tom backhanded his neck to rub away the steel beam that was his spinal cord. “Look, I can’t let this go. This is one too many times in the last month.”

“Come on, Chief.” Damnit smiled some more, flashing the gold canine he’d added last month. “It was a practical joke. That could possibly have gotten him a blow job—”

“Chuck, punch him in the junk, and you’re even.”

Damnit cut the shit and stood up straighter. “What.”

“I love you, Chief.” Chuck put his hand on that heavily muscled chest, right over his heart. “And I mean that as a leader, a friend, an example of good works everywhere—”

   
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