There were times when you just knew a run was going to be a shocker in every way possible. When you wish that you could tell your Engineer to slow down – to not be the first Station on the scene. To have some other mug have to run the fire ground.
But you don’t. You race through the city streets and you start planning for what is needed. Giving your crew instructions even as you go, so that when you get there, everybody can just swing into action.
And hope that your gut was wrong, and it was all straightforward. Or even that the call is cancelled. Or something simple like a rubbish fire.
Rarely does that happen though. And the only variable ended up being how much of a shocker – lives lost, injuries, or just complete cockups on every side that added to the whole mess.
Captain Hank Stanley knew that this wasn’t going to be cancelled or downgraded. They could see the plume of smoke, could even see a faint reflection of flames in it as it rose in seeming sluggish, oily blobs, starting to cover the skyline immediately around the scene.
The entire crew knew it would be one of the old buildings, the timber frame old and brittle – a deathtrap to unwary firefighters. There was a settling of shoulders that said that they all knew that this would be one where they would probably be called to drag one of their own out of the maw of their enemy.
The voice of the Battalion Chief came over the radio, reading from the Premises Report that every commercial and multi-tenanted building in the district had. Old warehouse, covering several levels, now turned into apartments. More and more of those conversions were happening. If they were lucky, it had been done by one of the more careful property developers. Who took the time to make sure that the conversion met the fire code. Who had taken the time to get rid of old hazards, installed a fire sprinkler system.
Hank glared at the oily smoke, feeling personally offended by its existence and the cause of a lot of very hard work and danger for a lot of Firemen.
It was a shitty day.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
The one blessing in the mess, Hank supposed, was that there was a hydrant in front of the building. Obviously the Gods of Crappy Situations had missed that one.
Mike took advantage of it, stopping the Engine so the hydrant dead centre. A nice close connection meant better pressure and he could configure his rig to pump for a few other engines as well. He didn’t need his Captain to ask him to do it. By now, the two Engineers had worked together enough to almost know what the other needed Engine 51 to do. One of the advantages of having Cap as a new Captain when he came to the station was that he had been fresh off being an Engineer and Mike had been pleased to see that his superior officer had ensured he kept his Engineer Specialist qualifications current and was capable of completely taking over the rig should it be necessary.
The downside, of course, was that when he did do that, Mike was usually desperately needed elsewhere on the fire ground.
“Set it to supply three other engines, pal,” Cap said and stepped forward to speak to the Cop, at the same time calling Marco and Chet to set lines ready to go. His eyes swiftly took in the scene, and he acknowledged Roy DeSoto’s silent presence by his side.
“What have we got here?”
“No idea how it started, but front and back are involved. Everybody seems to be out – nobody’s been marked as missing at least.” The cop shrugged. “You know how it goes though.”
“Yeah. Roy – you and John do a perimeter check for me. I wanna find any ways in or out of that place. Just in case. I’ll send another couple of crews to the rear. Keep in contact. Don’t make me call you.”
“Bad feeling Cap?”
“You better believe it.” Stanley raised the HT. “Battalion 10, set up to pump from 51 and get lines to the front with my guys, and also on the north side. Stations 15 & 8 – take the rear of the building and south side. Let me know if you need backup. Dispatch – respond an ambulance to this location. No current injuries, but I wanna be prepared.”
A thought occurred and the Captain turned and called after the Senior Paramedic. “Roy…. Keep John on a short leash. I don’t want any injuries on this one.” He could feel several sets of eyes on him and shrugged.
“I can hope,” he said and followed his men into the fray.
It was as crappy as it could be. Station 8 at the rear had found a family – 3 kids, the parents and the wife’s brother, escaping from a window on the second story. The wife and 2 of the kids had minor smoke inhalation. The brother and little girl were in a more serious condition – burns and serious smoke inhalation.
The father…… Hank was glad he hadn’t seen it. Was glad that his crew were not the ones that had to cope with it.
Firefighters, Rescue Men, Paramedics, all were blaming themselves. The Department shrink was going to be kept busy after this one, with personnel trying to work out for themselves how they could have prevented the horrible death that the father of the family had endured.
Another wrinkle in the coordination of the whole. New crews summoned, a squad to replace 8’s while they took the survivors to hospital. And then the necessary reporting paperwork that resulted from a fire ground fatality.
He was completely certain that his own Paramedics were blaming themselves. Even though there had been nothing they could have done. The tragedy had happened before they had gotten that far into the building – was unfolding even as they had entered.
Hank Stanley had seen some horrific scenes in his 15 years as a firefighter. Some horrific accidents during his time in the Military. But he thanked whatever higher being there was watching over him that he had never arrived at a fire ground to see a human being in flames jumping from a window, and hoping that the impact would kill them, because it sure as hell wouldn’t survive what the fire had done.
And now his Paramedics were in the building again, checking out a problem that they had seen on their first trip.
Happy Happy Joy Joy.
His eyes swept the scene and he swore as he watched a new tongue of flame leap out of a small window on the top floor, grasping an overhanging branch and igniting it. “We’ve got a new breakout on the top floor,” he said into his HT, blessing the loudspeakers that carried his voice easily. “Get that tree doused, and somebody try to cut away those branches.”
He spun and ran to the squad, intent on grabbing a saw and trying to see to it himself, missing Stoker’s frantic call. The 51 Engineer was frowning and desperately moving around the Engine, reading dials, moving switches and levers.
Had any of the crew been close enough, they would have been very impressed at their usually calm and silent Engineer’s highly eloquent turn of phrase. Somebody may even have remarked that they didn’t think Mike even knew some of the words he was using.
Stoker and his engine soon had two other Engineers with him, working to figure out what the problem was. It seemed like water hammer, but then again, it didn’t. One of them broke off and raced back to his own Engine, pulling hose and racing to another hydrant point.
A fourth Engineer was racing between the seemingly abandoned Engines, monitoring them closely.
It was then that the scene became to show more than a passing resemblance to Dante’s Inferno.
He hadn’t been noticed. Just another resident of the doomed building. He liked it that way. He wouldn’t be suspected, and could just fade away when everything was over.
He could watch. The beauty of his work, watch as the flames reached out greedily, consuming all in their path. Hear the symphony that they caused – sounds of flames, breaking glass, collapsing wood, concrete. Overlaid with the sounds of water, the yells of men and scream of sirens as they fought his beautiful beast.
All overlaid by the glorious colour of the flames, of the same colours echoed in the flashing lights of the Fire Engines on the scene.
It was beautiful. It fed and satisfied his soul in a way that nothing else could. A rush that neither drugs nor sex could match.
He didn’t see, or didn’t care, about the pain of those injured, or who had lost everything they had in the fires. To him, they were sacrifices to his magnificent creation. A creation that could come from almost nothing, to become a fierce god-like creature, devouring all before it.
It felt powerful, to be able to create a God!
Tonight, however, he would take a step to vanquish the foes of his glorious creations. It had been so simple. The fools were so proud of the ability, willing to share with him the mechanics of the Fire Engines. A few questions seeming to be a person who took as much interest in those huge red trucks as the Engineers and he had all he needed to know. He’d done it before and it had been magnificent. It was a different type of truck this time, but he knew that the outcome would be the same.
He cackled and rubbed his hands with glee, creeping a little closer so that he could get a front row seat for the destruction to come. One hand slipped into his pocket and depressed a button.
Tonight was his triumph.
They had found them too late. And there were so many of them, scattered through the apartments. Somebody had been very busy. And very clever. The devices had looked like energy saving tools, attached to radiators.
It had been sheer chance that John Gage had seen it – only the angle and the particular trick of the light had caused him to notice and for his brain to scream “WRONG” at him.
Marco, Chet and two linemen from Engine 8 found the drums. In the basement and in an uninhabited apartment on the second floor. They also found the rigging on them complete with a transmitting receiver.
Chet hadn’t even thought to try to do anything to disarm or douse the ones he and Marco found. He simply grabbed the HT and screamed into it. “Get the hell out of here! We’ve got fucking explosives!”
He shut the hose valve off, and he and Marco dropped it, turned and ran. They made it up the single flight of stairs and headed for the rear exit. The explosion lifted them off their feet and then slammed them down onto the concrete rear of the block.
The team from Engine 8 made it down one flight of stairs before they dove out a window on the first floor. For one of them, it was quick, painless. He didn’t feel the long spike of timber impale him.
For the other, however, the pain of glass, timber splinters hitting him, breaking through his turnout gear made it agony. But he was alive and he lay face down, waiting for the hands that would get him out of this hell.
On the other side of the block, Johnny and Roy heard Chet and didn’t even think – they jumped out windows, stumbled up and started to run towards the safety of the red engine.
Hank Stanley had heard Chet and didn’t waste time. “Fall back,” he said into his HT, his command relaying throughout the scene. “Fall back and get ready to go in again. All crews sound off.”
He turned and began running for his own engine, intending to confirm location of his own crew. He saw Stoker and another Engineer ripping hoses of Engine 51, and trying to shut down.
Something was seriously wrong with the Engine. He could see it shaking and he waved his arm and yelled. “Get away from there and get down!” He’d seen it once before. Grinding, the engine shaking. And then….
“Michael!!” Stanley’s roar rose above the other noises and attracted the attention of his two Paramedics as well as his Engineer. “Get away from there and get down! It’s going to blow! Hit the dirt!”
It penetrated their abstraction and as he dove for the ground, he was pleased to see Mike and the other Engineer abandon their posts and start to run away from both engine and fire.
The Battalion Chief had been at the rear checking on progress there when he saw the two firemen get blown out of the exit and hit the ground, witnessed the explosion of the building – to the front. He heard Hank Stanley’s orders over the HT but then heard another explosion and then silence from the HT, before the ominous words “Engine down!” and then a babble of calls for assistance.
The two groggy firemen were moving and trying to get up, and the Paramedic team at the rear was working on them.
It had been a long time since he had sprinted that fast. The fact that he hadn’t heard Hank Stanley take control of the situation meant something had happened that prevented him from using the HT. He ignored the increasingly urgent calls from Dispatch for a situation update – he could run or he could talk, but not both.
The Chief stumbled to a stop as he came to the front, nearly causing his aide to barrel into him. As a very young man, he had participated in the D-Day landings, had seen first-hand the absolute devastation of war.
The scene before him resembled that more than a structure fire. Bodies of men were strewn all over the place. Some were moving and, even more concerning, some were still. A horrible, chilling stillness.
Even as he watched, men started to stand, to take up hoses and begin their attempts at fighting this fire. Some hoses spewed water, some were still.
The Chief looked further around and saw Engine 51 standing silent, tilted drunkenly to one side, the hoses attached to it limp. More worrying, was the smoke coming from some of the open but vacant hose ports. Her Engineer was nowhere to be seen.
A little further away, a Squad had its roof accordioned down, crushing the cab. The remains of a 44-gallon drum providing evidence of what had happened.
“What a fucking mess,” the Chief said before lifting his HT and calling Dispatch. Another Engine company. More Paramedics. Ambulances.
He wasn’t sure how this fire could get more disastrous.
At Rampart, Dixie McCall heard the call from the fire ground. Without a word, she lifted the phone to page for more Doctors and Interns, and then began to marshal her nursing staff to prepare for the worst.
Roy DeSoto moaned and tried to push himself up. No matter where he touched he hurt – and then worked out that was a result of what was probably a broken wrist. However, using his other hand wasn’t much better.
“Did anybody get the number of the Engine that hit us?” came from beside him as his partner also began the process of self-examination. John Gage managed to struggle upright and then leaned forward coughing. “Roy? You OK?”
“I’m alive,” came Roy’s dry response. “Broken wrist, probable concussion. Dunno what else yet. How about you.”
John coughed some more and spat. “I thidk I’d broken by dose,” he finally got out and screwed up his face at his words. “Bake that a definite broked dose. By ribs hurd too. Don’d think they’re broked though.”
John was concentrating on trying to get himself stood upright but he did notice that Roy hadn’t answered. He looked up and at his partner who had managed to stand and was looking in horror at what was before them.
From a half crouch position, he also looked around and slowly stood. “Oh fuck,” he said softly. “What the hell happened?”
“Does it matter?” Roy asked. “You think between us we can be one functioning Paramedic?”
John shrugged. “No real choice, pal. The only problem I see is where do we start?”
Roy took a deep breath. “Let’s triage and see what we’ve got. I say we start closest to the building – that’s going to be the worst. Walking wounded can wait. We’re gonna need more help though.” He was fumbling with his pocket, trying to get the HT out, but with only one functioning hand, it wasn’t working.
John reached over and pulled it out, and spoke into it. “LA, this is Squad 51. We have a large number of Code I. Please respond more squads to our location, as well as more ambulances. Can you notify Rampart they’re about to get a lot of casualties?”
“Acknowledged Squad 51. Be aware that Battalion Chief has also requested assistance at that location.” There was a slight pause and the dispatcher on the other end dropped out of “professional” for a moment. “How bad is it?”
“Let’s just say that the only time I’ve seen more firefighters lying on the ground is when they’re asleep.”
As he finished speaking the Chief came over. “You boys Ok to go?”
“Sort of Chief,” Roy said. I’ve got a broken wrist and we’ve both got concussion. Gage has a broken nose. But if we can have another pair of hands to make up for mine, we can function.
We were about to start triage from closest to the house outwards.”
The Chief wanted to stand them down. But there were no other options for him until the replacements arrived. “Don’t injure yourselves only. I’ll send the squad from the rear round here to help once they’ve dealt with the two injured there. You haven’t seen your Captain?”
Both Roy and John looked startled, both looking frantically around. “No… He’s missing?”
“Went silent just after the explosions. We’ll find him – just start your triage.” He turned to his aide. “Go with them – take instruction from them.” He turned to John and Roy. “Send anyone who can walk but needs attention to the command area. They can be treated there when we have people available. Anything more serious, call in. I’ll get the other team to come and deal with them. Oh – and sorry about your squad. But we’ll get it fixed up. You can still get at the compartments though.”
The Chief turned and walked off, in search of Captain Stanley and the Station 51 Engineer. Their non-presence was a real concern – especially given the state of the Engine.
Their ears were ringing, and both had been winded as they hit the ground. Their nostrils were assailed by the smell of the smoke, and if they were asked, both Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez would swear that they could also smell the accelerants that they had found.
And fear. Fear hung as heavy as smoke over the scene. All seemed quiet here – there were the normal noises of a fire ground, but it was organized chaos. From this rear aspect, it seemed as if the explosions had not happened, apart from some small amount of debris and they dared hope that they were the only ones affected.
Marco was cradling his arm protectively across his body as he sat up and Chet tried to stand but sank down with a groan as his left leg protested against the action.
The evening sky was still filled with smoke and there was the eerie glow of the fire still visible. Chet saw Marco next to him take off his air mask and look at the large crack in it disgustedly. His own was similarly damaged and he started to shrug out of his SCBA gear as the Paramedics ran up. He couldn’t help musing that their trainee was certainly going to have an intense training out of this one.
Marco Lopez felt sick to his stomach with pain. As he landed, his left arm had tucked awkwardly beneath him, and he had felt it snap when he was slammed into the ground. His mask was broken – the clear Perspex scratched and broken. He struggled to get it off and let it drop, sucking in air that, may be somewhat smokey, but was better than the O2 in his tank (in his opinion).
He could still taste the fire. As the Paramedics ran up he spent a moment wishing that it was their own pair – he always felt more reassured if it was Roy or John treating him.
Marco looked over at his fellow lineman. “I wonder how the others are going? Cap is not going to be happy if we’re both Code I.” He hissed a breath as the trainee reached out to help him and inadvertently grabbed his injured arm. “Other side!” he gasped out, barely managing to keep from vomiting from the intense pain.
Chet was being raised carefully to his feet, and Marco noticed he wasn’t able to put any weight on his left leg. The other two Paramedics quickly formed a chair and carried him towards their squad. Marco, heavily leaning on the third, came after. Thank God that Cap had ordered full turnouts when they arrived. It had taken time off getting into the fire, but they had prevented any worse injuries.
Turnouts were heavy, and could hamper movement even when dry. But they worked to protect them.
He leaned his head back against the side of the squad they had him propped against and closed his eyes.
Once again, he wondered how the rest of 51 were going. By the time he was on a gurney in the ambulance, still sick with pain, he didn’t really care.
In the ambulance, Chet could only just see Marco. He was pale under his tanned skin and his eyes were now closed.
He had definitely missed Gage when his IV had been established. Gage always managed to distract him enough that any IV or injections were over before he realized them.
Dammit. Gage was good. It was only now he saw how he’d used their banter to distract Chet when needed.
Chet snorted. John Gage, in his world, was not allowed to be that deep and devious.
At least not to him!
They found the pair just before they were relieved by a team of Rescue Men – another Paramedic team was still 15 minutes away.
The three men stood in a momentary silence. Atkinson – so the faded stencil on his turnout coat named him – was well known in the County. A career Lineman only a few months off retirement and a Smokeeater to his toenails. The pool of blood and the large chunk of wood through him and the unnatural angle of his head told them that without any further examination.
As the Chief was radioed, John Gage checked anyway – hoping that perhaps the tough old fireman had somehow beaten the Enemy again. But it was no good.
They turned to the other man who was still, but moaning in pain. Gently the three men removed his SCBA and John, with two good hands, checked his limbs. And another fireman thanked god for the protection of turnouts.
Roy counted pulse and respirations and the Chief’s aide wrote them down. He and John were, between them, taking the BP when the other pair arrived.
“We need a stokes and a backboard for this one,” Roy said. “And a blanket to cover Atkinson. I wanna move them away from here before we do anything. I don’t like how close to the fire we are here.”
There were no arguments, just a fireman sprinting to get what was needed. When he came back he looked a little shocked.
“Have you guys seen your Squad?” he asked as he spread the blanket over the fallen Fireman.
“No?” responded John curiously. “What’s up?”
A slow head shake was all the answer they got and both John and Roy looked at each other briefly, one of their flashes of silent communication happening, before they turned their full attention to their patient.
The Chief’s aide stepped back from a brief conversation he’d been having over the HT. “Squad 19’s arrived. As well as some off duty extras the Chief has called in. The Chief says that you two are relieved. You’re to make your way back to the treatment area and stay there.”
“I’m not that injured. I’m gunna keep looking for the rest of our crew.” John looked mulish, despite the visible bruising coming out, and his unsteadiness.
“Two of your guys are on the way to Rampart. They came out the back. I don’t have names so if you can fill me in on them for my report. Captain Stanley and your Engineer are still missing – we know they weren’t inside though.”
“Then I’ll look for them.” He looked at the hapless aide with a distinct challenge in his eyes.
“The two that are being transported – Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez. And that…” he turned and pointed to the covered figure on the ground – “Is Bob Atkinson. For your report.”
John knew he was being unreasonable, but he hurt, and he was worried and desperate to find his missing crew-mates. And he could do his job, dammit! He wasn’t that hurt. John Gage ignored the pain in his nose, his headache and the aches all over. Finding his Captain and Stoker was his priority.
The helmet a fireman wore was a very useful thing – at times. It prevented any number of injuries to the head and most to the face. It could even keep (some) water off.
However, when needing to get really up close and personal with his Engine, sometimes it was a hindrance, and Mike Stoker had removed it for that reason. Not far – just tipped it back.
He regretted it now. And how!
As he rolled over to stand up, Mike put a gloved hand up to his face, and it came away bloody. Jim Watkins, the other Engineer who had been with him looked at him with horror.
“Man…. Mike your face is a fucking mess!”
He could feel the pain – could feel the gravel from the road surface. How the hell had he managed to slide on a dry surface? He blinked and looked around and saw the Squad – cab crushed with a 44-gallon drum sitting on top of it, telling the story of how that happened.
Then his eyes moved further and he saw his Big Red. His beautiful girl…. Smoke curled from places no smoke should come from, and he could see that she was badly tilted.
Slowly he walked over and placed his hands on the Engine, gently stroking and trying to ascertain damage.
Jim Watkins stood back, respecting the need for Mike to commune with his broken Engine. A shout brought Jim back to the situation and, briefly placing a comforting hand on Mike’s shoulder, he turned and made his way back to his own Engine. He was winded, but his helmet had stopped him from the damage Mike had to his face.
Mike didn’t need to uncouple hoses. They had all been blown off. He raised the hand that he had absentmindedly used to pick a familiar feeling item when he stood up. Looking down he discovered it was one of the caps that lived on the unused connections. It had been lying between him and Jim.
With horror he realized how close he had come to being killed if that cap had hit his bare head instead of falling between the two Engineers.
Automatically he went to the cab of the Engine and pulled the radio out. Unsurprisingly it didn’t work, though in his dazed state, Mike felt the fissions of surprise that Big Red could be that damaged. He reached instead for one of the spare HT’s and pressed the call button.
“LA Engine 51. Please respond two tow trucks to our location. Engine 51 and Squad 51 are currently undriveable.” It was all he could think of at the moment. His own partner – his trusty Engine was damaged, in pain. This was how he could get her pain taken care of.
He became aware of pain in his throat and reached up to adjust his helmet and replaced it on his head. Mike suspected that he was also going to have a welt across his throat. Almost without conscious thought, he moved, securing what could be secured on the Engine. Making sure it was completely shut down.
What the hell had happened? He knew that he had everything correct in his pumping calculations. The cavitation that had started had baffled him, but somehow he knew that it had ultimately been responsible.
Slowly the shock of what had happened to his Engine started to recede and he became fully aware of his surroundings. He couldn’t believe his eyes at what was before him. There were firefighters strewn everywhere.
Surely that couldn’t have been just from his Engine? He vaguely remembered hearing calls about explosives in the building, and began to build the picture in his mind.
He saw Gage and DeSoto and two stokes… one carrying an ominously shrouded form and bowed his head in respect.
When he raised it again, Gage was beside him. “Mike? Mike – are you OK? I need to check you out. Have you seen Cap?”
A mental, and almost physical shake brought Mike back to the here and now. “I think I am… well apart from my face. And my Engine. Cap? He yelled at us to get out of the way – but not about the building explosion. Something about the engine caught his attention. He didn’t say what – just to run.”
Mike’s face was in agony but his stupor was starting to fade away and the professional took over. “What about you and Roy? And Chet and Marco?” His eyes swept the paramedics and saw that they were injured as well, and neither of them were taking part in carrying the stokes.
“Chet and Marco got out at the back. The Chief says they’re on their way to Rampart. We just need to find Cap.”
Mike noted that John didn’t mention about him and Roy and just took it for granted that the pair were injured. “Get yourselves checked out. I’ll go look for Cap.”
“You’re injured yourself, Mike,” Roy put in.
“Yeah, but I’m in charge until we find Cap in a fit state to order me to stand down. You two go and get properly checked out. I’ll be OK – I’m just scraped a bit.”
That, Roy thought, was an understatement, but he nodded slowly and leaned heavily against his partner and the pair of them watched their Engineer move away to search for their Captain.
A low whistle bought Roy’s attention back to John who was looking at Big Red. “Oh boy, will ya look at that,” Johnny said softly.
Roy looked at the Engine and swore softly. “How the hell did that happen!” He then turned his head in preparation to moving away and grabbed John’s arm.
“John…” his voice cracked. “John… the Squad!”
John Gage just stared, his mouth dropping open. “Man… Charley is gunna be pissed!
It was even more glorious than he could have hoped. He had worked hard to support his God and had also been able to vanquish two of the enemy machines. He looked at the men strewn around the ground in front of him and wondered how many would never get up from their prone positions and then started to frown as men started to spring up, however hoses were not gushing forth the weapon of the enemies of his God.
There were shouts and he felt his arousal rising as he watch the chaos, the futility of the actions of those men in front of him.
Then he saw movement of one he had been closely watching. The one who had taken command of the battle. He was easily identifiable by the white stripe on his helmet. He hated this one. Not content to just give orders, he had been in the thick of things, still commanding, giving orders. Standing almost head and shoulders above those he commanded.
His enemy rose to one knee, breathing heavily, before rising and swiftly looking around, taking in the state of the battle. He raised his HT to his mouth. “All units – Engine 51 is out of action. Engine 10 take over pumping from the Hydrant.” He paused as he heard the calm voice of his Engineer requesting another alarm and notifying Dispatch of the need for a tow truck.
Frowning, Hank Stanley looked at the confusion that was costing them time. It was unavoidable, but he didn’t like it.
The wailing of sirens in the distance heralded new appliances arriving to help. He looked to see both his Engineer and the Chief come towards him. Stoker looked like he’d gone a few rounds with the road, and the Chief was breathing heavily.
He wanted to get Stoker checked out, but he needed to know the situation with his crew. And…. His heart broke a little as he took in the sight of Big Red and the Squad.
“Mike…. Get yourself checked out and cleaned up. But first – what’s the condition of the Crew?”
Mike shook his head. “Gage and DeSoto are being dealt with and are probably going to Rampart. Engine…. She’s taken some bad damage, Cap. That wasn’t an accident – somebody did that to her!” Hank almost smiled to hear the pure anger in his Engineer’s voice. He knew the feeling. It was something you learned early on at the Academy – never, ever touch the Engine (or Truck) or face the wrath of the Engineer.
The Chief stepped up, but waited to speak as Hank once again sent orders out to the remaining crews and set again in motion the business of getting the fire out.
“Hank… Lopez and Kelly are on their way to Rampart. They are pretty banged up. And I’ve ordered your Paramedics to stand down when another squad arrives – which it has.”
“Thanks Chief. Stoker – you’re stood down. Go get yourself cleaned up. And if the ‘Medics say you’re going to hospital, you’re going to hospital, Pal. I do NOT want Dixie asking me why I didn’t order you in when she gets a look at your face.”
It was all too much for the watcher hidden not 10 feet away. If his God was to win this battle, he would need to act quickly to take out those who coordinated the battle. Take out the Leaders, and the rest crumble he thought, vaguely remembering an instructor at the Academy. Take out the Leaders…..
From hiding within his clothing he pulled a gun and then screwed a silencer into the barrel.
Take out the Leaders…. The gun was raised and he aimed at the tall man with his back to him who he had decided was his true opponent. The Leader….. He pulled the trigger and then turned slightly and pulled it again, this time aiming at the one in the white helmet and the third man with the messy face.
Hank turned slightly and took a step forward to the right. It saved his life, though he wouldn’t realise that until much later. He felt what seemed to be a white hot wire pass through his body and looked down to see blood blossoming on his turnout coat as he fell to the ground with a grunt. He felt a weight on his legs and saw the Chief collapsed over his legs, body limp.
Mike had seen his Captain start to fall and he leapt forward. “Cap!” As he moved he felt something strike his coat, and then sear itself along his back. He landed awkwardly, his legs tangling with the men on the ground. A blossom of pain went through his elbow as it connected with concrete, causing him to cry out in pain and tears to fill his eyes.
Hank was panting in pain and as he moved the HT to call for assistance he found his Engineer sprawled next to him. “I need medical assistance immediately,” he tried to bark, but it came out breathless. “We have 3 Code I. The Chief and I are down, along with Stoker.” He could hear the Captain of 10’s acknowledging and taking over the scene, could hear shouts and running feet. What seemed to be a forest of blue-clad legs around the three of them.
A familiar figure had lowered himself painfully between he and Stoker. “Aren’t you and John supposed to be on the way to Rampart?”
“Ambulance hadn’t arrived yet,” Roy said. His left wrist was heavily bandaged, and bruising was beginning to show on his face. Behind him John Gage dumped the Biophone on the ground.
“You can relay for us,” he said to his Partner. “With that wrist you aren’t able to do much else.” John was starting to become aware of an aching in his right leg bug ignored it. He had a job to do first.
Hank was aware of another pair of Paramedics trying to untangle the mess of men on the ground. He could feel the weight of the Chief being removed from his legs and groaned as pain elsewhere made itself known.
“Easy Cap,” Johnny said. “I’m gunna have to get you out of your jacket and shirt. Just stay there and let me do the work.”
“I’ve heard that before.”
“DeSoto – I’ve got vitals for the Chief. We need Rampart now!”
“On hit. Hit me with them.” Roy juggled pen and pad with his good hand and started to take the vitals for the Chief with a sinking heart. “Where is he hit?”
He saw a convulsive swallow. Roy recalled that this man was less than a year out of Paramedic Training. He slipped into his role of Senior Paramedic easily. “Keep calm. You know the drill. Stay focussed on your patient.”
A short nod was the response. “Upper left quadrant of the torso. Entrance in the back. No… no exit wound. Patient is unconscious.”
“Good work. Be prepared to get an IV ready and also get him on O2 now. Let’s get an EKG ready as well.” He turned to the Biophone. “Rampart this is Squad 51.” Pause. “Come on….. Rampart – this is Squad 51” It was with relief that he heard Moreton’s response. “Rampart we have three victims – possibly gunshot wounds for all three. One is unconscious, two conscious and no signs of concussion. Prepare for vitals for patient one.”
Hank listened as Roy relayed information as well as encouragement. He had been aware of John taking his own vitals and of pressure against his side, an IV being established and then blessed pain relief.
He was detatched and one part of him was amazed at how fast it was all moving. He took in what he could see. Mike was cradling his arm against himself and had an IV hooked up as well. That face of his must have been hurting. Still….
“Mike? Good work.” Hank said it with genuine pride. His Engineer had, as usual, performed his duties outstandingly, and had acted quickly when things started to go pear shaped with the engine. “I’m sure that Charley will get Red up and running again, just as good as new,” he reassured.
“Cap – I just can’t work out what happened to her. One minute she was working like normal and the next – wham! That wasn’t natural. In fact, I can’t think of anything that could go wrong with her that would cause that sort of cavitation and explosion.”
Johnny finished immobilising Mike’s arm and bandaging a long burn along his back from where he was grazed by a bullet. “Water hammer?” he asked as he sat back up.
He then raised his hands and almost cringed back at the glare that he got from Mike, and the slightly groggy one he got from his Captain. “Just askin….”
“I do NOT get water hammer.”
“Keep your shirt on Mike. It’s a possibility.” John gulped and physically shifted backwards from Mike Stoker – but right into the sole of a large boot that he knew belonged to Captain Stanley.
“Red and I do not get water hammer, John.” Mike’s voice was icy, and the tone also closed down John’s speculation as if a steel door had been closed on it. John felt Cap’s foot nudge him.
“Twit,” his Captain said mildly. “Not water hammer. But… I’ve seen something like it before. Damned if I can remember where though.”
“Cap? You’re mean to be lying back and not doing anything,” Roy said mildly.
“I am, Roy. I’m lying here not moving. I’m just trying to work out what has happened. And the rest of you had better start trying to put your pieces together, because this is an arson, and the arson guys will be asking us all what we saw, smelled, and heard.”
“Cops as well, Cap,” John put in sadly. “We got a dead firefighter.”
Hank sighed and closed his eyes. “Fuck. I knew this was gunna be a shitstorm run. The Chief Engineer is gunna be pissed. Who was it, John?”
“Bob Atkinson,” Johnny said, his voice breaking slightly. “He didn’t deserve it, Cap.” As he spoke, he was helping to lift his Captain onto the gurney and then drew a breath in sharply as his leg protested his movement.
John missed Roy’s narrow eyed look at him, his focus on his Captain who reached and grabbed his hand. “Nobody ever deserves to die in a fire, John. It’s why we do what we do.” Hank Stanley closed his eyes, the pain lessened but not gone. “And John? Make sure that you get that leg of yours checked at Rampart. Don’t make me have to tell them myself about it.”
“It’s OK, Cap,” Roy put in. “I’ll make sure he gets checked out.”
Dixie McCall loved firefighters. She loved how they all stood by each other – and normally she welcomed them into “her” Emergency Department. However, today, as well as the civilians who were there for treatment, she had firefighters everywhere. Looming. Concerned. Wet. Smelling of smoke, fear, and adrenaline.
And she had families of firefighters, terrified that their men would be badly hurt, or worse.
It was times like this when she felt more like a traffic cop than a nurse, as she steered injuries into treatment rooms, nurses to assist both in the rooms and any minor injuries that could be treated in the room she had designated as an “in and out” room.
She had seen Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez brought in, and made sure she knew where they were at all times as sooner or later, her favourite Paramedic team would be in looking for them.
However, when two ambulances arrived and unloaded the rest of Station 51’s A-shift, three of them “walking wounded” one on a gurney and a fifth man, another firefighter, who was motionless on the gurney, her heart sank. Any event that could take out an entire crew had to be worse than she thought.
As they came towards her she consulted the fresh sheets that had been handed to her minutes earlier and identified who was who. “Take the Chief strait into OR2 – they’re waiting for him there,” she said and then looked at the rest of them. Inwardly she sighed. None of the three upright men would let their Captain go anywhere without them.
“All right – the rest of you in Treatment 5. The three of you have appointments with X-Ray – they can collect you from there. John…. Roy…. You’re wounded. Sit quietly and keep Mr Stoker company.” She took in Roy’s bandaged wrist. “John, you can start cleaning up his face. Roy, you can help him. If you all obey instructions, then I’ll see about letting you see Chet and Marco a bit later.”
Finally, she could stop for a bit. The crowd in the waiting room thinned as people were seen to or admitted. She grimaced at the state of the waiting room and entrance and detailed a couple of student nurses to start cleaning up. It would take their minds off what had been happening. She made her way back to her desk and poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot always kept behind the desk.
A movement caught her eye and she waved at the three firemen in wheelchairs being taken (one of them protesting quite vehemently) to X-Ray. She wondered what Mike Stoker had been doing to cause the injuries to his face. Most of the Engineers that came through usually had been damaged by hoses or other engine-related injuries. Or, as with most firemen, burns or smoke inhalation.
Quickly she set about arranging a couple of rooms for the men – as close to Kelly and Lopez as she could – and began to write up the notes for each of their charts.
Another movement caught her eye and she looked up to see two more firefighters moving towards her. “Can I help you gentlemen?” she asked as they approached and then recognized the older man. “Chief Hough… I suppose we should have expected you. It seems like most of the rest of Department has been through here tonight.”
“Yeah. It’s been a shocker. I am here to check on my men, but this one was arson, and I wanted to get impressions from those who are here as to what they saw. This is Captain Williams – one of our Arson Inspectors. He’ll be heading up the investigation.”
“Now hang on a minute… those men are here because they’re wounded. They need rest and treatment. Not interrogation.”
“I know… but this one.” The Chief Engineer looked like a man carrying a heavy burden. “Williams here is involved because there are some things he thought he recognised. From an incident that happened a few years ago now.”
“It was my first investigation,” Williams put in. “It had something of the same sophistication as this one. Last time, we waited until the injured firefighters were out of hospital to get their statements, and we know that there was information missing, memory fades. Especially when you’re injured, your mind can block things.”
“You don’t need to tell me that. The problem I see is that those who would be capable of being seen by you will be asleep right now. The others are still being treated. Dr Brackett is with Captain Stanley at the moment, but if you want to wait in his Office, when he’s done he’ll be able to give you an update on the condition of all the others.”
She paused, her eyes full of compassion. “I heard about Fireman Atkinson. I’m sorry. The men who’ve been in are really cut up about it.”
Chief Hough nodded. “It’s a hell of a way to go,” he said sadly. “And no matter how long you’ve been a firefighter, you never find it easier to loose a brother.” He shook his head, anger showing now. “And when it’s arson… and to have my men shot at! I’m sure you understand that we’re taking this personally.”
“I completely understand. I would too.” She looked up to see Brackett exiting the treatment room, a gurney containing Captain Stanley trailing behind him. “Kel? Chief Hough would like to speak to you.”
As she was speaking, Hough came over to the gurney and put his hand on Hank’s shoulder. “Sorry to see you here Stanley. I understand your whole crew took injuries with this one.”
Hank tried to sit up, only to be pushed firmly down by Brackett. “Don’t you dare,” he said. “I don’t know what it is with your station. None of you will just lie down and do what you’re told.”
Hank winced and laid back. “Stubborn,” he said. “Chief. How’s the fire scene?”
“In hand. You think you’re up to talking to Captain Williams here? We want to get this investigation started fast.”
“Whatever you need, Chief,” Hank said, wincing again and trying to keep his eyes open.
‘Now hang on a minute! This man is wounded and needs to rest. I’ve given him sedation to allow that to happen. He’s in no state to answer questions tonight.” Brackett glared equally at all those who could be called “firefighters” in the immediate vicinity. “Take this man up to his room,” he ordered and then motioned the two standing firefighters next to him. “Gentlemen – my office. We can talk there.”
It was better than any sex he’d ever had, this feeling that seeing his God take out the enemies. If he could have stayed around longer, he knew he’d have been able to climax just from watching. But it had been too dangerous to stay, especially after shooting the three men.
But now he could barely concentrate. He kept running the scene through his mind. He knew what he wanted, but it would have to wait. Still – he wanted to identify the tall man. He felt like he’d encountered him before. That he was a long-time enemy. And if that was the case, he would find a way to finish him – permanently. And his men. Yes. They were far too efficient for his liking. If it hadn’t been for his actions in taking out their engine, and adding the fuel to his God, then they and their companions would have easily defeated his God. Now… with his help… his God had gotten the upper hand, and had destroyed some of its enemies.
He would have to tread even more carefully now. Remain under their radar. Work to deflect all their suspicions before he struck again.
Soon. He had to strike again soon. He needed the release that his God gave him, the release he could not get any other way.
Kel Brackett looked at the two men in front of him. Chief Hough he knew, and it was obvious that he had been at the fire scene, and from the soot on his face, that he had probably helped out. The other man – he’d never seen him before. Then again, Arson Investigators were rarely at Rampart.
“Chief Hughes is still in surgery. The bullet penetrated but didn’t exit. The report I have is that it smashed against his breastbone. He’s lucky to be alive, and he’s the most gravely injured. We’ll know more when he’s out of surgery as to how long his recovery will be and if – not when – he’ll be able to return to active duty. Hank Stanley – the bullet went in and out his side. A clean wound. But he was damn lucky. The man doesn’t carry much extra flesh, and it passed through where he had just that little bit extra and so missed hitting any ribs or vital organs. He’s gunna be in a lot of pain, and is going to be out for quite a while until the wound fully heals. With him, it’s more us making sure that the wound stays clean and he doesn’t overdo things. He’ll probably be able to go back on light duties before he can go on full duties.”
Brackett suddenly grinned. “He might be able to make a dint in all that paperwork he keeps complaining about.”
“The third shooting victim, Engineer Stoker, got incredibly lucky. The bullet grazed the small of his back. From looking at his clothes, it looked like it penetrated his turnout and shirt, and then burned along his skin. His face will heal – he may have a couple of scars. But his biggest injury is a broken elbow. We can’t cast it, so he’ll be in a supportive sling for about 6 weeks. With some intensive physio as well. If he follows orders, he won’t lose any movement range in that elbow. Firefighter Hays has broken ribs, concussion and a broken leg. He’s regained consciousness, and was in a lot of pain. We’ve got him sedated so that he can get some sleep and start off the healing process. We haven’t told him about Atkinson – his Captain asked us to leave that to him.
Firefighters Lopez and Kelly have had the wind knocked out of them pretty badly. Kelly has a broken ankle, Lopez has only sprained his, but has two broken fingers. Paramedic DeSoto has a broken wrist and has also pulled a muscle in the same arm. Paramedic Gage has a pulled muscle in his left leg and a long scrape on it as well. They’re the worst injured.
All the others that came through have had some smoke inhalation and are being kept in overnight on breathing treatments and for observation.”
Hough looked relived. “Thank you, Dr Brackett. I’m only glad that we didn’t have any more fatalities. That fire seemed to want to do as much damage to us as possible. And to our equipment.”
“Yes – I heard about the engine and Squad 51. Mike Stoker has been extremely vocal about the Engine – much to the surprise of his crewmates who claim that he’s spoken more this evening than he has in the years they’ve known him; not to mention using words they weren’t even sure he knew and that they had no idea what the meaning was. Gage wants a dictionary.”
“I don’t blame him,” Hough said looking indignant. “We Engineers consider the engines sacrosanct." He paused adn looked somewhat abashed. "I don’t suppose you could keep Stoker until Charley has had a chance to go over the engine?”
Brackett this time smiled evilly. “And deprive Charley of Engineer Stoker’s assistance and extensive vocabulary? Besides – I rather think that keeping him away from his Engine would actually delay his recovery – he’s very distressed about it.”
The Chief Engineer sighed. “It was a pretty futile hope,” he said. “I’d be exactly the same. But we all try to keep on Charley’s good side. He kind of takes it personally when any of the vehicles are damaged in any way. So there were no chemical burns?”
“To your men? No. In fact, there were no burns at all – at least that came in. Everybody was following your new safety regulations. In fact, since you brought those in, firefighter burn injuries have gone down by over 50% and those that come in are usually minor. Is there anything about this fire we should be looking out for?”
This time the arson investigator leaned forward. “There was drums of flammable chemicals stashed around the building and they exploded,” he said. “We don’t know if anyone was affected.”
Brackett looked annoyed. “I wish somebody had told us that earlier. I’ll get an extra watch put on your people we have in for any chemical related problems. Especially for those on breathing treatments. You might want to get anybody who was involved in the fire to come through here or St Francis to be checked out for chemical inhalation problems tomorrow before they go off shift. And again before they go on shift again. Sometimes it can take a couple of days for something to appear. Do you know what the chemicals were?”
“I’m waiting on the results of the testing now. As soon as I know, you’ll know. I’ll let the stations involved know to send their personnel through tomorrow – or rather later today,” Hough said. “When do you think that we will be able to talk with the personnel in here?”
“All depends – some of them won’t be able to help for a few days. Some will be OK to tomorrow. Come back around 10am. Those who can help you will be available then. And I’ll have updates on Chief Hughes by then as well.”
The three men stood and exchanged handshakes. As they left the office Brackett turned to find his Head Nurse. She wasn’t going to be happy to learn that she had to find rooms for the next 24 hours for the sixteen LACoFD personnel currently there. He wasn’t going to take any chances now that he knew that there were chemicals involved.
Chief Hough took a deep breath outside the hospital, feeling thankful that he wasn’t breathing in the antiseptic atmosphere inside any more. Wearily he pinched the bridge of his nose. One seemingly simple building fire had turned into a nightmare for his Department. He stifled a hope that the media had missed this one. Not a chance after the explosions. He was going to have to front not only the County representatives, but also the various media outlets and all of them would want one answer – how.
And he had no clue.
Something a little lighter in this chapter. Just ask yourself - what do you get if you put 16 firefighters in one ward and then add the nurse from The Nuisance" into the mix?
Oh - and there's no coffee.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Hank Stanley wanted to sleep. Badly wanted to. He was sore, and stiff and wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed, preferably with his wife, and doze the day away. Apparently that was not to be the case.
He was confused – the size of the bed suggested his bed at the Station and he frowned because something was wrong. Although… he knew those voices. Balefully he opened one eye. “Do you twits mind?” he said, his voice surprisingly hoarse. “Some of us would like to sleep until the morning tones.” He closed his eye, hoping that it would work.
“Sorry, guys. Cap isn’t much of a morning person until he’s had his first coffee.”
“And they won’t let us go and find any,” said a voice that he didn’t know. A decidedly grumpy unknown voice. Actually, the unknown voice mirrored how he felt.
“Cheer up, Clarke. Maybe you’ll get lucky and a pretty nurse will come and give you breakfast.”
Nurse? What the…. Reluctantly Hank opened both eyes and tried to sit up – before his side brought vividly back why he would be….here?
Here… lying in a bed looking up at a ceiling painted blue with white clouds and… balloons? He let his gaze fall and then hastily closed his eyes again. The curtains had animals on them. Hospital curtains didn’t have animals on them. At least not the ones he was accustomed to seeing. The only time he’d seen curtains like this was when his youngest girl had stayed in the Children's Ward after having her tonsils out.
Well, at times he felt like chief nut at the nuthouse, and this seemed to confirm it. His curtains were pushed back (thankfully) and he was treated to the sight of John Gage on a pair of crutches (how in hell did he manage to get those?) wearing a hospital gown. Beyond him was a long open ward, filled with men wandering around in hospital gowns.
The walls were white, but had large figures on them, fairy tales. Nursery rhymes. Directly opposite him Miss Muffet, her tuffet and a spider gazed back. Below Miss Muffett lay Marco Lopez and in the bed next to him, Chet Kelly, who had some sort of rabbit over him.
“Good mornin’ Cap!,” Gage said cheerfully, leaning heavily on the crutches. “Welcome to the LACoFD Ward at Rampart!” With that he swung in and perched a bright red childs fire helmet on Hank’s head.
“That’s it. I’ve finally flipped. I am now officially insane,” Hank said. He sank further down in bed and pulled the covers up, until all that could be seen was the fire helmet.
Ward Sister Franklin was NOT a Happy Woman. Like many of the other Nurses at Rampart, she looked up to their Head Nurse Dixie McCall (even though she was as different to previous Head Nurses as night was from day) but when it interfered with the running of her Ward, all bets were off.
She could understand the decision – and she would probably have done the same thing – but it doesn’t mean she had to like it. And so on this morning when she reported at 7am for her shift, instead of her current compliment of 8 ill little cherubic children, she was told that there were 16 firefighters in there. It was very good of Miss McCall to explain to her personally – delaying her own leaving time – but it was still a shock.
She did not like nursing members of the LACoFD – nursing them was like trying to herd cats and you not only had to deal with their families (which was easy) but it was when their crewmates visited that chaos ensued. And there were a particular group that she always dreaded – they seemed worse than normal, disregarding all her rules and throwing out her timetables. Miss McCall had given her the standard ward list, but had added in what Station each man belonged to and a couple of other notes, other than injuries.
They were insubordinate and unruly and, frequently, loud. And that was the ones confined to bed. The ones who were able to sit out of bed tended to just vanish from their rooms and wander around the hospital like they owned it, frequently turning up in Places They Should Not Be.
Now, as she perused the list of her charges in what had been until very early this morning a brand new children’s’ ward, she saw a name that made her stomach drop. GAGE, JR Station 51 and a precis of his injuries. She noted that “suspected broken nose” had been crossed out. One of her great joys in moving into the role of head of this new Ward had been the thought that she would not have to deal with GAGE J R as a patient again. Honestly, he was worse than ten children!
Her mood though moved towards horror as she read through the list. She knew, at the back of her mind, that it had been bad to have that many firefighters injured in one incident, but she saw that six of them had the same station designation. Six. At one fire. From one station. What the hell could have taken out a whole Station? The most seriously injured seemed to be their Captain – who was also the only Senior Officer admitted to the Ward. Great. Her ire started to rise again when she realised that on that list were the other names that she had not wanted to see.
As she came closer, the noise percolated into the corridor. She could also see the approach of the huge trolleys carrying breakfasts. Sister Franklin turned to her Staff Nurse and Student Nurse who would be with her during this time of need.
“Well Ladies… I hope you’re well-fortified for today. If you thought young Tommy Flint was a problem, you ain’t seen nothing yet! These are patients who will say and do anything to get their own way and who will blatantly lie to you about pain levels and symptoms. They are all also coffee addicts – under no circumstances allow them to go in search of coffee. You either won’t see them again, or they will be brought back in person by Miss McCall, who will want to know why they were out of bed. They are Troublemakers. All of them.”
Her two juniors nodded, but exchanged excited glances. Firefighters…. Good looking, strong, what else could a girl want? Both junior nurses thought that they would be able to allow a little leeway if asked by a firefighter.
Sister Franklin handed the clipboard to the Student Nurse and raised her arms, pushing open the doors, noting the sound of somebody being hit by one of them. Serve him right, whoever he was. He should have been in bed! Patiently waiting for breakfast and morning obs. Not traipsing around Her Ward, and obviously Out of Bed.
“Well, Gentlemen, what do you think you are doing out of bed?” The room quietened. “All of you – back into bed - put those toys away on your way. I don’t know what you are thinking of – those are for children.
Once you are back in bed, the Nurses will come around for morning observations. These will involve taking your vital signs, not your observations of the Nurses and definitely not a time for idle chit chat. Only after those are complete will you be given breakfast. Whilst you are eating, I’ll be going through some rules of this ward that you will be expected to adhere to. And allocate your washing times.”
Sister Franklin turned to the offending speaker. He had partially emerged from his blankets and was wearing.. Oh really! This was too much! She marched over and took off the fire helmet and looked at the name scribbled on the blackboard. So this was the Captain? Who she had hoped would keep this rabble in line? More like a ringleader if his wearing of the children’s helmet was anything to go by!
“No, Captain Stanley. You will not be getting coffee. Juice. Oatmeal. Fruit. Coffee is not served on this Ward.”
You could have heard a pin drop as 16 horrified faces turned towards her. Five in particular looked almost panicked. They did not want to have to deal with Cap without his first cup of coffee. That fire had truly put them into Hell.
Captain Henry Stanley, a Firefighter with over 15 years’ experience, a man who faced death every day, was propped in a hospital bed in what was normally a Children’s Ward with a look on his (clean, freshly shaven) face of a man in shock. Next to him, his Engineer had a similar look (minus the shave, but with added fresh dressings to the scrapes that adorned his face). They weren’t alone in their shock, but they were the only ones being smirked at by his two Paramedics and his Senior Lineman (although Marco was not looking as calm as he usually did either).
It wasn’t until it happened that you realised just how intimate an act being bathed was. The last time being bathed by a female had occurred had been his wife and “getting clean” had definitely not been the end goal. That occasion had been pleasurable – even playful.
This, however, was a shock to his system and his senses. The first shock had been when the list of those who would be subjected to a bed bath by Sister Franklin had been read out. That was when Gage, DeSoto and Lopez had started to smirk (until Lopez heard his own name). All the men named had protested, in vain, and then shared panicked looked. All had had one thought. What if there were any inadvertent reactions to the bathing.
Within 30 seconds of commencement, that fear had been completely quashed. But… she had been thorough. Very very thorough.
Hank looked down the ward to where a pile of bedclothes hid the youngest man in the room. Probationer Wood. He wasn’t sure if Wood would survive the embarrassment. None of the men had been in doubt what Sister Franklin had been talking about with her pity comment about “just because you can’t shower yourself, doesn’t mean that we can skimp on hygiene. Especially there. Really, what were your parents thinking!”
The arrival of Drs Brackett and Early who also looked like they were seconds away from laughing at the faces of some of the men only made matters worse.
He wondered if he could persuade Joe Early to prescribe him coffee. Or at the very least, arrange for a phone call to Georgie to smuggle some in.
You will find out more about Georgie - the incarnation of Cap's wife in my E!-verse - in another series that is still being written. For this fic - you need to know that Georgie is a Psychologist and is Cap's second wife. They have no children, though Cap has 2 daughters from his first marriage.
She is one of Mike Stoker's oldest friends, and he introduced her to Cap. The three of them share a house (backstory from the other fic) and Georgie's Practice is also from the house.
This will become slightly important in later chapters.
Georgie shares Cap's views that the A-Shift of 51 are pretty much his "boys" - whether they be children or younger brothers. She, Joanne DeSoto and Mama Lopez tend to band together and look after their boys. All 3 of these ladies will make an appearance in this fic.
Captain Williams was impatient. He had arrived at precisely 10am, as instructed by Dr Brackett, but was now being denied entry to the ward containing all but two of the injured firemen.
“I’m sorry, Sir,” the Student Nurse said. “But Sister will not allow visitors on the Ward whilst the Doctors are doing their rounds. They shouldn’t be much longer.”
Normally he would have felt some compassion for the young woman who was clearly apprehensive, but today he was just annoyed.
“Look, this is important! I need to speak to these men now – both as a group and individually. Otherwise vital information could be lost.”
“I’m terribly sorry, but it’s Sister’s strictest rule. Only a parent or guardian can be present when Doctors are doing rounds.”
“Young woman, do any of those men look like they need a parent or guardian?” The look on her face as he spoke told him the answer – and it wasn’t “no”.
He was posed to try again, when the door opened and Dr Brackett and another Dr exited. “Captain Williams,” Brackett said. “Sorry – things took a little longer than I expected. I’ve explained to Sister Franklin that you’re going to be here and the reason and she has agreed to allow you to speak to the men as you need. Please just remember that some of them are still in some shock and may not be up to much as yet and may not be able to give clear answers – especially those who have had some concussion. I’d suggest that you take this first session easy – not try to get too many details.”
Williams nodded stiffly. He had a job to do and wasn’t going to be told how to do his job!
Williams stepped into the ward – and his eyes opened. He wasn’t expecting this! His lips twitched at the sight of 16 firefighters in a Children’s ward, and he wondered if he would be able to come back later with a camera to record it. Or even ask the Chief Engineer when he came to bring a camera. This was something that was too good to miss.
He became aware of eyes on him. Or rather… on the Styrofoam cup of coffee he was holding. You don’t have a career in the Fire Department without developing a sense of self-preservation and that sense was screaming at him now. Nevertheless, he stepped forward.
“Gentlemen, I’m Captain Williams of the LACoFD Arson Investigation Unit. I’m heading up the investigation of the incident last night. We have a team of technicians currently on site, but I’m here to get statements from you all. Your impressions – what you saw. Didn’t see. Heard. Anything you thought was unusual. The Chief Engineer is very keen to get this particular firebug caught.” He swallowed. Usually Firefighters were keen to speak to him. They wanted to catch any arsonists. But this lot… It was clear that their current collective attention was focussed on something else.
Experimentally, he lifted the cup to his lips and took a sip, and then lowered it again. 16 pairs of eyes followed its every move. “Ummmm….” He took a step backwards. His self-preservation sense was now screaming at him.
He was saved by the Ward door opening and a cherubic-looking grey haired head popped around it. “Hank… I’ve managed to persuade Sister that a couple of cups of coffee each day won’t hurt you all. And I’ve diverted the coffee cart rounds to come here first.” The head disappeared and Williams could feel the tension in the air lift. He could totally understand. Firefighters forced to function without their coffee fix were dangerous.
“Now you’ll have your coffee.. anybody want to start us off? Who found the drums of chemicals first?”
“We did – Chet and me and two guys from 8’s.” Marco swallowed heavily remembering the fate of one of those two linemen. “Chet noticed how they were rigged and we all just got the hell out of there!”
“Did you know that they were going to explode?”
Chet looked incredulous. “Man, you don’t wait around to find out what’s gunna happen when you see what’s obviously shit-load of bomb!” Every other fireman in the room was nodding. “We can always go back in after – can’t do it if we’re dead.”
“John saw the devices attached to the radiators,” Roy put in. “We thought they were some energy saving device, and wanted to check them out. It was only when we heard Chet through the HT that we got out of there.”
“They looked all kinds of wrong to me,” John said. “And we didn’t really get a chance to look real close at one before we got the hell outa there.”
“Y’know what I noticed,” Clark said casually. “The burn pattern when we went into the corridor when we got the all clear to hit it from inside. Accelerant – yeah it was used but in a really odd way.”
Williams looked at him sharply. “Odd? How?”
Clark looked at the huddle of blankets that was Probationer Wood. “Wood!” he barked. “Stop hiding and listen. This is important for you to know.” He looked around. “He’s my Probie,” he said. “I gotta make sure he learns.”
Cap nodded. “Was he with you?” he asked.
“Yeah. In fact, I he drew it to my attention when I asked him to tell me the burn pattern. It was when he couldn’t that I took a closer look.”
Probationer Wood poked his head out of the blankets. “Has she gone?”
Clark shook his head. “Yeah. She’s gone. We’re now discussing the fire, Wood. Keep up Probie. What were we discussing about the burn pattern at the fire?”
Hank, at the other end, smiled. Jeff Clark could be a pain in the neck, but when it came to training and acting as a Mentor to Probationers, there was nobody better. The experienced Lineman never lost a chance to educate “his” Boot’s and a probationary year spent under the tutelage of Clark was an education in the science of fires – that and Clark genuinely loved taking in and training his Boot’s (although he never let them see it). A thought struck him and he wondered if Gage was one of Clark’s Boots – he certainly had some of the hallmarks. Cap made a mental note to check – just out of curiosity.
He wrenched his thoughts back to the discussion at hand.
“Ummm…. Well, it wasn’t a natural burn pattern. The smell and discolouration showed that accelerant had been used.” The boy looked embarrassed, his words showing why he’d ended up in the hospital.
“Not to worry, son,” Cap said. “We’ve all made the mistake of forgetting smoke lingers after a fire is put out.” He looked stern as he gazed at the other men – half of whom were in for smoke inhalation.
“Thanks Cap,” Wood said and then looked embarrassed. “You know.. thinking on it, Sir,” he said to Williams, “I know what really confused me now. It looked like the accelerant had been painted on the walls – like with a paint roller.”
Clark looked like he’d burst with pride. “Good observation,” he said proudly.
“Good indeed,” Williams said raising an eyebrow. “Anybody else notice something like that when you were overhauling?”
“Oh we weren’t overhauling, Sir!” Wood said. “It was while we were inside on the lines. The walls we were in were real curtains of flames – it’s why Jeff… Clark…. Was asking me about it. “Cause it was so unusual. I didn’t know what coulda caused it. But thinking now, it reminded me of when I helped mom paint the dining room walls. Nice and even – painting with the roller.” The kid stopped suddenly and looked abashed.
Cap, Roy and Stoker all exchanged amused looks. Wood reminded them all of John Gage who had the same ability to go off on something like that and give exactly that same look. Hopefully, unlike Gage, Wood would grow out of it.
Williams had been scribbling furiously.
One of the other firefighters spoke up. “That’s really unusual. Usually these arson jobs are pretty hasty. Accelerant splashed everywhere – they don’t usually have time to do anything more elaborate.”
“John and I never did have a chance to investigate those devices on the radiators that we noticed in the apartments. We’d just started to have a look when we heard Chet yelling over the HT. But if this bug had the chance to paint the walls, plant those barrels and those devices – then he’s been planning this a long time.”
Mike shifted in bed. “I think that whoever it was was also responsible for what they did to my Engine. It’d be too much of a coincidence that Big Red suffered a catastrophic pump failure at just the same fire and the same time as explosives were set off. “
Williams looked over at him. “You don’t think it could have been something that you did wrong? Set the pumps wrong?”
Five other members of Station 51 shrank back in their beds at the question and their eyes swivelled to their Engineer whose face had shifted from its usual neutral placidity to … yup. Anger. Mike Stoker was angry. Really, really angry.
Cap raised his hand to Mike. “Easy, Mike. And No, Captain Williams. Mike doesn’t make mistakes like that. And if he had, one of the other Engineers would have spotted it as soon as Mike indicated there was a problem. Not to mention I would have spotted it when I did a check after we set up.”
“Engineers have been known to make mistakes.”
“Agreed,” Cap said. “I’ve made plenty myself. But you only make a mistake setting the pumps once, and it’s not something that every other Engineer who cast an eye on that Engine would have missed as well. I’ve never seen Mike make a mistake on pump calculations – he’s some sort of math genius. He’s even caught mistakes in the pump tables that HQ sends out.”
“You aren’t just saying that because he’s your Engineer?”
“No. I’m also not just saying it because he’s a good friend. Or because I’m his professional Mentor or even because I trained him initially as an Engineer. I’m saying it because he’s fucking good at what he does. In fact, I’d get him to check my own calculations. But it does mean that if the same bug set all this up, then it was set as a trap for firefighters. And to my way of thinking, that makes it murder and attempted murder.
Without even considering that somebody tried to kill the Chief, myself and Stoker.
Another thing that makes me certain that this wasn’t Stoker making a pump mistake. I’ve seen an Engine behave like that before. Years ago – must be…. 10 years at least ago. When I was a new Engineer. I can’t…” Cap shook his head, frustrated.
“Dammit – I can’t remember exactly. But I remembered enough when I saw to yell at Mike and the guys to get away from the Engine. Crap… I need to remember! But we gotta catch this bug. I have a horrible feeling that he’s gunna keep trying until he kills more of us.”
The room of firefighers was nodding agreement. “We need to get hold of one of those things off the radiators,” John put in.
“And find out what was in those barrels,” Chet said.
“That should be easy,” Roy said, the gloom in his voice evident. “There’s one embedded in the cab of the Squad.”
“Ya know… I bet Charley would have a record of that other engine you mentioned, Cap,” a firefighter said. “Something that would damage one of the engines.. Charley’s sure gunna remember that!” He broke off into a fit of coughing, and the people around him busied themselves getting him some water and settling him again.
Roy raised an eyebrow. “Take it easy everybody. Remember – if you feel unwell, it won’t be Junior or I who are gunna look at ya. It’ll be that nurse of ours!”
There was silence as the men all considered that possibility. And all vowed silently to avoid Sister Franklin as much as possible.
Captain Williams was still writing in his notebook, occasionally looking at one or another of the firefighters as if he was recalling their input into the conversation. He was surprised when he heard the door to the ward opening.
The Chief Engineer had been surprised when Dr Brackett lead him to the Pediatric wing. “We wanted to have somewhere to put them where they could all be together – it was easier for us to keep an eye on them. The only two not to be there are the Chief and Hays. They are both still in ICU. Joe Early tells me that there’s almost been a mutiny because they were told that Coffee wasn’t available.”
The Chief Engineer looked surprised. “I’d appreciate it, as a favour to me, if you could arrange coffee. The Fire Department runs on coffee – and you don’t want to have to deal with firefighters who are uncaffienated.”
“It’s been arranged. The Head Nurse on the Ward agreed to a couple of cups a day – the coffee cart is on its way.” Brackett was smiling. “Of course, none of them are on restricted diets, so if their visitors happen to bring coffee in, we can’t stop them.”
“Thanks Doc. And thanks for making it possible for them all to be in together.”
“That wasn’t me. That was all Dixie McCall. She’s turned treating firefighters into an art form and knows that if there are several in they seem to do better when they’re all together.”
“Well thanks anyway,” said the Chief Engineer, shaking Brackett’s hand. “You have no idea how much the Department appreciates all you people do for my men.”
“Well, Chief, they deserve the best care we can give them; considering all they do for the people of LA County. Rampart going a little out of our way and bending a few rules for them is the least we can do.”
Brackett watched as the Chief Engineer entered the ward and sighed deeply as he turned to the ICU. There was still one firefighter that he wasn’t certain would make it.
Charley climbed down from the cab of the heavy haulage tow truck shaking his head. On the other side of the yard, Squad 51 was being unloaded from a flat bed truck. Hopefully that at least would be a fairly easy fix – a replacement cab but very little mechanical work.
Engine 51, however, was another matter. If it had been any other Engineer, he might have blamed operator error for the failure. But not when it was Mike Stoker involved. The man positively babied that engine and was obsessive about maintenance schedules, Charley was, however a very suspicious man. For an Engine and a Squad to go down during a fire that was arson, and for the number of firefighters injured as he had heard there was…
Well, in his mind, there was no such a thing as coincidence.
He went to his office and got the camera, photographing every square inch of both Engine and Squad, making a mental note to take more photos of the Engine when they opened up the pump panels and the tank, before setting his boys the task of stripping down the Engine, and trying to untangle the barrel from the cab of Squad 51. Charley was also intending to speak to Stoker as well – try to get anything from him about what happened.
He patted the pump panel. “Don’t worry, my girl,” he said, “we’ll get you fixed up good as new.” Reluctantly he stepped away – he had to organize backup vehicles for Station 51 and make sure that he had his thoughts in order for when he prepared the preliminary report for the Chief Engineer.
Something about this bothered him, and he wanted to get to the bottom of it.
It wasn’t the first time she’d visited Hank in hospital, but it was certainly the first time when there were so many others at the same time – especially when all of “their boys” were there as well. She was taken aback when she walked into the main reception area of Rampart to find a large number of women of various ages looking extremely frustrated. Looking around, Georgie found Joanne DeSoto and “Mama” Lopez standing slightly to one side.
“What’s going on?”
Joanne smiled. “It’s the Females of Injured Firefighters convention,” she said, laughing somewhat shakily. “Our guys appear to have been lost.”
“Lost?” Georgie was dumbfounded. “How can you lose that many firemen?”
“It all depends on how mobile they are, my dear,” Mama Lopez said, calling on her years as a firefighter’s wife and now mother. “Of course, none of these people have thought of asking Miss McCall where she put them.”
Georgie started to giggle at the mental image of Dixie McCall stuffing injured firemen in cupboards and shelves. Joanne nudged her. “Whatever you’re thinking, stop it. We’re meant to be concerned.”
“I am concerned. Hank and Mike were shot. I’ve gone past the scared to death phase though and into dizzy concerned.”
Mama Lopez scanned the women. “Well, you’re also the wife of the ranking officer, so these women are going to be looking to you to sort this out, Georgaina.”
Georgie scowled a little. “I knew there was a reason why I should have married Mike instead of Hank,” she said, causing both other women to look at her in surprise.
“Oh well, here I go. Let’s hope I can track down Dixie and find out where she stashed 16 injured firefighters.”
“So let me get this straight…. You have lost 16 firefighters. Including my husband, Captain Henry Stanley.” Georgie leaned against the reception desk.
“Mrs Stanley, as I’ve told you, things were very busy in the ER last night, and it was only at the last minute that it was decided to admit them all and we haven’t had the updated paperwork as yet.” The tone of the woman’s voice was condescending, and it put Georgie’s hackles up. She straightened and looked the woman in the eye.
“Dr Cavendish, actually,” Georgie said, “and I need to speak to either Dr Brackett or Dr Early. Or, preferably, Miss McCall. Now.”
The receptionist’s eyes opened. “But I thought you said you were Captain Stanley’s
“I am. I am, however, Dr Cavendish rather than Mrs Stanley. You’ll also find that if you check your list of Consulting Psychologists, I’m on it. I’m also a Consulting Psych for the Fire Department. So… let’s get things moving on that basis and see if we can track down 16 men who, to be quite frank, should be very easy to find. God knows, you could probably hear several of them before you see them.”
Her foot tapped impatiently as the hapless receptionist started to make calls.
“Can’t they go faster? I need to find my boy!”
Georgie looked at the woman who spoke. “Your boy? I’m sorry – I thought you were with us.”
“Us? My son - he’s one of the injured firefighters. He’s only been out of the Academy four months!”
Mama Lopez came to her. “What’s his name – and what station is he with?”
“Francis… Francis Wood…. I… His station… I…” she looked like she was going to break out into tears. “I can’t think. I’m so worried about him!”
“Not to worry, querida. Your boy will be looked after. None of the boys will let him be alone. We look after our own.”
“Dr Cavendish? I’ve located them. Admissions thought that there had been a mistake and was wanting to verify before they released the information.”
“Of course they did,” Georgie said wearily. “So, where are they?”
“ummm…. Pediatrics. Ward B.”
“Pediatrics? I’m sure there’s a story behind that. Well, Ladies. Let’s go and see what our guys have done to themselves – or what they did to Dixie to deserve to be put in a children’s’ ward.”
The coffee cart was on the heels of the Chief Engineer, and he watched, satisfied as his men were given the “drug” common to all firemen. It wasn’t great coffee, but it was strong and he could see them all perking up considerably.
He spent some time speaking to each one and listening to their discussions with Williams. This fire was making him more and more angry the more they looked into it. He ended up next to Captain Stanley, getting more of an overview from the initial incident controller.
Hank ran his hand through his hair and hissed as it pulled his injured side. “I wish there was some way we could just say “tell me everything about catastrophic fire engine pump failures” and all the information would appear, and we could see if we can get any matches,” he said. “I know the two are connected, just like I know I’ve seen something like this before.”
“Williams said the same. He remembers it from his first year doing investigations.”
“So, why’s he trying to hang it on Mike?”
“He’s not. He’s doing his job – he has to look at everything from all angles. But I agree with you – if it was Engineer error, then any one of the several other Engineers would have caught it immediately. They didn’t, which means that this was deliberate – and not an operator error.”
“We reckon Charley would know if it’s happened in California before. And he can probably find out from other states as well.”
Hough was nodding. “Good idea. I’ll get somebody on Williams’ team onto that.”
Both men looked up as footsteps and female voices were heard in the corridor.
“Looks like you have some visitors.”
“I’m surprised they weren’t here earlier.”
“You didn’t know? Brackett put a ban on visitors until midday today. He knew that Williams and I needed to see you all first up and it was best if we could talk without family around. They only tend to get upset.”
“Yeah. You may be right there. But damn, it’s gunna be good to see my wife.”
Hough stood up. “I’d say she has the same opinion.” He collected the reluctant Williams and then stood to one side as the families of his men entered. Their faces were a combination of fear, resignation and relief. And he felt satisfied when he saw that those men who had no visitors of their own were included. He always thought it was the best thing about his Department. Nobody was left behind or left to cope by themselves.
They didn’t notice him leave.
“So…” Joanne DeSoto kissed her husband and then went and gave John a hug and kiss on the cheek. “What have you all been doing to end up in a place like this?”
Roy put his arm around her waist and pulled her up onto his bed. “It’s not as bad as it looks, Jo. Mostly cuts and scrapes. I’ve got a broken wrist – Johnny there’s got a pulled leg muscle and an almost broken nose.”
“Roy… the whole shift’s in here!”
Roy sighed – from the sight of it, it looked like every visitor was asking the same question. “ummm Cap?”
Mama Lopez was fussing over Marco and then Chet, making sure that they were comfortable and not likely to die at any time. She wanted to know more about what had happened but was also happy to wait.
“When will you be out, my son?”
“Couple of days, Mama. Other than Cap, Chet and I were the worst hurt. Pretty loco, considering we got out on the side away from the worst of it.”
“Except we got picked up and tossed by the percussion of the blast,” Chet put in.
“Man, it was one crazy scene!”
“So many of you!”
“Mostly smoke inhalation, Mama. We’re all being kept at least until tomorrow afternoon – there were some chemicals that they want to make sure haven’t affected us.”
“Chemicals! Madre de Dios!” She bustled around making sure that Marco was comfortable and then turned her attention to Chet, doing the same.
“What is the world coming to!”
Dr Cavendish was calm and collected – a soothing presence. Georgie Stanley however, was, she would freely admit, a complete mess. Hank and Mike both submitted to her fussing until she had satisfied herself that they were OK.
“OK Georgie,” Hank said when she had settled to a chair between him and Mike. “What sort of sicko would do this.”
It was interesting to watch the change from Georgie to Dr Cavendish. “Depends really. Arsonists or killers? Cause this guy seems to have crossed the line. Most arsonists do it because they love fire. They love to watch things burn. They see fire as a living thing.”
“We know it’s a living thing,” one of the other firefighters, his bed full of his small children, said. “But we don’t want to see it happen. To us it’s an enemy to be defeated.”
“Yes. Most firefighters are like that. The fact that you all refer to it as “the beast” shows you feelings. You wouldn’t set a fire unless it’s absolutely necessary – and then its under strictly controlled conditions. The idea of using it to deliberately cause loss of property or lives is abhorrent to you.
“But there are several different types of arsonist. There are those who love fire – they don’t necessarily intend to cause destruction. They just want to see the fire. Those ones often get sexual gratification out of seeing a fire burn.
“Then there are those who use it as a tool. They set a fire to draw attention from other activities – usually break and enter, or to commit fraud in some way. They don’t necessarily love fire like other arsonists. But they usually have a great deal of knowledge about how fire works.
“Then we have the last two – who are most dangerous. The arsonist who worships
fire. They study fire, know how to set a fire and how it’s going to react. They’re dangerous because they want the biggest and best fire that they can get. They also tend to get some sort of sexual gratification out of fire. They’re also usually the easiest to catch, because they hang around to watch.
“The most dangerous though, is the firefighter arsonist.” She swallowed. “Very rarely does a firefighter become an arsonist. But it happens, and some become firefighters because they want to learn how fire works, and because they think that nobody would suspect a firefighter of arson. But a pattern emerges, and they do get caught. They get arrogant and its noticed that they’re always on the scene – on or off duty. That’s how they get caught – other firefighters notice them and mention it to the investigators. If enough mentions happen, then that person gets very heavily looked into.
“But... the one who is most scary is the firefighter arsonist who wants to be a hero. The one who sets a fire just to be the one to put it out. The one who wants to show how unafraid of fire he is. Who wants to prove he can beat it all the time. They’re the ones who can get killed or kill others.
“I don’t know if this guy has stuck before. But I’d say he’s the loves fire type, but he’s gone a step further. If he took out Big Red, and also shot…. Shot you, and involved explosive chemicals, then he seems to see the fire department as an enemy.
“But that’s the problem. If this is his first strike, then we don’t have any other clues to go on. The Arson guys and the cops are going to have to trawl through back records and cases to try to find similarities.
“It’s why it’s gunna be vital that you and everybody at the scene tells whoever the investigator is everything you can remember - stuff about bystanders you can remember. Anything that seemed odd or out of place. Has anybody been in already? Do you know who the investigator is?”
“Yeah,” Cap said. “Williams is the assigned investigator. He’s spent a couple of hours with us already.”
“I’ve not come across him. I’ll give him a call and see if I can help.”
“I don’t understand, Doc,” Marco said. “You’re a psych not an arson investigator.”
“There’s a couple of FBI psych’s who have been working since the 1960’s on what they call Criminal Profiling. They believe that there are certain mindsets and traits that can be used to help create a profile of a suspected perpetrator. It was touched on when I was doing my degree and I found it fascinating. I’ve been following their work ever since. And they’ve had some amazing successes in what they do.”
“Don’t encourage her. She’ll go on for hours about it.” Hank complained, but his men, who knew him so well, could hear the pride in his voice. What did surprise them was the look of pride that Mike wore as well.
“Hey – it’s a fascinating field of psychology and I think it’s gunna become more and more important to both cops and arson investigators.”
“And you wanna do the FBI profiling course,” Mike said indulgently.
“I do. But I don’t think it’ll be anytime soon. Not until the science is proven and accepted. And even then, it’ll be FBI agents that get first pop.”
She looked around the room. “Just... be extra careful boys. I’m gunna go out on a limb here and say that this guy isn’t finished. If I’m right in my guess that the fire department is something he considers and “enemy” then you’re all in the front lines.
He watched the news broadcasts about his God. This one had plenty of television coverage, and in the newspapers as well. And it helped him to identify his enemies – the ones who lead the attack on his God.
When the picture of the “Brave firefighters of Station 51, all of whom were injured in the blaze” popped up, he knew who his main targets would be. There he was – the one he tried to kill. This man was easy to identify. His height, his build. Yeah. Even in smoke Captain Henry Stanley, as he was identified, would be easy to pick out. He would be a sacrifice to his God. A deliberate one. And he could exault as the flames consumed this enemy.
Or… should he wait. Make him watch as his men were given to his God, and then be fed to his God himself, knowing that he had been unable to do anything to save them. That his magnificent God, his God that these men blasphemed as The Beast, had won.
Yes. Yes that was fitting.
The idea excited him. He needed to plan how to trap these enemies, but first… first he would enjoy himself imagining their demise.
And he would show them all!
Sorry for the delay in updating this. Charley was being recalcitrant and I had to get Mike to stop petting Big Red.
Charley was frustrated. He had an Engine that he couldn’t do anything with because he was waiting for police and the Arson team to come and have a look at her. He had a squad that needed for the body to be completely removed from the chassis, so the rear could be fitted to a new one and become the new Squad 51.
But he couldn’t touch it, for the same reasons as for Engine 51.
He’d had two Station 51 Engineers come and visit their stricken Engine. And their Captains. One pair of Engineer and Captain collecting a stand in Engine. And Station 51 Paramedics retrieving gear and packing it into a temporary Squad.
He hadn’t seen such morose firefighters in a long time. He could understand in a way. Engine and Squad had, in their own way, become Code I during that fire, along with their respective crews. Well, the Squad could well be a Code F. But it was more than that. Bloody Station 51. He thought it was just A-Shift’s Engineer and Captain that were abnormally attached to their Engine, but it appeared that it was the entire damn station.
Obviously, Stanley and Stoker were a bad influence on the rest of them. He could remember Stanley being almost obsessed with his Engines and Trucks when he was an Engineer, and he had passed that, obviously, onto Stoker, who Charley had recognized as being Stanley’s acolyte.
He looked at the mess of paperwork on his desk. He hated paperwork. Especially paperwork that brought up bad memories like this did.
But he had an answer to the Chief Engineers questions. Not that Hough would like the answers. Charley certainly didn’t. And he knew for sure that Stanley and Stoker would hate them.
As if on cue he looked out the window as a car pulled in and three people got out. Two of them he knew, the third, a woman, was unknown. Charley’s lip curled. He wouldn’t have thought that Hank Stanley, or Mike Stoker for that matter, drove an Edsel.
If indeed they drove it. He could see Mike had his arm in a sling and, as they came closer, Hank seemed to be favoring his side. He went outside and walked into some sort of argument.
“Of course I’m going to be bored. I expect to be bored. But Neither of you could get here without me, and besides, after what you’ve said, I’m curious. Now stop arguing, both of you. You know you won’t win this one.”
They came to a stop in front of Charley. “Charley,” Hank acknowledged. “We’ve come to have a look at our Engine. See if you’ve worked out what happened, and if you’ve managed to link it to any other engine failures.”
Charley watched Stoker who was plainly distracted and trying to pretend not to be. He was scanning the lot, eyes searching for his injured Engine. The woman had moved closer to him, her hand on his back, rubbing gently. Her change in body position also made him aware of something that had not been noticeable before – her hand was firmly being held by Stanley.
Stanley noticed “Sorry Charley. This is our wife, Dr Cavendish. Georgie – this is Charley, the Department’s Chief Mechanic. The only person who can make any firefighter who drives any piece of equipment shake with fear. Now do you think that we could put Mike out of his misery?”
Ahhhh… thought Charley. A small smile quirked at the corner of his mouth. Another of those relationships. He wondered if they knew how common their setup was in the Department? Probably not – everybody thought they were the only one. He only was aware because of his sister in law and her living arrangements. Good luck to them.
“Yeah. Let me grab some stuff first.” He went back inside noting that Stoker seemed to have found what he was looking for, as he headed off to the back of the lot. Happened every time. Engineers may take a minute or two, but they always find their vehicle.
He joined them at the Engine, where Stoker was gently running his fingers along the place where the pump panel usually would be. The inner tank was clearly visible, as was the damage in there. “Damn. That looks like something exploded in there!” Mike said softly. “I thought it was just the pumps. I didn’t hear anything in the tank at all, and I can’t think of any time that anybody other than the other Engineers or I had access.”
Georgie went to him and put her arm around him, leaning her head on his shoulder, offering what support she could. Very unprofessional thoughts were going through her mind abut what she’d like to do to the person who had caused her Mike such pain, both physical and mental.
“What abut the pump panel, Charley?” Hank asked.
“Got it in the workshop Cap,” Charley said lead the way into his lair, Mike only reluctantly leaving his Engine, and mostly because Hank and Georgie each took an arm and helped him to physically more.
One there, he moved a canvas out of the way, revealing the missing panel. “Got it covered up until the cops can get a good look at it. And I guessed you and Stoker would want to see it as well.”
“Have the Arson guys been to see it?”
“Nope. They said that the damage to the Engine wasn’t a direct result of the fire, so is the Cops problem not theirs.”
Hank’s eyebrows rose into his hairline, and Mike swung around sharply, only the fact that he grabbed Georgie stopped her from being sent sprawling to the ground.
“You are kidding, right?” Mike said. “I mean, we all know that whoever set that fire musta damaged the engine!”
“Hey, don’t blame me, Pal,” Charley said. “I’m just tellin’ ya what they told me. The Arson guys are only interested in the Squad, though that’s only because of the drum that landed on it. Pump panel isn’t just it though. Here.” He moved another tarp on a table next to the panel revealing the gearboxes of Big Red and the main pump drive shaft.
“I take it that rod thingie shouldn’t be that shape?” Georgie asked. The three men just looked pained.
“Don’t worry about her,” Hank said. “She can just about pump gas. But no – the drive shaft should be straight. But it’d take a heck of a hit to bend that thing.”
“Did you find anything in the records of something like this happening before?” Mike was running his fingers over the damaged panel as he spoke.
“Similar – but not the same. And at another arson. Where one of the investigators was Williams. They weren’t interested in the Engine damage then either.”
“Williams said that he remembered it from his first investigation. I remember from when I was a brand-new Engineer. What are you looking at Georgie?”
“Sorry – just trying to imagine you as a baby Engineer. It’s really not working for me.” Both Charley and Mike were choking, and Hank shook his head.
“Concentrate, Georgie. Flirt later. What about any other Departments?”
“One in Pasadena. One in LA City. Both attached to arsons in the last three years. But all these other three were nowhere as sophisticated as this one.”
“Practicing,” Mike said. “In the last four years, County, Pasadena and LA City have been moving to Ward LaFrance Engines. What worked on a Crown won’t work on a Ward. Can you get hold of the reports?”
Charley shook his head. “I can get copies of the damage and repair logs, but not the findings. Cops have ‘em.”
“So, why not tell the Cops about these previous attempts and let them pull the reports?” Georgie leaned back against the bench. “And I’m not an arson investigator, but I’d also try and get hold of the reports of the fires attached to the damaged Engines. You know – the arson ones. See if anything matches.”
Charley grinned. “She may not know much about mechanics, but she’s bright anyway.”
“I’m a Psychologist, Charley. My job is helping people find behavioral patterns that are harmful and helping to change them. Like I was saying about that new FBI Profiling stuff, Hank. Criminals – especially habitual or serial ones – have a behavioral pattern that they follow. Whoever it is – and I think its male – he’s smart. He’s spread his attack around three different Departments. Who don’t tend to share information around, yet are all close enough geographically to be able to “practice” without having to travel. You guys study fires. I study people.”
“You know,” Mike said slowly, “This took some doing. This guy had to have knowledge of the setup and engine configuration of the Engine. I wonder if Ward hasn’t heard from him.”
“What? How to blow up a fire engine?” Charley snorted.
“No…,” Hank said consideringly. “Well, not in so many words. But asking for schematics of the Ward Engines we use. Surely they keep records of where they send information like that?”
“You tryin’ to do my job, Hank?”
Hank turned. “Detective Crockett. How long have you been there?” He reached out to shake the Detective’s hand.
“Oh, about 5 minutes or so. Enough to hear a very interesting discussion – that I think I’d like to continue further. But I’m here to collect evidence.” He gestured to the items on the workbench. “If you could add in the details of the other Engine sabotage you know of, Chief Mechanic, then I’d appreciate it.” He motioned two Deputies forward. “Please stay with them while they collect it and make a list of all that’s taken. Then sign a copy of it. We’ll have one copy, you’ll have the others. They’ll also want to take pictures of the Engine and the Squad.”
He turned to the other three. “Now, how about we go and have coffee and you can fill me in on the bits of the discussion I’ve missed?”
“Coffee sounds real good about now.”
“By all means. Mike and Hank haven’t had a hit in a couple of hours. They’ll probably go into caffeine withdrawal soon.”
Crockett raised an eyebrow at what the woman said.
“Georgie! Sorry about that, Detective. Our wife is more than a bit grumpy. She thinks we should be sitting at home recuperating.” Mike was smiling at her and he gently reached out and tucked her under his good arm.
“You pair aren’t supposed to be driving yet. You needed me to even get here. But then, I suppose you both needed to make sure that your Mistress was being taken cared for.” She smiled up at Mike and then reached out a hand to Hank. “Can’t blame a girl for wanting to check out her competition! However, I will agree coffee is good. And cake. There needs to be cake too.”
Williams was in the lab watching various pieces of wood being set on fire. “So, you’re sure this is what was used?”
“Yes. We’ve compared the burn pattern from the scene, as well as the rate of burn that was reported. This was definitely the accelerant used.”
“What about the explosive?”
“We’re still testing it. Problem there is it’s not a commercial product – it’s something our arsonist cooked up himself, so we’re going to have to get some more help in breaking down the compounds. We can tell some of them, but there are others I can’t work out what they are. As for the devices on the radiators – well, they weren’t explosives as such. I need to get a report from a Military lab though, because I suspect it’s a variant of mustard gas.”
Williams looked as though somebody had punched him in the gut. “Mustard gas? But that’s deadly!”
“Yeah – but it looks like something went wrong. Not only were our guys inside wearing air masks that have filters, but the canisters didn’t go off like we think they should have. I think things may have moved a bit faster than our arsonist was expecting.”
He was holding the line. The trust his Captain had put into him made him determined that he wouldn’t falter.
He was terrified.
It was an apartment fire. They hadn’t had one of those since that fateful one two months ago that had resulted in him spending 48 hours in Rampart.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. “OK Wood – you ready? We’re gunna go in. Remember I’m here to back you up.”
Wood glanced behind himself at his Captain. “Ready, Cap!” Probationer Wood’s heart was pounding, and he felt adrenaline course through him as they stepped forward into the burning building. It was amazing the power you could feel as you battled the blaze. The charged hose was alive in his hands, the water taming the flames where it touched them.
He could do this. The building was cleared, it wasn’t arson. It wasn’t even the whole building involved. Woods revelled in being part of his crew and moved forward following the plan of attack as they brought the fire under control.
This wasn’t a fire he had set, but he was drawn to any situation where his God was brought to life. He’d spent the last two months in hiding, gathering more information on his enemies. It was surprisingly hard to come by. It seemed like the LA County Fire Department had closed ranks to make his targets disappear. He knew which station they were from. He had even found out names but had only been able to find where one lived. An unusual name in the County and he had verified that.
His primary target – their Captain – seemed to have vanished into thin air. How could a man that tall vanish so completely?
Still, some news was good. One death of an enemy, two others, a firefighter and a Battalion Chief, unable to return to the frontlines.
He wanted Stanley and his crew. Station 51. They had been responsible for taking out his offerings to his God more than once. He didn’t care that they weren’t the only crew as part of that station. But with half the crew above average height, and the Captain towering over even those, they were certainly the most noticeable.
He didn’t notice that he had moved forward, out of the general press of bystanders and into the open. He felt his usual sense of disappointment and loss as the fire was brought completely under control, and then put out. Soon they would commence their final act of destruction as they turned over the debris, ensuring that there was absolutely nothing left of the fire.
But he would make sure that his God would vanquish them as thoroughly as they quenched its fury. His sacrifice to his God would be the very warriors that thought they could destroy it.
Probationer Francis Wood had only started paying attention to bystanders after that devastating fire two months ago. In fact, they all had. It was one thing to be injured in a fire, but it was another totally unexpected and somewhat terrifying thing to have their equipment targeted, and for somebody to deliberately try to kill fellow firefighters meant that the rest of the Brotherhood were ever more watchful.
He had been set with their Engineer – Clark – to repacking the hose used in fighting the fire. It was as he hauled hose back that he first noticed the man. Something about him seemed familiar.
It was some half an hour later as he was coming out of the wreckage with equipment that he noticed the man was still hanging around. That wasn’t normal. Bystanders were usually gone well before they finished their work. Wood approached his mentor.
“Clark? There’s a guy watching us – no don’t look – He’s been here since I first came out to help pack hose; and he’s still here. He seems familiar somehow.”
Clark continued to pack equipment into the engine and as Wood finished, he casually moved so that he could see the man his Probationer was talking about. “Yeah… yeah, I see him,” he said. “Odd for sure. He’s familiar to me too, but I can’t think from where. Go and find Cap and let him know. He can let the cops know.”
Clark continued his work and kept an eye on the man, also noting what he looked like, observing him. He intended to add his observations to Wood’s and pass them to the cops.
Mike Stoker and Big Red returned the same shift. Hank had been back on full duties a couple of weeks before Mike could return, and he’d realised how much he missed Mike’s quiet presence at his side during incidents. It was something at first, he hadn’t been able to put his finger on, but he’d realised it when he had expected a routine action to happen and it hadn’t that he realised just how engrained he and Mike had become as a working partnership.
His Engineer knew exactly what he expected and when – and Hank had to keep reminding himself to let his replacement Engineer know when he needed something.
And not call them Mike or Michael. Yeah – that one was important. The least he could do was to remember the name of the men under his command – even if they were temporarily there.
As for his men, they could see how pleased Cap was the day Mike returned. Roll call had Cap almost visibly purring with satisfaction, and his comment of “Great to have you back on the job, Pal,” spoke to all his men how content he was to have “his boys” together again. Unharmed. It didn’t matter that Mike and Hank lived in the same house – that was different. Personal. This was professional. This was the A-Shift crew of Station 51. The group of Men that Captain Henry Stanley was responsible for – to ensure that they were able to go home from their professional to their personal.
Marco claimed Mike started to purr though when Cap advised they were stood down as Charley was expected within the hour with Big Red – filled with water and ready to come back into service herself.
He wasn’t pacing. Or hovering. Mike Stoker had forced himself to sit at the table and have a cup of coffee while they waited for Big Red to return home. He felt it was fitting that both he and his Engine had been out of service for the same length of time.
“Back to slumming it with us, Mike ol Pal,” Chet said sliding into a chair next to him. “No more spending your days being coddled by Mom Cap.”
Mike visibly flinched. “Please don’t call Georgie that to me. It brings up connotations and images I really don’t need. And if you think Georgie coddled me, then you’ve got another think coming!”
“Amigo, we saw how she was fussing over you and Cap. It’s like Roy when Johnny gets hurt.”
Mike, Chet and Marco laughed at that, though there were protests from both Johnny and Roy.
“I do not,” Roy protested. “He does not!” Johnny said at the same time, causing more laughter.
“Yeah, one day we’ll believe that,” Mike said. “As for Georgie coddling or fussing, once I started on physical therapy and Cap was back on light duties, she was on our backs about getting back to full fitness. She forced us to exercise, and worse, follow the Department diet. And then she personally escorted us to the psych sessions. When she was around. She’s been working with the cops and the arson guys on that profiling thing.”
“Ha! We saw her pal. When Cap re-certified and then when you did…” Chet drifted off as the other three members tried to shush him.
“You watched?” Mike was dumbfounded.
“Watched what?” Cap entered the room and looked around with mild curiosity. “Charley just called – he’s leaving now and will be with us in about half an hour.”
Mike’s grin threatened to split his face in two. “I’ll go and make the bay ready for her.”
“I want to find out first – watched what?”
It almost – almost – wiped the grin off Mike’s face. And Cap noticed the furtive looks between the other four members of his Crew. It was 0810. How could those four twits get into trouble with Mike in ten minutes?
“They watched Cap! They watched us recertify!”
Hank gave the smug, shit-0eating grin he knew infuriated Mike. “Oh that.”
“Did you know?”
“Of course, I knew, Pal. I let ‘em know when we were doing the recert. It was getting embarrassing the lengths that Gage and Kelly were going to with HQ to try to find out when it was going to happen.”
“I thought you knew, Mike. Georgie knew, and you were right beside her when I was doing my re-quals. The guys were at the bottom row of bleachers. Even I saw them there.”
“I was distracted. Thinking about my re-qual run. And then watching you drive an Engine. It’s been a while. Age catching up to you, Cap?”
Hank slid a glance in his Engineer’s direction. “Quit that,” he said mildly. “And just remember who taught you to operate an Engine, Michael.” Hank stood as and put his hand on Mike’s shoulder. “What’s to worry about it, Pal? We both passed with flying colours. I’m proud that my Crew knows that I can do what needs to be done as well as they can.”
Hank grabbed a fresh cup of coffee and headed for his Office, chuckling slightly. He never could understand why Mike hated to be watched as he completed physical certifications or even doing drills. He was good – and watching him operate an engine was something magical.
Mike was pacing the apparatus bay, waiting for the return of his Engine. He’d moved the replacement engine onto the front apron, and the squad to the carpark before making sure that the bay sparkled.
His Engine was not going to go into anything but a bay that was perfectly clean. Marco and Chet said nothing, but simply gathered the supplies to give Big Red a thorough cleaning, knowing Mike would not find the condition she was returned in good enough.
Truth to tell, they were all waiting eagerly for the return of their last missing crewmate. Cap tried not to show, but he was as excited as his Engineer – Charley had refused to allow them to visit the Engine whilst it was being repaired. He was also interested in the other information that their Chief Mechanic had said he had; information about other damage to Engines during an arson fire. As well as the full report on how Big Red was taken out.
Additional voices in the apparatus bay caught his ear and he looked out of his office and his grin widened. Obviously, the Engineers from B and C shift had decided to welcome home their baby as well. If they were lucky, then the tones would hold off until the three engineers from 51 could fuss over their Engine for a bit. He’d wait until later. Much later. Besides, he had a bet with Georgie as to whether Mike would sleep in Big Red tonight.
Normally he hated to take money on a sure thing; but he couldn’t believe Georgie still couldn’t get, after all these years, just how much Engineers tended to get attached to their Engines. Especially Mike with this Engine. Hank knew he’d find his best friend asleep in the cab of Big Red tonight.
Grinning he turned back to his paperwork, loving that he could fill out the shift’s crew register with a full crew of permanent members. It had better stay that way for at least the next few shifts. He was deep into reading the previous shift log when the phone rang, causing him to jump slightly. The caller was Williams, the Arson Investigator. Finally, some good news!
Hank listened carefully and agreed to a time for Williams to visit the station. Their arsonist had slipped up and shown a bit too much interest in a fire the previous shift and Probationer Wood had recognised him and been able to give a good description of the man. Williams wanted to bring copies of the police sketch of their suspect over, to see if any of his men had recognised him. And to put the entire station on alert for future sightings.
Things were looking up!
Big Red comes home - and her first response out is similar to her very first response.
And then... it's not.
This is a longer chapter but I had quite a bit to fit in.
Charley’s temper grew shorter and shorter as he approached Station 51. In the end, he’d had to forbid any of the stations Engineers or Captains from “visiting” whilst their Engine was being repaired. His own crew were complaining that they were finding it hard to get any real work done on her without off duty firemen hanging over their shoulders, or just standing there looking forlorn as they petted any part not currently being worked on.
Occasionally they were helpful – an extra pair of hands to hold something in place never went astray.
But most of the time it was just unnerving. Especially when Mike Stoker was hanging around – which seemed like it was always. Looming – for a man who was usually so quiet and unassuming, he could loom impressively.
Charley had even decided that wife of his was also just as much a pain in the neck. Not because she hung around, but because she was relentlessly cheerful at him and his crew when she dropped Stoker off. And she knew exactly what he was thinking, going by that glint in her eye.
“Morning, Charley. Just dropping Mike off. And a box of donuts for you and your crew for putting up with him. He’s got his own food. I’ll be back later to pick him up.” All said so cheerfully, yet with a hint of steel that told him that telling her to pack him back up and get him away from there was not going to be met cheerfully by her at all.
It had been self-defence really. Let her deal with Stoker herself, and not fob him onto the Maintenance crew. Not even the flirting of their administration person had put any stop in the relentless visiting.
Definitely self-defence. Although, they missed the donuts.
Still, without the constant stream of Station 51 Engineers and Captains, the work on fixing their Engine went a lot faster. And now, he had to do something he dreaded.
He had to give her back to them. Fastest way to ruin a good piece of Departmental equipment, in his books at least. Give it to a Fireman. No matter their rank or location – they were all carless with equipment that he was supposed to keep operational.
As he drew closer to the Station he saw the other Engine out on the apron, leaving room for him to back this one into her correct place. She was fully fuelled, her tank full of water and ready to go. Nobody who didn’t know the background would ever realise how badly she had been damaged.
As he pulled up ready to wait for a break in the traffic to swing her around, a couple of Firemen in turnout coats came out on either side and started to stop the traffic for him. Ne nodded to them, appreciating the gesture from them.
As Charley backed in and checked his side mirrors he nearly stopped abruptly. The bay was full of men. Bloody Station 51 and their uncanny attachment to this Engine.
As Hank strolled out of the office, a large box in his hands, he stopped short. It would appear that all three shifts of Station 51 had decided to welcome back Big Red. All of them milling around trying to look as if they had just “happened to stop in”. Well, except for the three engineers. They were front and centre keenly watching Charlie swing their baby to back her into the bay, and then Mike moved to act to direct Charley as to how far back she could go.
He stopped next to Roy DeSoto who was standing just inside the bay near the kitchen. “Really? All of them?”
“Don’t say you haven’t missed her,” Roy replied.
“I’m not – but they couldn’t wait? At least the Paramedics aren’t cluttering up the place too.”
Roy’s eyes twinkled with amusement. “They are. Except we’ve all been out the back with the squad reassuring her that she’s loved too.”
Hank sighed. “I’m starting to think that Charley’s comments about Station 51 and our attachment to Engine and Squad may be accurate,” he said and then looked at the box in his hands. “I also start to think that there’s a collusion going on that I know nothing about.”
“Couldn’t really say, Cap. All I know is what Jo told me I had to bring in with me today.”
Hank sighed. “Collusion. Go and put this on the table but don’t open it. And make sure there are a couple of pots of coffee ready. I think we’re going to need it.”
Charley heard the cheer as he stopped the engine and shut it down and shook his head. Maybe he had been wrong to make this swap like this and let Stanley and Stoker come and collect the Engine. Then it would have been their problem to deal with the rest of the nuts at this particular nuthatch of a Station.
At least the dog wasn’t getting under foot. Then again, that dog never seemed to move from the couch.
He swung down from the cab and held up a hand as the three Engineers moved forward. “Not until I officially hand this over to your Captain,” he growled. “This vehicle is in perfect condition, and I’m not letting anybody get their hands on her until she’s been handed over in perfect condition.” From the corner of his eye he saw six linemen try to slink away without him seeing them. “There better not be fingerprints or footprints,” he commented.
Hank stepped forward to be the latest recipient of Charley’s stink-eye. “Be fair, Charley,” he said, trying to sound reasonable. “She sent Mike with a packed lunch, and donuts. And then picked him up mid-afternoon. Or even earlier. She didn’t have to send the donuts.”
“Is your wife always that relentless?”
“Well…. No. Not always. But she figured it was either you or her, and she could provide help for you. Can we have our Engine back now? We have coffee. And I suspect cake. Apparently a welcome back party. For Big Red.”
“You’re holding….” Charley gave up. “It better be decent coffee.”
Hank swung to take the Chief Mechanic into the kitchen when he caught the eye of his Engineer. “Oh yeah – before we do that… How about you hand over the Engine. So the Engineers don’t burst from look don’t touch.”
Charley reached into the cab and brought out a clipboard and a thick folder, and handed both to Hank. “The folder is the information you were after. Some very interesting reading. I’ve sent a copy to that Detective Crockett too.” He and Hank then proceeded to do the formal handover, followed closely by three Engineers and two other Captains and watched by six linemen.
After going through all the repairs and a few slight changes, and after Hank had completed his walk around, he glanced at the Engineers. “Play nice and I don’t wanna hear the siren or the air horn, got it? Plus, you can’t take her out for a drive. As soon as Charley’s advised Dispatch he’s leaving, we’re back in service, Mike.”
The tones were merciful, and it wasn’t until 45 minutes after Charley left that the Station got toned out. It had been long enough for the three Engineers to not only have coffee and cake, but also to give Big Red a good polish so that she could meet their standards of how “their girl” presented to the world.
Hank had peered at the folder and the first page had made him scowl somewhat and hope that the person who had damaged their Engine was caught. Soon. The tried to push it from his mind, but it kept creeping in that the situation could have been worse than it was at that time.
“Seems sorta fitting,” Mike said as they swung out of the station behind the Squad. “That Big Red’s first call out after her own sick leave was the same as her very first call with 51.”
“Something nice and easy to ease you both back into it,” Cap replied. “You – make sure you let me know if you’re in any discomfort. If you try to push too much, you’ll reinjure yourself.”
“I’m not planning on doing anything heroic,” Mike said. “Well, not more heroic than normal. Big Red and I’ll make sure that the fire is put out.”
“So good of you,” Cap replied dryly as they approached the junkyard. He noticed the header of the smoke and sighed. “Not so little, this one,” he commented and picked up the radio. “Squad 51, be ready to do a hydrant connection, will ya. Nothing fancy, just a forward lay. Then report to me. I’ll find the details of this so-called trapped person.”
“So-called?” Mike asked and slowed the Engine to allow John to grab the feeder hose and hydrant bag. He saw the Paramedic wave him on and accelerated smoothly, allowing the hose to unfurl from the hose bed.
“Hmmm. Dispatch had no details on the trapped person and the caller refused to give a name or phone number. With this arsonist out to get us, I’m not taking any chances.”
Mike pulled the Engine into the best place and Hank swung down, pulling on his turnout coat and gloves and looked at his linemen. “There’s a lot of smoke, but I can’t see any flames. Let’s pull a couple of inch and a half and start to wet it all down and then we’ll start to pull it apart and see what’s what. One on each side of this. The one on the far side, grab a HT. I don’t want any of us to be out of contact here.”
He waited only a heartbeat to ensure that Lopez and Kelly commenced their attack. “Keep an eye on them
Mike, and keep an ear out as well.” He put his own HT in his pocket and turned to the two Paramedics who had appeared at his side. “Come with me. We’re gunna try and find who’s in charge here. I’m not prepared to send you in without knowing what’s going on.”
Mike and Marco, who was on the Engine side of the pile, exchanged glances. There was far too much smoke to have no flames. Not one little glimmer of a flame. He picked up the radio. “Chet, any sign of flame over there?”
A pause and Mike could see the hose being shut off, and he dialled down the flow as well. “Nah Mike. Not a sign.”
“Then bring the hose back around here and cover Marco and me. There’s something fishy here, and he and I are going to start pulling this pile apart and see what we can find.”
“10-4 Engine 51,” Chet acknowledged and soon appeared dragging his hose. “Where do you want me, Mike?”
“Just stand by. The idea is to cover us. Not drench us.”
“You wound me. Completely wound me.”
“Just don’t wet us unless there’s flames, amigo,” Marco put in dryly as he attacked the pile with a pike hook, hauling down what seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of boxes.
It seemed strange that there was nobody in the shack with the sign “office” on it, and by the time they had searched the rest of the yard, Captain Stanley had moved from striding to stalking in front of his Paramedics who exchanged glances. Their Captain’s earlier happy mood to have all his boys and his Engine back together appeared to have evaporated.
Mike had reported that there seemed to be no flames, and he, Marco and Chet were starting to pull apart the pile. Something seemed strange.
Hank Stanley hated “strange” when it came to fires. Not only was it more work on the fireground, it meant more paperwork. He’d just spent 4 weeks on light duties doing paperwork. If Hank Stanley hated strange fires, he absolutely loathed paperwork – in any form.
He didn’t even want to think about the other problems “strange” fires could cause. Especially since the last time something ‘strange” happened at a fire, the entire station was taken out of service.
“HT-51 to Engine 51. Mike, be careful as you pull that thing apart. I don’t want anything exploding suddenly on you.”
“10-4 HT-51. Believe me, it’s not something we want either! I’ve got Chet keeping it wet as Marco and I pull it apart, Cap.”
Cap visibly relaxed somewhat, only to tense up again as he heard Roy calling him.
“Cap! Over here – I think we’ve found our trapped person.”
He jogged over to where Roy and Johnny were standing between two piles of junk, and looked past them. The “trapped” worker was seated on a deck chair on a piece of astroturf, naked, asleep with his left arm handcuffed to the chair. A pair of scantily clad women were sitting on the astroturfed “lawn” smoking and taking turns drinking from a bottle of bourbon.
Cap sighed heavily and ran his hand over the side of his face. “Better check him out. Just to make sure he’s asleep,” he said wearily, following his Paramedics into the cleared area.
He was trying to keep the drunken women off himself, Johnny, Roy and their sleeping friend when his HT beeped. “HT-51 – go ahead Engine 51.”
“Cap, you might wanna come and have a look at this,” Mike responded. “We’re gunna have to bring the arson guys.”
Hank looked down at what his crew had uncovered. “That’s the biggest damn smoke box I’ve ever seen,” he said. “We’re lucky it didn’t flashover as soon as we started pulling the pile apart.”
He was angry. This wasn’t kids playing around. This had the potential to be really damaging. Not to mention the sleeping drunk they found with his drunken lady friends. He assumed it was the Manager or owner or caretaker of this place. He’d left Roy in charge of that situation to clarify the guy really was just sleeping and to try to wake him the hell up. He raised his HT. “LA this is Engine 51. Despatch an arson team and police to our location.”
Captain Stanley looked around as if he was trying to have the person who planted the smoke box appear to face his wrath. “Who in their right minds gets their jollies out of doing something like this,” he muttered. “Boys – any way that box could have just been there and ignited?”
“Nah, Cap,” Chet said. “Placed just as you saw it. That clear space was there. And there was nothing loose that could have dropped in, or caused an ignition.”
“Enough ventilation to keep it going Cap, but not enough to smother it or for wind to blow it out. Some really careful preparation went into this,” Marco put in. “whoever did it is loco if you ask me.”
“Can’t say you’re wrong, Marco,” Cap agreed. “I wish the Department could send the bill to these twits when we end up wasting our time like this.”
“Hank! You round somewhere?” The voice came from the other side of the Engine.
“Around the Engine, Vince.”
“What have you got?”
“Seemed to be just a junk fire, but my boys pulled apart the pile and found this smoke pot. Biggest one I’ve seen in a long time. And they confirmed that there was nothing loose in the pile to have caused combustion without a human assist.” Stanley shrugged. “Given our current arson woes, plus that we think the owner is currently passed out or asleep drunk with a couple of girls, I thought I’d call it in. We were just speculating what kind of person would do something like this.”
Vince shook his head. “Ya gotta wonder what’s in people’s heads. Something your wife would probably be able to tell you.”
Mike groaned. “Please don’t ask her,” he said. “She’s making my head hurt as it is with her current obsession with forensic profiling.”
Cap simply put a hand on his Engineer’s shoulder. “Now Mike, she doesn’t complain when we go on about the Engine. Let her have her obsession,” he said. “In the meantime, let’s get this secure ready for the arson team.”
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
The net is closing in and we are closer to the conclusion!
My apologies for the long delay in updating. I am currently going through a rather large and stressful matter that involves both my work and my health. As a result, this has sapped my creative energy and I have suffered major writers block. I know where this fic is going, and how it will end, it’s just the actual writing of the story that has been blocked.
Not far to go now, however!
“Aaahhhhh man! Waddya done? That was my smoker!”
Cap turned to see the erstwhile naked sleeping man standing near the pulled apart scene. At least he had put on a pair of shorts now. “What the… You built this?”
“Yeah. I read about it in a book. Livin’ with the environment, ya see. With a smoker I can make my own jerky and stuff. We were testin’ it to see how long it’d take.”
Cap’s hands were on his hips, and his men moved slowly so that they
were behind him. They knew the look on his face, and they weren’t sure if this would be the time he absolutely lost it with a member of the public.
Captain Stanley’s voice was ominously calm. “Stoker, call in and cancel the arson guys. The rest of you finish clearing up this mess. And you,” he said and pointed to the unkempt man, “come with me and this Officer. We’re going to have a little chat about your smoker.”
They were so gullible these Angelenos. All he had to do was to persuade them that his God would offer a better way. For some it was renewal – elimination of decay, ugliness to allow beauty in. For others, the allure was destruction. He really didn’t care, as long as they could be persuaded to aid his God.
He turned on the television and his eyes widened. There was his god in all his raging glory in a brushfire – somewhere up in the north-west of Washington state.
It was beautiful. He sank into a chair in front of the television and watched, enthralled.
Chief Houts; Captain Williams from Arson, the Chief Mechanic, a Battalion Chief from LA County Fire Department, as well as Detective Crockett and arson Investigators from Glendale, Pasadena and LA City Fire Departments, and Detectives from the same areas. And her.
Hopefully her report would be able to help everybody shed some light on the arsons and help to catch the arsonist – before more firefighters were hurt, or worse, killed.
She was impressed at how all the investigators had tied together a series of arsons, some of which she had had no idea of. But the way that Detective Crockett explained she could see the connections and made some notes on her own findings adding them and their connection.
There were some fires that were listed that seemed some of the same attributes, but not all. She would have to study them with her FBI contacts.
“Well Gentlemen – and my fellow Ladies. I’ve called in help from the new FBI profilers on this because it’s a learning process for me too. But we’ve come up with a profile that we think is accurate,” she said. “First of all we’re dealing with a single male – probably in his mid 30’s to early 40’s. He may have a military background and definitely has knowledge of both chemical warfare and bomb making, which also speaks to the military background.
“Our suspect is one of those arsonists who love fire – possibly even worships it. He sees the Fire Departments as the enemy – destroying the fires he creates. He’s deliberately targeted fire engines and, sadly, has tried to deliberately kill at least three members of the LACounty Fire Department.
“This man is clever. And charismatic. He’s managed to get close to engines to find out how they are operated, and he’s managed to get specification documents from both Ward and Crown; as well as managing to gain access to buildings to set his devices. He also knows how to blend in with a crowd. We think he’s been at every fire he’s set.”
Georgie took a breath. Here was where she was going to go off-report, given the information that they had already discussed. “I’ve only seen these other suspected fires today so I’m doing some guesswork here. I do want to take the suspected arsons back to the FBI and work on them.
“Firstly – there are too many similarities to the other ones for them to be a completely different person setting them. He seems to have stopped targeting engines, but if what I suspect is true, then there’s a reason for that.
“We know this man has charisma, and is able to persuade people to give him what he wants. And, sadly, Californians seem to be especially vulnerable to this. We also call it “star power”. I suspect that this guy is building a following. I don’t know what his approach is, but he’s probably building quite a gathering. Most of these will be easily led people, and able to follow order, but know when to act on their own initiative.
“Those fires you feel are him but can’t quite include them, if you say that they were set by his followers then that provides the connection for them all.
“The reason engines aren’t being involved – at the moment at least - is because he doesn’t trust his followers to do that without being caught. He only seems to have hit the area covered by the people represented here, but I think we need to spread the word about him – and his followers. Especially the MO that they seem to use.”
“Is he insane?” A female Detective from Pasadena asked.
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t know until I was able to get face to face and talk to him. And there are mental conditions that don’t actually come under the category of insane, but are still a mental illness. But you can’t tell until you are actually speaking to them and perform some of the tests that have been developed.”
“So, is this person black or white?”
Georgie sighed. In a perfect world, that question wouldn’t be asked. The civil rights movement should have negated it. But it wasn’t a perfect world, and as much as she hated to have an answer for it, she had to face facts.
“Honestly – I would love to say it doesn’t matter. It could be anybody. But sadly, the civil rights movement has not completely gotten rid of entrenched ideas. All races of humankind contain people with the traits to do these arsons. But right now, in the USA, I have to say this is a white male, probably born in the USA with English as his first language. Simply because he needs people to trust him to be able to do what he’s done. And the only people with the power to gain that trust, and the opportunity to get the education he needed are white males.”
“Doc,” Crockett said earnestly, “I appreciate what you’re sayin. But lets face facts here – detective work is all about elimination of suspects. And by being able to give that information, you’ve eliminated a hell of a lot of suspects. If he has formed a following, then we don’t just want the followers – we need the ringleader. We have him, and the followers disburse. I know I’ve got some informants who may be able to shed some light on any new firebug groups that have formed. And I suspect I’m not the only one.”
He was nodding, as were all the others around the table. “We need to work together so that we’re not pullin’ all the same people in. Compare lists, and then decide who pulls who in, where and when. We don’t want to tip off our birdie.”
God it was good to be home! To finally be clean all over, to not smell perpetually of smoke, to not taste grit and smoke in his mouth. To be able to breathe fresh air, with that slight tang of the sea that he usually never noticed until times like this.
Mike Stoker stretched and did breathe in deep again. Sometimes, he had found their home at Seal Beach to be too out of the way – too far from work. But really, it ws a quite easy 20 minute drive to the station and if it was out of LA County, it was only just out. And definitely worth it for the fresh air and lack of LA smog.
He smiled as he walked into the kitchen and draped himself around Georgie, breathing in her scent from her hair. Yeah – this was the best thing about home. Georgie. She twisted round and hugged and kissed him.
“Hank’s beaten you to breakfast,” she said. “I’ve done up a nice big platter of fresh fruit – nice and cold to go down smokey throats. Do you want coffee or juice?”
Mike moved and took his seat at the kitchen table, squeezing Hank’s shoulder as he went past. “Juice sounds great for the moment, Georgie. I’m so tired, I want to be able to sleep. But I’m hungrier than I am tired.”
“You and me both, babe,” Hank said around a mouthful of cantaloupe. “Two days off and I fully intend to spend at least the next twelve hours sleeping. I hate brushfire season.”
“Don’t we all. Are you going to sit and eat, Georgie?”
She smiled and came to sit between them. “I am now you’re both here eating,” she said. "And a good thing I stayed up all last night watching a movie marathon and catching up on my paperwork. I can sleep with you both.”
Hank frowned. “You shouldn’t have done that, Sweetheart.”
“Hank, Mike, I couldn’t have slept even if I wanted to. The news was showing footage of other fires, and I have to say that Big Red was a bit prominent.”
“Yeah – ever since they featured us in that special brushfire report, and before that with that “Day in the Life” thing that they did, they seem to want to focus in on us. Of course, Big Red deserves all the spotlight she can get. She’s the real star.” Mike’s eyes were glowing as he spoke of his Engine and Georgie just smiled at him and punched him lightly on the arm.
“Good thing I know Hank at least loves me more than Big Red.”
Hank laughed and kissed her, moving his chair close so he could tuck her against his side. “I wouldn’t dare do anything else. Besides, I’m not an Engineer any more.” Georgie just snorted, and Mike moved close.
“Don’t believe a word he says. I’ve seen him polishing her. And you should hear what happens if he thinks she isn’t clean enough.”
“We have a reputation to maintain, Michael,” Hank said mildly, sipping his coffee. “Besides, it’s in the Manual. Don’t you have any patients today?”
“It’s Saturday, Hank. I only do urgent cases on a Saturday and Sunday. And that new answering service and pager takes care of the phones. Anything urgent, they page me – or they can put the call straight through to the phone here if necessary. And yes – I’ve tried it. It will wake me up from quite a sound sleep.”
She looked up at Hank’s concerned eyes. “Hank, the girls and their mother, your Boys and anybody from the Fire Department are automatically put through. Same with Mike’s parents. Don’t worry.”
“You think of everything.”
“Well, actually it was Consuela thought of it. Sometimes I think I work for her rather than she for me.”
“Speaking of work;” Hank flipped a pile of papers to Mike. “You should read that, Mike. The Ward guys have worked out how Red was damaged. And they’ve made recommendations to prevent something similar being done again.”
Mike’s face darkened with anger. “It’s about time,” he said, and began to read.