Read 9 1/2 Days Online

Authors: Mia Zachary

Tags: #Category

9 1/2 Days (15 page)

second shift was always the most active. Even the smallest of fires seemed worse at night and this one, Danny thought, was going to be a bitch.
Built in 1851, Stephenson Mill was originally a machine-manufacturing plant. Now the complex housed artist studios and furniture refinishers. The place was so big you could probably fit two football fields into it. When the ladder company from Station 24 arrived, only a light-to-moderate smoke condition was showing at the roof, with no flames in sight.

Mike stood next to him on the A side of the building as they unloaded equipment and grabbed their air packs. “This doesn’t look too bad, L.T.”

No, it didn’t. But the hair was rising on the back of his neck just the same. “Wait for it, Stonewall. No way to know how long it’s been burning.”

Battalion Chief Forsyth, who was Incident Command for tonight, decided the initial attack would be an interior one. The windows had metal grilles and four guys from Rescue 1 had to aggressively tackle the roll-up metal door to gain access. When they finally carved an opening, the first crew went in to scout out the fire.

Danny forced a deep breath into his lungs and led his company inside.

“I can’t see a thing in here, L.T.”

“Shake it off, Mike.”

The first floor was a confusing maze of dark, smoky rooms. Danny’s pulse tripped along his veins and he had to swallow against the nausea. Beneath his face shield, sweat dripped from his forehead. Despite the intense heat, a chill of dread crawled down his spine. The squad marked each door with a chalk
so nobody wasted time repeating their efforts.

After checking the whole floor, Ladder 24 climbed one of the only two sets of stairs to the next level. With no windows on the upper floors, the heat was trapped inside. Firefighters from Station 17 attacked the fire on the second floor but they were losing it. The solid oak floors were probably soaked with oil from a century and a half of machinery use. Cork insulation in the ceiling added to the smoke.

Danny jumped into the assault, battling flames and smoke and fear. The scar tissue on his back itched like mad and sweat ran into his eyes, further obscuring his vision. Another company joined them and it seemed as if they were finally getting the fire under control. Then, just when he thought they had it boxed in, explosions erupted like bombs from somewhere to his left.

“Shit! That smells like propane!”

What had been a modest fire was now a raging, seething inferno of boiling smoke. His heart thundered in his chest as he aimed the hose at flames that seemed to be leaping out of nowhere. His throat tightened up and he felt as though he was choking. Then he realized he’d started to hyperventilate and made every effort to steady his breathing.

Over the radio, he heard the Bat Chief shouting. “I want all personnel down off the upper floors! I want a head count. Everybody down!”

Danny ordered his men out, still ineffectually sweeping the hoses over the flames as they backed toward the direction of the stairs. Toxic smoke flooded the labyrinthine, windowless building as they raced down the steps. Danny felt an ominous vibration and looked up. A smoldering heat duct plummeted toward them. “The wall is coming down!”

He pushed Mike in front of him and urged the rest of the company to run faster. He spared another glance at the ceiling and his heart stopped. A flaming floor joist was about to break free of the level above him. He lunged down the last flight of steps and crashed into the wall.

It was pitch-black and impossibly hot. He couldn’t breathe. He could hear muffled weeping and it sounded like Jordan, but he couldn’t find her. The darkness was caving in on him…

He came to a few seconds later. Danny dragged himself to his feet and found his helmet. A jackhammer pounded the inside of his head, making him light-headed and dizzy. Stumbling, he ran out of the building. One of the paramedics grabbed him and started cleaning the cut on his forehead.

By now the fire had gone to five alarms—twenty engines, eight ladders and several rescue and utility trucks were parked in front of the mill. As the various fire companies regrouped on the pavement, the Bat Chief started yelling instructions. “Okay, we’re gonna fight this from an outside defensive perimeter. Get the master streams going and let’s surround and drown. In the meantime, take a roll call and—”

“Mayday! We’re running out of air!” Everything stopped, even time. For several seconds the firefighters stood listening to the voices on the radio, frozen in horror. “We’re buddy breathing and we can’t find our way off the second level! Mayday!”

Forsyth turned to the closest crew of firefighters. “See if you can find them. We’ve got to get this done. The fire is out of control. We don’t have a lot of time.”

The four men ran back into a building that was now bursting into flames, disappearing into the smoke to rescue their colleagues. In the meantime, the master streams were going full bore. Wide, fixed jets of water arced into the air from the snorkels on top of the aerial ladder and pumper trucks.

But the fire kept on burning.

Flames boiled from the roof, leaping into the sky. Though another alarm had shown up, all the firefighters could do at this point was minimize the exposure to other buildings.

After what seemed like a lifetime, Sharp and Mozelewski staggered out and collapsed on the pavement. Danny’s gaze flew to the entrance, waiting for Barry and Cassadine. It seemed that everyone held their breath, and waited. But nothing came out of the door except black oily smoke.

“What are conditions like up there? How bad?” The Bat Chief demanded.

Sharp answered, his voice husky and shaking. “We didn’t even make it across the first floor.”

Forsyth held his gaze for a moment, an agonizing and final understanding passing between them. Then the Battalion Chief sighed heavily and nodded his head. “That’s it. No more.”

“They’re still up there!”

“What do you mean, no more?”

A dozen firefighters, including Mike, lined up, ready to go. They started shouting and pushing toward the warehouse entrance. Danny remained where he was, sick with the knowledge that there was no way in hell he was going back in there.

The Bat Chief moved in front of them, making himself an obstacle. “We’ve already lost four. We’re not going to lose any more! I’m calling it.”

It was like somebody collectively kicked them all in the stomach. Danny’s shoulders slumped and he dropped his head as the air horns of every fire truck started giving successive short blasts in a code that meant “all out.” They were abandoning the mill and the men still trapped inside.

Lyons. Blackmon. Barry. Cassadine. Gone.

Danny looked down at his helmet, at the emblem that read Pride Protecting People, and tears welled in his eyes.

Hours later, after leaving the hospital with a concussion, he reached for the phone. He just wanted to hear Jordan’s voice. He started dialing, then realized how late it was and hung up the receiver.

He sat back against the suede couch, staring blindly at flickering images on the TV screen. All he could see was the face of Blackmon’s new wife. Only twenty-three years old, John had just gotten married a couple of months ago. Now his bride was a widow. Suddenly her face was replaced with Jordan’s in his mind.

Danny ran to the bathroom and threw up.

about as much as she enjoyed watching grass grow. But the law firm had season tickets and she’d promised her brothers, who were rabid Orioles fans, that she’d get them into this game.
The New York Yankees were apparently Baltimore’s archrivals and this late-season game was part of the pennant race. Whatever a pennant race was. Down on the field, some player hit a white ball with a fat stick, then another player started running around the diamond. She stared morosely at the action and felt several hundred of her brain cells implode.

At least it was a beautiful night in a charming setting. Oriole Park had been built on the site of an old rail yard. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad warehouse had been incorporated as part of the new 110-million-dollar structure. The Camden Yards ballpark design reflected nineteenth-century architecture, including an arched brick facade, a sunroof over the upper deck, an asymmetrical playing field and Maryland bluegrass turf.

It was amazing what you could learn by reading the fifteen-page program instead of watching the game.

Jordan took a sip of her cola, barely resisting the urge to dump it over Danny’s head. She hadn’t seen him since Sunday afternoon. He hadn’t called since then, either, except to confirm tonight’s game time. Had he thought about her? Had he missed her? It was so difficult to tell when he was busy chatting and laughing with Keisha.

When they’d taken their seats in the terrace box, her cousin had made certain she sat on the other side of Danny. Keisha put on a great show of complaining about the heat. She’d taken off her jacket to reveal a low-cut crop top that exposed her flat belly above her equally low-cut jeans. Jordan scrunched down in the hard, uncomfortable seat and hoped her cousin choked on the hot dog Danny bought her.

“Do you want one, too, Jordan?”

“No, thanks…David.”

He shrugged and took his seat, his body angled away from her. She couldn’t see his face, but she sure as hell saw the calculating gleam in Keisha’s eye. Her cousin giggled and grinned, occasionally touching Danny’s forearm as she talked. With music playing over the chatter of the crowd, it was too noisy to hear what they were saying. However, body language didn’t require words.

Reece turned in the seat next to her. After glancing over her shoulder, he looked directly into her eyes. “Is there anything you need to talk about, Jo-Jo?”

“What do you mean?”

Her brother’s voice had an edge. “Your fiancé seems to be distracted tonight.”

Jordan looked down and toyed with the straw in her cup. “Oh, he’s under pressure at work—”

“He works a lot.”

“We’re not joined at the hip, Reece.” Her laughter was forced. “I mean, you didn’t expect to see him every night this week, did you?”

“I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the guy I met on Saturday. I don’t know who was at the crab house, and I don’t know who that is beside you.” He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “Does David have some kind of personality disorder?”

Before she could think of a reply, Eric jumped up and screamed, “Did you see that play? Grandma could have caught that fly ball!” and Reece’s attention was back on the game.

At the sound of Danny’s chuckle, she glanced to the right. Keisha had gotten a blob of hot-dog mustard on her cheek and he was wiping it off. Jordan looked away as tears pricked her eyes, focusing on whatever was happening down on the field so she wouldn’t lose control.

The initial stab of jealousy was consumed by the heat of her anger, then drowned in a wave of misery. Jordan crunched the ice in her soda cup and attempted to count the number of people in the stadium wearing red shirts. The distraction didn’t work.

She felt bereft and isolated and the craving for chocolate was so strong that it hurt. Her heart contracted in anguish as she realized what she had to do.

After warm goodbye hugs from her brothers and an awkward parting from “David,” Jordan and her cousin walked to the Honda. Then they sat and waited in traffic with forty thousand other baseball fans trying to make their way out of downtown. Keisha fiddled with the radio and squirmed in the passenger seat, until finally she turned to Jordan and broke the silence.

“David is so handsome. And he’s got a great body.”

Jordan answered quietly. “Yes, he does.”

“He’s got a great sense of humor, too. I laughed the whole night.”

She concentrated on inching the car forward a couple of feet, determined not to let Keisha get a rise out of her.

“I told David I was thinking about moving back to Maryland. He thought it was a great idea.”

Jordan saw an opening and zipped into the left lane. “I think Camryn’s going to rent her place and move in with Mason. Maybe you could take over the mortgage.”

Keisha stared at her, seemingly confused by her even temper and tone of voice. “I still can’t believe
engaged. I wouldn’t want to tie myself down to only one person. Though a guy like David might make me change my mind.”

“David” had Jordan changing her mind about a few things, too. The traffic was a little thinner on Charles Street, so she relaxed her grip on the steering wheel. “I’m curious about something, Keisha. Do you really want him? Or do you only want him because he’s mine?”

Her cousin looked away and laughed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I mean, it’s obvious your fiancé likes me, but I’ve got more boyfriends than I know what to do with. Guys ask me out all the time.”

That had been true back in high school, too. Boys were always asking Keisha out on dates, but the dates never seemed to turn into relationships. She worked hard at her good-time-girl image, always claiming the boys were madly in love with her but “why settle for one when you could have them all?”

As she pulled up to the entrance of the Wyndham Hotel, Jordan gazed over at her cousin. For the first time it occurred to her that, though Keisha was stunningly pretty, she wasn’t happy. She spoke quietly, sympathetically. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

Surprise replaced the usual calculating animosity in Keisha’s eyes. Then the moment passed and she opened the car door. “Don’t worry about me, cuz. I always get what I want.”

Jordan watched her cousin sashay toward the glass doors, smiling and flirting with the valet as she passed by. Keisha threw a glance over her shoulder and winked before going into the lobby.

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