But she did not go back to the office.
She went a number of blocks north, pulling up in front of a mostly bald lot that had been cleared with all the detail orientation and conscientiousness of a toddler. The debris, which was mostly building crumble and nonbiodegradable trash, was all small-piece and accessorized by weeds, the kind of stuff that would be there for a generation or longer.
Or until somebody built something else on the site, and when was that going to happen in this part of town?
Getting out, she walked across the street and stood on the sidewalk, hands on hips.
She could still smell that final fire she had gone into. Feel the weight of her turnouts and her air tank. See the flames and the smoke that had trailed away from the warehouse at first and then later, after the wind change, come inside. With total clarity, she remembered Emilio’s voice as he reminded her of protocol, and how she had told him to leave her.
Walking forward, she triangulated what she recalled of the layout and stopped at what was her best extrapolation for where she had been trapped in the collapse. God, she could picture precisely that desk, the beam, the debris, the fire and the smoke. The pulling at her stuck hand, the pushing at what had trapped her.
And then Danny Maguire breaking through the wall of orange flames, that chain saw in his hand.
No wonder they had worked so well together on the job. You were not allowed to bring accelerant directly into a known blaze, so gas powered-anything was a no-go. Except he’d known that she was trapped with time running out, the building had wood supports, and a chain saw was so much faster than an axe.
She would have done the same for him.
Lowering her eyes, she stared at the prosthesis that was attached halfway up her forearm. It was her day-to-day one, the one that was a flesh-colored random hand, the one that people like Dr. Delgado, the vet, didn’t always notice.
For no good reason, she lifted the thing and ran her real fingertips over the contours of the frozen digits, the static palm, the nonmoving knuckles. She felt nothing—and not just on the surface, which had no nerves to register sensation. She had no emotion about the thing, either. It was what it was, a part of her now that needed to be, by definition, as indigenous as all the stuff she had been born with.
What the hell did she have to get upset about?
On that note, she thought of Danny, and wondered how long it would take before she didn’t have an urge to see how he was doing. They were strangers now—not even professional colleagues—and what did they have in common outside of firefighting? The fact that they both kept going in their separate lives made sense and it was arguably healthy after all the trauma. If you got into a car accident, it wasn’t like you were required to turn the burned-out, mangled shell of the totaled sedan into a planter in your front yard so you could revisit it every single day.
Besides, if the female in that drunken voicemail was any indication, it was pretty clear what kind of self-medicating he was using.
Whenever her guilt got to stinging, she needed to remind herself that Danny was just fine and so was she. And with the passage of all the hours, days, weeks, and months since that warehouse fire, their lives were in different places and that horrible eternity when she’d been trapped in the hot spot was gone.
You had to keep going.
Staring over the cleared site, she thought . . . yup, just as the remnants of the warehouse were gone, so, too, the events had been struck out of the timeline of both their lives.
So, too, the connection they had once had.
Back behind her, her phone started ringing in the car. After a moment, she pivoted away and returned to her vehicle to answer it.
“You got a cigarette?”
As Danny tossed the perfectly reasonable out there, Emilio looked at him like he’d suggested the guy give him a block of cocaine.
“What?” Danny muttered.
“You’re sitting on the back of an ambulance—”
“So I’ll light up over there.”
“—and I’m treating you for smoke inhalation.”
On that note, Emilio tried to put the oxygen mask back in place, but Danny was having none of that. Shoving the guy off of him, he braced his dirty hands on his knees and triangulated his torso to give his lungs more space to inflate. The wheezing was not something he could hide, and to cut off conversation, he stared at the steaming pair of houses. They looked like a bomb had been dropped between them, the kitchen side of the one on the right and the living room side of the one on the left all blackened, dripping, ruined.
As 499’s pumper pulled out, he cursed. That was his ride.
Emilio gave the mask another shot. “Come on, Danny. You’re wheezing—”
“No, I’m not—”
The coughing jag that hit him put liar to that one pretty good, but he was done with this. Getting to his feet, he yanked his turnout suspenders back on his shoulders and leaned down for his insulated jacket.