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Consumed

Consumed

Page 3

Accept. Adapt. Change.

“Okay,” Danny said. “Fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday night, motherfuckers.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Negative.”

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

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

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

That was the last piece of good news she got.

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

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

“Good girl—”

“Don’t call me ‘girl.’”

“Roger that. We’re coming for you—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing.

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