The world went tilt-a-whirl again as Danny swung her off him and started shoving her over a landslide of debris, through the gaping hole that was about five feet from the ground.
People reached for her. People on the outside . . . were reaching for her. Firefighters—it was Moose, Danny’s former roommate, who helped pull her out.
Except then she did the math.
“No!” she yelled as she kicked and fought. “Not without him, I’m not leaving without—”
There were voices, a volley of talk around her as she was dragged over rough concrete blocks and bricks, splinters of beams and hunks of metal.
“Danny!” she yelled. “Get Danny!”
A gust of wind pushed the smoke back into the building and his hooded head and mask were briefly revealed, his arms pinwheeling as he tried to get over the avalanche. Their eyes met one last time, and even though they were separated by so much, she could make out the blue of his stare—or at least told herself she saw it—
The entire building collapsed without warning, the three floors dominoing down, ash, soot, smoke, and flames joining the rush of dusted concrete, brick and mortar, that exploded out of the hole.
“No!” she screamed. “Danny!”
Tom had been waiting for three years for this call. This screaming trip across town. This pull-up-to-a-scene with screeching tires and sweaty palms, this choking panic, this paralyzing fear.
This reality that his sister was trapped in a burning building.
The slide show in his head was single frame, from the past and without a soundtrack: Anne at seven stuck up in a tree, jumping down so he could catch her; her at ten pedaling like mad on her bike to keep up with him and his friends; her at twelve with a jackknife slice across her leg, telling him he needed to take her to the ER, but not to say anything to Mom . . .
Her at their father’s grave, dressed in black, sitting next to their weeping mother in front of a hundred firefighters.
And then finally, on her first day on the job, wearing the navy NBFD shirt tucked into the same work pants he wore.
From the moment he saw her in that getup, he had known that this reckoning was coming. But good luck trying to get Sister to slow down, ease up, chill with the risks. No matter what he had said to her, she had refused to listen to him, and as he jumped out of his SUV at the scene, he hated her to his core at the same time he would have given up his own life to save her.
Their mother had already buried one member of the family. Anne had always seemed determined to make it two.
Tom went dead run to the clutch of ambulances by the incident command post. The warehouse beyond was a roaring fireball, more like a meteor that had crashed to earth than anything built by man, and he prayed Anne was out of there.
As he came up to Chip Baker, he demanded, “Where is she?”
Before the IC could respond, the question was answered. As the warehouse collapsed, three firefighters burst away from the disaster like they were being chased out of the building by demons, their escape path accessorized by a mushroom cloud of smoke and orange flames. Two of them were carrying someone.
“Sister!” Tom yelled.
He bolted toward them. As he came up to her, he wanted to do the medical assessment himself, and settled for searching her sooted, streaked face—or what he could catch of it. She was screaming and twisting against the holds on her arms and legs, the strobing effect of the engines and ambulances turning her suffering into stop-motion animation.
“Medics,” Moose said as the men kept running. “We need medics!”
Anne just kept fighting the men carrying her. “Danny!”
With a wrench and a kick, she nearly got free, one of her arms going flying and sending out an arc of blood into the air, the splash of red backlit by the flames.
Tom grabbed the firefighter holding her knees and yanked him away. “You’re hurt!” No shit. “Anne, stop fighting, you’re bleeding—”
The EMTs rushed over with a flat board and neck immobilizer, and he and Moose lowered her to the ground.
Tom knelt down. “They’ll get him. They’re going to get Dannyboy. Sweetheart, look at me, I need you to calm down—”