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Consumed

Consumed

Page 8

Rizzo didn’t hesitate to take what was offered.

The 617 and the 499 houses were not friends. They were not buddies. They didn’t mix down at Timeout Sports Bar; they didn’t work out or do off-duty second jobs together; they didn’t clap each other on the shoulders and yuk it up if they met in town.

Bust a beer bottle over your head was more like it. They were competitors: for resources from the city, recruits from the academy, performance on the job. Except here was the thing. Both sides suffered from ah-hell-no-that’s-my-little-brother syndrome. They were allowed to pick on the other guy, but no one else could, and in this situation, when a fellow firefighter was buried in debris? As far as Ropes or any of the other guys at the 617 cared, it was one of their own—and nobody was going to stop digging until they recovered Danny Maguire . . . or his remains.

With grunts and curses, firefighters were hefting charred beams, toasted office equipment, and bundles of bricks still mortared together out of the warehouse, the metastases growing on either side of the massive hole in the flank of the three-story structure.

Ropes knew better than to try that shit with his arm, so he got busy with his flashlight.

Holy shit. So much of so heavy.

This had to have been a manufacturing facility first, before it had become a warehouse and then a crack den. But why would you put the machinery on the second floor? Lot of weight to crank up to a higher level.

But people were idiots.

As he picked his way through, being careful with where he put his boots, there was the sound of dipping water from all directions, the cold tears of the extinguishing effort falling from anything and everything. The going was uneven, dangerous, and even though the removal effort involved a dozen men and women, there was still so much that he had to mount as he shined his beam down.

Ropes lasted about a nanosecond before he ripped off his sling. His bad shoulder, the one he’d popped out of the socket again, immediately protested the freedom of movement, but it could fuck right off with that.

Training the flashlight into the slick mess, he searched for a reflective flash, a wink of movement, a sign, a sound, a—

Too many lost.

The thought barged in and took over, replacing everything save his visual acuity. But goddamn it, how many more times was this going to happen? How many searches after how many accidents where good men and women were lost? As the crazy bell started to go off in his head, he did what he could to dim the noise; in the end, though, all he could do was ignore it and try to focus through the distraction.

The mental effort was harder and less successful than ever, the opposite of a muscle exercised regularly: Instead of getting stronger, his ability to withstand the chaos in his head was weakening, and his terror was that he was burning out.

If he wasn’t doing this job? What the fuck else was there for him.

More with the careful footsteps, higher on the mound of twisted, mangled, burned-out crap, harder with the going now. In his heart, he knew this was not a rescue situation but a recovery one, and he pressed on because he was very well aware that chances were better than not that someone was going to have to do this for him at some point—

“Ropes.”

He stopped and glanced over to the left, expecting to see a guy wanting to get his attention. But no one was there.

He’d heard his name, though. He absolutely had heard his name.

Frowning, he turned in that direction, and thigh-high’d one knee to get over a mangled desk. His flashlight, as he trained it into the tangle, was so bright that the wet patches on the blackened metal and charred wooden beams sent strobes back to his retinas, making his vision dance.

An instinct that made no sense whatsoever drew him to a juncture between two more I beams and what appeared to be a printing press and some travel trunks. It was about fifteen feet back from the opening that he’d heard Sister had been pushed out of—arguably out of range. From what he’d been told over the phone, the collapse had occurred right as Danny had been shoving her from the building, so no, Ropes decided. Not here—

The movement was so slight, and occurred just as he was swinging the beam away, that he nearly missed it. And even as he pivoted back and did a reexamine, he was convinced it had been a smaller piece of wood or metal slipping down to the concrete floor and catching the light.

Frowning, he squatted further and braced his good hand on something that was still warm from the fire.

And there it was. Way down in there. The telltale reflective flash from the sleeve of a firefighter’s PPE.

Ropes whistled loud through his front teeth as he got down on hands and knees. “Danny! Maguire! Danny! Give me a sign. Move your hand!”

As every single person in the collapse looked toward him, the wait for a response was forever. And then an eternity after that.

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