He’d had a good run there too, he could admit. In fact, he was right smack in the middle of a good run. Or had been—until Leah’s little bombshell.
It’d gotten out overnight that they were “dating,” and he’d already fielded an unhappy call from Kayla, a waitress he’d had plans to see later in the week, telling him not to bother to call her back.
There’d been nothing but radio silence from Danica, a local flight nurse he’d casually seen a few times. It wasn’t anything serious, nor would it be, but he hoped that meant she was on shift and not reading Facebook.
Facebook, the evil incarnate. Or maybe that was Lucille herself. Lucille was older than dirt, shorter than a yardstick, and Gossip Central. She’d posted the “news” of his and Leah’s relationship and then pictures of them together throughout the years. This included one of Leah’s middle school graduation, where his mom had made him wear a suit. Another of them at the pier with Leah clutching a life-sized teddy bear he’d won, with him posturing like a complete idiot.
Jack had been fielding calls and texts all damn day long—except from the one person he wanted to hear from, of course.
Leah, who was still avoiding him like the plague. She’d always been good at lying low when she wanted, and clearly that was her modus operandi at the moment. Unfortunately for him, she was going to get away with it now that he was on rotation for three straight days.
He and Kevin entered the station at seven in the morning to the sound of applause, which startled Kevin into barking like a maniac.
Jack set his hand on the dog’s head and gave his shift crew a long look. “Never mind the assholes, Kevin.”
Kevin quieted and sat, glaring at the crew for startling him.
No one looked apologetic. There was senior firefighter Ian O’Mallery, and Sam and Emily—both five-year veterans—one of whom was always partnered with their rookie Tim, also present. And then there were two paramedics, Cindy and Hunter.
All still grinning at Jack.
“Lieutenant’s gotta girlfriend,” Cindy sang. She’d made breakfast and was dishing out egg sandwiches.
Jack snatched one and scowled. “Don’t believe everything you see on Facebook.”
“How about everything we see with our own eyes?” Tim asked. “’Cause I saw you two at the pancake breakfast.”
“Yeah?” Ian said, curious as a sixteen-year-old girl. “What did you see? Anything good?”
Tim shook his head. “I saw that I’ve got more game than our LT. And I’m pretty sure I have a shot at his girl too. She smiled at me. She’s got a really hot smile.”
“Which reminds me,” Jack said. “You’re heading to the senior center in fifteen minutes for their fire extinguisher training.”
Everyone laughed but Tim, who scowled. “Hey, I’m tired of being the dickhead who gets all the grunt work.”
“Then don’t be the dickhead,” Emily suggested and handed him her empty plate.
“Oh hell no,” he said. “I’m not doing dishes again. Hey!” Tim called after her as she walked away.
“New guy always does dishes,” she called back.
Their day started with a woman who’d run her car into her own mailbox and gotten trapped, and ended with rescuing a stoned-off-his-ass guy from up a tree—not that they ever figured out what he was doing in the tree.
The next morning, they were woken by a two-alarm fire, and everyone hit the trucks.
At the scene, Tim fought to the front to jump down first, but Ian grabbed him by the back of his shirt. “Remember this time, you’re still on probation. Stay back. Observe.”
“Come on,” Tim said. “You all take turns being point. Let me do it for once.”
The convenience store attached to the gas station was on fire. The building, as old as the rest of town, ignited.
Ian and Emily—with Tim allowed to shadow and assist—rescued two smoke-dazed victims from the store before it was fully engulfed—the clerk and a customer. But when everyone looked around, only Ian and Tim had come out. No Emily. Then they all heard the alarm bell on her gear going off. Her breathing apparatus was running out of air. She’d gone to a window to try to get out, but her air pack was stuck on the window seal. Jack got to her, yanking her out from the outside.
“Close call,” Emily said when the flames were out, giving Jack a big thank-you hug from her perch on the back on the ambulance, where she was being treated for a few second-degree burns on her knees.
Too close. He was still sweating.
During the pickup, Jack made his usual walk around the site and found a vagrant in the back of the building, huddled between a smoking shrub and a concrete pillar, suffering from a minor head injury. They treated him at the scene, and then he was transported to the hospital.
Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal Ronald McVane was about a decade past retiring, but still sharp. He was on site taking pictures and making a post-incident analysis.
“Got a few cigarette butts in the lot,” Jack told him. “Not surprising given that it’s a convenience store. There’s other material there, and what looks like it might have been a bucket of rags. Point of origin was there. The contents of the Dumpster went up like timber, catching the siding on the building.”
“Maybe,” Jack said. “But he says he didn’t start a fire. But he also swore that he saw Santa Claus smoking crack on the roof before the fire ignited.” Jack shook his head. “Something about this whole setup seems too neat and smart.”
“And the vagrant isn’t either of those things,” Ronald said and sighed. “Hell.”
“This fire was set on purpose,” Jack said.
“Hell,” Ronald said again.
Back at the station, everyone was on decon duty, decontaminating their masks and regulators and refilling the air tanks. Most of them also used the opportunity to wash their gear, though some guys like Tim liked to leave it dirty to show how tough they were.
Tim was prowling the living room. “That fucking dog!”
The dog in question was sitting on the couch like he owned it, the tatters of a leather wallet scattered around him. There was a good reason he hadn’t made it as a station dog the first time around. He didn’t listen, he was the Destroyer of All Things Expensive, and he was smarter than all of them put together.
Tim snatched up the biggest piece of leather and thrust it under his nose. “You ate the cash and left the leather? You’re killing me.”
“Aw,” Cindy said. “Don’t yell at him.”
“Did he eat your money?” Tim demanded.
“I don’t have any,” Cindy said. “Chill, dude.”
“If you keep yelling at him,” Jack said, “he’s going to shit in your shoes later.”
“He already did that!” Tim glared at Kevin. “Bad dog!”
Kevin’s ears lowered, and he blinked as slow as an owl, looking a little confused.
Jack patted him on the head. “He has some separation anxiety that we’re working on. We left him behind.”
“Because it was a day call and too hot to keep him in the truck.”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “But he doesn’t understand that.”
“Then he should have eaten your wallet.” Tim blew out a breath, calming down. “He has an eating disorder. He eats everything.”
“It’s called being a Great Dane.”
Tim threw his hands in the air and plopped on the couch. “Just do something about him.”
Jack turned to Kevin, who straightened hopefully, like maybe there was another wallet in his near future.
“Hear that, Kev?” Jack asked him. “I need to do something about you.”
Sensing he wasn’t going to be getting a doggie biscuit anytime soon, Kevin sighed, strode to his bed—right next to the couch—where he turned around three times and plopped down with a heavy “oomph.”
Tim pointed at his own eyes and then at the dog. “Watching you,” he said.
Kevin closed his eyes, set his head on his paws, and farted.
Jack went into his office. Writing up his report on the convenience store fire, he came upon something interesting. The building was in escrow. This always changed things. It was shocking how often a property owner became an arsonist, and he made a note for Ronald and their investigation.
Before bed, he checked his phone. Not a word from his pretend girlfriend. He fell asleep wondering if that was a good or bad thing.
The next day, the entire platoon once again ran ragged from start to finish. The first call came early. A drunk twenty-year-old idiot had set a fire at his parents’ home, lighting a cigarette on the kitchen stovetop and leaving the flame on before falling asleep. The house had been built in the 1930s and had a balloon-frame construction, in which there was a gap between the inside and outside wall. They tried using a thermal imaging camera to find the hot spots, but that proved ineffective, forcing them to use a hook to pull out whole chunks of heavy plaster walls to check for flames.
The guy’s elderly parents were pulled safely from the structure, but “Baby Al” was out cold. Until they tried to move him, and then he started yelling and pitching a fit. Jack and Ian went in and dragged the screaming guy out. Still drunk, he fought them tooth and nail, making it a real struggle to save the jackass’s life. Jack took a punch to his left eye that pissed him off and ached like a bitch.
From there, they had a few medicals, a few regulars—people who called for attention—and a report of smoke at a house on the south side of town. The smoke was centralized in a bedroom that could have been on that TV show Hoarders. When they shoveled the furniture and debris clear, they found a myriad of wires: phone, clock, computer, and so on, all crisscrossed and frayed.
And also a giant vibrator. Like eighteen inches giant.
The entire platoon managed to remain professional until they were on the engine, and then as a collective whole they completely lost it, laughing all the way back to the station.