Brady Jamison sat on the stairs watching a little fairy princess dance around the foyer, until a knock sounded on the glass of the storm door. “Look, Daddy. Somebody’s here.”
He moved up behind her as she pushed the handle. The scent of cut pumpkins with candles floated over to them.
Emma squealed with delight as she doled out Hershey bars, tootsie rolls and Three Musketeer bars.
They repeated the process ten times, then Brady said, “We’re done, honey.”
Another child had just climbed the steps. “One more.”
“All right.” Again, he pushed the door open.
“Daddy, she’s dressed like me!” Emma’s eyes widened. “So’s her Mama. And they got braids, too.”
Brady bit his lip when he took in the two of them. “What a sight.”
The adult fairy warned, “Don’t you dare laugh.”
“At two more beautiful fairies? Why would I?”
The little one turned to the woman. “Mommy, I gotta pee.”
Her mom’s eyes widened in makeup that was pretty cool.
“We have toilets,” he said kindly. “She can use one.”
“I’ll have to come with her.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t expect otherwise.”
They entered the house and Emma practically jumped up and down. She led all three of them to the downstairs bathroom, and the girl went inside, while the mother waited in the kitchen hallway. “She’s nine. She’s growing up fast.”
“Mine is eight going on eighty.”
“I am not, Daddy.” She turned to the woman. “I’m Emma. My daddy’s Brady. Who are you?”
“My name is Lynne. My daughter’s Melody.”
“Do you live near us?”
“No, we’re new to town and were driving around to find a street with lots of trick-or-treaters out.”
“Can you stay?”
Melody opened the door in time to hear Emma’s request. “You said we were going home after this house, Mom. Can we?”
“P-l-e-a-s-e!” This from both girls.
She glanced at Brady. He was still entranced by her made up face. She used greens and blues to accent her own big green eyes. “Fine by me. You were going to be our last, too.” He ruffled his daughter’s wings. “How about cider?”
“I want the candy I got today at Trunk or Treat, Daddy.”
Melody asked, “What’s that?”
“Trunk or Treat is a common practice at Halloween in Crystal City,” Brady explained. “Parents and friends we know put candy in the trunks of their cars and drive to a parking lot. The kids go around trick or treating in a safe way.” He addressed Emma. “All right honey. Two pieces.”
“Two for you, too, sweetie,” Lynne told her daughter.
In childhood innocence, Emma grabbed the unfamiliar girl by the hand and led her toward the living room. Melody said, “I love your braids.” He’d learned to do them and was proud of himself.
“Thanks. I like yours.”
The adults dropped down at the table that overlooked the room. Brady and his wife Jenny had renovated the whole back the house into this open layout.
Lynne asked, “What are the chances of matching outfits?”
“Three of them? Slim to none.”
She moved uneasily. “These wings are not for sitting in chairs.”
“If you’re finished, take them off.”
“I, um, can’t do it alone. I’m planning to stop back at a friend’s house to get them off. She put them on me, too.”
“I can help. If you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind.” She stood. “You’ll need more light.”
They walked over into the kitchen proper. Under an overhead lamp, she turned around and stared at the fridge as he undid the ties. When he leaned in to release a particular clip, her scent of flowers and lemon filled his head.
Clearing his throat, he finished up. “There you go.”
“Thanks.” She took the wings. “May I ask about your fridge flyer?”
“Sure. Which one?”
“Ah, Flying Solo.”
“What is it?”
“A group for parents raising kids alone. The people are friendly and fun. I’m an administrator this year. We hold support groups and social activities.”
“You’re solo?” she asked. Not brazenly. Just with interest.
“My wife Jenny died three years ago.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“A divorce. It’ll be over soon.”
“That must be hard.”
Her eyes turned bleak. “More than I could have possibly imagined.”
He grabbed the flyer off the fridge and handed it to her. “Here you go, Fairy Princess. Maybe I’ll see you again.”
“Maybe.” She did a cute little curtsey. “Thanks.”
Captain Harry Zander, rumored to be the nicest guy in the department, and Lynne’s new captain, calmly gave out orders as Engine 4 sped to the fire scene on her first day shift in the CCFD. “Follow me to Incident Command, and you’ll get your assignments there. Lucas, no offense, you’ll stick with me. It’s your first call with us.”
She almost snorted in the backseat with three other firefighters. She’d been a firefighter for eleven years in a smaller department in the village of Dannerville and rose to battalion chief, a rank higher than his.
Zander grumbled, “I can hear you almost snort. Gimme this one.”
White smoke billowed out of the windows on the burning house, and from where they parked, Lynne saw the fire was really rolling. An aerial truck and another engine were stationed on west side of the structure. They dismounted the rig and the putrid scent of something besides charred wood filled the air. At least it was above forty degrees today, though a bit windy.
They crossed to Battalion Chief Tom Frasier. “Hey, Harry.
Lay a line from the East. Get water on the brick. Then we’ll need ladders thrown for search and rescue. Somebody’s inside.”
Lynne’s coworkers, Dynai Blackfeather and Cameron Loder rushed to the rig, got out the two-and half-inch line and hauled it over their shoulders to the closest part of the dwelling. Billy Braxton, the driver, remained at the water controls on the rig.
In under two minutes, her group was dousing the fire.
The smoke turned even blacker. Zander frowned. “Lucas get the 4-incher and hook it up the plug.” Which was twenty feet away.
Braxton had already pulled the hose out when she got to the rig, and Lynne humped the line over to the hydrant and unscrewed the cap with a hydrant wrench. She knew to open the valve slowly and fully, as a partial release could cause series damages to the plug and the firefighter. “It’s wet.” Which meant there was already water in the barrel. She strode to Zander with the hose. He got behind her.
Lynne levered then nozzle back and the large hose bucked, pushing her into Zander with its force. He groaned. “Lightweight.”
She sprayed the bottom floor and as soon as the flames were out, she did the same on the top. The brick peeled back and they could see the plastic insulation, which must have caused the smell.
The cap shook his head. “A disaster waiting to…”
Pop, pop, pop, pop! Holy hell. From living out in the county, Lynne recognized the sound. “Somebody’s shooting at us?”
“Not necessarily.” Though there had been crazies who opened fire at firefighters. Zander radioed Incident Command. “What is it, Tom?”
“Ammunition in the basement. Let the it run its course and get back as far as you can. Hold onto the hoses in case of reignition from the bullets.”
Lynne stepped two feet further back and listened to the ammo cooking. There had to be hundreds of rounds down there.
Over the radio, they heard, “Mayday, mayday, firefighter shot in the leg.”
“Fuck.” Frasier again over the radio.
The injured man wasn’t in their line of vision. But she could see the aerial raise from the truck and, faster than she thought possible, firefighters climbed up to the top. A stream of water erupted onto the roof.
Sirens sounded close by. Lynne looked over her shoulder. Another engine screeched to a halt in the front of the house, with an ambulance right behind.
Still, they waited. The inactivity chilled her so she jumped up and down a few times.
Finally, they heard, “All clear.”
Zander jogged up to the front of the house and took the steps to the entrance. He ducked inside, but he came out immediately. “The stairs are gone.” He radioed the message.
“Vent from your side then. Another truck is on the way, but got delayed by a detour. Nobody guessed this small fire would turn so bad.” He swore. “Get the Hurst tool from the truck that’s already here. Their crew is busy assisting the engine. You and your probie make the cuts when I give you the go ahead.”
“Go get the saw, Lucas. I’ll get the ladder.” He’d already brought along a halligan and pike.
A probie met her halfway and handed her the tool. She jogged back and saw Zander had already raised a ladder. “You wanna do it?”
She started the saw on the ground, a must for venting because if the tool didn’t work on the roof, they weren’t going to open in time. It roared to life. Switching it off, she handed the cutter to Zander and took the halligan and pike from the ground, then climbed the ladder which went up to the peak of the roof. She staged the pike on the ladder, which would be used to lever the roof later. Up here, the wind was worse and she felt its force.
Before she stepped on the roof, she tapped the shingles with the halligan in case it was spongy. It wasn’t, so she hammered the halligan ax into the roof between the lower rungs of the ladder. She stepped up and braced herself with one foot on the ax. She took the saw from Zander who’d followed her up.
He said into his radio, “On the roof, chief.”
With the wind at her back, Lynne turned on the saw, then stepped off the ladder. She made the first cut away from her, did a quick second cut on an angle then a third downward cut. Next, she made another cut toward her on the bottom.
She stepped back onto her the ladder because cut five would be the final one to the complete the square. The saw snarled its way through from the first cut down to the fourth. Quickly, Lynne grabbed the pike and hooked it on the far end of the sliced square. It louvered up on a beam and shielded her when the fire burst out in angry flames. The angled piece of roof also funneled the heat and smoke away from her.
Zander said into the radio, “Ventilation complete.”
They descended the ladder and once on the ground, Zander pushed up his facemask. Lynne the same. The cold stung her in the face. “Good work, Lucas.” His smile was big and genuine. He reached over and squeezed her shoulder.
“Thanks, sir.” She knew she’d done everything perfectly. She should. She’d taught this maneuver to recruits.
Together they gathered the tools and walked over to Incident Command.
“Fuck it,” BC Frasier said when they reached him.
Zander asked him what was wrong.
“A rookie didn’t have his air pack on and it took time to strap him in. And the damn ammo endangered us all, then hit one of my favorite lieutenants in the leg. To top it off, the aerial got stuck. Luckily on its way down. But totally avoidable.”
Zander checked his watch. “We made decent time.”
“Yeah, I know. But I hate mistakes.”
He clapped Frasier on the arm. “Try to look on the bright side, Tom. We did okay.”
When the crew piled in into the rig, which was gratefully warm, Braxton and Blackfeather were chatter-bugs. He said, “I wonder how much ammo and guns the guy lost. I heard he was cryin’ about it on the front lawn.”
Blackfeather’s expression darkened. “I saw Davidson get shot. Scared me shitless.”
“What’d you do?”
“I’d stepped back as soon as the popcorn sounds started. But I dragged him out of the way of more bullets.”
Lynne watched the dynamics. She noticed Zander didn’t chat. Like she never had. Too many things to remember for the debriefing.
When they got back to the house, Lynne bounded off the rig and stopped to take in a breath of early November air. The call had been exhilarating. This was exact reason she’d upended her life and come to Crystal Corners.