For the next several days I’ll be doing a FREE READ of one chapter of each of my books. Next up is the second of my firemen/paramedic novellas – Where There’s Smoke (Burnin’ for You Book #2). Keep reading to get to know Lucas and Evan even better….
Daniel and Lucas had kitchen duty that afternoon, so while the rest of the crew scrubbed down the engine and truck from the fire that morning, the two men were up to their elbows in soap suds from the lunch dishes when the station alarm sounded. Lucas and Daniel stopped what they were doing and looked up at the P.A. speaker as the dispatcher’s voice came over it.
“Station 127 – vehicle in the water. 300 block of North 12th Street, cross street Wilshire. Time out – 13:25.”
“Ready to go swimming?” Daniel asked as they hurriedly dried off their hands.
Lucas shook his head at the sandy haired fireman, leading the way to the fire pole. “I told Evan today was gonna be batshit crazy.”
Lucas’s heel tapped a staccato rhythm against the floor of the engine as Kyle expertly maneuvered the large vehicle through the congested New York streets. Water rescues were always difficult and dangerous and required instant action the moment they were on the scene. Time was their enemy when a car was filling with water with a person trapped inside. In preparation, the crew’s turnout gear was stored, saving precious seconds removing the bulky clothing if they were needed to enter the water.
And based on the yelling and screaming of the bystanders as Station 127 pulled up onto the scene, they were going to be.
The bus was ahead of the engine, Evan and Alix out of their vehicle and running toward the water’s edge by the time Lucas had jumped down from his seat. There were a half dozen people there, all pointing toward the water, yelling that no one had gotten out, ripples barely visible on the surface. The entire car was already underwater.
Lucas turned and grabbed the pry bar, toed off his shoes, then sprinted toward the water with the rest of the crew, his heart in his throat. Ahead of him he saw Evan and Alix dive in, and without waiting for orders from Jeff, Lucas held his breath…and hit the water.
The shock of the ice cold water of the East River nearly took Lucas’s precious held breath away. He blinked furiously, the water murky and dark, nearly impossible to see through. But there, a dark shape to his left had to be the sunken car. Kicking his legs, Lucas was upon the vehicle in seconds.
This wasn’t a car or pickup truck. It was a small daycare school bus.
Through the dark water Lucas could see Evan and Alix on the driver’s side, pulling open the door, so Lucas swam to the opposite side. His lungs beginning to burn, Lucas jammed the pry bar into the school bus doors and forced them open enough for him to get inside.
The scene was grim. Three small children, their eyes closed, floated motionless inside the bus. Two boys, one blond, one dark haired, were at the back of the bus, while a young blonde girl with pigtails was right in front of Lucas. His lungs near to bursting now, in desperate need of air, Lucas took hold of the little girl and swam out of the bus.
He burst through the surface, immediately drawing in deep breaths of fresh air. He saw Evan and Alix swimming ahead of him, pulling the unconscious male driver between them.
“Get another bus!” Alix screamed out to Jeff, just as Lucas yelled out, “Toby! Shawn! There’s two more!”
The two firemen reacted instantly, diving in the water and swimming furiously out to Lucas’s position before heading under the surface.
Lucas cradled the little girl against his chest as he swam toward the edge, the freezing water turning his limbs to lead weights. But then Tom and Kyle were there, taking the girl from his arms and helping him up out of the water. Ignoring how he was shaking from the cold, Lucas immediately turned his attention to the child, along with Kyle. She wasn’t breathing, nor could Lucas detect a pulse on the five year-old.
“Damn it,” Lucas swore, turning the small body to the side and opening her mouth, letting any water trapped there drain out before returning her to her back.
“Okay, let’s do this,” Lucas said to Kyle, who nodded back.
All firemen were trained in basic first aid and CPR, which Lucas was grateful for right now as Kyle positioned himself at the little girl’s head. Tilting her head back and pinching her nose closed, Kyle blew two breaths into her mouth, her small chest rising and falling. Using the heel of one hand, Lucas began the chest compressions, counting out loud.
“One and two and three and four and five – breathe!”
Another breath from Kyle and Lucas started the cycle again, peripherally aware of Evan and Alix working on the driver and Shawn and Toby being pulled out of the water by Tom and Daniel with the other two boys.
“One and two and three and four and five – breathe! C’mon, sweetheart, c’mon…”
But the child lay unmoving while Lucas and Kyle continued on with the CPR, Lucas wished desperately for an intubation tube and bag, along with the paddles, but the bus only had one set, and Lucas could see Evan drying off the driver’s chest in preparation to shock him.
So Kyle and Lucas kept on with their desperate task to save the life of this little girl, hearing the voices of Tom and Daniel echoing his own as they worked on the boys.
“One and two and three and four and five – breathe!”
In a rush of lights and sirens, 99’s bus arrived. The two paramedics spilled from the ambulance with their gear and rushed over to Jeff, who directed them over to the two boys, then jogged over to Kyle and Lucas.
“I’ve got 51’s bus on the way, too,” Jeff told them, then looked down at the little girl. “Anything?”
Lucas shook his head as Kyle blew in another breath. “I need paddles.”
Jeff looked over at Evan and Alix. “I think you’re about to get them.”
Lucas risked a glance at the two medics right before he began compressions again, watching as Alix shook her head and Evan ran a hand down his face, sitting back from the body of the driver. They’d lost him.
“One and two and three and four and five – breathe! Don’t do this baby, don’t do this…”
A hand on his shoulder and Lucas turned his head to see Alix crouched down beside him, gear in tow.
“We got it, Luke,” she said, opening up the drug box.
Lucas nodded, moving out of the way. “Five cycles, no response,” he told her, standing up, watching as Kyle got out of Evan’s way as well.
More lights and sirens and 51’s bus arrived on the scene. Jeff directed the paramedics over to the second little boy that Daniel and Shawn were still working on.
The crew of 127 moved to stand silently together to watch the scene play out before them, having done all they could for the three small victims, praying it would be enough as the minutes ticked by.
Lucas didn’t realize how badly he was shivering from the cold and his wet uniform until Tom draped his turnout coat over his shoulders. “Thanks,” he murmured to his friend, sparing him a glance before looking back at Alix and Evan, hands clenched into fists as he watched them work.
The paramedics from 99 were the first to call their victim, unable to revive the boy through CPR, drugs and defibrillation. Lucas watched as one of the men hung his head and gently placed his hand on the little boy’s chest.
“Damn it,” Toby whispered, closing his eyes, the boy having been the one that he and Tom had been working on. Toby took a breath, running his hand through his wet blond hair, then walked over to the little boy, followed by Tom. The medics from 99 stepped to the side as Toby crouched down next to the child, slipping his turnout coat from his shoulders to gently lay over the small body.
Lucas closed his eyes and looked away, a hollow feeling in his stomach that only deepened when 51’s paramedics reluctantly stopped working on the second boy.
“God, not him, too,” came Daniel’s anguished voice, the fireman stepping forward a moment later with Shawn to kneel down beside the child. Daniel ran his fingers gently through the boy’s dark hair before slowly laying his own turnout jacket over his body, Shawn’s hand coming to rest on Daniel’s shoulder.
As one, all eyes turned desperately to Alix and Evan, the last hope in this devastating afternoon, watching as Alix pressed a red button on the defibrillator machine.
A tone sounded and Evan called back, “Clear!” before depressing the buttons on the small paddles for the second time, the little girl’s body jerking on the cement.
Alix shook her head sadly. “Still no conversion. She’s flat line, Evan,” she finished quietly, sitting back on her heels.
But Evan threw the paddles down and began chest compressions again.
Alix reached over and put her hand on Evan’s upper arm. “Evan, stop,” she said gently.
Evan shook his head fiercely, continuing on with the chest compressions. “No! Not all of them! Not her, too!”
Lucas dropped slowly down beside Evan, placing a hand over the other man’s, stilling Evan’s movements. Lucas felt tears prick behind his eyes and his voice was thick when he spoke.
“She’s gone, Evan.”
The young medic remained motionless for several heartbeats before standing up so suddenly that he nearly knocked Lucas over. Pushing past the rest of the crew, Evan strode straight over to the bus, and without missing a beat, slammed his fist into the side of it.
Lucas hung his head, feeling Evan’s pain deep inside as he looked upon the still form of the beautiful little girl.
“I’m sorry,” Lucas whispered brokenly, then gently draped her body with his jacket.
Silence fell over the solemn scene as twelve men and one woman grieved for three lives that ended before they could really begin.
The mood back at the station house was somber when the crew returned, minus Evan and Alix, who needed to remain at the scene along with the paramedics from 51 and 99 until the coroner arrived, and then had take care of the paperwork on the run at the hospital. The men went about their duties for the remainder of the afternoon, but there was no friendly banter or chit-chat as they rolled hose or mopped the floors, each man lost in his own thoughts. In the line of work they were in, it was inevitable that death would touch them in some way, but it was rare for it to happen to everyone at once, and so profoundly.
Lucas was alone in the dorms, lying on his bunk, staring blankly up at the ceiling when Tom found him. The tall fireman sat down at the foot of the bed, resting his forearms on his legs and looked off at the far wall for several moments before turning to look at Lucas.
“Are you ready to face that kind of thing everyday?” Tom asked quietly, sincerely.
Lucas was silent for several heartbeats. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t affected by it,” he finally answered. “I know being a paramedic is going to be hard as hell sometimes, but it’s still what I really want to do, Tommy.”
Tom nodded and knocked his hand against Lucas’s leg. “Okay,” he replied, pausing for a second before continuing. “I know you’ve got Evan now, but if you get a tough run like that one and wanna talk, you know I’m here for you, right?”
Lucas smiled at his long time friend. “I do. Thanks, Tommy.”
Another nod from Tom, then the rumble of the bay door opening downstairs caught their attention.
Tom inclined his head toward the stairs. “Go see your boy. I’m sure he’s still hurting, too.”
Lucas blew out a long breath then rose from the bed, clasping Tom on his shoulder before heading downstairs. He could see the bus parked in Bay One, the rear doors open, Evan sitting inside writing on a clipboard. He started for the ambulance, but Alix cut him off at the bottom of the stairs.
“Leave him be for a bit, Luke,” she told him. “He’s not ready to talk yet.”
Every instinct Lucas had was telling him to go to the young man, but Alix knew Evan’s state of mind better right now, so he bit his lip and remained where he was.
“Did you get everything squared away at Mercy?” he asked Alix.
She nodded. “I didn’t think we were ever going to finish the paperwork.” She tilted her head slightly. “Doc told us that the driver had a heart attack behind the wheel. He was dead before he hit the water. And the kids…” she trailed off, swallowing deeply.
Lucas stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her. “You did everything you could. We all did.”
She nodded against his chest. “I know. It’s still hard, though,” she replied as she and Lucas moved apart. “And Evan knows it, too. He just needs to process everything for awhile.”
“Yeah,” Lucas sighed, again watching Evan in the back of the ambulance.
“Is the Cap upstairs?” Alix asked, moving toward the stairs.
“Um, yeah. He’s been in his office since we got back,” Lucas answered as Alix walked away.
Lucas stood there for a long moment, hands stuffed in his pockets, torn between going upstairs himself or talking to Evan. Finally his feet seemed to decide for him, as they walked him over to the bus.
“Hey,” Lucas said softly, but Evan didn’t acknowledge him. “Please don’t keep this bottled up. Talk to me, okay? It would do us both some good.”
Evan never looked up from his inventory paperwork, but Lucas saw his throat working, his jaw muscle tight.
“I love you, and I’m here,” Lucas told him quietly before reluctantly turning and leaving Evan to his thoughts.
Early evening found Lucas outside, in the back of the station, his arms propped on the low wall, watching the sunset. It was a day when the crew desperately needed another run to take their mind off of things, but instead the station alarm had remained stubbornly silent.
Dinner was a quiet affair of low conversations before the crew wandered away to their own devices. Alix buried her nose in a mystery novel while Daniel and Tom pulled out the chess set. Shawn, Toby and Kyle were out front tossing around the football and Jeff was on the treadmill. Lucas had tried studying for his last two final exams but found he couldn’t concentrate on his textbooks, his thoughts on Evan instead. The young medic hadn’t spoken a word since he and Alix returned, heading up to the dorms straight after dinner.
Footsteps behind him had Lucas turning, surprised to see Evan silhouetted against the light spilling out from the back door of the station, walking slowly toward him. Lucas said nothing as Evan approached, letting the younger man decide if he felt like talking or just wanted the company.
The pain etched on Evan’s face had Lucas’s heart clenching in his chest, and when Evan reached out for him, Lucas wrapped his arms around Evan without a word, holding him close as Evan’s shoulders shook and silent tears fell from his hazel eyes.
Normally Lucas would’ve been grateful for an uninterrupted 8-hour night with no calls, but he would’ve given anything for a simple trash fire last night to stop him from closing his eyes. Because every time he did, all he could see were three small bodies, floating in the water. He tossed and turned the entire night, watching across from him as Evan did the same. They were both bleary-eyed by the time shift change happened at 8:00 am, blinking into the sunlight as they stepped out of the station house, waving good-bye to the rest of their crew.
“Your place or mine?” Lucas asked, realizing that soon it would be just their place.
“My mailbox is probably overflowing,” Evan replied.
“Yours it is, then,” Lucas said, stepping to the curb and hailing a cab, which arrived just fifteen seconds later.
They were quiet on the 10-block ride, sitting close together, legs touching. They were almost at Evan’s apartment when the younger man bumped Lucas’s shoulder and indicated out the window with a tip of his head and a small grin. Lucas looked over and felt his face warm as they passed by Casey’s bar, where he and Evan had first met.
“We haven’t been there in awhile,” Lucas said. “Maybe we should go tonight. Get our minds off things.”
Evan nodded as the cab pulled up to his building and he opened the door. “Might be a good idea.”
Evan said hello to one of his neighbors as they entered the building, stopping to pull his mail out of his box before they climbed the stairs to his third floor apartment. It was bright and warm with the morning sun when they walked in, Evan heading to the kitchen with Lucas following.
“Want coffee?” Lucas asked.
Evan shook his head, slumping down wearily onto one of the kitchen chairs, spreading his mail out in front of him. He picked up one envelope before tossing it down, unopened, closing his eyes, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. Lucas stepped up to him and Evan turned on the chair, legs on either side of Lucas.
Lucas ran his fingers through Evan’s hair. “Do I look as bad as you do?”
Evan chuckled, then leaned forward, resting his head on Lucas’s chest, wrapping his arms around Lucas’s waist. Lucas smiled tiredly, rubbing a hand soothingly up and down Evan’s back.
“C’mon,” he said softly after a few minutes, urging Evan up from the chair, leading him into the bedroom.
He kissed Evan tenderly, then helped him off with his clothes, down to his boxers. While Evan pulled back the covers on the bed and climbed in, Lucas stripped down to his own boxers, then slid in with Evan.
Evan smiled and pulled Lucas close, sighing contentedly. “God, this feels nice,” he murmured, before pressing his lips gently against Lucas’s.
Their kisses were soft and languid, a lazy slide of tongues, while hands caressed bare skin, the purpose not to arouse, just the need to feel close to one another. Several long minutes later they let the kisses gradually end, resting their foreheads against one another. Lucas felt his eyelids drooping, sleep creeping up to claim him and he let it, wrapped in Evan’s arms where nightmares couldn’t reach him.
CONTINUED IN WHERE THERE’S SMOKE