“Alright, gentlemen,” Tray yelled out, turning from the fireball in the sky to face the rest of us. “Let’s haul ass.”
The sounds of phones and radios going off, alerting everyone about the call, rang out at the same time and Stackhouse released his hold on me, only to take a step forward and lean over Andre, warning in a deadly tone, “This ain’t over.”
Then turning to face me, the punch I’d expected was never delivered. Instead he unexpectedly said, “And as soon as this is over, you and me are gonna have a talk. And you’re buyin’ the beer.”
And a grin overtook his face when he added, “Just as soon as Sook is done handin’ you your ass.”
So we were thinking along the same lines about at least one thing.
I was in deep shit with his sister.
But it seemed the shit didn’t run as deep with her brother, so that was something.
If I had him on my side – and if Sookie could hold off on killing me – maybe I even had a chance to convince her father I was good enough for his daughter.
But remembering how screwed I knew I would be if we ended up having daughters, my wishful thinking turned realistic.
No man would be good enough for my daughter, so I could hardly expect her dad to feel any differently.
Maybe I would lead off with that.
We had something in common, more than just Sookie.
And my realistic thinking had me believing more than likely it would be her dad that would deliver the punch to the face I was still expecting.
Clapping me on the back with an amused shake of his head, Stackhouse ran off towards the parking lot. In addition to the regular POV’s, it was filled with patrol cars and every vehicle from our station. Some of the guys on the team were on duty at the same time, but in a situation like the one we knew we would be facing, it was all hands on deck.
My eyes automatically went back to the stand where I’d last seen Sookie, but with the amount of people filing down from them and running across the field, it was impossible for me to get a bead on her.
Having my Sookie sensor on the fritz was inconvenient in more ways than one.
So I could only hope she was doing okay after everything that had just happened.
And hope she currently was not doing CPR on her dad.
But I didn’t have time to face the music right now. However what I couldn’t help but face was Tray’s face as he walked over to where Andre was still lying on the ground a few feet in front of me.
Now sitting up, he was trying to wipe the dirt and blood from his mouth, when Tray glared down at him and ordered, “You will stay behind and gather all of our softball gear and then take it back to the station.”
“But there’s a fire!” he whined.
“Which is why you’ll stay behind to get our gear,” he said with his glare still in place. “You’ve already shown you’re not capable of following orders today, so I suggest you think long and hard about whether or not this is the right career for you.”
And then letting his eyes dart to me for a second, he looked back down at him and added, “And whether or not you feel safe going to sleep in the same building as the rest of us. In the meantime, the rest of us who know what the fuck we’re doing will handle the fire. Right now, I wouldn’t trust you to put out a lit match.”
“But I rode over here with everyone else,” he argued. “How am I supposed to get everything back to the station all by myself, with no way of getting there?”
Kicking his cleats with his own and kicking up more dirt in the dirtbag’s face in the process, Tray replied, “The old fashioned way.”
Then glancing over at the now emptied out dugout and all of the gloves, bats, and helmets left behind, Tray added, “It would take a normal person two trips – one, if they were dedicated – but since it’s you, I’m guessing it’ll take five. So you best get moving.”
Standing there, all I wanted to do was punch him in the face for every whiny word he’d uttered, but now wasn’t the time for that.
His ass was mine.
But I was willing to let Stackhouse have a shot at him first.
He could kick Andre’s ass, while Sookie was kicking mine.
The sounds of tires pealing out of the gravel parking lot grabbed my attention, along with the various sirens now blaring, and Tray grabbed my arm in the same moment, to pull me along with him as we began jogging towards the rig, while he asked, “You okay?”
“Yeah,” I automatically responded. “I had his arms pinned against his sides with my knees, so he didn’t even get a punch in.”
“I’m not talking about the fight,” he said, sounding frustrated and came to an abrupt stop. Looking over at the cloud of black smoke growing bigger in the distance, he turned back towards me and added, “I’m talking about you. You obviously have some shit going on and I need to know if your head is in the game before we go in to tackle firezilla.”
“I’m fine,” I argued back, but knowing I didn’t sound fine, I calmed my tone before adding, “I’ve had some shit going on for the last year and while yelling it out for all the world to hear wasn’t exactly the plan, the reveal was planned for today.”
Running my fingers through my hair, I shrugged with my sighed out, “She’ll forgive me – and possibly kick me in the balls – but Sookie and I will be fine.”
It wasn’t until I said the words out loud that I knew it to be absolutely true.
No matter what happened, Sookie and I would be fine.
“Big Daddies!” Jake yelled from a distance and brought our attention back to the parking lot.
Dangling out the side of the rig and now wearing his turnout pants, but still wearing his softball jersey, he shouted, “Get a move on! We gotta roll!”
Our feet automatically started jogging towards the rig again, with Tray snorting out, “A year. Now I’m never gonna get any peace.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, reaching the rig first and catapulting myself inside.
Tray followed me in and shut the door behind him before turning to me and saying, “The know-it-all I’m married to said Sook’s been acting squirrely for the last year. Disappearing from time to time and not telling anyone where she’s been or who she’s been with. Turning down dates left and right. For a hot second Ames thought she might’ve started playing for the same team and was testing the waters by joking about it at the bar. So when Sook joked about it at the house, she got me to wondering. But it wasn’t until the wedding that Ames became convinced you were the nut Sook’s been trying to hide from everyone else.”
If burying myself balls deep inside of Sookie at every opportunity counted as hiding nuts, then Amelia was a lot more perceptive than I’d given her credit for.
But her relationship with Tray suddenly made a lot more sense.
The priest had gotten it wrong.
He should have pronounced them as Mr. and Mrs. Observant Mother Fuckers.
All of our gear was in the truck, so I kicked off my cleats and started changing out of one uniform for another, when Jake put the rig in gear and cautiously piped up from the driver’s seat, “Now…don’t hit me, but I gotta say it. Well done, Daddy Northman. My new Mommy is fi-ine.”
“I’m gonna hit you,” I warned, with a chuckle. “I’ll just wait until you least expect it.”
He would definitely get a smack up the backside of his head if he called her Mommy to her face.
And a punch to the balls if he asked her if he could breastfeed.
At the very least…
“Well, at least I know why you ditched us last weekend,” he huffed from the exertion of making a sharp right turn. “I’d ditch us too if I could be with Mommy instead.”
“And when I hit you,” I replied with a wry grin. “It’s gonna leave a mark.”
“Scars are cool,” he grinned. “Chicks dig ‘em, especially when you embellish the truth a little and say you got them, rescuing puppies and kittens from becoming baby-kabobs.”
Then turning to face me in the back of the cab, he waggled his eyebrows and said, “Throw in a little mouth to snout puppy CPR in there and you are in like Flynn.”
“Watch the road, Knucklehead,” Tray barked from his seat beside him, with his phone still at his ear.
I could tell by the questions he was asking he was getting more details about what we would be facing, but when I leaned to one side to pull my jersey off, I could see out the windshield and understood why he snapped at Jake.
The ladder truck we were in was huge and could easily take out anything short of a Mack truck if you weren’t careful. It couldn’t exactly stop on a dime either and thanks to having every emergency responder all gathered at the same location when the call went out, the route to the industrial park was congested with every lights and sirens equipped vehicle in the town.
We’d be lucky if we all made it there in one piece.
“Show of hands,” Jake snarled from his seat. “How many think it’d be worth it to knock a few patrol cars outta the way, since they’re driving Miss Daisy in front of us?”
The adrenaline was kicking in for all of us. It was a natural response, but playing bumper cars with the men in blue would only put us further behind.
Not that I really thought he’d go through with it.
Not that we all hadn’t thought about doing it at one time or another.
But Tray was the one to get us all to focus on the fire instead of Miss Daisy by saying, “The explosion came from Pale Rider.”
I don’t know which one of the guys in the rig actually said it, but we were all thinking it.
There were several companies housed in the industrial park, but there were four in particular that were especially dangerous and each one had been dubbed by us as the one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Pale Rider – also known as Death – was the worst of the bunch.
It manufactured ethylene, a colorless flammable gas that was used in the manufacturing of plastics.
It was also an atom bomb, just waiting to be detonated.
There were pipes that ran all throughout the facility, with the gas running through it, and led to several large tanks on sight where they stored the final product.
It would be like walking into a building filled with bombs.
The individual chemicals that made up the end product weren’t to be taken lightly either, but we’d trained for this exact scenario because the plant was located in our town.
So I reminded everyone of that fact, as we pulled up to the scene, by calling out, “Grab your Hazmat gear. You know what to do.”
Stepping out of the truck was like stepping into a war zone. It was pure chaos with people – both injured and not – scattering in all directions. Most of the cops on scene weren’t even in their uniforms and instead could be picked out based on their softball jerseys.
But we all knew each well enough to know who the leaders were, so I went up to John Flood, with my Hazmat gear in one hand and pulling on my oxygen tank with the other, while I said, “We need to cordon off the area and have everyone else in the park ordered to shelter in place.”
We wouldn’t have a good enough read on what we were dealing with for a while, so it was better to be safe than sorry.
But seeing the wounded being carried further away from the building, I turned to him and added, “And we’re going to need to set up an area for the Med-Flight chopper to land. Some of these people are going to need to be airlifted out of here.”
It was bad.
I could already hear Tray over the radio clipped to my gear, ordering someone to put out a call to the surrounding towns to get their help. We didn’t have enough buses to get all of the people who needed medical treatment to the hospital, so when Flood nodded and began barking orders at his people, I ran back towards the guys to get started when I heard someone calling for help.
Turning towards the sound, I recognized Hoyt Fortenberry.
Covered in soot and with a small gash on his head, he was still wearing his softball uniform as he was helping one of the workers from the plant get outside, practically carrying the guy since he could hardly stay upright.
So I detoured towards him and helped him get the guy to the triage area that was still in the process of being set up, yelling more out of exasperation than anything else, “What the fuck were you doing inside?”
“There were people still trapped in there!” he yelled back, but his frustration turned to worry when he added, “I didn’t see anyone else, but…”
Following his eyes when they moved back over the crowd until they finally settled on the exit, my stomach dropped hearing him say, “I think Jason is still inside.”
“Stackhouse?” I heard myself ask.
I didn’t think there was another cop named Jason on the force, but I could have been wrong.
But I didn’t wait around to find out the answer and instead ran into the building, without my Hazmat gear, shouting out, “STACKHOUSE!”
Knowing smoke followed the path of least resistance, I already knew from the velocity coming through the door that the fire itself was burning from somewhere deeper inside. In my own experience I knew by finding the fastest smoke coming through the smallest opening, that was where the fire would be found.
Now I just had to find Sookie’s brother before I found where those two things would be coming from.
“STACKHOUSE!” I yelled again, moving further into the building and keeping my eyes peeled for anyone left inside.
The guys were all still in the process of unloading the hoses from the truck and getting the gear out when I ran inside, so I was pretty sure I was the only one from the station in the building.
A fact that was confirmed when I heard Tray yelling into the radio, “NORTHMAN! GET YOUR ASS BACK OUTSIDE!”
Keying the mic on my collar, I replied, “I will. Just as soon as I find Stackhouse and drag his ass back outside with me.”
The building was huge and made up of cinderblock and steel, so the further I moved into it, the more unreliable my radio became because whatever Tray said in response mostly came through as static.
But I was able to pick out the words, “Fuck,” and “Asshole.”
I’d have to wait until later to find out whether or not he was talking about me or Stackhouse.
But he was probably talking about both of us.
The smoke wasn’t as dense, but that was only good as far as the odds of me finding him still conscious. Dense black smoke could render someone unconscious after only a few breaths and kill them within minutes.
But the white smoke was gaining in velocity the further into the building I moved.
I was getting closer to the fire.
“Hey! Is anyone in there?”
Hearing the voice up ahead I thought to be Jason’s, I put on a burst of speed and rounded the corner into a huge room filled with shit – pointy stabby shit – that I didn’t want to be anywhere near if there was another explosion.
But what I saw next felt like I was seeing it happen in slow motion and fast forward all at the same time.
Jason Stackhouse was standing at the opposite end of the room facing away from me and moving towards a closed door.
A yellowish brown smoke was coming out of the seams around it in small puffs, giving it a kind of breathing effect.
And I knew that could only mean one thing.
Seeing him move towards the door, I may have shouted, “NO!”
All I could know for sure was that everything sped up – to include my forward motion – when I sprinted towards him.
I had no way of knowing if I reached him just in time or too little too late.
But just as he managed to lift his leg to kick the panic bar on the door to open it, I managed to take a flying leap at him as I saw the smoke being sucked back in through the seams, right before the pressure of the fire on the other side of the door exploded out into the room.
I had no idea how long I’d been out of it, but I came to finding myself lying on top of him. In my haste to run inside, I hadn’t closed my jacket and it ended up blanketing us both, protecting him from the flashover that had ignited across the room.
“Jesus,” he breathed out, once we both managed to open our eyes. “You weigh a ton.”
“I’d make a crack about your sister not minding,” I managed to chuckle. “But I’m not up for a fight right now, even if it’s true.”
I was the one lying on top of him and yet I felt like I was the one who was pinned.
“Yeah, well…seeing as how you just saved my ass with your own, I’ll let that one slide,” he huffed and tried to squirm out from under me.
When that got him nowhere, he finally pushed at my chest and said, “I’m figurin’ she already agreed to forever ever after with ya, but you gotta at least buy me dinner if you expect a two for one Stackhouse special…”
His eyes grew wide as his words trailed off, with him staring at my chest and making me say, “Give me a minute to catch my breath and I’ll move.”
It kind of felt like I’d had the wind knocked out of me, but not.
All I knew was that I couldn’t seem to get enough air into my lungs.
“Try not to move,” he said in an overly calm tone and gently tried to get out from under me.
“I just need a minute,” I repeated, concentrating on trying to pull air into my lungs.
“Take two,” he said with a weird look on his face, but tried to force a smile when he added, “You earned them.”
“What is it?” I asked, turning my head to try and see what had him acting so strangely.
There were several small fires going on around the room now and figuring that was it, I said, “They’re not going to burn out of control any time soon. We have time to get out of here.”
Once the pressure of the fire that had been contained in that one room was released by the explosion, it had been reduced to mostly smoldering embers.
We had time.
Moving like I was made of glass, he managed to get out from underneath me, but I still couldn’t seem to get my body to do what I wanted it to and asked, “Is there something lying on top of me?”
I couldn’t turn around enough to see and explained, “I feel like I’m being pinned down by something.”
“You’re gonna be fine,” he replied in a soothing tone.
“That’s not what I asked,” I responded warily and tried to figure out what was wrong.
Other than the fact I couldn’t sit up or breathe right.
But moving my head in what little way I could, I was able to see more smoke now coming from the other side of the room where I entered in from.
Thicker. Darker. Faster.
Black smoke that could become flammable itself, so I tried to gesture towards it on the other side of the room and weakly ordered, “You need to go, Jason.”
“Not without you, I don’t,” he protested in return and yet seemed leery of moving me.
Probably because I weighed a ton.
Or so I’d been told.
“I have the oxygen tank,” I argued back. I could feel it still strapped to my back, so I said, “Just put the mask over my face and go get Tray or one of the other guys. They’ll come and get me out.”
“Yeah,” he mused out loud. “That ain’t gonna happen. Have you ever seen my sister when she’s mad? Like really mad? I’d rather face dying in here than face her later on, if I left you here. At least in here my death will be quick. Sookie would take her time and draw it out.”
“I love how evil she can be,” I chuckled, but it had sounded forced, from what little air I had left and my vision was getting spotty.
“Why are we not moving then?” I asked, not sure if I was asking which one of us was lagging in the movement department.
So I used what remaining strength I had left to push myself up on my hands, but when I did I came face to face with a pool of blood underneath me.
Glancing down at my chest I saw my shirt was covered in red.
Further scrutiny led my eyes to see the tip of something pointy jutting maybe an inch or so out of the left side of my chest.
And then I remembered all of the pointy stabby things in the room I hadn’t wanted to be anywhere near if there was another explosion.
“Son of a bitch,” I grumbled and let myself back down onto the floor.
Sookie was gonna be so pissed.
But at least Jason and I seemed to be getting along.
So that was something.
“Yeah,” he agreed and knelt down next to my head. “I didn’t know how to bring it up that you couldn’t get up because you got javelined.”
My vision was back to being spotty at best and his words were starting to sound farther away, even though I knew he was right next to me.
But not knowing if it was just my vision or if it was the smoke in the room that was making everything seem darker, I managed to mumble out, “Go Jason. Leave me here.”
There was no need for both of us to die.
Just one of us would be bad enough.
Not only did I finally get Sookie to agree to marry me, but even her brother seemed okay with it.
And now I was going to die before I could even find out if she was going to kill me for spilling the beans.
It was bullshit.
Pure and simple.
The last thing I registered before the darkness consumed me was something covering my face and the sensation of being dragged across the floor, as I heard a faraway voice saying, “Not. Gonna. Happen.”