Gray tossed the crowbar through the opening. It clattered above.

He turned to Fiona and waved her to him.

"Can you get on top of the bookshelves and—?"

"I saw how you got over there." She scrambled up onto the bookcase.

A pop drew Gray's attention below. The bookcase shuddered under him.

Uh-oh…

His weight and the burning lower tiers were rapidly weakening his perch. He reached to the hole and half pulled himself up, shifting his weight off the shelf.

"Hurry," he urged the girl.

With her arms held out for balance, Fiona edged along the top of the bookcase. About a yard away.

"Hurry," he repeated.

"I heard you the first—"

With a resounding crack, the section of bookcase under Gray collapsed. He gripped the edges of the hole tighter as the case toppled away, crashing into the fire. A fresh wash of heat, ash, and flames swept high.

Fiona screamed as her section shook, but held.

Hanging by his arms, Gray called to her. "Leap over to me. Grab around my shoulders."

Fiona needed no further encouragement as her case wobbled. She jumped and struck him hard, arms latching around his neck, legs clinging around his waist. He was almost knocked from his perch. He swung in place.

"Can you use my body to climb up through the hole?" he asked with a strain.

"I…I think so."

She hung a moment longer, not moving.

The rough edges of the hole tore at his fingers. "Fiona…"

She trembled against him, then worked her way around to his back. Once moving, she climbed quickly, planting a toe into his belt, then pushing off his shoulder. She was through the hole with all the agility of a spider monkey.

Below, a bonfire of books and shelving raged.

Gray gladly hauled himself up after her, worming through the hole and beaching himself on the floor. He was in the center of a hallway. Rooms spread out in either direction.

"Fire's up here, too," Fiona whispered, as if afraid to attract the flames' attention.

Rolling to his feet, Gray saw the flickering glow from the back half of the apartment. Smoke choked these halls, even thicker than below.

"C'mon," he said. It was still a race.

Gray hurried down the hall away from the fire. He ended at one of the boarded upper windows. He peeked between two slats. Sirens could be heard in the distance. People gathered in the street below: onlookers and gawkers. And surely hidden among them was a gunman or two.

Gray and the girl would be exposed if they tried climbing out the window.

Fiona studied the crowd, too. "They won't let us leave, will they?"

"Then we'll get out on our own."

Gray backed away and searched up. He pictured the attic dormer window he'd spotted earlier from the street. They needed to reach the roof.

Fiona understood his intention. "There's a pull-down ladder in the next room." She led the way. "I would come up here to read sometimes when Mutti…" Fiona's voice cracked, and her words died.

Gray knew the girl would be haunted by the death of her grandmother for a long time. He put his arm around her shoulder, but she shrugged out of it angrily and stepped away.

"Over here," she said and entered what once must have been a sitting room. Now it held only a few crates and a faded, ripped sofa.

Fiona pointed to a frayed rope hanging from the ceiling, attached to a trapdoor in the roof.

Gray tugged it down, and a collapsible wooden ladder slid to the floor. He climbed first, followed by Fiona.

The attic was unfinished: just insulation, rafters, and rat droppings. The only light came from a pair of dormer windows. One faced the front street, the other toward the back. Thin smoke filled the space, but so far no flames.

Gray decided to try the rear window. It faced west, leaving the roof in shadow this time of day. Also, that side of the row house was on fire. Their attackers might be less attentive to it.

Gray hopped from rafter to rafter. He could feel the heat from below. One section of insulation was already smoldering, the fiberglass melting.

Reaching the window, Gray checked below. The roof pitch was such that he could not see into the courtyard behind the shop. And if he couldn't see them, they couldn't see him. Additionally, smoke roiled up from the broken windows below, offering additional cover.

For once, the fire was to their advantage.

Still, Gray stood well to the side as he unhooked the window latch and pushed it open. He waited. No gunshots. Sirens could now be heard converging on the street outside.

"Let me go first," Gray whispered in Fiona's ear. "If all's clear—"

A low roar erupted behind them.

They both turned. A tongue of flame shot out of the heart of the burning insulation, licking high, cracking and smoking. They were out of time.

"Follow me," Gray said.

He edged out the window, staying low. It was wonderfully cool out on the roof, the air crisp after the perpetual stifle.

Buoyed by the escape, Gray tested the roof tiles. The pitch was steep, but he had good grip with his boots. With care, walking was manageable. He stepped away from the shelter of the window and aimed for the roofline to the north. Ahead, the gap between the row houses was less than three feet. They should be able to leap the distance.

Satisfied, he turned back to the window. "Okay, Fiona…be careful."

The girl popped her head out, searched around, then crept onto the roof. She stayed crouched, almost on all fours.

Gray waited for her. "You're doing fine."

She glanced over to him. Distracted, she failed to spot a cracked tile. Her toe shattered through it. It broke away, causing her to lose her balance. She landed hard on her belly—and began to slide.

Her fingers and toes fought for purchase, but to no avail.

Gray lunged for her. His fingers found only empty air.

Her speed increased as she skated over the tiles. More tiles broke away in her frantic attempt to halt her plummet. Shards of pottery chattered and bounced ahead of her, becoming an avalanche of roof tiles.

Gray lay splayed on his belly. There was nothing he could do to help.

"The gutter!" he called after her, forgoing caution. "Grab the gutter!"

She seemed deaf to his words, fingers scrabbling, toes gouging out more tiles. She bumped over on her side and began to roll. A fluttering scream escaped her.

The first few broken tiles rained over the edge. Gray heard them shatter to the stone courtyard below with firecracker pops.

Then Fiona followed, tumbling over the roof edge, arms flailing.

And she was gone.

3 UKUFA

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
Loading...