He’d disappeared into thin air for almost a week. For a little while there, Max and I thought maybe he skipped town after the beating we gave him. If I were him, I’d definitely leave as soon as possible with all my teeth still intact. I was this close to ripping his tongue right out of his mouth for speaking to Alice the way he did. If he had any smarts about him –which I sincerely doubted– he’d get out of dodge as soon as possible.
By the time we were finished dousing the flames, my mind and body were both exhausted. I was busy loading everything away, mindlessly winding up drained hoses. My thoughts started trailing off, and I had an overwhelming urge to crawl up in the back of the firetruck and take a nap.
Max nudged me with his elbow as he readjusted his fire helmet. “You okay?”
“When’s the relief team getting here?” I whined. “Chief Wilson said they were coming in from another district. They’ve got to be here by now, right?”
“No clue,” he said unhelpfully.
Over the crackle of our radio, we heard the voice of a female dispatcher speaking clearly, “I have a Code 3, I repeat, Code 3 to the corner of Rhogam and Sal.”
Max frowned at me. “Rhogam and Sal? That’s–”
“We’ve received a 10-67 from Jessy’s Diner. Suspected arsonist appears to be inside the building. Proceed with caution, he may be armed.”
“Oh, fuck,” I hissed, getting straight into the truck.
I drove like a madman, laying into the horn with a righteous fury when drivers didn’t immediately move out of the way. Max and the rest of my team in the back of the fire truck cabin held onto their seatbelts for dear life as I weaved in and out of traffic like a motorcyclist with a death wish. The only difference between me and a motorcyclist was that my bike was quadruple the size and weighed a thousand pounds more.
And my only death wish was for Kellan West.
My heart sank into the pit of my stomach when we arrived at Jessy’s Diner. The fire had already spread to the roof, thick black smoke filling the inside so that I couldn’t even glimpse through the diner’s windows to see if Alice was okay. If I slammed harder on the brakes than I necessary, nobody dared say a thing. I practically jumped out of the driver’s seat, landing with a loud thud. Everything hurt, I could barely concentrate. The only thing on my mind was making sure Alice was safe.
I knew we shouldn’t have let her go to work today. Each day that Kellan didn’t make a move was one more day he had to plan. I knew there was something strange about all the fires we dealt with earlier that day. They’d only been a distraction, emergency calls meant to waste our time while Kellan worked on his real project –burning Jessy’s Diner to the ground. One look at the building and I could tell it was a goner. There was already too much structural damage. The frame was already leaning slightly to one side, the roof was seconds away from collapsing, and the fire had begun to spread to the neighboring convenience store.
“Come on,” I shouted to Max.
“I’m right behind you.”
There had to be another way into the building. Surely the place had a back door we could enter through. There was no telling if people were still trapped inside, blocked off by the roaring flames devouring the front entrance. Max and I rounded the building in a hurry. I gripped onto my fire ax tight, silently praying that I could get to Alice in time.
When we turned the corner, my eyes fell upon a grimy man with a crazed look in his eye. Kellan was busy barricading the back door with heavy boxes and crates that had been left out in the alley. On the other side of the door, I could hear people inside screaming, banging on its surface begging to get out.
“Kellan!” I screamed. “Get the hell away from there!”
Kellan turned around in a hurry, skittish. “Oh, shit.” He immediately dashed in the opposite direction, nearly tripping over a cardboard box as she fled.
I didn’t have time to yell at him. He wasn’t my priority. With any luck, the police would catch him now that I had a positive ID of who the arsonist really was. Max helped me shove the obstructions out of the way and pry the door open. People burst out, coughing up their lungs as smoke bellowed above their heads.
Alice was one of the very last to exit the building. Ash was streaked across her brow and cheek bones, her eyes were all watery from contact with the fumes, and a bit of her hair had been singed near the ends. I held onto her, noticing that she was seconds away from losing her balance.