Authors: J.R. Tate
Tags: #Contemporary, #Mystery, #Romance, #Suspense, #Thriller, #EBF
Backfire – The Sequel to Through Smoke
The Troubled Heroes Series
By J.R. Tate
Cover art by J.R.
I would like to thank my parents, Tim and Patti Tate for their constant support in my writing. Through the good times and the bad, they have always been there for me, whether it be me venting, talking about a new idea, or j
ust rambling in general. Next, a big thanks
to Leslie Bandura,
, and Laura Sullivan
for taking the time to edit the manuscript and run over it with a
, to M.P. McDonald for participating in our writing sessions
and allowing me to toss around my ideas, concerns, and help whenever I felt stuck
. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would ever finish a book. I can’t thank all of you enough for your help that you have given in so many ways!
And last but not least, to all of the men and women who serve as first responders all across the world. Your brave service is greatly appreciated.
His lungs were tight. The visibility was practically zero. It felt as if someone was squeezing his chest. Squinting, he turned around to try and find another way out, but it was blocked by heat. In front of him, a wall of smoke engulfed the room. To his left, orange and blue flames licked the wall. The little girl he was holding buried her face into his jacket, her whimpers loud over the rumble of the inferno.
“McGinnis, where are you? Get the hell out of there, NOW!”
Michael reached for his radio
but couldn’t find it. The static was sharp in hi
s ear as he searched for
it on his shoulder. With no luck, his hope began to dissipat
e. It was crucial to be in contact
and give his location. Right now, he was missing in action with a little girl’s life in his hands.
“McGinnis, check in! We’re gonna lose the building!” The tinny voice of his lieutenant was strong.
Michael crouched down beside a brick wall and hovered over the young child. His instincts were shouting to get out now, but whi
ch direction? His air
would run out soon if they didn’t make a move. Digging under his jacket, he tried not to panic.
here in the hell was his radio?
“Son of a bitch, where the hell is it?” He checked on the girl who was growing more sluggish by the second. Her eyelids were slowly closing and her breathing was coming out in short pants. “Stay with me. I’m gonna get you out of here.”
Michael’s eyes scanned the room, and
what little of it he could see, his options were minimal. He could go toward the fire, back the way they had come. He at leas
t knew what was back there. Or
he could steer clear of the flames and try to make it through the thick smoke that lingered all around. He couldn’t lose this girl. Balling his fists up, he contemplated his choices one last time before making a decision – a decision that could affect two people in a matter of seconds.
, Michael chose the path that took them away from the fire and down the smoky hallway. He squatted low to try to get fresh air, but it was a
n unknown dimension. His air
was now empty and the toxic fumes
instantly poured through, burning his nostrils and throat. Coughing, he closed his eyes and felt a dizzy sensation overtaking him. He could only see a few steps in front of himself and a haunting thought crossed his mind. What if they came across a collapsed floor and fell right in? He knew he had to be quick in getting them out, but at the same time he had to be patient and watch every step he took to avoid that situation.
His legs were screaming out in pain. With each step
Michael’s muscles felt more and more like noodles. Gritting his teeth, he thought about the young life in his possession and that was enough inspiration to press on and get out.
“Oh, shit.” A sense of dread poured over him. Another wall of flames was ten feet away, hinde
ring their chances of survival
. Someone was punching him in the chest. His knees buckled and he fell to the wooden floor beneath them. The girl fell beside him, her body motionless. He could no longer move. Every bit of oxygen had been s
ucked away. Now, only the poisonous
smoke was available, shutting down his entire body.
It took every ounce of energy to reach his hand out and pat the girl on the back. “Hey, wake up.” His own voice sounded as if it were being played in slow motion. “I’m sorry…” He had let her down. It was his duty to get her out alive and he couldn’t even do it. His mind would think up an idea, like crawling back the way they had came to try the other way out, but
his body would not respond to his brain
. He couldn’t move. Exhaustion took over and he felt himself dozing off as his lungs pleaded for one more breath of fresh air…
“Mikey? Mikey?” The
voice was distant, but
to his ears
. “Wake up.”
Gasping, Michael jolted upward and crashed to the floor, hitting his head against something in the process. A sharp pain shot through his forehead and he opened his eyes to find himself on the floor in his bedroom, his girlfriend Eva Crisante standing over him, looking down at him with total confusion on her face.
“What the…” he trailed off as he dabbed a sore spot above his eyebrow. It was painful and he pulled his finger away to see a small drop of blood on his skin.
“You must’ve been having quite the dream there, Mikey.” She knelt down beside him and handed him a washcloth. “You okay?”
Michael couldn’t help but laugh. He was relieved that what he had just experienced wasn’t real. “Yeah, I’m fine. Jus
t dreaming about a fire.” He often
had recurring dreams of suffoc
ating in fires since being trapped
in the basement with Casey
at the hands of Viper. It worried him that he would never fully get over what had happen
and his vivid dreams were proof that he was still suffering from some issues. “Just a dream.” He pulled himself to a standing position and looked at the small cut. “Jeez, you would’ve thought I got shot
the way this small little cut is bleeding.”
Eva leaned in and applied a cotton ball with peroxide on it. “I was watching you for a good five minutes. You sure you’re okay? You were sweating like crazy and you seemed panicked.”
He cringed at the small burn from the medicine and pulled away. “It was just a dream. I’m good.”
Was he just convincing himself? With all of the stress on his mind, it was a given that he would have crazy dreams. With Casey down in Texas in rehab, he had more worries than he wanted. He was glad his younger brother had taken the step
s to get clean and sober
but with him so far away, Michael had his doubts. He couldn’t help but be apprehensive after all of the times Casey had let him down before. This time
, something did feel different
and he could only hope he was right. He just wanted things to get back to as normal as they could be.
“It’s almost six. No sense in going back to bed.”
Michael eyed the wound a few more seconds and glanced back at the bed. It was so warm and inviting. As much as he loved his job, crawling back under the covers with Eva just seemed so much more appealing.
He showered and got ready, hating the fact that he and Eva had been put on opposite shifts due to their relationship. They had kept it pretty quiet before, but after the accident, it became obvious
that they were involved
. Rather than one of them transfer to another house, the bosses were willing to work with them as long as it didn’t interfere with their jobs. Occasionally they worked together, but for the most part
they didn’t see much of each other on the job.
After another long embrace at the door, he sa
id his goodbyes. I
t was only a twelve-hour shift and he would see her later that night. He had really grown attached to her. He didn’t want things to move as fast as they had, but neither of them could help the attraction that had progressed at such a rapid pace.
They were both living in his apartment together now, and thankfully the station was within walking distance. He wanted to point and laugh at the people stuck in traffic. His walking pace moved so much quicker than cars did during rush hour.
The ladder truck was parked out on the curb and their new probationary firefighter was scrubbing it down. Either he was working a twenty-four hour shift or he had reported for his shift early. It was only six forty five. Michael was rare
early. Captain Rooker
tapped his watch as Michael walked in, a look of surprise written on his face.
“Hell freeze over? You made it here with time to spare!”
“Yeah, yeah. Bite me, Cap. And don’t get used to it. This is a fluke.”
His superior arched his eyebrow. “Uh oh. Trouble in paradise?”
Michael threw his duffel bag in his locker and scoffed as he adjusted his turnouts on the hook. “No, of course not. Everything’s fine.”
“You get in a bar fight?” Gregg Walsh, a veteran firefighter who had transferred to Ladder Twenty One right after Michael recovered from his injuries, commented on the gash above his eyebrow. “If you look like that I’d hate to see what the other guy looks like.” He smirked, his sarcasm thick. Michael had developed a friendship with him. He reminded him a lot of Darryl.
“That other guy would be my night stand, and he’s standing up pretty well if I do say so.” He patted Gregg on the shoulder and went into the kitchen. “With all due respect, you are breaking one of the commandments of this firehouse, and that would be that you never talk to me until I have my morning coffee.” He poured a large mug of it and took a long sip. Gregg went to reply and Michael held his hand up. “Nope. Not until I finish this off.”
Another one of the guys grabbed the whole coffee pot and stuck two straws in it. “Just drink it this way, it’ll save us some time on the dishes.”
Everyone laughed, and it was times like this that Michael appreciated being part of such a great crew of guys who went out and did the job everyday, not even looking to be thanked. Any time he considered quitting and moving on to something else, it was memories and times like this that he hated himself for even thinking such a thought. The job had its hard times, but the bond between his FDNY family overshadowed any negativity.
The fire alarm invaded Michael’s thoughts. They were being dispatched to a car wreck on the corner of Thirty-Eighth Street and Tenth Avenue. Michael slurped down the last bit of coffee, slid down the fire pole, and pulled his turnouts on with ease. Smirking at Walsh, he replied, “Damn Gregg, you act like you’ve been doing this your whole life.”
The truck was already edging out of the garage and Michael hopped on, ducking his head into the cabin as they turned down the street into heavy morning traffic, so many cars around them not even registering that they needed through.
“Shit, you’d think they’d see this big ass engine with flashing lights coming at them,” Walsh said, sticking his arm out of the window as he motioned for people to get out of the way.
“You forget that people have their head’s shoved so far up their own asses that the only thing that matters is getting to work. Just push through them. This truck could barrel over them with no problem.” Michael sat forward, watching the traffic and people’s reactions on the sidewalk. He had been in this job for a long time, and still couldn’t get over the fact that people were clueless when it came to respecting emergency vehicles. Not only that,
realized how much they made
either. Sometimes turning to watch caused more accidents than the initial call.
They pulled the engine as close as they could to the scene of the wreck. Michael got out and inspected what he could of the situation before grabbing the needed tools. EMS and the police were already on scene.
approached the crew as they waited for orders. “We’ve got an SUV that has a small sedan pinned against the side of the building. The people in the SUV are out and okay, but there’s two young kids in the back seat of the car who are stuck. Their mother was able to get out. We’re gonna need the saw and the
Jaws of Life