Watch Me Burn
copyright 2011, Enfleurage
A/N:For those of you wondering where Chief McConnike is, though a fanfiction staple, he actually doesn't show up on the show until about mid Season 6, replacing Chief Miller. This story is set earlier than that.
It was nearing 23:00 and it was a quiet group of firefighters that were draped across the couch, the easy chair and the kitchen chairs, waiting for Crockett to finish getting Stoker's statement.
Stanley had sent Gage in after DeSoto had finished making his statement so that he could put the Squad back in service and had said a quiet prayer to whomever might be listening that the calls would be light tonight.
So far, through DeSoto's, and then Gage's, and then Kelly's, and Lopez's time in the office with Lt. Crockett and Chief Miller, a benevolent Deity had allowed Station 51's men the downtime to recover. The television was on, though the sound was almost imperceptible and while they were looking at it, Hank didn't think any of them were actually paying attention to what was on the screen.
He heard the office door open, heard footsteps, more than one set of footsteps, and some voices in the bay. He swung up out of his chair, pivoting on his right shoe to reach the bay quickly. Miller was shaking hands with Crockett near the front of the Squad and Stoker was walking toward him, toward the day room, with a tired smile.
"How'd it go, Mike?"
Stoker shrugged. "I just told them what happened. The Lieutenant asked a couple of questions and I answered him. No sweat, Cap."
Stanley gave him a weak smile, a pat on the shoulder and walked toward Crockett and Chief Miller.
"Chief, if Lieutenant Crockett is done here, I'll put the Engine back in service."
Miller nodded. "Go ahead, Hank. Let me know what you decide about the crisis counselors." He turned towards Crockett. "Lieutenant, any follow-up or further participation by these men needs to be routed through Headquarters so we can make the proper arrangements for shift coverage."
Stanley shook hands with his Chief and with the Lieutenant and then gratefully shut the bay doors after they left, silently hoping the doors would stay down until the morning wake-up tones.
He lifted the mike from the base station. "LA, Station 51. Engine 51 is available."
He waited for the confirming, "Station 51" from Dispatch, then glanced at his watch and came to a decision. His long strides ate up the distance between the bay and the television set quickly.
He switched the television channel to a local station, one he watched at home, and turned up the sound. The station was showing a commercial right now but the 11:00 PM news should be starting any minute.
"Seriously, Cap, you really want to watch the news?"
They'd all watched him with varying degrees of curiosity but he wasn't all that surprised that it was Chet who'd sussed out his intentions. Over the last hour, he'd been considering and discarding opening gambits for the conversation they needed to have.
Stanley dropped back into the chair he'd occupied on and off for the last hour and shrugged. "Aren't you curious to see if we get mentioned?"
Chet started to answer. "Well…" He looked around at others.
"I'd like to see what they have to say," Roy interjected with a glance towards Stanley that probably meant he'd figured out his Captain's intent and planned to support him.
"So would I," Mike added from across the table.
Chet shrugged and threw himself onto the couch with elaborate indifference,
"Take it easy on that couch, Kelly, or it'll be coming out of your allowance."
Allowance? Did he really just say allowance instead of paycheck?
Gage started snickering and the look of total outrage that Chet turned upon his Captain solidified his resemblance to a particular thirteen-year old boy.
"So, how old is your son, now, Cap?"
He wasn't sure if Roy was actually curious or just playing straight man.
"He's old enough to know better," Stanley growled with an arched eyebrow challenging Chet to complain. That Kelly actually resisted the urge to respond was just further evidence that his guys had not yet rebounded from this evening's events.
"Shhhh," Marco said, holding a hand up as the news program started. "It's starting."
Roy and Mike dragged their chairs from the kitchen table closer to the television and Chet sat up a little from where he'd sprawled next to Marco and Henry on the couch.
After five minutes of national news, the tension in the room had sagged a bit and Gage had left the easy chair to start rummaging through the refrigerator looking for something to eat.
"In local news…."
"Hey, Gage, isn't that the reporter chick you've got the hots for?"
"…a Torrance man is being held tonight on weapons possession and menacing charges…"
"Menacing?" Gage yelped.
"…after holding a group of Los Angeles County Firefighters at gunpoint this evening in an attempt to prevent them from extinguishing a fire at his residence. According to sources, the firemen were able to overpower the man, rescue an unnamed individual from inside the house and contain the fire before it spread, though they were not able to save the house…"
Chet sat up and pointed a finger at the television, "We could've saved that house if that lunatic…"
"Put a cork in it, Kelly!"
"…Angeles County Sherriff's Department spokesman stated that they are continuing to investigate the incident and that additional charges may be filed."
"That's it?" Gage demanded. "Weapons possession and menacing?"
"Lt. Crockett left here less than ten minutes ago, John," Stanley said in a mild tone. "He'll need our official statements and a statement from the victim before any additional charges are filed."
"They didn't mention the Station," Mike said with a glance in his Captain's direction.
"Not yet anyway," Marco said.
Stanley stretched his legs out in front of him and turned to look at Gage, still standing in front of the refrigerator but staring at the television set where the reporter was now talking about funding for infrastructure improvements to the freeway system.
"Gage, stop trying to air condition the entire station," he said with a look designed to jar Gage out of his funk. "Either get something to eat or close the refrigerator door."
Gage made a face as if just coming back to himself, shut the refrigerator door and then meandered over to the counter and leaned back against it. Stanley craned his neck to make sure the cooktop wasn't turned on – it wasn't – and then decided that he should get things rolling.
"How did it go at the hospital?"
Gage's expression was suddenly thunderous but it was Roy who answered.
"She's in serious condition, Cap, but she should be okay, according to Dr. Morton." He hunched his shoulders. "She had some non-fire related injuries, some internal bleeding and they were taking her up to surgery right as we left. Maybe a week, ten days in the hospital recovering from the surgery, the second degree burns on her arms and legs and the smoke inhalation."
"Internal bleeding?" Marco said. "Did she fall or something?"
"He beat the snot out of her and then tied her to the bed," he said, voice roughening and growing louder as he spat out the words. "He tied her to that bed and then he set the house on fire and walked outside to watch it burn."
Bright jangling noise from the commercial playing on television was jarring in the midst of their silence and Stoker rose and quickly turned the television off.
"He tied her…" Stanley hit a blank spot as he ran out of words, trying to wrap his head around what his paramedics were telling him. Considering what had already happened, none of this should surprise him but it seemed he'd reached his capacity for absorbing violence tonight.
"Vince arrived at Rampart just as we were getting ready to leave," Roy said into the silence. "He told us that the Sheriff's Department has been out to that house at least three times in the last month for domestic disturbances. They apparently have a..." he paused, and then continued somewhat hesitantly, "a volatile relationship. She's refused to press charges in the past."
"Did she tell you that's what happened?"
Gage started to pace, as if he could dispel anxious energy in a circuit around the kitchen.
"She was tied to the bed, Cap. Arms and legs, tied to the bed frame legs. He used packing string; you know the stuff you use to tie up parcels, that scratchy twine? We had to cut it off her to get her out."
Marco said something under his breath in Spanish, hard and low, definitely not a prayer and Stanley glanced over towards the rest of his crew. Chet's eyes were wide and rounded, his lips were parted as if to speak but he seemed to be stunned into silence. Mike Stoker was leaning away, expression closed off, eyes narrowed and focused on Gage and DeSoto.
"So what did Lt. Crockett have to say about it?"
Both John and Roy shrugged.
"He asked a lot of questions about the scene upstairs," Roy finally said. "It was just one big open room, with a bed and a wardrobe at one end and a couple of easels and a lot of painting supplies near the windows. He was particularly interested in the flammables upstairs, like he was trying to figure out why the fire had started down in the kitchen instead of the bedroom if the guy was trying to kill his wife."
"She said that he told her that he wanted her to hear the fire, smell the smoke, know it was coming," Gage spat.
Hank took a deep breath. He'd definitely be calling HQ in the morning to request the Crisis Counselors, at the very minimum for his paramedics if not for his entire shift.
"And you told all this to Lt. Crockett?"
Twin nods, Roy's slow and reluctant and John's sharp and edgy.
"Yeah, he said something about hearsay," John said with a huff of breath expressing his disgust. "That we could put in our statement that she told us that, but that she was going to have to say it in her statement and in court for them to use it against him."
"Which she probably won't do," Roy said unhappily, "since he's beaten her up about half a dozen times already and she won't testify against him."
"It's going to be hard to say she fell and set the house on fire if she was tied to bed," Marco said and something prickly and dark in his tone of voice caught Stanley's attention. "Besides," Marco continued, "this time, she's not the only witness. You guys had to go into a burning house to cut her loose and he used a gun to try to stop that from happening."
Chet was nodding, slowly emerging from his withdrawal.
"You know, when you guys came out with her, John, you told me that it was a bad scene, but I had no idea," Stanley said. "I'm sorry."
Gage blinked at him. "What do you have to be sorry about?"
"Well, I…." He stopped and considered and then sighed. "I prefer you guys keep me informed when you run into something like…." He huffed air, not quite a laugh. "To be honest, I have no idea what I would have done differently if I'd known what you'd seen inside. "
"Are you kidding?" Chet Kelly snapped out of his dormancy, volume rising with each spoken word. "We're just happy that guy didn't shoot you, Cap."
Stanley shifted uncomfortably in his chair; the dressing down he'd received from Chief Miller still ringing in his ears.
"I'm pretty relieved that he didn't shoot any of us, Chet. He was waving that gun around pretty indiscriminately and frankly, I was afraid that he might just start shooting no matter what we did."
"Jeez, Cap," Kelly said, shaking his head. "If Gage hadn't told us to shut the lines down…" He shuddered. "I don't even like to think about what would've happened."
Stanley sat up a little straighter in his chair. "Wait a minute, what…"
"Oh, I was thinking about it all right." Roy had a hangdog expression that rivaled Henry's on his most expressive day. "Trying to figure out how we were going to treat you without any equipment, whether he'd let us get the drug box…"
"What the hell were you thinking?" Gage hollered at Kelly. "I shouldn't have had to yell at you, you idiot, but if I didn't, that guy would've shot him and then started shooting at the rest of us!"
Chet stood up and got right into Gage's face. "I couldn't hear what that lunatic was saying! If you remember back to the days when you were a fireman, Gage, you might remember that a fire is loud and noisy as hell. I could see the guy waving the gun around but I had no idea what was going on."
"Well, that's pretty much status quo for you, Chet. You should be used to it."
He could have intervened but they needed to get through this stuff, the yelling, the emotions, the terror of a situation out of their control, something that no training had prepared them to handle. Plus he was learning a lot he hadn't known.
"Hey, Roy," he said and waited for the man to pull himself out of his own memories of the scene. "Did you know what was going on? Could you hear everything that was said?"
Roy shrugged. "Most of it." He paused and then looked uncertain. "I think I heard everything. He pulled a gun when we were about to go inside, told us not to move, not to go inside or he'd start shooting."
"And then he told Chet and Marco to shut down the lines," Gage said in a voice flattened, as if he'd stomped all of the emotion out of it. "And after they didn't do it the first time he told them to, he said if they didn't shut 'em down, he was going to kill Cap."
Chet and Marco were shaking their heads.
"Swear to God, Gage, I never heard any of that," Chet said. "Marco, did you hear any of that?"
"My hand on my heart," Marco said, doing exactly that, "I didn't hear it. I would never…"
"I did," Mike said. "He said something like, 'If you don't turn those hoses off right now, I'll kill him. And then I'll kill the rest of you.'"
Hank Stanley closed his eyes for a second and drew a breath through his nose. "Yep, that's what he said all right."
"Huh, I only heard the first part," Roy said, with a puzzled glance at his partner, since they'd been standing side-by-side.
Gage nodded in Stoker's direction. "I heard what Mike just said. That's why I started yelling at Chet and Marco when they didn't shut down the hoses right away."
"So we shut them down," Marco said emphatically. "And then like ten seconds after Gage yelled at us to turn the water off or that guy would kill you, you went charging at him. I thought my heart was going to come out of my chest when you did that, Cap."
"He's not exaggerating," Chet said. "Marco was hyperventilating for about five minutes after you jumped the guy."
"Well, it wasn't ten seconds," Gage said.
Stanley eyed him, wondering if he was just arguing out of habit, a conditioned response to Chet Kelly, or if there was an actual point to be made.
"More like twenty or thirty seconds," Gage said and seemed happy about getting the details right.
Marco spat out something that make Stoker laugh and made Hank Stanley wish he knew more than basic 'on scene dealing with the victim' Spanish.
"Like I told you guys when we were at the scene, I saw that the manual safety was engaged and we needed to do something before he realized that he had the safety on," Stanley said, trying for an apologetic tone but no matter what he'd indicated to his Battalion Chief, he still wasn't sorry he'd done it. "It wasn't like I could tell you that the safety was on before I jumped him. Would have defeated the purpose. And it was that or let Mike try to get a pike or something to use as a weapon and I think he would have started shooting if he'd heard you open a compartment."
"Well, he couldn't if the safety was on," Gage said.
"Jeez, Gage, did you use up all your critical thinking skills on scene? Once he tried to shoot Stoker and the gun didn't work, he would've realized the safety was on."
"Enough," Hank said, firmly before Kelly and Gage could escalate.
"And besides, Cap," Chet continued, "I don't remember you telling us at the scene about seeing that the safety was on."
"That's because you were still hyperventilating when he said it, Chet," Roy said, trying to suppress a smile.
"I think you should get your hearing checked," Gage said, sounding happier than he had since they'd arrived at the structure fire more than three hours earlier.
"Well, for what's it's worth, guys, I never heard John tell you to shut the water down so maybe I should get my hearing checked too." He thought about the scene, the specific situation again and blew out a slow exhale. "Now that I think about it, I saw you looking at me, Chet, and I thought you were waiting for me to give you the okay to shut down your lines"
"They why didn't you give us the kill signal?" Marco waved a hand in agitation. "Madre de Dios, if we hadn't shut them down when we did…"
"Mostly, it never occurred to me that you couldn't hear what was going on," Stanley admitted. "And it should have. I know how loud it is at a fire, that's why I shout, run over to you or use the HT and get some sort of confirmation that you hear me. When I saw what I thought was the two of you waiting for me to give you the okay to shut down, I..." He stopped and tried to find the right words. "We were there to fight a fire. I didn't want you to shut 'em down."
"So then he would've shot you," Gage said, as bleak as Stanley had ever heard him. "No doubt in my mind after seeing what I saw in that room. He would have shot you and I really don't think he would've let us treat you, Cap. He'd have probably started shooting at us too."
It felt for a moment as if he'd stopped breathing, as if the very mechanism of breathing had somehow stuttered and then stalled in his throat.
"You're probably right," Stanley admitted slowly, reluctantly. "I could have gotten some or all of you killed." He couldn't meet their eyes. "Jesus," he whispered to himself.
"Hey, is this a private self-flagellation thing or can anyone join?" Mike said suddenly.
Heads around the room swiveled and Stoker waved at them, a grim expression on his face.
"See this hand?" He held up his right hand. "This hand was on the pump panel. I heard every word that SOB said and I could have shut off the water at any time. What's my excuse?"
Stanley sighed. "It was my call to make, Mike and I didn't make it." He sat in heavy silence for a few minutes, grateful for the men who gave him the quiet to think, and then rubbed a hand over his face. "John, I think you may have saved our lives tonight, pal."
Gage looked instantly uncomfortable.
"Yeah, well you're the one who jumped the guy with the gun, Cap, so how about we call it even?"