Chapter 1

Tuesday May 10

The alarm shrilled, and Blue sleepily wondered who was making toast in the middle of the night. The burnt smell made him cough.

“Blue!” Sam banged on the bedroom door. “There’s a fire, we have to get out.”

“Coming.” Blue rolled out of bed, pulled clothes on, then fumbled his computer into its bag and slung it over his shoulder. He stuffed his phone into his pocket.

“Get a move on – there’s smoke pouring in from the hall.” Sam sounded nervous. When Blue opened the bedroom door, he saw the big man clutching a photo album; pictures from his trip to Japan last fall. The acrid stench of smoke made Blue cough. Between the shrill alarm and the smoke, he fought to remind himself this was no dream.

“Put it in my bag.” Blue held it open.

“It’s a fire we’re supposed to leave everything and get out.” Sam’s eyes were wide.

“We have it now, don’t worry about it.” Blue yanked the door to the balcony open and checked outside. “No smoke out here.”

Sam joined him and slammed the door behind him. The thing stuck constantly. If they weren’t on the third floor it would be a security risk. Below them a jet of flame came out of the wall.

“I’m not climbing down.” Though he looked like a somewhat muscular Santa Claus, Sam was too smart to attempt the escape.

“Me neither.” Blue pulled out his cell phone. Only twenty percent battery. He’d left the cord on the desk. The ones for the computer too. He was stuck with battery power for now. Too late to worry about it now. He dialed 911 and reported the fire, but sirens were already wailing as the fire truck approached.

The cheap plastic chair creaked as Sam lowered himself into it. “Might as well be comfortable while we wait.”

Smoke drifted from under the balcony door, so Blue leaned against the dividing wall to the next apartment away from the door. The jet of flame roared like an engine

When the fire truck rolled up, someone got out and shone a flashlight along the building. Blue waved. The firefighters unhooked the ladder and got it extended. One climbed up to the balcony next door to Sam and Blue. They quickly dismantled the wall between the balconies.

“Anyone else in your apartment?”

“We’re it. My daughter is away at school.” Blue clutched the computer bag, but the firefighter didn’t comment. She helped Sam onto the ladder and walked him down, then returned for Blue. Others helped him down from the truck as more examined the balcony for more people needing rescue.

From the ground across the alley, flames lit up the side of the building. Looked like three or four apartments on fire. Fire fighters had hoses connected and were spraying water on the flames.

He shivered and wished he’d thought to grab a jacket. With nothing else to do, Blue stood beside Sam and watched the firefighters work. The crowd on the ground grew, some people in light clothes, others with coats, and still others in pajamas.

People held onto cats, and dogs on leashes. One young woman guarded a stack of what looked like rabbit cages.

A woman danced in what could have been anything from rage to ecstasy, waving fists over her head. If she was saying anything, Blue couldn’t hear it.

“Anybody got a light?” A young man holding a cigarette waved it about. Blue glanced over; he’d seen him in the entryway. The guy crashed in an apartment on the second floor.

“Over there.” Someone pointed to the fire and people laughed. When Blue looked back to the fire, the woman had vanished.