El Gavilan

El Gavilan by Craig McDonald Read Free Book Online

Book: El Gavilan by Craig McDonald Read Free Book Online
Authors: Craig McDonald
wouldn’t be able to decide if it was the smell of the fire or the guttering glow on the horizon that caught his attention. Tell knew the smell well enough. He remembered the orange light and its flicker through twirling plumes of black smoke as they rose from his own burning home.
    Tell palmed the wheel, driving toward the fire and the sound of the sirens. As he drew closer he could see the true scope of the blaze and gunned his SUV into the townhouse parking lot. Unable to find a proper parking space, Tell steered around behind a fire truck and drove over the curbstone, bringing his SUV to a stop on a common lawn.
    At least three of the rental units were what firefighters termed “fully involved,” and smoke poured from the attic ventilation slats of several surrounding townhouses.
    Nauseous, crazed, Tell fumbled with the door handle of his truck, hands shaking.
    Once out of the SUV, the fire’s heat on his face set Tell’s legs to shaking. He thought he could smell charred flesh and hear screams other than those of the women and children gathered out on the lawn, watching their homes and possessions burn.
    Tell’s eyes were already watering from the stinging and stinking noxious exhaust of burning plastic, textiles and vinyl siding.
    Tell took slow, deep breaths, tamping down his revulsion at the familiar stench. He was bent over, hands on his knees, trying hard to breathe only through his mouth to suppress the memories triggered by the smell of the fire.
    Steadier, he looked around and saw three hook-and-ladder trucks, a couple of smaller pumpers and two EMT units. A couple of overweight medics with bushy brown moustaches were working on an old Mexican woman.
    Tell searched the crowd of dispossessed townhouse dwellers and gawkers and realized they were all Latinos. The only English being spoken was that exchanged between the emergency medical technicians and firefighters yelling to one another over the sound of the fire and the white noise of the water gushing from their hoses.
    Tell heard more sirens and saw several Horton County sheriff’s cruisers turning into the crowded parking lot.
    One of the firefighters—evidently the chief—saw Tell, noted his uniform and nodded. Tell nodded back. He looked around for something to do and saw that a crowd of Mexicans was blocking the parking lot and the sheriff’s cruisers couldn’t find parking.
    The cruisers in turn were blocking the path of a squad waiting to drive to the hospital with two young burn victims.
    Tell moved to undertake some crowd control, but the sheriff’s deputies hit their sirens and engaged their speakers. In English, they ordered the crowd to disperse. The lights and the sound seemed to do the trick even if most in the crowd—as Tell suspected—were too fresh to American soil to speak much, if any, English.
    A toddler girl, perhaps four or five, was being given oxygen. Her right arm was heat blistered and the EMT was applying salve. She looked terrified and confused. Tell squatted down next to her and smiled. In Spanish he said, “It’s okay, honey. It’s not a bad burn and the medicine will help. Don’t be scared, darling. You’re going to be fine.”
    She nodded, her dark eyes glistening. She tugged the oxygen mask aside and said in Spanish, “Antonio’s still inside. He’s one and can’t walk yet. Will you go and get my brother for me?”
    Tell felt his skin crawl. His heart kicked. Wild-eyed, he said to the EMT, “She says her baby brother is still inside one of the units.”
    Tell was already up as the EMT called to his chief. The firefighter Tell had exchanged nods with hurried over, soaked from the back spray of the hoses. A command radio was gripped in his gloved right hand. Tell said, “This little girl says her baby brother is inside. Or she thinks so. She says his name is Antonio and—”
    A screaming woman suddenly threw herself between them and gathered up the little girl with the burned arm. In Spanish she said over

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