Watching Trin, On Call, Book Seven
Freelance journalist and single mom, Katrina (Trin) Paige, has recently returned to her hometown to help her sister care for their elderly father. They’ve barely settled back into Durango’s daily life when her rebellious teenage son gets himself in tumultuous waters. While being rescued by the local fire department, he unwittingly uncovers a decades-old crime hidden underneath the churning rapids of the Animas River.
Once Trin’s life is back on an even keel, her sharp nose for a compelling story starts twitching and she dives headfirst into an investigation of her own. The more she uncovers, the closer she gets to the firefighter who not only pulled her son from the river, but who also seems present everywhere she turns.
Bodhi (Roadkill) Jones doesn’t believe in things like fate, although, he can’t deny the way his life seems to be entwined with the spunky redhead is more than mere coincidence. In fact, he’s been wondering how it is possible she escaped his attention growing up in the same town, even though she is a few years older. Swept up in an unfamiliar current, he finds himself looking for ways to spend time with her and her family.
However, when a murder investigation touches his personal life, it invades Trin’s as well, leaving him scrambling to make sure the woman he’s fast falling for is protected.
I can smell the bacon out here.
Someone got an earlier start than I did. I’m late, or rather, later than my regular fifteen minutes early. That can be a precursor of an off-day and it had already started out swimmingly.
This morning I woke up in a puddle. Literally. Water was streaming down the wall behind my bed from a leak in my upstairs neighbor’s apartment. I live on the main floor of a duplex and the idiot who has the floor above me came home drunk last night, had a shower, and forgot to turn off the water before he passed out.
I spent the past hour and a half trying to rescue what I could before leaving the mess for the landlord to deal with. Luckily the guy lives right across the street, so he showed up minutes after I called him. The good news is I’ll have a dry bed to sleep in tonight, upstairs at the firehouse, but I have a feeling I’ll be out looking for temporary housing tomorrow after my shift.
Our station chief, Aimes, is in his office when I pass on my way to the stairs, lifting his chin in greeting before looking back at his computer screen. Upstairs, Hog and Cap are in the kitchen, getting breakfast going, and the smell of coffee draws me to the industrial vat of joe made fresh at least three times a day.
“You’re late,” Cap points out, an eyebrow raised.
“You mean I’m on time,” I counter. “And good morning to you too.”
Cap is Captain Scott Beacham, in charge of our shift. The rest of the crew is made up of Hog and Cheddar, both of whom ride Rescue 3 with Cap and me, and to round out the team we have Sumo and Blue manning Medic 3. We’re a relatively small station but a busy one. The advanced life support ambulance in our bays ensures frequent callouts, not only to fires but to a variety of accidents and rescues.
I steal a piece of toast Cap just buttered, narrowly avoiding the slap he tried doling out.
“My apartment is flooded,” I share around my mouthful of toast, as I sit at the large dining table with my coffee.
“How’d that happen?” Hog asks, cracking eggs into a large bowl. I relay this morning’s events as the rest of the team comes dripping in. “I may need a place to crash tomorrow.”
“You can have my couch,” Evan ‘Cheddar’ Biel offers. “You’ll have to contend with dog slobber and little Matty’s nightly crying bouts, but you’re welcome to it.”
Cheddar and his wife, Tahlula, have two kids under two. Nuts if you ask me. We’d just celebrated Hanna’s first birthday when Matthew came screaming into the world, and in the past seven months he hasn’t stopped exercising his right to free speech. More often than not Cheddar comes in yawning with bags under his eyes. Like today.
I grin up at him.
“Thanks, pal, but I think I’ll pass.”
“I’ve got room,” Hog pipes up, as he sets platters with bacon, home fries, and scrambled eggs on the table. “An empty stall in the barn.”
“Fucking comedians, all of you,” I grumble, leaning over the table to pile food on my plate. “Forget it. I’ll talk to the chief.”
“Talk to me about what?”
I look up to see the chief coming up the stairs, a blonde woman who looks vaguely familiar behind him.
“Roadkill needs a place to crash. His apartment got flooded,” Cap volunteers, chuckling at my expense.
The blonde looks at me with an amused look on her face. I don’t get a chance to explain how I earned that name before the chief steps in.
“Roadkill is Bodhi Jones.” He points at the other guys. “That’s Noah Hodgekins, Evan Biel, Ava Navarro, Kyle Matsumoto, and Captain Scott Beacham. Hog, Cheddar, Blue, Sumo, and Cap respectively. Guys, meet Victoria Paige. Vic spent eleven years at Station 16 before taking an extended leave of absence, but she’s back and ready to join our family here at 3.”
That explains why she looked familiar. I must’ve seen her at calls but that was clearly years ago. I glance over at Cap, who doesn’t look surprised at all, and walks up to the woman, shaking her hand. Ava is next, welcoming her to the firehouse, but the rest of us don’t get a chance when the alarm sounds.
“…Engine 3. Medic 3. Structure fire at the Econo Lodge on Main…”
“Vic, you ride along for this one,” Chief announces. “Get your bearings.”
I snatch a fistful of bacon from the platter and dart past them, pounding down the stairs. I still miss the fire pole they took out when they renovated our firehouse. Downstairs I kick off my runners, shove my feet in my boots, and pull up my turnout gear. Then I get behind the wheel, wait until everyone is accounted for and pull out of the firehouse.
“Fire department. You need to evacuate!”
My voice echoes Vic’s, who is banging on doors on the other side. Smoke is filling the upstairs hallways quickly and we need to evacuate the two-story building. At not even eight in the morning the likelihood is most of the rented rooms will be occupied. Problem with hotels is, every door automatically locks when it closes and we need to unlock each one to do a visual check.
The front-end manager provided a list and given that it’s still technically tourist season, they’re almost at full capacity. Forty-two rooms on two floors to check with a fire that looks to have started in the kitchen, which is under renovation. To complicate things the sprinkler system isn’t working and you can barely hear the fire alarm down these hallways.
This means all-hands-on-deck and despite the two other engines called in, Cap didn’t hesitate to put the newbie into action. I see her duck into a room on the other side, just as the door I was banging on swings open to an older woman who is coughing and looks confused.
“Ma’am, you need to get out. There’s a fire.”
She’s disoriented and ducks back inside. “My things—”
“Ma’am, no time for that, you need to get out now.” I stop her from heading back into the room and pull her into the hallway. “Is anyone else in there?”
She shakes her head. Vic hustles a couple out of their room toward the exit door at the end of the hall.
“Vic, can you take her too?”
She nods and puts an arm around the woman’s waist, walking her toward the emergency exit as I bang on the next door.
“Fire department. You need to evacuate!” I open the door and don’t see anyone, but a stuffed animal on the floor by one of the beds catches my eye. “Fire department! Call out!”
I’m about to leave room for the next one when I hear a faint whimper behind me. I step back inside and scan the room. Then I hear it again, a soft, muffled cry. Dropping down on all fours I lift the covers that have slid off the bed and look underneath. Two pairs of liquid eyes look back at me.
“Hey, guys. We need to get out of here.”
The bed is too low for my body to crawl under, and when I reach my arm underneath the two little bodies scramble out of my reach. Poor kids must be terrified and with my full-face mask on, I probably scare the shit out of them. Outside I can hear Vic banging on the next door and I engage my radio.
“Vic! Need some help in here. Two kids in two fourteen.”
I keep eye contact with the children until I feel her hand tap my back. Then I crawl out of her way so she can have a look under the bed, but she first pulls her mask off before ducking under.
“Hi there, I’m Victoria and I’m a firefighter. We’re going to get you out of here. Can you grab my hand?”
She wedges her shoulders under the bed as far as she can before the tank strapped to her back prevents her from going any farther.
“That’s it, hold on.”
In seconds, she pulls the two terrified kids from under the bed.
“Mask back on,” I order as I firmly grab onto the little boy, hoisting him on my arm.
When we burst out of the exit a minute later, we hand off the children to the waiting medics and their frantic mother, who’d left them sleeping less than half an hour before to run an errand. I’m sure CPS will be involved, but that’s not my wheelhouse. I’m supposed to get them safe, it’s their business to keep them that way.
I clap Vic on the shoulder, who is heading back inside.
“Good job, Newbie.”
She throws back a grin.
“Good to be back.”
“I don’t like eggs.”
I glance over at Tucker, who rolls his eyes.
“Pops, you asked for eggs for breakfast, remember?”
My father’s watery eyes turn on me, and once again I’m stunned to see any recognition lacking from them. I might as well be a stranger on the street.
“Don’t like them,” he repeats firmly, and I barely manage to rescue the plate when he sends it sailing across the table.
“I’ll eat them, Gramps,” Tucker intervenes. “You can have my Pop-Tarts.”
He takes the plate from my hold and hands the package to my dad, who quickly rips it open and shoves one of the pastries in his mouth.
It was supposed to be a treat for my kid. Well, more like a bribe if he promised he wouldn’t give me grief his first couple of weeks at his new school. I don’t usually buy that kind of stuff, but it’s getting harder to keep junk out of his diet now Tuck is fourteen and in high school.
“Kid, did you put your homework in your backpack?”
“Yeah, Mom,” he drawls mockingly.
Such attitude. It’s a good thing he still comes looking for a kiss before he goes to bed, or I’d swear the sweet little boy I remember him to be was an illusion. Tucker was a dream kid, right out of the gate. I’d been blessed, given I tackled motherhood on my own. The kid made it easy. Rarely ever put up a fuss, always ready with one of his big grins, but this last year I started seeing the changes in him. Little things at first, Momma was replaced with a more impatient Mom and he started locking the bathroom door in our old apartment. Then came the defiance, the poor marks, the arguments, and finally the skipping of classes I found out about at the end of his last school year in San Antonio.
When my sister called not long after and told me she needed help with Pops, it didn’t take me long to pack up our apartment, grab my kid, and point my aging Jeep home to Durango, hauling all our earthly possessions in a rented U-Haul trailer. Luckily there wasn’t much, I tend to live sparse, a leftover from my traveling days.
That was a little over a month ago. It was a bit weird at first, moving back into the house I grew up in with Pops and my baby sister. Almost like old times, except for Tucker of course. Mom died when we were ten and seven, so it was just the three of us until my sister graduated high school eleven years later. Pops retired that year at fifty-seven—after thirty years with the fire department—and I finally flew the coop.
Journalism, that’s where my heart was at, and I’d worked my ass off since my own graduation to save up enough money to get me through college. I got into the University of Texas in Austin—one of the better journalism programs in the US—then settled in San Antonio and never really looked back.
My sister, on the other hand, never even moved out of the family home. She went to college in Durango while Pops was off on bucket list trips and cruises until he got tired of traveling. Then a few years ago he was diagnosed with early dementia and his condition has declined progressively.
Which is why I’m back home. My son has the same bedroom I had when I was a kid, and I am downstairs in my father’s old study. It’s far from ideal, but the house is big enough we don’t trip over each other, and I need to be here to help my sister get back on her feet.
A kitchen chair scrapes the floor and I look over my shoulder at the clock. Almost time for Tuck’s bus. I quickly shut the water off and dry my hands.
“Better get ready, kid,” I tell Tuck, who is just walking away from the table. “Hey. Dishes in the sink, please.”
He grumbles something indistinguishable but walks back to get his plate and cup. I hide a smile when he stops to bend down and kiss my father’s cheek.
“Later, Tuck,” Pops answers with a smile, before his eyes slide back to the window he spends most of his days staring out of.
Tucker is the only one he consistently recognizes. He gets me confused with Mom frequently and the rest of the time he doesn’t know who I am.
I quickly wash up the last of the dishes as I listen to Tuck’s heavy feet pound up and then back down the stairs.
“Have a good day at school,” I call out, biting back the disappointment at the lack of a goodbye kiss for me when I hear the front door open.
“Better run, kiddo,” I hear my sister’s voice say.
I grab a clean mug and pour her a coffee before turning around to find her crouching beside our father’s chair. He doesn’t even acknowledge her.
“How was your first shift back?”
I walk up and hand her the coffee.
“Thanks,” she answers, taking the seat beside Pops as I pull out the chair Tuck was sitting in. “It was good. I was supposed to just do a ride-along to get a feel for things but there was a three-alarm fire at the Econo Lodge on Main about ten minutes into the shift, and I was put in right away to help evacuate the guests.”
“No shit.” I smile back at her, knowing how much Vic missed her job the past two years. “Talk about getting thrown in the deep end.”
“Yeah.” She grins widely. “It was awesome.”