Chapter 1-2

697 Words
Forty hours later Tim had spent thirty hours non-stop on the line and ten crashed face first into his bunk. Those first thirty had been a grueling battle of clearing the ridgeline and scraping the earth down to mineral soils. The heat had been obscene as the fire climbed the face of the ridge, rising until it had towered over them in a wall of raging orange and thick, smoke-swirl black a couple dozen stories high. The glossy black-and-racing-flame painted dots of the MHA Firehawks had looked insignificant as they dove, dropping eight tons of bright-red retardant alongside the fire or a thousand gallons of water directly on the flames as called for. The smaller MD500s were on near-continuous call-up to douse hotspots where sparks had jumped the line. Emily, Jeannie, and Vern, their three night-drop certified pilots, had flown right through the night to help them kill it. Mickey and the others picking it back up at daybreak. Twice they’d been within minutes of having to run and once they were within seconds of deploying their fire shelters, but they’d managed to beat it back each time. There was a reason that smokejumpers were called on a Type I wildfire incident. They delivered. And the Mount Hood Aviation smokies had a reputation of being the best in the business; they’d delivered on that as well. Tim had hammered face down into his bunk, too damn exhausted to shower first. Which meant his sheets were now char-smeared and he’d have to do a load of laundry. He jumped down out of the top bunk, shifting sideways to not land on Akbar if he swung out of the lower bunk at the same moment…except he wasn’t there. His sheets were neat and clean, the blanket tucked in. Tim’s were the only set of boots on the tiny bit of floor the two of them usually jostled for. Akbar now stayed overnight in the bunkhouse only if Laura was out on a wilderness tour ride with her horses. Tim thought about swapping his sheets for Akbar’s clean ones, but it hardly seemed worth the effort. Following tradition, Tim went down the hall, kicking the doors and receiving back curses from the crashed-out smokies. The MHA base camp had been a summer camp for Boy Scouts or something way too many years ago. The halls were narrow and the doors thin. “Doghouse!” he hollered as he went. He raised a fist to pound on Krista’s door when a voice shouted from behind it. “You do that, Harada, and I’m gonna squish your tall a*s down to Akbar’s runt size.” That was of course a challenge and he beat on her door with a quick rattle of both fists before sprinting for the safety of the men’s showers. Relative safety. He was all soaped up in the doorless plywood shower stall, when a bucket of ice-cold water blasted him back against the wall. He yelped! He couldn’t help himself. She must have dipped it from the glacier-fed stream that ran behind the camp it was so freaking cold. Her raucous laugh said that maybe she had. He considered that turnabout might be fair play, but with Krista you never knew. If he hooked up a one-and-a-half inch fire hose, she might get even with a three hundred-gallon helicopter drop. And then… Maybe he’d just shame her into buying the first round at the Doghouse Inn. Tim resoaped and scrubbed and knew he’d still missed some patches of black. The steel sheets attached to the wall as mirrors were as useless now as they’d been before decades of Boy Scouts had tried to carve their initials into them. Usually he and Akbar checked each other because you ended up with smoke or char stains in the strangest spots. But Akbar wasn’t here. Tim didn’t dare wait for any of the others. If he was caught still in the shower by all the folks he’d just rousted from their sacks, it wouldn’t turn out well. He made it back to his room in one piece. The guys who’d showered last night were already on their way out. Good, they’d grab the table before he got down into town and hit the Doghouse Inn. The grimy ones weren’t moving very fast yet. Tim had slept through breakfast and after the extreme workout of a long fire his stomach was being pretty grouchy about that.
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