Earl Emerson Firetrap: A Novel of Suspense

ISBN 13: 9780345462930

Firetrap: A Novel of Suspense

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9780345462930: Firetrap: A Novel of Suspense
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No one writes with the power, authority, and poetry that Earl Emerson has demonstrated in his action-packed novels about fire and the people who make their living fighting it. In Firetrap, Trey Brown is a man tormented by race, by family, and now by a political firestorm that has erupted because fourteen people died in an illegal Seattle nightclub . . . and someone must take the fall.

Captain Trey Brown is a black man in a Seattle fire department where the color of his skin keeps him largely on the outside looking in. As a child, Trey was adopted by a white family whose children were bred for wealth and power–but now Trey simply does his job, rides his Harley, and lives in bitter solitude. Then the Z-Club goes up in flames, killing more than a dozen people, all of them black, and the city's African American community demands to know: Did these people die because of their skin color?

Jamie Estevez, the beautiful, ambitious reporter who becomes Trey's partner in the investigation, is everything Trey is not. Outgoing and gregarious, she tries to bring the lone-wolf fireman back into the world. But as their relationship heats up, Trey is forced to relive a painful episode from his past, when he was accused of a horrible crime and shunned by his adoptive parents. Suddenly, two mysteries–one of passion and family, the other of fire and murder–are unraveling around Trey. But so is everything he has done to protect himself. . . .

Firetrap is vintage Earl Emerson: a gritty, emotionally charged novel set in a world of camaraderie and urban chaos, where one man has been a hero, a villain, and a victim–and hasn’t even faced the deadliest danger yet.
From the Hardcover edition.

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About the Author:

Earl Emerson is a lieutenant in the Seattle Fire Department. He is the Shamus Award—winning author of The Smoke Room, Vertical Burn, Into the Inferno, and Pyro, as well as the Thomas Black detective series, which includes The Rainy City, Poverty Bay, Nervous Laughter, Fat Tuesday, Deviant Behavior, Yellow Dog Party, The Portland Laugher, The Vanishing Smile, The Million-Dollar Tattoo, Deception Pass, and Catfish Café. He lives in North Bend, Washington. Visit the author’s website at www.EarlEmerson.com.
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1. THE Z CLUB

Captain Trey Brown, Engine 28, C shift

I was seventeen the first time I stole India from my brother.

They say you never forget your first love, and I guess it’s true, because even though I haven’t laid eyes on her in almost two decades, I find my thoughts straying in India’s direction often. But then, my life changed forever that summer, so why shouldn’t my thoughts stray to that time? There were a lot of changes during the course of those months: our oldest brother dying in a car wreck, India’s sister the victim of an assault that changed her life and mine forever, the dark evening I got myself blackballed out of the Carmichael family on what was essentially a hand vote.

Perhaps it is because memories of youth are so often marbled with yearning that I believed parts of our summer might one day be recovered. Memories of desire heated to the melting point dim slowly. The summer India and I cheated on my brother, I was seventeen and she had just turned eighteen. At the time I believed we were more in love than any other two people on earth. Had events turned out differently, that feeling might have eased out of my soul of its own accord instead of being jerked out like a gaffed flounder. Oddly, her last name is Carmichael now, a detail that lends more angst to my recollections than anything else.

Being excommunicated from the family was only the beginning of my troubles. At seventeen I came as close as I ever would to a jail cell, and then had the stuffing beaten out of me by two ex-pro boxers while Barry Renfrow stood by and watched. Renfrow’s back now, too, which shows how circular life can be.

Though I hadn’t laid eyes on India during the intervening years, I’d seen pictures of her in the newspaper: at a Mariners game sitting with the president of the ball club and his wife; a wedding photo the week after she married Stone Carmichael; and more recently, functioning as the hostess at a charity ball attended by Puget Sound’s hoity-toity, the odd software billionaire sprinkled in among the five-thousand-dollar gowns and designer tuxedos. For me the photos were freeze-frame glimpses of a life I’d been banished from.

Even now I remember our last night together, the silky feel of her breasts under my touch, the ultimate tension in my loins as her thighs tightened. Oddly enough, she married into the only family on this planet who held me in lower regard than her own family did. But that’s a long story. Only weeks ago Seattle suffered its most devastating fire in recent history, and the irony that disaster can reunite us just as disaster once split us apart does not elude me. Today I am a lonely man of common tastes, who wonders occasionally not whether his lost love thinks of him as frequently as he thinks of her, but whether she thinks of him at all.

This morning I debated whether or not to take the Harley to work, but in the end decided the riots would probably be over by six forty-five when I left the house. The radio reported rock throwing in the Rainier Valley, random gunshots on Beacon Hill, bricks thrown at a fire station several blocks from my home. In the nine days I’d been out of town, the public outcry over the fire had snowballed from bitch sessions to rioting. If things continued in this vein, it was only a matter of time before more deaths were added to the fourteen at the Z Club—fifteen if you counted the witness who was murdered two blocks from the fire.

It was four weeks after the tragedy, a Friday morning, early October, and Seattle was sleepwalking through a typical fall of fog-shrouded mornings and hazy afternoons. The news said rain was moving in.

At the intersection of Martin Luther King and Jackson, a gaggle of black teenagers stood idly in the fog. I could tell from their body language that they’d been out all night, hunting up hassles and emboldening one another with tough talk and macho posturing. A small grocery store on the northwest corner revealed broken windows and graffiti streaming across the front door like cartoon captions. As I waited at the red light, one of the boys realized I was the only motorist at the intersection and threw a half-full beer bottle onto Jackson, where it burst twenty feet from my front tire. Several of them laughed, the others waiting for my reaction. I wanted to tell them that if this was a black-white revolution, perhaps they should go after a white guy instead of yours truly, but all I did was blip my throttle a couple of times and roar away when the light changed.

I’d been in a cocoon of my own making for the past nine days, having flown to Las Vegas on my annual trek with my mom and brother, my real family. I hadn’t had time to catch up on all the news, but I knew the official fire department report had come out two days ago and yesterday the papers had unloaded a bombshell that made the report look like a pack of lies. Since then, all hell had broken loose. While my minor burns from the Z Club fire had healed, the community rebellion had grown worse.

This would be my first shift on Engine 28 in almost a month, and as much as I detested Las Vegas, making the trip each year specifically for my mother and brother, who couldn’t get enough of it, the journey had been a respite from the angry speeches, department arm-twisting, and political diatribes prompted by the Z Club fire.

As did other papers in the country, the Las Vegas Review-Journal had carried daily updates on the unrest in Seattle. USA Today sported a photo of bodies under a large tarpaulin on the sidewalk outside the Z Club, and it was because of those bodies that last Friday and Saturday night African-American youth rioted in Seattle in a manner that hadn’t been seen here since the late sixties. Monday morning, almost sixteen hundred marchers, black and white, forced the mayor to stand in the rain outside the municipal building and give a conciliatory speech about knitting the community back together. So far nobody had been killed in the riots, although one police officer received a broken shoulder when some moron dropped a cinder block from a roof. Each day there had been organized marches, and later, under cover of darkness, a different set of protesters staged mini-riots, break-ins, and looting.

According to reports I heard on the radio, the vice president’s visit this morning had forced the SPD to maintain an expansive presence on the streets. I was afraid my little brother Johnny, who had a penchant for lunacy and a compulsion to be part of any crowd, would get sucked into the maelstrom, so I had hoped the ruckus would have died down by the time we returned from Nevada. In fact, we had taken the Vegas trip a month early trusting in just such an eventuality. But instead of dying down, the turmoil had mushroomed.

Thirteen black civilians and one white firefighter had died at the Z Club fire. One version of the story had a mostly white fire department pouring water into the building in a cowardly style from the sidewalk while frantic young blacks tried to escape the premises without any help. Another version painted a picture of firefighters so intent on saving one of their own that they ignored relatively easy civilian rescues, leaving more than a dozen African Americans to die. If I bought into either of those scenarios, I might have been tempted to march in the streets, too.

Yesterday afternoon the mayor’s office issued its official reaction to the fire department’s report on the Z Club fire and to the news stories yesterday morning which supposedly debunked that report. The TV news had been filled with cautiously worded affirmations from city administrators and fire department brass juxtaposed with statements from the outraged local NAACP chapter president, from angry black ministers, from family and friends of the victims, and from more fortunate partygoers who’d escaped the Z Club that night. Melinda Burns, the lieutenant I would be relieving on En- gine 28 this morning, was interviewed during one newscast, announcing rather lamely that it was “always a shame when people had to die at a fire.” From the department’s perspective, the interview probably wasn’t a great idea, since Melinda was white, the victims were black, and that that distinction had been the number one topic of contention from the get-go.

Situated on Rainier Avenue, Station 28, my home away from home, was a stereotypical firehouse with three tall roll-up apparatus bay doors and hard tile floors throughout. Because of the institutional nature of our structure and furnishings, I often thought the building could serve as the living quarters for the staff in a state fa- cility, most likely a nuthouse.

I shut off the Harley and rolled into the station without getting off, walking the bike quietly between the rigs to the rear of the station under the basketball hoop. It was seven a.m., and most of the firefighters from yesterday’s shift were just climbing out of their bunks. In half an hour, today’s crews would take over and hold the fort until seven-thirty tomorrow morning: four firefighters on Ladder 12, three of us on Engine 28, and two paramedics on Medic 28.

Lieutenant Burns, who met me outside the engine officer’s room, was thick through the middle—like someone who’d been drinking beer for too many years—but had been a star athlete in college: rugby and lacrosse. She was anxious about living up to department standards, even though as far as I could tell, she generally surpassed them.

“All heck’s been breaking loose,” she said.

“Oh, yeah?” I left the door open a few inches while I went into the small engine officer’s room, tugged off my motorcycle boots, and stepped i...

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