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 They re probably not going to give you a medal, if that s what you re
getting at.
 I wasn t expecting a medal. I was . . .
 What?
 I don t know.
Sears leaves.
T HE S MOK E R O OM 33
Tronstad is watching me, cookies from the fire buff s table in one
hand, a paper cup of Gatorade in the other. He s a self-confessed sugar
junky who claims a bowl of ice cream after four in the afternoon revs him
up so much, he can t sleep. God knows why he is eating cookies at this
time of night.
Two men in plainclothes march over to him and lift up their sweat-
shirts to reveal badges on their belts. I assume they are from the Seattle
Police Department. They speak to Tronstad for a few moments.
A minute later the SPD men come over to me.  Mr. Gum, says the
black police officer.
 Yes, sir. He lets out just the hint of a smile at the fact that I ve called
him sir.
 SPD, says the white officer.  We understand your actions were inte-
gral to what happened here.
 Yes, sir.
 Can you lay it out for us? asks the white officer.
 From the time the bell hit?
He smiles.  Maybe from the time you went through the front door.
 The front door of the house over there?
 That s the one. He looks at his partner and rolls his eyes.
As we speak I decide to peel my turnout pants down so some of the
sweat can evaporate. When I shrug my shoulders out of my suspenders
and pull my turnout pants partially down, I realize the white material
around the zipper of my uniform trousers is coated with what e. e. cum-
mings would have called fuck dust. I pull the turnouts back up.
 What were you saying? I ask.
 Were either of them conscious when you got to them?
 No, sir.
 The man was downstairs? The woman was up?
 That s right.
Dancing around my culpability, they ask more questions about the
house, the fire, the victims. When they start to leave, I stutter,  Uh . . .
what s . . . what s going to happen now?
 What do you mean?
34 E A R L E ME R S ON
 Well, uh, you know . . .
 There ll be a further investigation. We ll get the ME s report on the
woman. Contact the relatives. It s pretty much routine.
 I mean, what s going to happen to me?
 You? I am weeping in front of these two heavyset cops. I ve screwed
up beyond imagination, and I am blubbering.  Well, son. Maybe you can
see the department chaplain. Or your own minister. You can get some
counseling is what you can do.
 Because of jail?
 Do me a favor.
 Sir?
 Before anything else happens, get yourself some counseling. He
catches up with his partner, who s met with the two fire department in-
vestigators. Moments later all four glance over at me.
When Chief Abbott approaches, I grow still. I don t like Abbott, and
I m pretty sure he doesn t like me. From the beginning of my tenure in the
7th, he s treated us as though he had a vendetta against Station 29 in
particular, the members on our shift: Robert Johnson, Ted Tronstad, and
me. Johnson and Tronstad dislike him even more than I do, although
around the station we feign a stilted camaraderie.
Abbott is a short, rotund man who wears heavy glasses, teaches man-
agement classes at one of the local community colleges, and doesn t fit
anybody s idea of what a firefighter should look like not even his own,
for he often makes self-deprecating jokes about it.
Around the station Abbott is a man with a million outspoken opin-
ions about where the department should be headed, but downtown he
sits on his ideas and is known as the biggest ass-kisser around. His round
head is almost entirely bald, and when he isn t at the station, Tronstad and
Johnson call him Chief Spalding, after the ball company, since all of his
visible body parts are round enough to warrant it.
 So, young man, Abbott says, stumping through the darkened yard
toward me.  I understand you re having problems.
The obvious concern in his voice brings the tears back. If a man
as obtuse as Abbott is concerned, my predicament is on the underside
of bad.
T HE S MOK E R O OM 35
 Tell me what s bothering you. One of my boys gets into trouble, my
first instinct is to help. I mean that, son. Start from the beginning. By the
way, the man s dead, too. He sniggers and the slovenly snort brings me
back to my senses. Abbott s instinct is never to help.
 It s the alarm, I tell him.
 It sure got him into a lather, Chief. A real lather, says Ted Tronstad,
interrupting with the saucy rudeness he is known for. As usual, he speaks [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]