* * * * *
Steady silence. Uplifted and ready.
“Hold up, Lieutenant,” Emery said, nodding behind them before edging back to his post at the riot barrier.
As Stanford turned he was greeted by the approach of Alison who was accompanied by Captain Harrishire in full garb wearing a pointed expression. The three met at a crouch and spoke point blank.
“We need to move,” Stanford said.
“Not yet, sir,” the firefighter reasoned. “If you could use our help, that is. We haven’t even tapped the 300 gallons onboard the quint. Let me and my crew get our longest hose up beside you and we’ll shoot a thousand PSI up their ass.”
“Your timing couldn’t be any more perfect,” Alison empathized, watching Stanford mull it over.
“We’s just waiting for a hush to settle after that last outburst. Some of the boys were gettin’ anxious from all the fireworks,” he added.
As if on cue, Emery expressed his doubtfulness to Stanford with a look.
“There’s no guarantee, but it’s only been the odd few that are packing heat,” Stanford confessed.
“That’d been our guess too,” Harrishire said. “‘Sides, we all know the risk. We heard about you guys. How you went in to that burning tenement last week. A few of us were there that day, prol’ly figure we owe ya one.”
Stanford nodded. “We’re in no position to refuse help.”
“Good.” The firefighter momentarily peered over the riot barrier. “Looks like these guys could use a stiff drink.”
Not a person laughed, nor could anyone deny that humor was a confidence builder.
The lieutenant looked down at the receiver then to his sergeant, wondering if he was the only one whose confidence wasn’t shattered. He opened the radio channel and held the receiver out. “Emery?”
“We keep our heads down.” Emery surveyed the field as he spoke. “Teams to the sides, flush against the buildings. Wall at our backs protects the flank. Keep it tight, focus on the center of the street, and stay in parallel step.”
“Positions,” Stanford commanded, then replaced the receiver on Emery’s belt. “Go make ready and meet us back here,” he told Captain Harrishire.
The firefighter hustled back the way he came while Alison remained. Stanford noticed she had a duffle full of renewed medical supplies slung over her shoulder.
“Don’t even say it,” she said. “I’ve come this far, and you can’t do everything by yourself.”
Stanford managed a grin, though the rest of his grim face held firm. He grabbed her arm. “You’re a good soldier.”
Alison tossed her head and smiled sardonically. “I hate war.”
In two minutes the counterassault forces were ready. Frasier, Dawkins, and Lois were lined up on the far side of the avenue with a handful of patrolmen and able-bodied volunteers from the crash site, including a retired cop and an off-duty reservist. On the near side stood Stanford, Emery, and Alison with their small team of firefighters towing a 240-meter, two-and-a-half inch diameter fire hose connected to the ladder truck. Almost fifty meters of the hose was required to bring the nozzle up to the assault point, leaving less than 200 meters for Stanford and the firefighters to wrestle with. And as Stanford flagged his arm directing his companions on the far side, initiating the parallel sweep, so too were the Forsaken lying in wait.