R. J. Beam
R. J. has been both a volunteer and paid firefighter. He
currently works in Law Enforcement in Wisconsin.
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|When Officer Ben Graystock becomes fed up
with drug dealer Avery Spade’s ability to avoid arrest, he tries
a highly illegal method to bust the criminal. Ben sets fire to
Avery’s house. The officer assumes fire investigators will see
the meth lab evidence and make an arrest. The plan does not
work, resulting in Ben tracking down Avery’s other drug labs and
setting additional arsons.
Police officer and volunteer firefighter Stuart Thompson is
assigned to investigate these arsons. Thompson also happens to
be Graystock’s close friend and partner at the police
Fire investigation turns to a murder investigation after Avery
Spade assumes the arsonist is a local rival dealer. Spade kills
the rival using a fire as a form of street justice. As the
investigation progresses more fire deaths occur. The pressure is
on for Officer Thompson to find a suspect and end the fires
before more people die.
Word Count: 73100
Pages to Print: 224
File Format: PDF
It all starts with a click. The room has to be very quiet for
anyone to hear that click, but it is audible. The sound of a
circuit closing and power being sent to a dormant speaker. That
click is almost instantly followed up by the alert tone. A
five-second-long staccato of high pitched beeps. This alert tone
is designed to awaken a person from the deepest of deep sleep.
Tonight it only took the first two seconds to bring Stuart
Thompson from dreamland to fully awake. Thompson keeps a touch
lamp right to the side of his clock to ensure it is easy to turn
on in the dark. Reaching past the clock he catches the time:
Twenty minutes after bar time and the fire pager is going off, I
know what this will be. Soon after that idea passed through
Stuart’s mind the alert tones ended. The bedroom didn’t return
to the silence of five seconds earlier, but a female voice
filled the air.
“This is a page for the Platteville Fire Department and
Platteville EMS. We have a two vehicle 10-50 with injuries and
possible entrapment, Highway 151 southbound lanes just past the
trailer court. Again, we have a 10-50 on Highway 151 just south
of the trailer court. The complainant states there are injuries
and thinks there could be entrapment. I have officers en route
and will get you more details as soon as they are on scene.”
10-50 is police radio code for a traffic crash.
Before the pager shut off, Stuart was on his way out the door of
the bedroom. Like all veteran volunteer firefighters, he placed
jeans, T-shirt and socks by his bed before falling asleep. Like
many of those worn by his fellow volunteers, the T-shirt was
bright red with the fire department logo screen-printed onto it.
Down the steps Thompson jogged, then across his living room into
the kitchen. His house keys were on an end table right next to
the door leading to the garage. Under the table was an old pair
of running shoes. They were already tied, and due to their age
Thompson was able to slip them on without effort. In the
wintertime he often left a jacket hanging on the hook stuck to
the back side of this door. On this late August night, the
jacket, wasn’t there, nor would it be needed even if it were
there. Out into the garage he went. The electric opener whirred
to life, lifting the door, exposing Thompson to a blast of humid
warm air. The inside of his house had been air conditioned. A
nice cool 70 degrees with little humidity. The air tonight was
in the mid-70s but the humidity was well over ninety percent.
Thompson started to get the feeling that they would be getting
rained on at this crash scene.
He climbed into the seat of his truck and the V8 set inside his
black Chevy full size pickup rumbled to life. Thompson
habitually backed into the garage to make pulling out into
traffic in emergency situations like this one easier. On the
dash and in the grill of his truck were red strobe lights. Also
under the grill was a one-hundred-watt speaker. The lights and
speaker tied into a box bolted to the underside of the dash.
That box had a row of buttons and a turn knob. Thompson hit only
one button on the row and the red lights started to flash away.
He turned the knob from the off position to the one labeled
yelp. The speaker up front started to call out a high pitch cry
telling others on the road to move out of my way. The gearshift
hit the spot for driving forward, and Thompson raced out onto
the nighttime street.
Down the street to the four-way stop sign he went. At that
intersection, Thompson slowed up to see that no one else was
around, then went right on through the intersection, making a
right-hand turn toward the fire department building. The
firehouse was just down the hill from his home, so Thompson was
first to pull into the parking lot. There was a time when he
would run down to the firehouse, but an ice-covered sidewalk
cured him of that silly habit. He shifted the truck into park
and turned off the key. As soon as the engine quit, the lights
and siren also went dead. Thompson had them wired into the same
electrical circuit as the power windows, a neat trick to avoid a
dead battery from forgetting to flip off the strobe lights.
On the side of the building was a box with a keyhole. Thompson
put a key from his ring into the hole and turned it. Across the
front of the building garage, doors started lifting up, and the
bright red fire trucks became visible. Little kids dream about
getting onto firetrucks and racing to a call. Adults know what
goes on at 2:30 in the morning and dread the idea of seeing
someone injured or dead. As soon as he could duck under the door
closest to him, Thompson entered the building and made the quick
jog down the row of trucks to the rack holding his gear bag.
By this time, the sirens of other volunteers were audible as
they pulled into the department parking lot. Thompson kicked off
his shoes, stepped into the fire boots and pulled up his bunker
pants in one smooth move. He grabbed his gear bag then ran over
to the fire engine. Thompson pulled open the door to the engine
and tossed the gear bag up, before pulling himself in.
Thompson was no sooner seated than William Risto opened the
driver door to the engine. Risto was pushing seventy years old,
but could keep up with the best of the young guys when fire
calls came in. Risto climbed up into the driver seat and flipped
the power to the engine on. The red lights outside the truck
came on, and a steady beep started chirping in the cab, telling
the driver he had the needed power to turn over the engine on
this beast. Risto reached down and hit the button with the label
start. The diesel motor purred to life, as other firefighters
climbed in. One of the three people in the back area yelled up
that they were okay to roll out.
The air-powered brakes let off a squawk and the truck started to
roll forward. As the engine was clearing the garage door the
radio speaker came to life. “Truck7 is 10-76.”
The firefighters in the engine see the old ambulance that now
hold the jaws-of-life equipment fly past their doorway toward
Rice hit the siren switch and picked up the microphone that sits
next to that switch. “Engine one 10-76.” A roar replaced the
purr of the diesel engine, as William pushed the gas pedal and
pulled the fire engine in behind the jaws truck.
The back area of the fire apparatus had an odd quiet to it. The
radio speaker was still alive, the other two trucks that pulled
out, calling themselves en route to the crash. Chatter from the
police arriving at the crash started to come in. The siren of
the fire apparatuses could be heard. Yet it was still quiet to
the guys putting on their jackets or turning out, as
firefighters called it. They were not talking to one another,
just pulling up suspenders, hooking all the latches to close
jackets, pulling hoods over their heads, and adjusting chin
straps on helmets. They all heard the police officer say it was
a semi versus a pickup truck. They understand that the pickup is
in the ditch, on its side with a person pinned under it.
This crash was almost three miles outside of town. The drive to
it took only four minutes, but it felt a lot longer for the
firefighters. When they pulled up to the scene, it looked as if
a bomb had gone off. There was a semi pulled to the side of the
highway, the bumper and grill caved-in. On the north side of the
highway about 20 yards behind the semi, in the ditch, part of an
older Chevy truck was visible. The asphalt between the semi and
the truck was a debris field. One whole axle with both wheels
attached sat mixed in with chucks of metal and plastic vehicle
parts at the center of the debris field.
Thompson was not part of the jaws team, so he didn’t not rush to
the truck to help free the victim stuck under it. Not that it
would have mattered. When the Jaws Team crew got to the truck,
they found the passenger had been partially ejected out the side
window. When the truck flipped on the side, the passenger was
basically cut in two. Legs and lower torso in the truck cab,
with his head and upper torso outside it. Some flesh and the
broken spine holding the two parts together were stuck under the
doorframe. Not much the Jaws of Life would be doing here until
after police finished their investigation and the coroner said
the body could be moved.
When Thompson got out of the fire engine, he began to look for
other dangers or other victims from the crash. Like everyone
else on the Platteville Fire Department, Thompson had a full
time job. His real job happened to be police officer for the
Platteville PD. He might respond as a firefighter, but his
mindset was always working like a cop. Other firefighters were
getting out orange cones and starting to block off the scene, so
no cars could drive through. Some firefighters were setting up a
detour, to get traffic moving again yet keep them away from the
scene. Thompson started looking over the debris field, walking
slowly toward the pickup truck. Knowing one person was partially
ejected tells a good cop to start looking for the other person
or people who got fully ejected.
As Stu got close to that truck axle in the roadway, he saw the
body. A second victim was fully ejected out of the pickup truck.
The body was face-down, and must have gone through the front
windshield from the looks of the shredded clothing.
As Thompson drew near the body, he heard his name called out.
“Stuart, don’t worry about him. I checked, and he is long past
saving.” Thompson turned toward the voice, which came from the
ditch on the opposite side of the highway from the pickup truck.
Walking along the ditch line was Officer Graystock, a shift mate
and friend of Thompson’s. Graystock was shining his flash light
around in the ditch, Thompson knew he was looking to ensure
there had not been a third passenger in the truck.
Graystock started to walk back over to the axle and the
face-down victim. “Hey buddy, sorry to drag you out on your off
night like this.” The two men met near the feet of the body.
“Bet you will never guess who this is.”
Thompson looked down at the lifeless body. Overweight, brownish
hair and blood was all Thompson saw from his angle; could be
anyone from the area. “No clue, Ben. Who is it?”
“Tommy who?” Tom was an average enough name, and this dead
body’s appearance didn’t trigger recognition in Thompson.
“Oh, you know who—the shithead, lives up on Ridge Street.”
“Shithead on Ridge Street? Not sure I know any Tom from Ridge
“Yes you do, he only gets arrested in the bars once every month.
Heck, we had a domestic with him a few weeks ago. He beat the
tar out of his wife. She was in the hospital overnight even.
Remember? It took three of us to cuff him even after covering
him in pepper spray.”
“Holy shit, you mean Bull, right?”
“Yep. Bull. Whoever gave him that nickname was right on. Big,
dumb fuck that he is . . . err . . . he was, I guess I should
“Humm, you know, for all the years I worked here I never heard
him called by his real name. I never arrested him, either, I
have always been just the back up.”
Graystock looked over at the body and pointed. “Step over here
and check out the cut on his neck.”
Thompson stepped over to the other side of the body and looked
where Ben’s flashlight was now illuminating. The cut started at
the ear, by the upper part of the jawbone. It ran right down the
neck, continuing across the collarbone. Meat from the neck and
facial muscles was clearly visible, along with open blood
vessels. Stu Thompson saw now why Ben Graystock did not feel
that first aid would help this man. A cut like that would mean
little to no blood left in the victim.
“You know, the night it took three of us to get him into cuffs
he was high on meth. From what I hear, Bull here has been
collecting ingredients for Avery Spade, for his meth cook
operation.” Graystock turned away from the body to look at
Stuart. “Want to make a bet that Bull here was driver and being
high on meth was the contributing factor to this crash?”
Stuart Thompson might not have known his real name, but he knew
enough about Bull to figure that being tweaked out caused this
crash. After declining the bet, the two friends went their
separate ways to finish up the work at the crash scene.
Eventually, Graystock would be relieved by a State Trooper and
be able to return to the city. Graystock, who also was a
volunteer firefighter, went down to the firehouse to sign in on
the attendance sheet. He might not have gone to this call as a
firefighter, but he was on scene and might as well make the
numbers look good. By 6 o’clock, all the firefighters were
released from the scene to go home and try to get a bit more
sleep before going about their Sunday plans.