Brotherhood by David Beckler
An ex-Marine is forced to confront his troubled past…
Manchester, England, 1998
When Byron Mason’s estranged nephew, Philip, rings him out of the blue in desperate need of help, he knows he must put his personal feelings aside to protect his family.
A teenage boy has been murdered, and Philip is one of the suspects.
Worse than that, the dead boy was the nephew of Ritchie McLaughlin – a local thug who Byron has clashed with in the past – and Philip has now gone missing.
Desperate to clear Philip’s name, Byron enlists the help of his old friend Adam Sterling to track down the real killers.
Is Philip in danger? Can Byron and Adam find him before the police do?
Or has Byron’s violent past with McLaughlin come back to haunt him…?
The loud click from the speaker above the hatch into the kitchen announced another fire-call and Firefighter Adam Sterling groaned with frustration. He wanted to be busy, but this was the fourteenth shout of the night and he still hadn’t finished the evening meal he’d started six hours earlier. He wolfed down another mouthful of chilli, now a congealed mess following several trips to the hotplate and rushed to the engine house as the piercing notes of the siren faded away. The others waited on the first pump.
“Come on, slowcoach,” Station Officer Reid said.
“Sorry, Boss. I had to have food, I’m bloody starving.”
“Gannet,” Mal observed, to laughter.
The pump lurched out of the engine house and Adam stepped into his boots before pulling up his leggings. The vehicle raced round the first corner and Adam braced himself, glancing across at Mal, his partner for the night. With over twenty years’ service, Mal was ‘senior man’ and the team leader. Adam noticed he’d already dressed and was struggling into the straps of his breathing apparatus set.
“You’d better hurry, Adam. It’s just around the corner.”
A rush of adrenaline energised Adam and, thrusting his arms into the sleeves of his tunic, he fastened the zip. The two pumps made their way through deserted streets, and blue lights reflected from windows as they glided past. The brakes hissed and the pump came to a stop. Eager to see what awaited, Adam slid across the bench seat and followed Mal out onto the pavement, the heavy cylinder on his back making him clumsy. Just behind them, thick black smoke poured out of an opening above the front door of a terraced house. A mixture of excitement and apprehension made Adam’s pulse race.
“Okay, lads. Go under air. Mike, check round the back. Pete, get the sledgehammer,” Station Officer Reid said, his voice calm.
Adam started up his set and the comforting flow of cool air passed over his cheeks. He pulled the head-straps tight and took a deep breath before putting on his helmet and following Mal along the line of hose which had sprouted across the pavement. Mal reached the end and picked up the branch plugged into it, releasing a blast of water into the gutter. Adam seized the tail of hose and concentrated on trailing Mal. The voices and sounds of the pumps merged into the background. The splintered remains of the door lay beside the front steps and Mal crouched in the doorway.
Behind Adam, Reed hovered, trying to see past his men. “Check for missing floorboards, Adam, and look out for needles. These houses are popular with junkies. Find the electrics and knock them off.”
Adam listened to these instructions, his mind on what awaited them, and he ran through what he’d learned in the last three years and countless hours of training. Mal blasted the ceiling ahead of them and a shower of debris fell. When this stopped, he led Adam into the house. Thick, viscous smoke engulfed them when they stepped through the front door, absorbing the beams of their lamps. Adam kept low, but within seconds heat infiltrated his flash-hood, forcing him lower. Dragging the hose he followed Mal into the smoke. Mal blasted the fire and the hose jerked in Adam’s hands, like a serpent coughing. The water hit the flames, generating clouds of steam which enveloped the two men. Intense heat penetrated Adam’s clothing and sweat poured off him. He panted, using up precious air.
Adam went even lower, trying to burrow into the floor, searching for the cooler atmosphere. He ignored the lumps of debris jabbing him through his leggings and crawled into the house. The sounds of another team came from behind, and their shuffling steps on wooden treads told him they were going upstairs. He found it hot enough downstairs. It would be worse for them, fighting their way through the layers of heat.
Mal grabbed his shoulder. “The main fire’s in the back room. Do you want to take it?” he said, his voice muffled by the facemask.
He thrust the branch into Adam’s hands and moved aside to let him pass. Adam tucked the hose under his arm and Mal dropped in behind him, keeping a hand on his shoulder. Flame showed under the smoke and leaning forward, Adam fired off a blast of water. More steam enveloped him and he could see nothing. Then it cleared and the flames returned, smaller and less bright.
He advanced and sprayed them again. Mal disappeared, giving Adam a moment’s anxiety until sounds of his colleague searching the adjacent room reassured him. He crouched in the doorway and blasted the ceiling of the room beyond until bits of it stopped falling.
Mal returned. “Let’s go in.”
Adam moved into the room attacking the flames each side of the doorway. They died as he hit them and the heat reduced. Centimetres at a time, they advanced, knocking down the fire.
“Hole in the floor on our left, Adam.”
Prompted by the call, he checked each step but soon reached the far wall. A scan of the room confirmed he’d extinguished the fire.
“Give me a hand here?” Mal’s voice came from his left and leaving the hose, Adam shuffled across to join him. “Window’s got a security grille.” Mal gripped Adam’s sleeve and directed his hand to a smooth piece of metal. “This end feels loose at the top. You’re taller, can you knock it out?”
He hit it with the heel of his hands until the end popped out, creating an opening at the edge of the board. Adam pushed the panel, widening the gap. Smoke and steam rushed out of the top of the opening and cool clean air replaced it. After more pushing, another anchor point gave way and working together, they removed the metal plate, leaving a wide hole. The air cleared and Adam’s torch illuminated the back room. Broken kitchen cabinets lined two walls and, in the gap for a cooker, stood a wheelie bin.
“We’ll use the bin to put the crap in,” Mal said, then the radio on his set crackled.
“Station Officer, come in.” The sub officer’s urgent tone made Adam pause.
“Go ahead, Mike.”
“Geoff, we have persons reported.”
The news sent a jolt through Adam. Although he knew they should treat every building as if it might contain casualties, he hadn’t seriously thought they’d find someone in here.
“Say again, Mike?”
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