Cop on the Edge, Episode 9
Brush Fire

M. Stanley Bubien

The wind blew hotter, and the pillar of smoke loomed larger as I pulled off the freeway and onto a country road. I checked my case file for directions. It steered me straight toward the smoke.

The road curved east and out of the valley. As I crested the hill, I saw what was causing the smoke---a wall of flame leaping along the brush, and the wind was whipping it straight for me.

Great. Another interruption to my investigation.

I spun into a U-turn, throwing up some smoke of my own, and shot back down the hill. Before hitting the turnoff, I spotted a set of fire engines across the valley. I decided to head for them.

The road veered through the valley, past a couple of scattered ranch homes. Old ranch homes---probably built thirty or forty years ago---the kind that came with a wrinkly geezer rocking back and forth on the porch, spitting tobacco over his lazy hound dog's head. Well, they'd better be doing a lot more than spitting today.

As the road wound upward, the sage brush cleared---not naturally, though. It was a large plot of land flattened by a bulldozer sitting in the middle of the empty white soil. By my reckoning, it must've been recently cleared since there weren't any weeds sprouting anywhere on the plot. At least there'd be nothing to burn there.

"Hey! What the hell are you doing!" a guy in a yellow suit screamed when I topped the hill and skidded in next to the fire trucks. "This is an emergency---"

I flashed my badge. It shone brown in the smoke-obscured sunlight, but it shut him up anyway.

"I'm investigating an arson," I told him.

"Well," he grunted in reply, pointing over my shoulder, "You'll be gettin' some first hand experience today, bub."

We both watched the fire approach the eastern edge of the valley.

"Santa Ana," he said. "Fanned up some leftover embers and got this baby rolling again."

"But it's been out two days."

"Hey, bub, I don't make the rules. Alls I know is that's how it works. It's just a good thing we warned the residents this might happen. One of 'em had his eyes open and called us in right when it started."

"Oh. Which one?" I asked.

"That one," he said, and pointed at a ranch house laying low in the valley---so low, the owners probably had no idea they were smack dead in the path of the fire line.

As if following his que, a pair of fire engines roared to life, throwing diesel fumes about us, and rumbled toward the home.

"Think two's gonna be enough?" I asked.

"Hey, bub, I ain't here tellin' you how to do your job. So gimme a break, huh?"

He wanted a break? How about those homes? They were the ones that needed the break.

Suddenly, I had an idea.

I poked him in the chest and said, "One break comin' up." Without waiting on a response, I sprinted full-speed after the fire trucks.

Copyright ©1997 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.

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April, 1997
Issue #12