“Nothing much happening today. I see the night boys had to put out a blaze over by Riverside Drive; but right now all is quiet. I want you to check your gear, and get to cleaning the truck and make sure our hoses are good to go. Right?”
We nodded our assent as Captain Barrows made his way to the office.
“All right rookie,” came the voice of Bob, the most senior of the men still on the floor, “let’s get to work.”
This was the life! My folks teased that most boys grew out of the ‘I want to be a firefighter when I grow up’ phase, but I just stayed there. However, the fascination of the trucks, the idea of rescuing people who needed help immediately was overwhelming, and I know they were proud when I finished my training and got my first job at the firehouse where I spent my boyhood. Bob had known me since I was four and begging for rides on the fire truck.
In the middle of drying fire truck #1, everything changed. The clang of the alarm bell, insistent in its intensity, caused us all to drop what we were doing and run for our gear. “First fire, eh rookie?” Jack nudged me as we clambered into the back of the engine. As we bore our way down Oak Street, cars gave way and a surge of adrenalin hit me! This was it! My stomach roiled in anticipation.
We pulled up to 16154 Forest Way and I peered through the side window, trying to see smoke. Apart from the flashing lights of the police vehicle already present, and the usual spectators that any official vehicle draws, the street and the house were eerily quiet.
Captain Barrows approached the police trooper. A passionate conversation ensued with gesticulations from the trooper and nods from the Captain. After a minute or so, Captain Barrows returned to the truck. “OK, men. We have a situation here. There’s been no house fire, but they need us for another job; something unpleasant, and I mean really nasty.”
“What is it Cap?” enquired Jack, but Captain Barrows just shook his grey mane of hair, pointed to front door and said, “Let’s go.”
I only caught a glimpse of the house’s interior as we traipsed through the dank passageway; peeling wallpaper and stacks of newspapers lined the hall; and the kitchen, what I could see of it looked like a throw back to the 1950’s. We moved quickly through to the back door and outside.
If the occupants of the house hired a landscaping company, they needed to fire them and get their money back. Never had I seen such a tangle of weeds, trash, abandoned vehicles and wild flowers. This was a yard right out of “Gardener’s Worst Nightmare” but then again, it matched what I had seen of the house.
My attention was arrested however by the large bed of rose bushes that spanned the width of the garden. It was the only pristine area and was incongruous in comparison. The police trooper who had led us through the house stood over a hole in the ground, absolutely still, head down, staring fixedly at whatever was in there.
“Careful fellows,” Captain Barrows muttered. “We can’t destroy any evidence.” With great trepidation I walked forward, not sure what to expect, but nothing could have prepared me for that first sight. It almost killed me. They were lying in shallow graves, right next to the rose bushes. The sweet fragrance cast by the roses almost, but not quite masked the stench of decomposing flesh.
I reeled away, retching, hands on my knees. A gentle hand landed on my shoulder. “Come on lad,” Bob’s voice had never sounded kinder or gentler. “No one deserves to see this their first time out; but let’s help these girls now. And at least we know this child killer has been caught. Took long enough, I know, but now parents in the community can sleep better at night, knowing he is off the street.”
I nodded and took a deep breath, grateful that he didn’t condemn me in my moment of weakness. We walked together to the graves so that we could bring closure to these little ones whose lives had been terminated and tossed aside like so much garbage by the monster that had inhabited the house.
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