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      Page Three

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Gil Robertson looked up from the rag he was using to clean the chrome
on the resuscitator. "You're not the only one good at police codes, Kelly.
H/5K?...hmm  that's Homicide/Detective Support Section and a Code 6A
is ..."

"..'Out of Car on Investigation, Requires Assistance.' " replied an equally radio
savvy Mike Stoker.

Kelly's smile never wavered, "Right, and Code 2-High means top priority but
with no lights or sirens. And Marco's still with em in the squad." then his face
fell. "I wonder what they're up to?"

Cap happily filled them in. "You've been hearing our detectives' work up to here
all day. Now they're saying it's time for a little bloodhound action from Boot in
that alleyway."

"To catch a thief?" Gil guessed eagerly, still in the dark about everything.

"To catch a killer." Cap corrected. "Chet, fill Robertson in on the latest concerning
Gage. I'm giving you permission. D*mned if I'm going to keep a secret from one
firefighter concerning another one."

Kelly fell to with Gil in a huddle with Stoker and the animated talking began.

Cap restlessly ambled over to the open garage doors with his hands in his
pockets to fill his lungs with the cool night air blowing around him. The
heavily darkening sky was filled with moonshine and the oddly sharp
light from a single bright star, rising in the east.

Try as he might to believe otherwise, Hank swore up and down,
that it was winking at him.

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::Thank goodness it's too dark to see the bloodstains.:: thought Johnny.
::I don't see any. Maybe someone's already washed them away with a
garden hose to keep the curious from lingering.::

On the way in, they had learned about Boot coming to meet them in the
unmarked detective's car through one of Cap's updates to L.A..

Soon, they were there. Gage, Marco, Roy got out of the squad at
once, turning off the ignition. It was quiet in the alleyway; broken only
by the sound of the police squad car that had followed them from Rampart
as it pulled up behind them. And by the sound of Boot, running joyfully
to them from someplace else that was out of sight. He was dragging his
working leash behind him.

Johnny and Roy were worried for Marco's sake about seeing where
his young cousin had died, but Boot stayed near and helped distract
him from thinking about it too much.

"So where are they?" Johnny demanded of the two police officers.
"My friend hasn't got all night. He needs a place to lie down
in the worst way." he said about Marco, exaggerating a bit.
Lopez subtly kicked him in the ankle to pipe down. "Johnny.. I'm
fine..." he hissed.

"We'll check on the other end of the alley for their car." said
the cop and he and his partner turned on flashlights for the trip
towards the church. "If your dog is here. They're here." he said.

Soon, they were swallowed up in darkness.

Johnny smiled when he looked up at a familar outline of a brick building
on his left next to its steeple. "Hey, Roy. Look. My old apartment
building."

All the windows were dark, except for one. In the topmost left corner
story, a brightly festooned Christmas tree was illuminating it from
a lightless living room.

"That's my old place. Nice to know someone's still living there."
he said, pointing to the apartment displaying the glowing tree.

"You used to live there?" Marco asked, stooping to pet Boot for
some comfort. The shaggy dog nuzzled the place where Marco's
I.V. had once connected. "It's ok, boy. I'm better now. So don't
fret. Go with the detectives. You're working for them tonight."

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Boot whined indecision but then he turned and faced the alley way.
He didn't have to go very far. The two cops had located the two
detectives.

"Let's start this, shall we?" asked Friday, gathering up Boot's lead.
"Can you get him going for us?"

"Sure.." said Johnny. He knelt by the brown dog and said one
command. "Seek, Boot. Go find what's wrong. We'll stay right here.
Ok? Go, Boot."

Deftly, Friday released the leash's catch from the station dog's collar.

Boot went.

Bill Gannon, Joe Friday, Johnny, Roy and Marco were just watching
Boot's third pass around the alleyway around the body silhouette
tape outline and yellow and black plastic barrier square fluttering in
the wind from orange cones, when a man stepped out of the shadows.

Joe Friday started. "Mr. Lorentz.. What are you doing out here?"

"I'm going to Christmas mass a little early. Father Rojas says
his two altar boys aren't feeling too well this evening. Says both
have a fever or something working on em. I may be needed to stand
in their place for the candle service." said Maxmillion. "What are you
doing with Johnny and Roy boys? They aren't being blamed for
Maria, are they?"

Gannon's suspicions were raised. "How did you know why we're here,
Mr. Lorentz?"

"I didn't for sure. I just tricked you into telling me. Johnny, did you get
the money for your bail ok?" Maxmillion asked Gage.

Roy and Johnny finally recognized the old man. "M- Max? What are y--  
Are you the one responsible for doing that? I thought Roy and the rest
of the guys from B and C shifts were the ones who put up my bail."
wondered Johnny.

Maxmillion the bum and religious store proprietor crowed in pure
glee. "Ha! HA ha ha ha..I finally found a permanent way to pay you two
fellas off for saving my life last year. That bail is completely nonrefundable.
So don't even try to give it back to me. It belongs to the state of California
now."

"Excuse me, Mr. Gage, Mr. DeSoto. Just what is your relationship to this
man?" cut in Joe Friday.

"He's our victim!" said Johnny, grabbing the old man's blue veined hand
and shaking it gratefully. "I mean, he was. Uh, it's a little hard to explain."
he said, grinning from ear to ear. Then he ignored the detectives's questions
while he caught up on news. "That smoke didn't give you pneumonia, Max?
We were worried about ya. All of us were. The last we heard, they were
bussing you off to the state old folks home for the homeless."

"Never happened. Heh. You see, I'm not quite as homeless as you and they
thought I was." winked Maxmillion.

"Oh.. uh, ... really?" asked Johnny.

"Really." said Bill Gannon. "Mr. Lorentz is the proud owner of that religious
curio shop right there behind us."

"He is?" rubbernecked Roy, squinting to peer at the dim storefront around
the parked rescue squad.

"I truly am. What else did you expect from me? Did you think that money
you boys found while rescuing me, was all I had? I'm not stupid enough to
leave all my eggs in one basket there, sonny. No siree. I have my adopted
brother to think about providing for, now don't I?" said Maxmillion.

Both detectives frowned. "Who would that be?"
"Who would that be?"  asked both Johnny and Joe Friday simultaneously.
They both looked at each other in irritation.

Roy and Marco just smiled a bit through their tiredness at their mirrored
reaction. They welcomed Boot into their arms when he had finished his
trained thorough circuit of the alley way with vigorous pets and rubs
onto his broad hairy back.

Maxmillion told them proudly. "Why it's good ol' Leonard Baptista,
my fine upstanding P.I.s. You remember me talking about him, my
best-est friend and chess partner.. He's the one."

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Gannon and Friday both sighed and shook their heads ruefully.
"The church boiler man."

"Huh?" asked Gage.

"Never mind." said Max looking more and more distressed when he
thought about his two paramedic saviors' predicament. "Say, Mr.
Fried Egg.."

"Friday."

"Whatever. How can you pin Maria's murder on him? They found children's
prints on the gun. And them only." declared Max, putting a protective arm
over Johnny's uniformed shoulders.

"What?" startled Johnny.

Bill and Joe didn't move.

Gage immediately got mad, so did Marco and Roy. And Boot, too,
when he sensed the change in his firehouse humans. His growl
spoke for all of them.

Johnny got angry, fast. "Why didn't you tell that to any of us in the first place?
Here I was, fretting it out in jail and then at the station and even over poor
Marco here while we treated him for hypotensive crisis and you just sat
there keeping this information to yourselves?! Oh, ....man.."

"Some kids ...killed my cousin?" whispered Lopez.

Roy and Johnny immediately flanked him.

Marco waved them away. "Whose were they?"

"We don't know. They were smeared and only partial prints."
Bill Gannon said finally.

"How did you know they were child sized, Mr, Lorentz?" Joe
said, looking at Maxmillion.

Maxmillion hung his head, deflecting his answer. "I heard
about your troubles, Johnny, on my fire department scanner
and I wanted to help these investigators clear your name.
You see I never got around to tellin ya fellas that I'm also
a closet P.I on the side." And he pulled out a richly polished
leather wallet. Inside lay a very high level detective's I.D. One
that Friday and Gannon knew only by reputation. And it was real.
"I work for 1K4Y directly." he said simply.

Joe raised his eyebrows in the first expression of amazement
his partner Bill had ever seen. "Organized crime intelligence at
investigative services headquarters? Sir, I'm honored." he
said, lifting his palm up to shake Max's.

"I don't get it." said Johnny. Even Lopez seemed shaken out
of his unpleasant thoughts surrounding the setting he found himself
standing in.

"Boys, think about it. I was heavy undercover during a deep
police sting operation when that fire broke out in the warehouse
where you had to rescue me." Lorentz explained.

"But... but... what about all that money?" Marco asked.

"That was mine. I used my own because I didn't want to do it
any other way. You see, the part about my not trusting banks is still true.
You could say my first name describes my REAL financial standing."

"Maxi.....million?" Roy peeped.

Maxmillion J. Lorentz just nodded and smiled toothlessly. "Yep."
"And I plied my credentials at the forensics lab, 714 and 4848.
That's how I know about the small hand prints on that murder weapon."
he said fiercely. Then his face softened and he set a gentle hand on
Marco's shoulder. "Sorry, Marco.. I still don't have all the answers for
you. But I'm trying. And I'm trying real hard to clear you, Johnny, and
come up with the reason why Maria died. There just aren't enough
clues t--"

"Do you smell something?" Johnny asked when he saw Boot, sitting
at his feet, sniffing and sneezing, too. Boot began to bark in earnest
toward the tall apartment building looming over Father Rojas's church.

A sickly orange cast was just started to stain that solely lit holiday
decorated upperstory window. And it jarred discordantly with the
gay colors sparkling there.

"..oh, no...." Johnny moaned, as he recognized the sight and smell for
what it was.

It was a fire,.. starting quickly inside of the Christmas tree.

Johnny started shouting at the detectives. "Call it in! Call it in! We
gotta get up there, now!"

"What? What are you seeing?" Gannon cried.

"A fire in my apartment unit!"

"A fire where? I thought you lived in Bear Claw Canyon.." Joe said
quickly, trying to see where Gage was pointing.

"I meant in my old apartment! Where I used to live. Up there!"
and he rushed to the squad as fast as he could run, throwing open
a gear compartment to get out his turnout coat. Then he jumped up
top in the back to grab down two air bottles.

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"Grab one down for me..." shouted Marco, gesturing.

"No way, Marco. The chief hasn't cleared you yet to work. Let L.A. know
that Johnny and I are going up there on a landline with scba gear!"
ordered DeSoto.

Not happy, and holding tightly onto Boot's collar, Lopez made the call.

**************************************************
From: "Cory Anda" <andacory@hotmail.com>
Date: Thu Dec 22, 2005  1:15 pm
Subject: The Fire of the Soul...


Roy hurried into full gear as fast as he could change into it. Already,
he could see that panicking, still sleepy sets of families were
making good their escape down the building's exterior stone staircase
as smoke in the stairwells started filling the air from the ceilings
on down. "Keep going!" he told them as he got out coils of rope
for him and Johnny to use. "Head across the street and go into
the church, you'll be safe there." Then he shouted at Johnny. "How
many apartments do we have here?"

"Forty. Arranged four units deep each wing, two wings each floor
to ten stories."

"Sprinkler system?"

"Yes." he said as he and Roy jogged to the front entrance.
"And no elevator to speak of. It's one of the reasons why I
moved away from here."

Marco grabbed up their two life lines into his hands. "Be careful
in there, you guys. I got your backs. Here's a squad radio." he
told them, tossing Roy an HT. "The engine's two minutes out."

"Thanks, Marco. Don't get hit by falling false wall debris. There
are a pair of gargoyle corner stays right above the fire up there."
Johnny told him.

Lopez looked up, spotted them, and moved aside fifteen feet.
"I see them now." he said wrapping the ends of his coworkers' ropes
around both wrists. "Man, what a shame. This place has gorgeous
architecture."

"It isn't too late yet. Marco. It's not over until it's over." he grinned.
"Ok, in we go. Standard tugs ok?"

"Two for good going every three minutes." agreed Marco, buttoning
up a spare overcoat he had grabbed from the squad. "I got the second
radio so we can keep in touch with one other."

Johnny and Roy both gave him a wave as they entered the building
with their masks on and ropes tied off to their waist harnesses.

"Roy, about where we're going.. the fire's tenth floor,
apartment two on the end left corner. Two windows, one east
of the front door, one north directly opposite."

"Do you know how many people live there now?"

"No, I haven't a clue. Wish I did, Roy. Know what I mean?" he
said, hustling up the interior stairs right behind his partner. They met
several families coming down in the opposite direction, fleeing.
"That's right, keep going to the lobby!" Gage hollered. "There are firemen
down there at the bottom who'll help you get out of here! Move, keep down
by the floor in the thicker spots and you'll be able to breathe!" he told
them.

Soon, they were passing no more families. They had reached the tenth floor.

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The Dragnet detectives and the two street cops immediately began
to guide people away from the smoking building in droves. They soon
had help, when the sounds of arriving firefighting companies attracted
the attention of church goers from their service.


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Father Rojas threw his doors wide open for refugees. "Come in, come in.
Please, sit down. Who's hurt?" asked the kindly Xavier as he hustled his
congregation and the holiday choir singers to attend and care for the
evacuating families until the fire crews and paramedics and ambulances
were ready to handle them. "Maxmillion? Could you go get the stack of
blankets from the sacristy? We should have about a dozen altogether."

Lorentz just nodded, helping one tearful mother in her holiday best sit down
with her baby onto a pew's seat. "I'll be right back." he promised the
frightened woman. "Don't worry, ma'am. You two are safe here.
We won't let anything happen to you. Good help's arriving soon.
Is your baby daughter ok?"

"Y-Yes.." she said. "Uh, I think so."

"Is everybody in your family out of the building?"

Again, the crying mother nodded. "Everyone. It was just my husband
and my stepfather at home. Apartment 120." she sobbed.

"Ok, just rest here a bit. There are four policemen here who'll help you
out with her very soon. Ok."

"All right... Thank you Max.." she sobbed, clutching her sooty crying infant
to her damp cheek. "Shh, honey, it's ok. We're well out of there and safe.."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Engine 51 arrived and received its working orders from Battalion One.
##Engine 51, lay two supply lines for Ladder Nine on the eastern exposure.
This will be an exterior attack only until we know the extend of the fire zone.
Stations 99 and 8, assist Squad 51 with victim evacuation from the south
and north entrances.## said the chief.

Cap immediately had Stoker pull the engine up to their assigned hydrant.
Chet Kelly grabbed the ends of the engine's two hoses and wrapped a 2
inch supply line around it, then he whistled. Mike pulled ahead using the
hydrant for leverage to yank folded hose down from the hose bed. The
connections were swiftly made between hydrant, 51's reservoir and into
Ladder Nine's active pump. Stoker got on the panel to coordinate their
water feed when the bucket man was ready to charge the water cannon.

Hank paused briefly right outside the Ward's cab as he showed Gage's lawyer
how to fasten up his turnout jacket. "Sorry we had to drag you along, Mr. Cogley.
But your ride's here." he told Trent, pointing out the detectives' Fairlane, parked
in the still uneffected alleyway next to the compartment door opened rescue
squad."Stay out of our way and stay clear of any charged lines. If you don't
watch out, they're sure to buck and knock you flat."

"I understand, Captain. Where's Mr. Gage now?"

Stanley smiled. "Knowing him? He's most likely already up there." he said
jerking a thumb at the flaming apartment that was starting to light
up the night sky. The bright star shining above, was now completely
hidden from view. Hank frowned.

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"Can I speak with Marco when he's free?" asked the lawyer, still fumbling with
the helmet strap around his chin.

"Only if he wants to. He's officially not on duty. But, he's probably rather busy
at the moment anyway, covering my paramedics' rears at the front entrance.
Where you can't go." he said firmly, to be sure the man did nothing stupid on
his fire scene.

"I'll wait, sir. Make sending him to me last." Trent said empathetically. "All
these other people come first."

"Glad to see lawyers don't have the idiot gene like some claim, Mr. Cogley.
I'm going over to talk to him."

"And I'll be at the church with the detectives if Marco chooses to talk to me."

"I'll tell him."
Hank adjusted his mask onto his face and his harness firmly
over his coat. He jogged to Marco's side of the street, where he could see
Lopez holding onto both of Roy and Johnny's lifelines. "How long have
they been in there?"

"Three and a half minutes, Cap. I got their tank start up times right here. He said,
pointing to the skin on his wrist where he had written them down with a pen.
coughed Marco. "So far, Johnny says it's just the one apartment." he said
holding up his HT meaningfully. Then his face screwed up as acrid smoke
from burning cloth stung his unprotected eyes.

"Ok, I got these. Go get out of here and out of this smoke." he ordered. "It's too
thick now to go unprotected." he said, tapping on his faceplate.

"But, Cap."

"You're inactive, Marco. On the injured list. You know the rules. Go." Cap told him.
Then he looked over Marco's uniformed shoulder. "Robertson! Kelly! On the double.
Man DeSoto and Gage's lifelines. They're on the tenth floor." he told his men.
Then he meaningfully snatched the chattering paramedic handheld radio out of
Marco's fingers. "And by the way, our resident lawyer wants a few words with you."

Reluctantly, Lopez got out of the billowing smoke drifting down the building's side,
accepting a mask handed out to him from one of 99's men for a few snorts.
The firefighter was going in with a dry attack line coil for the stairwell hose
connector on the top landing. "You ok?" asked the man as Marco coughed
and pulled a few clean breaths of air from his scba gear. "I saw you face naked
from all the way over there."

"Yeah. I'm not on duty. But I was here when it started. Thanks." he said, taking in a
last shot of good air. He returned it to the fireman with a nod. "I'm headed for the
church to see what I can do over there."

"I'll let the chief know." promised the man. "Are you one of 51's?"

"Yes. But on the inactives' list. My captain knows where I'll be."

"Ok..I'd hold off on a chat with the chief then." waved the man as he
put his mask and helmet back on and nodded to his fire bud that they could
leave.

"Good luck in there.." Lopez gave the team a thumbs up. They left his side
and disappeared into the smoke and darkness filling the alley way. On a thought,
he stopped by the squad, where he had shoved Boot for safety, and took him out
on his leash. ::Maybe he can calm all these kids down.:: Marco thought as he saw
the building's residents being helped into the church's well lit annex.

He went inside, going to Father Rojas's side at once.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rojas immediately approached him. "Maxmillion's gone to the sacristy
for some blankets for the youngest ones. Is there a paramedic team
coming for all these folks yet?"

"I can sure find out, Father." said Marco, looking to the entrance where a street
cop was standing as a guide. He could hear his belt radio clearly.

Maxmillion ran up to the both of them. "Marco. There's a baby over there
coughing from the smoke. Can you see what you can do?"

"Of course..Here, take over Boot's leash from me." said Lopez and he
quickly spotted the nervous mother and the infant. He waved over one
of the police officers who had followed them from Rampart and told him to
radio out to Battalion to get a fireman in with some oxygen tanks for the
worst of those smoke effected. Then he took the baby from her
mother and started calming both of them down by speaking in soft Spanish.
All the while, he watched the child carefully until the time came for one of
the paramedics to stop a crowd status sweep, long enough to prioritize her.

He then started to notice that several people had taken to lying down on
the floor in front of the altar on their blankets. He gave the baby back
to the mother with a smile. "I've got to go now. She's not having any trouble
breathing here. I think she's just a little scared because you are..."

Lopez excused himself and went over to the open space by the altar. "Hey.. is
everybody ok over here? I'm with the Los Angeles County Fire Department."
Five exhausted heads lifted from the floor quickly and most nodded that they
were. But then Marco noticed two youngish boys bundled up on the first pew.
What attracted his attention was the fact that they both wore church robes.
"Boys. What's wrong? Are you sick from being outside too near the fire?" he
asked them.

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The first just moaned. "Whaa?....a fire? Oh, I feel sick." he said
without opening his eyes. "Let me go back to sleep, ok.? I promise I won't
make any more.. *gasp* ...noise, Father.." he whispered hoarsely, misidentifying
who Lopez was.

The second altar boy, didn't move.  "Hey.." Marco shouted, shaking the
blond haired child's shoulder. He recognized him at once. "Joseph.. Joseph
Hefferman.. Can you hear me?" The boy didn't react. Marco lifted his head
and began yelling for Father Rojas and the policemen. "Father! Both your
altar boys are in serious trouble. Get help!"

Lopez noticed that the boys' faces were hot and flushed. There
was a damp stain of vomit on the edge of the blanket under Joseph that he
almost missed. Marco carefully tipped back Joseph's head and listened closely
for any attempt at breathing. The ill looking boy was doing it, weakily, so Lopez
balled up the blanket and wadded it under his shoulders to keep the boy's
head fallen back enough for a good airway while he monitored his wrist pulse
with worry.

Father Rojas came instantly when he heard his name with a firefighter in tow
who was carrying a portable oxygen case.

Marco and the lieutenant quickly got two masks set up, a flowing nonrebreather
for the partially awake child and the demand valve, he set up for Joseph so
Lopez could aid him at will."How long have these two been like this?" Marco
asked Xavier as he watched the firefighter call for a paramedic to come to their
location. He frowned and began to ventilate Joseph with a thumb trigger
when his chest suddenly began to bubble under his ear.

"They were just sleeping, Marco. I sent them both over here to nap during the
mass. Joseph did say that he and little James weren't feeling too well. He said
it felt like the flu coming on."

"In both of them?" Marco asked.

"Yes. The boys didn't want to raise a fuss by calling
their fathers to come take them home before the services were over." fluttered Rojas.

"They're not sleeping now, Father. Something's making them black out."

"What?" said the old priest, bending closer for another look. "They weren't
this bad a few minutes ago. Joseph was just blowing his nose. Oh, my word."

"Have they been playing anywhere strange today? This is important, Father.
I already know that they haven't gotten into any of that smoke out there. James
didn't even know that there was a fire going on outside."

"Well, no, nothing comes to mind, ah..." he gripped his head. "It's been a busy
day. We've all been tired since early morning." said the Padre. Then he coughed.

Lopez looked up sharply. "Xavier are you nauseated, too? With a headache?"
he said, handing over the resuscitator to the fire lieutenant to take over. He
rose to his feet and held the churchman's shoulders.

"A little bit. Funny, I.. didn't feel this way a half an hour ago."

Marco quailed. "Father Rojas. Get everybody to open up every door
in the church. All the windows, too."

"What? Why?" he said as he motioned well trained robed assistants to do just that.

"If I'm right, there's poisonous gas building up in here from somewhere."

"Impossible. We don't use gas. We have all electric."

On the bench, little James stirred restless underneath the steadying hand of
the firefighter working on his best friend. "..Leo.. Leo!....Go get Leo. He's sick, too.
Real bad... Joseph and I couldn't get him out of bed for the Christmas mass."

A feeling of dread overcame both the firefighter and Marco. "Oh, no. Does this
place have a boiler room?" guessed the fireman venting the little boy.

"Yes. Blocked flue or chimney for sure. That boiler's brand new..." said Lopez rising
suddenly. He grabbed his HT. "HT 51 to Battalion One. Possible carbon monoxide
leak at my twenty! At least four victims. We need an immediate fire company
at the church!"

"Marco! Leonard Baptista must still be down in the basement. I thought it odd
that he wasn't here to listen to the singing tonight." said Xavier.

"Ok, ..I'm gone with him. Soon, they'll be, too." said the firefighter nodding at
the evacuees, as he lifted up Joseph into his arms. He kept up his mask delivered
breaths on the boy as the policeman picked up the other boy and the tank. "Outside,
everybody back outside!" the lieutenant shouted, stirring up the groggy sleepers on
the floor with a boot. Then he turned to Lopez. "Take off my air bottle. You're gonna
need it if you check the lower level for that man. I'll get back to you with a full team
as soon as I get these two to a paramedic."

Boot, the dog, was coughing now, even at the main doors, and Maxmillion J. Lorentz,
noticed it. "Hey, boy, don't pull at your leash so much. We're ok here. At least, I
think so. " Then the words "...bad boiler.." echoed down to him from the rafters from
somewhere near the back of the church. Their significance didn't sink in until he saw
little Joe and James being rushed out of the church, both with oxygen masks pressed
firmly against their faces, their gold and ivory robes fluttering in the wind.
"Baptista.. you crazy ol codger. If you've killed yourself, I'll never forgive you!" he
hissed, tying off Boot's leash to a lamp post on the street. He craftily followed
the repanicked crowds abandoning the church, going with the flow, until he
reached a special side door which led to the basement. Taking a deep breath,
Maxmillion, slipped inside.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Detective Friday, heard a door slam at the church from where he and his
partner were watching from a good vantage point. It was one that he knew
which opened from the dark alleyway. "Come on, Bill. That didn't sound right."
he said, throwing his cigarette away.

"What didn't?"

"That slamming door. I think someone who's not a firefighter went down
after Leonard Baptista."

"Was it Lorentz?"

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"None other. Look, Boot's tied up on that street light . A minute ago, Max was
still holding him."

"Gonna tell somebody?"

Joe didn't reply. He just opened the Fairlane's door that he had been
leaning on and got on the CB, switching it to the fire command frequencies.
"744 and 4848 to Battalion One. Urgent."

##Go ahead, H/5K.## said the fire chief.

"We just eyeballed one of our men doing something stupid at the church.
He's gone into the basement after a man possibly trapped in all that gas."

##10-4 on that. Speeding up our response teams. Battalion One out.##

The two Rampart police officers met up with the detectives and Trent Cogley
to keep out of all the firefighters' way. "What's new?" Trent said, still in the
dark about the church gas leak and Maxmillion's disappearance.

"Maybe another pair of DBs." Joe replied. He wasn't beneath shocking
the frilly laywer.

"What?!" Trent choked spitting out the mug of coffee he had been given by
a church volunteer. "Whose this time?"

"A retarded boilerman in the church basement."

"And probably soon, his best friend. He just rolled the dice by going
down after the guy while trying to brave a sea of carbon monoxide."
Bill Gannon told him.

"He won't make it." said one of the cops. "I've seen this a thousand times.
CO can kill in less than ten minutes in high enough concentrations."

"Ah, but these fire boys know they're down there. Maybe that'll make em
just a little bit quicker on the draw." Joe hoped. "And maybe, they'll both
make it out of there."

Joe angled his head, seeing an altar boy being loaded onto an ambulance
stretcher. "Say, Bill. Isn't that James Cormeen and little Joe over there?"

Gannon jolted. "It sure is."

"Who are they?" Trent Cogley asked.

"Two altar boys who served at mass the same day Maria was killed." said
Bill." I wonder what happened to them." he replied. "They look bad."

"Let's find out." Joe nodded. He and Bill and Trent
left the two cops behind at the car and soon, they were kneeling by both
ambulance gurneys as they awaited loading by the two paramedics caring
for the apneic boy. "L.A.P.D." Friday announced himself to the paramedic
team. "How are they doing?" he said, putting his badge away after the busy
medic had gotten a good look at it.

"One's been intubated as you can see. He's most likely down from carbon
monoxide asphyxia."

"And the other one?" asked Bill, studying James Cormeen's reddish face.

"He's got a better chance of recovery. He got less gas we think." replied
Station 8's medic.

"Mind if we talk to him?"

The paramedic sighed. "Yes. We gotta get these two to a hospital a.s.a.p. We
still don't have consent to treat for either one."

"You do now." said Joe firmly.

"What?"

"I've just put them into protective custody. Treat away." said Friday.
"Starting those I.V.'s will give us time for some questions."

The paramedic rubbed his sooty nose. "Just don't wear him out or you'll
have me to answer to." he warned, handing off the biophone to his partner
already in the Mayfair, venting Joseph one handed. "I know how you
investigators work. You're ..all ..dry and facts hungry."

"Actually, he's real gentle under that iron exterior." Bill grinned wanly.

Eight's man grinned faintly. "I'll believe it when I see it. The boy's
a bit confused, but if you go slow. He'll answer you. His name
is James." he said, getting another blood pressure off the moaning
altar boy.

"We know." said Joe, then he crouched down by Cormeen's side.
"James... Can you hear me? It's the police. It's really important that you
answer a few questions about your illness. Why were you two in the
boiler room with Leonard Baptista?"

"We had ...to make sure.. he was ok. We've been protecting...him."
sighed the boy under the breathing mask. "We don't want him
to get arrested.. "

"Why?" smiled Bill, holding the groggy boy's hand. "What for?"

James' face screwed up, startling the medic, who instantly checked
his airway status with a hand to his chest. "..It's all .... our fault."
sobbed the boy. "Joseph and me... We found it in Leo's cookie jar.
We didn't mean to do it. Honest.."

Image of gannoncloseoutsidenight.jpg Image of joekidgurney.jpg

Joe's eyes glinted softly. "You mean you found the gun."

"Yes. We didn't mean to hurt her. We were aiming at all the garbage
cans. We....didn't even know she was there...Joe thinks one
of the shots bounced off one of the loose bricks lying in the alley and
hit her." he cried, bright tears flowing down his face.  "Oh, G*d..
We just wanted to know what it felt like to shoot like the Lone Ranger
does. He looks so cool with his." he cried, gasping.

"What happened this morning after you saw Maria fall to the ground?"

"We dropped it and ran away. There was a man in a white jeep coming."

"Johnny Gage..." whispered Trent Cogley in Joe's ear.

Joe nodded. "It's ok, son. Maria's death was an accident. Try to relax now.
You've gotten it off your chest. But...one more thing, can you tell me if
Leonard's still alive in the church's basement?"

"Yes.. Joseph and I saw him at the seventh cantas."

Bill looked at his watch. "That was fifteen minutes ago."

Father Rojas stepped out of the shadows, and he had heard every
word. "G*d forgives the little children, detective. When their hearts fully
realize their sins."

"You're forgetting Marco and his family, Father. What about them? If any
real forgiving's to be done, the absolution must come from them as well."
Joe said. "Or the boy won't be able to find his peace. He's too young to
understand anything else."

"You might be surprised, Detective. The soul knows more than you think
when its been properly guided. James was Maria's best vocal student.
A lot of her is already deeply embedded inside of him. He loves life
too much to let it go like that. Faith can bring one very, very far along
at times."

"Then why are you giving Joseph here his last rites?" Friday asked cynically.
He pointed to the purple satin stole around Xavier's neck as the Padre
motioned the sign of the cross over the second still boy getting bagged
by ET on an ambu.

"Because I must when I find that a soul's in mortal danger. It is one of my jobs
on this earth. Just like it was yours to uncover those who accidently took Maria's."
said Xavier sadly.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Marco Lopez could hardly see through his air mask. But he knew the church
well enough to get where he wanted to be in less than a minute.

Leonard Baptista was only inside the next room, he knew, with his cot near the
boiler for added warmth. ::I only hope I get there in time.:: he wished.

**************************************************
From: "Roxy Dee" <laterrapincabesa@hotmail.com>
Date: Thu Dec 22, 2005  8:58 pm
Subject: Times Two~~


"Leonard!?... Leonard!! Can you hear me? It's Marco Lopez..." he shouted,
shoving his shoulder against the door he could see chain secured which led
to the small dormitory next to the large round boiler. As he feared, Leonard
was lying face down on a simple, unadorned cot devoid of sheets or blankets
inside the tiny clean white washed room.

He broke the chain on the second try using the air bottle on his back as
a battering ram against the door. A quick snatch on a lever above the huge
church boiler on the chimney flue made it open easily with a yank and a crumpled
bird's nest along with several dead pigeons fell into the fire from the ventilation
hole leading to the roof. :: Those birds must have knocked this shut accidentally
somehow. Especially if they had been trying to warm themselves there.:: A knock
of his helmet against the window popped open its panes and the cool night
air began to flood in and flow up the newly opened chimney. ::That'll get rid
of most of this gas.:: Marco thought.

Then there was no more time to waste. Lopez didn't even bother with a vitals check
on Baptista. He grabbed up the man and balanced him between a shoulder
and the bottom of his air bottle and ran for the spiral staircase leading back up
into the church proper.

He had no sooner gone when Maxmillion came crashing through the opened door
from the hidden back stairwell and straight into a pool of carbon monoxide that had
settled there from the temperature change. Lorentz slipped on a fallen newspaper
and landed on his rear. It caused him to lose the breath he was holding. Maxmillion
struggled to his feet when he saw that Leonard wasn't on the bed any longer and
he panicked, trying for the window and the fresh air that Marco had just liberated.

He failed to get there in time and the insidious, invisible fumes wafting about
the still stuffy room snuffed out his consciousness. Maxmillion slumped to the floor
in a graceless heap, limp.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Outside, Boot was frantic. His barks of warning had gone unheeded by the hustling
firefighters dashing through the darkness around him and he leaped and strained
against the leash bound to the street light.  All of his attention was focused on
the alley way where Maxmillion Lorentz had gone.

Hank Stanley looked up toward Boot. ::I wonder what's gotten him so riled up?::
A few seconds later, word finally came out from Marco in the church that the
basement CO victim had been found over a police radio. He ran for the steps of
the pueblo style church and intercepted him, motioning for one of 99's paramedics
to meet them with full medical gear.  ::So that's why. A victim's coming out.:: he
guessed wrongly. He petted Boot's back in affection as he jogged by. "It's ok,
boy. We got him. He's coming right here." Hank told the excited dog.

Lopez soon appeared out of the church and was helped with his burden
by several masked firefighters. "I know. I know, Cap. I'm off duty."

"I didn't see anything, Lopez. Hurry up and let go of him." Stanley said firmly.

Baptista was lowered to the ground and Cap immediately got on the man's head as
an oxygen apparatus was cracked and set next to him. Lopez shed his scba and
opened Leo's shirt so they could clearly see the upper half of his body. Cap knelt
low as he listened to the red, sweaty man's nose and mouth. "Nope." he told Lopez
and the paramedic waiting with a positive pressure valve mask. "Not breathing."


Image of anicapcheckbreathingfire.gif Image of anixmasfireengine.gif

Leonard immediately got ventilated while Hank slid his fingers into the groove
next to the man's adam's apple. He soon waved Marco off the man's chest where he
had laced still fingers in a waiting for CPR position. "Got a carotid, but it's thready
and irregular." Cap told the medic and Lopez both. Marco took his hands
away, sighing in relief, finally giving in to the effort that it took to rescue his victim.
He sagged onto his butt on the pavement.

"We've got him from here, guys." said 99's partner, who appeared from around
the corner at a run with an HT cocked to his ear. "Thanks."

"O.k., we're clearing." sighed Hank and he got back on his feet. Then he turned to
Lopez. "What did you find in there?" he said squatting down by Marco. He helped him
unbutton his turnout so he could cool down a little.

"Birds and a nest. They must have knocked the flue shut. I reopened it. I also
got the room's only window thrown open."

"Good going. That'll do whole bunches for airing out the rest of the church on our
level." said Hank. "Now do I have to tell you to sit down for a while? You're
as white as he is." Stanley quipped, throwing a head over to Leonard who was getting
prepared for an endotracheal intubation on a doctor's order.

"Sitting's real nice, Cap. You don't have to tell me twice." Marco coughed.
The commotion Boot was making finally got through to Hank and Marco.
Lopez lifted his head. "Wait a minute, where's Maxmillion?" he asked Stanley.

"Who?"

"Lorentz. You remember that old bum we rescued from that burning mattress fire
last year who had it stuffed full of money..."

"Yeah, I remember him, the crazy coot." admitted Hank. "What does he have to do
with anything?"

"He's not what he seems, Cap. He's a detective and he's been helping Johnny, too.
He was supposed to be right here, watching Boot for me. He said he'd do it while
I got his friend out."

Boot's loud barks continued unabated and only then did Lopez and Cap realize what
that meant. He was focused on someone else in trouble.

Captain Stanley rubbed his forehead. "Uh, oh. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Yeah, and I don't think I like it at all." declared Marco, slipping on his air mask again.

Quickly, Captain Stanley drew out a jack knife from his belt and sliced through Boot's
leash, freeing him. The search dog immediately tore for the alleyway. "Yep. The old
geezer's up and done it. He most likely went in directly after you, Marco. Go. Take
Gil in as backup. He's right by our engine over there. And bring Boot inside with you.
He'll find him faster."

"What about all the monoxide, Cap?"

"It's probably cleared out by now. You did say you got the window open."

"Right." Lopez took off at a run, hand signalling to Robertson to follow him for
a victim search.

In the same instant, Battalion One came over the handheld frequency with the news
about a second victim possibly being in the basement of the church as reported
by Unit H/5K. ::Those detectives again?:: thought Captain Stanley. ::Man, they sure
get around. But Boot's beaten them to it this time.::

Hank forced himself to trust his men to keep themselves breathing safe for the
second run into the church. His attention focused back onto the apartment building
where Roy and Johnny and others were fast sweeping through for lagging victims.
::Come on, come on. That tree's pure tinder. I give that living room about a minute
more to remain livable. Then it'll be too late for anyone, victim or firefighter, still
caught inside.::

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**************************************************
From: "patti keiper" <pattik1@hotmail.com>
Date: Sun Dec 25, 2005  4:21 pm
Subject: Miracle on Alleyway Street..


Captain Stanley couldn't wait any longer to hear from his medical
men on the tenth floor. ##Engine 51 to HT 51. Just exactly, where
is the fire? The aerial bucket is lining up her nozzle as we speak!##
shouted Cap into his handheld.

Gage gasped as he and Roy rounded the last bend to stop
before the still closed front door of the renter's apartment.
"To the right of the exterior window along the outer wall as you're
looking at it from the street!" shouted Johnny in reply into the talkie's
pickup as he ran and tugged his lifeline into reach behind himself.

##Will do. Watch out for flying glass! We're charging and firing in
full water now!## said Hank.

"Maybe that'll buy us some more time here." coughed Roy in his mask.
"This door's real hot. Almost too hot."

"Yeah, well, here's hoping. I'm kicking it in!" Gage yelled as he backed
up.

On the third try, the door popped open and a searing mushroom
cap of fire belched out the top of the doorspace as the air from
the hallway rushed in and fed its raging appetite.

Image of rjscbakickdowndoorclose.jpg Image of xmastreefirewindow.jpg

They found the only two occupants, conscious and huddled in
the bathroom under a running stream of cold water.

Throwing a large bedspread over themselves and their two
air masked covered victims, Roy and Johnny got out of there as
fast as they could. Seconds later, the hose team rushed in to
battle the living room fire with an ample fan of water.

"HT 51 to Battalion One. Bringing out two live ones. Both conscious.
Have two ambulance gurneys waiting in the street for us. They have
moderate heat exposure but only mild smoke inhalation." DeSoto
declared happily to the firemen outside over his HT. "Engine 51. FYI..
we're coming down the fire escape on the north side if you want men
to meet us there."

##Copy that, HT 51. Nice work. O2 is standing by.## said Stanley.

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----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Marco Lopez and Gil Robertson shoved their way past unseen
spilled garbage cans in the alleyway, until they forced their way
into the stairwell door that Boot had nosed open.

"Boot! Sound off, boy!" Lopez yelled into the darkness as he
and Gil clattered down the stairs in their scba gear.

"Bark!.. Bark!" came an echo just down the narrow basement
passageway.

"Straight down, to the left. The left!" Marco gestured eagerly at
Robertson. "The room's lit up. Second door."

Gil and he soon saw Boot's urgent, whining form as he licked
the face of the comatose Maximillion lying on his back on
the floor. "There he is. Right there." pointed Gil.

The two firefighters rushed to the old detective/bum's side and
pulled off their gloves to feel for a pulse and signs of respirations
through the man's shirt. "He's ok. He's ok...!" Marco declared.
He let go of Lorentz's stomach and soon, the two of them were
carrying the man out of the church by his legs and arms followed
by a worried prancing Boot, the whole way out, to where a rescue
squad waited with a yellow tarp and spread out medical gear.

Once laid on the street, Lorentz was reassessed and given a flood
of oxygen until he started grunting in protest at the fussing his head
and face were getting from the ventilating fireman.

Marco leaned in close to his ear. "Maxmillion. It's deja vu all over
again I'm afraid. Guess who's shaking some sense back into ya?"
he grinned.

"My money!" Lorentz startled as he awaken fully on the next breath.

"It's safe and still whereever you've hidden it this time. Now I'm telling
you to lie still to let Roy and Johnny take more than just a good look
at you on the monitor, ok?" Lopez said in half warning. Then he smiled
fully and felt all of his fatigue melt away like water.

"You sure about that? Where's Leonard? I..." Lorentz coughed.

Roy DeSoto piped up from where he was dressing light burns on
the hands of the two victims he and Johnny had rescued. "Breathing
and on his way to Rampart Hospital. Which is where you're going
too."

"Not gonna argue with you. Don't think....I have enough puff ...with
which to do it." gasped Maxmillion. "But I am ...gonna say...
thanks. From him.. and me..*cough cough cough*"

Image of rjtreatvictimsbysquad.jpg Image of maxmilliononground.jpg Image of marcolookdownscbatreat.jpg

"You're welcome.." Lopez told him. "Roy, how many victims
shall I say are coming to the hospital?"

"Three. These two should be evaluated, too, as soon as possible
for some smoke inhalation."

"You sure got them out fast." Marco said, picking up the biophone
antennae and plugging it into the receiver port.

"They were easy to find. They were using a shower curtain as
a smoke screen under some running water." Gage shared.

"Wow, that was clever thinking. Most people hide in the closet
and bake a bit first before they realize that it's a bad idea getting
into a tiny space." Lopez replied.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Joe Friday let go of the hat he had been clutching tightly, rolled like
a log in his hands. "Wow. I had no idea what firefighters go
through on their actual day to day. They really stick their
necks out, don't they?  Guess a fire's not like a bullet at all,
which you can sometimes see coming. What do you think, Bill?"

"I knew there was a reason for that larger paycheck of theirs.
I just don't think I've ever realized it, until now, you know? Don't
think I'll complain to the city payroll about the difference again.
I just wouldn't feel right about it. They sure are something special."

"Yeah. Six lives saved in one night's work? Incredible.
Especially notable on this night of all nights. I hope their superiors
realize what kind of men they have at their disposal. They're way
beyond just being good at what they do." said Joe, lighting up a
cigarette and offering the flame to his partner who had pulled out one
of his own.

"I'm sure they see that. Hank Stanley in particular. Did you see the way
he protected his men from even the slightest bit of harm? Our own captain
could learn whole chapters about looking out for Sam Small from him."
nodded Bill with conviction.

"I personally, have never seen him treat junior officers or public P.I.s badly.
Are you saying our captain lacks character, Bill?" montoned Friday.

"No. All I said was,  Captain Mack IS a character who could learn a lot
from that fire captain right-over-there's example." Bill said.

"I thought that that was what you said. Thanks for clarifying." Joe replied
dryly. But he was smiling.

"No problem, Joe. " As the nearly bald, hawkish detective opened his car door,
the crowds still waiting along the street for the fire crews to give the final word on
their progress in airing the two buildings, grew quiet and suddenly respectful when
the young mother with the baby Marco had held earlier, started to sing a touching,
soft solo of one of the oldest Christmas carols known.  A tentative, unaccompanied
old ballad, ..Silent Night. It was quickly picked up, joyfully, by Father Rojas's church
choir, still standing in a group on the curb in their sparkling holiday robes.

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