City of the Lost Page 91

We reach the door. I push him through, and I’m about to follow when I see something move in the smoke. Someone’s still in here.

Shit! The woman who followed Mick.

The smoke has already forced me into a crouch, and even with my shirt pulled up over my nose and mouth, I’m hacking convulsively. I shove the radio in my pocket, get down on all fours, and start toward her. For a moment, I can make her out—a pale face and light hair—but then she’s lost behind the smoke and the tears streaming from my eyes. I continue forward, feeling my way.

“Butler!”

I barely hear Dalton’s shout over the roar of the fire. I move faster. I have to get to her before he comes back into this burning building.

“Casey!”

The door opens with a whoosh, the wind and the change in pressure making the smoke clear long enough for me to see the woman. She’s sitting propped against a stack of wood, her hand resting on something red.

Resting on a gas can.

Shit, oh shit.

I just risked my life to save a goddamned killer.

“Casey!” Dalton shouts.

I try to answer but can barely whisper. I cover the last few feet to the woman. I’m here now—I can’t turn around and leave her.

Under her dark coat, she wears a pale blouse. It’s covered in blood. One hand clutches the knife, the other rests on the gas can. I grab the wrist holding the knife, and she makes no move to resist. Her fist opens. The knife falls. I take it. Then, as I reach to grab her shirt, I see it again. Pale pink blouse. Peter Pan collar. Embroidering down the front.

I know this shirt.

Blinking hard, I rise up on my knees until my face is inches from hers. Only then do I see more than a pale blur. I see Diana’s face.

Her eyes are open, and she’s staring right at me, but she doesn’t seem to see me. She hacks, doubling over, and her coughing ignites mine, and it’s a beacon for Dalton. His hands grab my shoulders and yank me back.

“No!” I croak. “Di—”

I can’t even get the rest out. I’m coughing too hard, and he’s picking me up, running for the exit, and I can’t fight, don’t dare. There’s no way to communicate, and every second lost is a second we don’t have.

He kicks the door open and we’re through. Then he throws me to the ground. Literally throws me, like a sack of flour. I hit the grass, knife falling from my hand as I’m hacking and groaning, half blinded by the smoke. I twist around and say, “Di—”

But he’s gone back for her, and I shout, “No!” and push to my feet. I’ll get her. I’ll do it. I’ll take that risk. I don’t want him taking it for her. I don’t want anyone else taking it for her after what she’s done.

It’s too late. He’s inside, and I’m left stumbling toward the shed, hacking so hard I can barely move. I reach the door, and I pull it open, and I’m about to go in when I hear running footfalls. Anders appears, others following, brought by the smoke seeping through the cracks.

They see the smoke billowing from the open door. Anders is on me, scooping me up to get me away from the fire.

“No,” I croak. “Eric.”

“Eric’s—? Fuck!” He sets me down as fast as he can, shouting, “Get Beth! Now!” but I’m right behind him.

He vanishes into the smoke before I make it. Then I see him again, a stumbling figure. I leap to grab him, to direct him, but I realize it’s not Anders. It’s Dalton, with Diana over his shoulder. He manages one last step and collapses. Then Anders is there, thank God, and he’s grabbing Diana as she falls, and I have both hands wrapped in Dalton’s shirt, dragging him farther from the door. Anders shouts, and someone’s there to help me. I don’t even look up to see who it is.

We manage to get Dalton out of the smoke and away from the inferno pouring through that open doorway. I put out the fire on his shirt and jeans. That’s when I realize he still isn’t moving.

He’s not breathing.

I start CPR. I don’t even think whether I remember it well enough. I start and then Anders is there, saying, “I can do that,” and I say, between breaths, “Am I doing it wrong?” and he gives a strained chuckle and says, “No.”

“Chest,” I say. “Take over—”

“Chest compressions. Okay. But if you need me to—”

“Got it.”

“You’ve swallowed a lot of—”

“Got it.”

I might have barely been breathing a minute ago, but all that evaporates as I focus on my task. Breath-one-two. Nothing.

Goddamn it, Dalton!

Anders’s chest compressions are hard enough to crack a rib, but I say nothing. The look in his eyes tells me he’s freaking out. Hell, we both are. I let him continue his compressions and tell myself a cracked rib is nothing.

My turn. Breath-one-two.

Goddamn—!

Dalton coughs.

We flip him over fast, and Dalton coughs up smoke-blackened mucus. He’s on all fours, supporting himself, waving Anders away when he tries to help.

“Oh my God,” a voice says. Footsteps run over and I look up to see Beth, her eyes wide with panic. “Eric!”

“Mick’s dead,” he says, his hand going up when she tries to kneel beside him. “Check Diana. Then Casey. I’m fine.”

“You are not—”

“Diana first,” he says with enough snap that I wince as Beth flinches. “Then Casey. I’m fine.”

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