“Northbound on LaSalle. Driving’s real bad, squad,” Bennis said, trying not to gasp as Figueroa slewed within kissing distance of a light pole. “But I’d guess we’re just two minutes out now.”
“Yeah, thirty-three. Okay. By the way, the news is it’s gonna keep snowing until noon tomorrow.“
Bennis and Figueroa pulled up in front. They had entered thousands of buildings, not knowing what they’d find. They relied on each other. Each knew that the other would be there, and they even had their own shorthand way of communicating. Bennis pointed a finger to show Figueroa that it was her turn to stand to the far side of the apartment door. Then he knocked. But before he could knock again, Figueroa pointed. “Look.”
There was smoke coming out around the top of the door.
Bennis felt the door to see if it was cool, which it was. The last thing he wanted was to start a backdraft. Then he backed up to take a kick at the door. But that instant it opened and a man came running out. His hair and jacket were on fire, and he was screaming. He didn’t even see the two cops, but crashed frantically down the stairs.
Bennis spun and went after him, knowing Figueroa would put out the emergency call to the dispatcher. He raced down the stairs three at a time and still couldn’t catch up with the terrified man until, leaping, screaming down the cement steps outside the front door, the man fell. The fire on his hair and jacket had spread. Bennis rolled him over in the snow three or four times. Then, thinking to chill the charred flesh and prevent further burn damage, he grabbed up handfuls of snow and slapped it all over the man’s head and back.
There was no time to wait and see how badly hurt the man was. God only knew how many people were in the building. Bennis bolted back inside and up the stairs.
Meanwhile, Figueroa had keyed her radio. “One thirty- three, emergency.”
“Go ahead, thirty-three.”
“There’s a fire in this apartment, and it’s going fast.”
“I’ll get the smokiest.”
Talking on her radio had used just six seconds. At the same time, she had been scanning the apartment. She could hardly see anything, the smoke was so thick! but she heard a woman screaming. Figueroa dropped to her hands and knees and crawled fast toward the screams.
She found herself in the kitchen, where a woman, standing up, was rushing into a broom closet, falling down when she hit the wall, rushing in again, terrified and convinced it was the front door.
Figueroa grabbed her. “Get out of my way!” the woman screamed over and over.
Figueroa said, “Hey! Stop it!”
“Get out of my way!”
Figueroa slapped her.
The flames were running along the floorboards now. The woman kept shrieking.
“Come with me, god-dammit!” Figueroa seized the woman’s hand, pulled her to the floor. She put her arm over the woman’s shoulder and hustled her on all fours toward the front door.
This woman was burned already, Figueroa thought. Her skin felt hot to the touch, and Figueroa could almost believe she felt blisters starting to form.
Pushing and cajoling and bullying, she got the woman into the living room. Crossing the floor, she realized she was crawling over the body of a man lying there unmoving, but she didn’t have time to worry about that. She got the woman to the door.
The hall was still cool and the air in it was fresh, so she pushed the woman out and yelled after her, “Warn your neighbors!”
There was no time to make sure she did. Suze Figueroa saw Bennis coming up the stairs. She yelled, “There’s a man inside.”