On hands and knees she crawled back in, touching the hot wall to make sure where she was going. She found the man, but at the same instant she and Bennis heard a baby start to scream. Bennis was next to her now and he slapped the man’s cheek, but the man didn’t move.
Figueroa felt the man’s forehead. Smoke swirled above him, but he was lifeless and cold. The baby screamed louder, from a back bedroom.
“I gotta get the kid,” she said to Bennis. She wasn’t sure he could hear over the roar of the fire, but then she found him following her as they crawled to the bedroom.
“How many kids?” she yelled.
There was just one crib.
Bennis stood up, grabbed a little girl out of the crib, put her solidly under one arm, and ran like a quarterback for the front door. Suze stayed to check for another child.
The fire was flashing across the ceiling now. She didn’t have much time.
One crib. Hurry up! No other child’s bed. No crying. Hurry! It’s hot! As far as she could see through the smoke, only girl- child toys in one age group-two soft dolls, one stuffed bear, a play muffin tin, and some plastic spoons. One child.
Part of the ceiling fell.
Taking a last breath of air from floor level, Figueroa jumped up and bolted for the front door. The living room was a hell of flame, and if she hadn’t memorized where the door was, she would never have made it. Her hair was singed. She could not even see the man on the floor. He was dead, anyway, and she had to warn the upstairs neighbors.
Outside, fire engines were fighting their way through streets blocked with stalled cars. They didn’t arrive until ten minutes later.
“I want to point out,” Commander Sazerac said to Deputy Wardron, “that Officers Bennis and Figueroa got the other tenants out of the building. Which, given the weather and the time it took for the fire battalion to arrive, surely saved their lives.”
“We understand that,” Wardron said, clipping his words.
Sazerac said, “The building was totally involved when the fire engines arrived. And then they had trouble getting water to it. Stalled cars were blocking the fire hydrants.”
“We are aware of that.”
“When the fire was finally struck at 0330 hours, Officers Bennis and Figueroa were still caring for residents, even though they were four and a half hours past the end of their tour.”
“Commander Sazerac, I appreciate your attempt to help your men-ah, people-but we are interested in what happened in the Molitor apartment, not what happened afterward. We’ll proceed.”
Bennis said angrily, “I personally saw Officer Figueroa rescue six residents from the upper floors.”
“Officer Bennis, we’ll get your story later.”
Commander Sazerac said loudly, “And she was burned in the attempt, Deputy!”
“Not relevant now. We’ll take it into account during sentencing.”
“Don’t you mean if there is a decision to go to sentencing, Deputy?”
“Of course, Commander. This is just a preliminary roundtable. My mistake.” He turned his head and addressed the four board members. “We will note Commander Sazerac has questions about this process.
However, we will take matters up in order. We are not going to use this process today as a way for the two officers involved to get their stories straight between them.”
Commander Sazerac said, “They could have done that at any time in the last twelve hours. It’s their integrity and their unwillingness to alter their reports to say the same thing that has caused a difference in perception to be blown up into this silly-“
“Commander! This is a fact-finding proceeding. It is an inappropriate time to make arguments. Hold them until the charges have been proven or not proven.”
Wardron was in charge here, not Sazerac. Departmental structure being what it was, there was nothing Sazerac could do but sit by, just about as useful as the photo of the superintendent on the wall.
He and Wardron held each other’s eyes for two or three seconds.