Blair eased his way carefully through the twisted maze of splintered wood and chunks of concrete. Dust filled air clogged his nostrils and hampered his vision as he crawled along the floor. Patches of daylight filtered in haphazardly.
The muffled, low pitched sniffling and whimpering was getting closer now.
Reaching what looked to be a doorway, Blair worked his way to his knees and leaned against the fractured wood, pushing cautiously. A low groaning sound filled his ears as the door creaked in protest. Holding his breath, and sending a silent prayer to any deity who might be listening, Blair gave a final shove and the wood broke free.
He crawled into the room and looked around. There wasn’t as much damage here. The blast hadn’t managed to collapse the roof yet, but he could see the plaster starting to give way under the weight bearing down from above.
A small child sat in one corner, crying softly.
“Shh, sweetheart. It’s okay.” Blair hurried over to the child, murmuring reassurances the whole time. The little girl didn’t resist as Blair gathered her into his arms. She buried her head in his chest and clung tightly to him as he quickly started back the way he’d come.
Once through the door, the girl became frantic, pulling to free herself from Blair and twisting to peer back into the room.
“My puppy. My puppy. My puppy.”
Blair glanced back into the room and noticed a small furry body lying very still not far from where the girl had been.
“I’m sorry, honey. We’ve got to get out of here.” Holding the squirming body tighter, Blair hurried back through the debris filled passage; the pitiful chant ringing in his ears.
Jim paced back and forth in front of the narrow opening they’d found upon arriving at the scene. As they’d jumped from the truck, a hysterical woman had met them. She’d been outside, pulling weeds in the garden, when the explosion shook the neighborhood, leveling several houses instantly.
Her four-year old daughter was inside, napping, when the blast ripped apart the factory in the next block over.
The hole had been too small for Jim to squeeze through, so Blair was now inside.
He tracked his guide’s movements; wincing each time another ominous sounding crack signaled a possible cave-in.
Jim sighed in relief as Blair’s head and shoulders popped out of the opening. He leaned down and Blair thrust the distraught child into his waiting arms.
Additional help began arriving now; emergency personnel swarmed through the streets and yards offering assistance. Jim handed off the little girl to a waiting EMT and turned to help Blair.
All he saw was his guide’s tail end scurrying back into the rubble.
Low pitched and gravelly, Jim’s voice broke as he called out. “Saaaaand-burg!”
Blair’s breathless voice drifted back to him. “I’m going back for her puppy, Jim.”
Jim listened intensely. Except for Sandburg, no sounds of life echoed from the house.
Blair made better time on his second foray into the mess. He made it to the girl’s room, and crossed to where the puppy still lay, unmoving.
He lifted it gently off the floor.
“Awwww, shit.” Blair looked into the glassy, black eyes of the lifeless form in his arms. “Jim is gonna kill me.”
“I’m gonna kill him.” Jim was pacing again, and muttering under his breath.
The building in front of him shuddered.
Jim’s hearing picked up the creaks and groans of the roof giving way just seconds before what was left of the ranch style house crashed to the ground.
Jim stared in horror and whispered in disbelief. “Blair.”
He turned and shouted, waving his arms at several police officers headed toward the blast site. “I need help over here!”
It took forty-five minutes of painstakingly slow work to clear the rubble from around Blair.
Jim was pushed back out of the way as the paramedics arrived and took over. He sat on the open tailgate of his truck; his head in his hands, letting them do their job. Blair’s heartbeat was strong and steady. The kid had made it to within a few feet of the opening when the house collapsed.
“Mister?” Jim looked up wearily at the sound of the woman’s quiet voice. “I wanted to thank you. You and your partner.” The woman held the sleeping girl in her arms. Dried tear tracks streaked her face. “Will he be all right? Why did he go back in?”
Jim glanced over at the ambulance. “He went back for your little girl’s puppy.”
The woman blinked at Jim in confusion. “We don’t have a puppy.”
Jim looked at the woman and then at the ambulance again. A paramedic was waving at him now, signaling him to come over. “He’ll be all right.” Jim reassured the woman as he got up and starting striding toward the ambulance. “Right up until I get my hands of him.”
Jim could hear Blair arguing with an EMT as he neared the gurney the kid was on.
“What’s the problem?” Jim’s authoritative voice cut through the air like a knife.
”I need to check his vitals and he won’t let go.”
Jim looked down at Blair and smiled wickedly. “It’s not gonna save you, Junior.”
Blair ceased struggling and looked up at Jim apprehensively, a nervous crooked smile on his dirt smeared face.
Clutched protectively to Blair’s chest in a near-death grip was a large gray and white stuffed dog.
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