The Great Escape
Chapter 1: Escape
Running a team as complicated as Blue Watch was proving to be more of a challenge than Mick Callaghan had first anticipated. When they weren't fighting the flames of an inferno, they were fighting the flames of passion, which often ended up with them fighting each other. Just recently they seemed to be doing much more of the latter.
Charlie Mead was still moaning about how much he had been ripped off by his brother over the chip shop that they used to co-own. Frank Mooney was being his usual moody self and was skulking round the station trying to avoid interaction with another human being. Young recruit, Craig Ross, was eager to get involved in everything and anything. He kept pestering anyone who dared walk into the mess.
Adam Benjamin had his own reasons for trying to keep out of Mick's way. He could well imagine what would have happened if he had tried to pull the same stunt on anyone else, like Geoff Pearce for example. He couldn't understand why Mick was being so nice about having handled stolen goods and had come to the conclusion that maybe Mick was trying to lure him into a false sense of security and that he was secretly plotting his revenge…
Adam was also trying to avoid the infectious clutches of Frank Mooney, before he ended up doing porridge for something he had been coerced into.
George Green was messing about in the locker room with his contact lenses, while Geoff Pearce was nowhere to be seen – he was likely to be tucked away in an office somewhere checking and re-checking every single piece of paperwork that had to be completed.
"Are you having trouble with those George?" Mick stood in the doorway of the locker room for a while before speaking.
"Um… no, Guv… just er… keeping them clean… you know?"
Mick wasn't fooled. "If they're becoming a problem George…"
"No Guv!" George jumped in immediately, no doubt fearing for his future in the Brigade.
Mick decided to leave it. He had seen Station Officers who had taken what he considered to be the heavy-handed approach. Many of them, no doubt even some of his predecessors, would have forced George to take a medical by now. But, in Mick's opinion, these were men who were more focused on their careers than on the people aspect. Blue Watch, after all were just a group of people with feelings. Who was he to start playing God with their lives?
He had spent nineteen years trying to do right by his father. But if it wasn't perfect then it wasn't good enough for D.O. Dexter Ross. At least deciding to join the Fire Brigade had been a good move in his father's eyes. But it had been like he was just waiting for the inevitable, when Craig would let him down yet again.
"You should do something useful with your life," were the D.O.'s words of wisdom once Craig had got the not so good results from his A Levels.
"You wouldn't go wrong in the Brigade, son."
"The Brigade are like your family."
"The Brigade is where the future is."
"The Brigade is full of career prospects for young lads like you."
"Why settle for shelf stacking when you can join the Brigade?"
"Ok, ok I'll think about it!"
"That's my boy."
Thinking about it had soon become a reality. As soon as he had said the words, the DO had plonked a pile of recruitment leaflets in front of him.
"You might not be a ladder climber, boy, but I'm sure you would give it your best shot. Don't let me down now."
Of course what he meant was, "Don't show me up now, boy."
There were so many people in Blue Watch whom Craig admired and wanted to be like. They were people who were respected by the D.O. Mick Callaghan, Geoff Pearce, even Frank Mooney after being awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal for his bravery on a shout.
"That's the sort of thing we expect from our firefighters, boy."
Perhaps the D.O. had been watching too many American movies. He certainly looked as if he was attempting to bring Hollywood to London. Craig couldn't really see it, but knowing his father, the D.O. would probably get his own way eventually.
Adam was trying to decide what he should do about the hole he had suddenly landed himself in. With a little push from Frank Mooney that is. He looked down at the palm-sized phone in front of him; the display read "1 Message Received". He wondered if he dared press the button to find out what it said. He had a feeling he knew what it would be without even looking at it. The contents would be exactly the same as the last message he had just received, and the one before that, and the one before that…
Someone somewhere knew something about him. Knew what he had been up to. Knew he had been doing stuff that wasn't exactly above board. He had a feeling he knew who it was too. There was nothing he could do about it, without coming clean about his recent dodgy dealings. But surely this was harassment?
He deleted the message and switched off the phone, an action that he knew he should have taken in the first place. Perhaps he could just get his number changed… But they found him once, and no doubt they would be able to do it again if they so wished.
He put the phone inside his locker, but didn't close the door. He stared at the phone, lying on a paint-splattered orange t-shirt, as he started to mull over his options.
Frank Mooney had hidden himself away in the gym. He decided he needed some time alone to think about the way his life had been heading recently. It had been heading in the wrong direction ever since his mother had become ill all those years ago. Now he was in such a deep hole, he wondered if he would ever be able to climb out again.
He had already bitten off Craig's head that morning, for no reason. The lad only wanted to borrow a cig lighter, for a reason that puzzled Frank, as Craig didn't even smoke! However, he had refused to hand his lighter over and told Craig and Charlie to stop playing silly buggers with him. Then he had stormed out of the mess and straight to the empty gym.
He knew he had got Adam into some deep trouble. Making him torch a copper's car had only been the start of it. The copper, Detective Inspector Roebuck, wouldn't let it rest. Frank wondered if he should do something before it was too late.
The gym door opened softly as Sally Fields stepped into the room. She had noticed Frank straight away as he sat sullenly on the weights bench. But she didn't even give him a second glance as she crossed the room and started up the treadmill.
He wondered if he should try and talk to her. He had tried once already and it had got him nowhere. She had her mind set on it, although he wasn't convinced that her heart was in it. How could she terminate something as precious as a new life?
He got up and left the gym without saying a word.
Mick had been stunned by some news he had recently received. He wasn't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing to be happening right now. Under normal circumstances he would be down the pub buying everyone drinks all night. But these were not normal circumstances. His wife had been unfaithful, with none other than…
Mick noticed that Frank, for once, was failing to look him straight in the eyes as he spoke.
"I uh…" Mick started, wondering what he should say.
He should thump Frank for what he had done, but somehow Mick could never find it in him to be violent.
"I just thought…" Mick paused again, wondering what exactly he did think.
"Look, Guv, I don't know what this is about, but…"
"I heard you were going to be a father!"
"I uh… oh right, um actually Guv, Sally…"
"Sally?! I'm not talking about Sally! I'm talking about Shauna!"
They were interrupted by Adam, who came barging into the corridor. The stairwell was probably not the best setting for a conversation this deep anyway.
"Um, Frank…" Adam started.
Frank sighed, and looked completely disinterested in whatever Adam had to say. "What?"
"What's the problem Adam?" Mick jumped in, sensing that Frank wasn't going to be much help.
"Um…" Adam wondered if he should come clean to his boss.
He looked to Frank, who had clocked the mobile phone in Adam's hand. He looked straight at Adam and nodded, as if he knew exactly what the problem was. Maybe he had been subject to the same sort of harassment.
"It's about this, Guv," Adam handed Mick the mobile phone.
Mick read the message. He looked from Adam to Frank, then back to Adam again. "We can talk about it in my office…" he suggested.
They left Frank on the stairs.
In the mess, Charlie Mead looked as if he was plotting something. Lisa Hill eyed him carefully as she pretended to make herself busy preparing Blue Watch's lunch. She became even more bemused when Craig Ross bounded into the mess, holding a cigarette lighter triumphantly.
"Got one!" he announced, glowing with pride of accomplishing the task he had been set.
Charlie grinned and took the lighter. "Who's is it?"
Charlie's grin broadened. "How did you get that?" he wondered. "Is he sleeping or something?!"
Craig looked a little bemused at Charlie's joke, as if he didn't understand the punch line. "Um no… he just gave it to me…"
Charlie grinned again, ignoring Craig's bemused look. "Never mind. I want to show you a neat little trick, old but effective! You need to master the art of making mischief young Craig!"
Lisa emerged from the kitchen at that point and plonked herself down in a chair at the table where Craig and Charlie were sitting.
"What are you two up to?"
"Nothing!" Charlie replied, in a rather unconvincing voice because he was grinning too much. "Just teaching young Craig how to become a comic genius like me!"
"Leading him astray more like!" Lisa replied. "Right, let me in, otherwise I'm telling Frank!"
Craig looked at Charlie, who shrugged and sighed. "Ok, ok, not a word to Frank though, the element of surprise is the key!"
Lisa grinned. "Mum's the word."
Frank arrived at Mick's office. He knew there was only one thing for it. He wanted Sally to change her mind about the baby, and he knew the only way she would do that was if he were to clean up his act. This was a good a place as any to start. He marched straight into the office where Mick and Adam were still in a discussion over Adam's text message problem.
"If you want to hit me, then come on, free shot."
Both Adam and Mick looked totally perplexed at the speech.
"I don't think..." Mick started, but left his sentence unfinished, mostly because he didn't know what else he wanted to say to Frank.
Frank glanced briefly at Adam and then at the mobile phone in Mick's hand.
"I think you should know the truth, Guv," Frank started. "Then you might want to change your mind!"
However, he was interrupted from further explanation as the bells went down. Blue Watch assembled, one by one, in the appliance bay as Pearce emerged from the Watch Room with the print out.
"Fire, Flat 89 Tower K, Highbridge Estate," Pearce announced to the crews. "Both."
They jumped into the waiting appliances and departed from the station at high speed.
"What were you going to say to the Guv?" Adam demanded as he sat next to Frank in the back of the pump.
"The truth," Frank replied casually.
"You know what about," Frank hissed, eyeing Mick carefully to make sure he didn't overhear the conversation, at least until he had worked out exactly what he wanted to say. "It has nothing to do with you so just shut up about it!"
Adam decided to leave it at that. If Frank wanted to take the blame for causing the harassment to start in the first place, then that was probably for the best. After all, Frank knew what he was doing. He always did.
Blue Watch arrived on the Estate to find Flat 89 well ablaze. Mick and Pearce instructed their crews on the best way to tackle the flames.
"Guv!" Frank was yelling, looking up at the roof, just above the blazing inferno in the top floor flat. "There's someone on the roof!"
Without waiting for any advice or backup, Frank was off and out of sight. Mick sighed and looked to Pearce for support.
"Get someone up there Geoff."
"Right away, sir," Pearce got straight on to it. "Craig, leave that and follow me."
Craig's eyes widened at the possibility of doing something more heroic than turning on a tap and followed Pearce eagerly towards the stairwell.
On the roof, Frank came to an abrupt stand still as he saw a woman standing as close to the flames as she possibly could without being burned.
She turned, and smiled, obviously glad that it was Frank who had come to rescue her. "Hello, Frank."
"What are you doing here?! Um… do you want me to get Mick?"
"No, he doesn't understand…"
Frank rolled his eyes. "I don't have time for this Shauna!"
He stepped over to her and grabbed her arm. Pearce and Craig appeared at the doorway from the stairwell, looking equally shocked to see Mick's wife on the roof of a building she had no need to be in, or on.
Frank frog-marched Shauna to the safety of the doorway. She didn't try to resist until they were well away from the flames.
"My bag… Could you get it?" she asked, looking at Frank with her puppy-dog eyes.
He sighed wearily but returned to retrieve the fallen handbag.
"Come on," Pearce was ready to lead Shauna to safety.
Craig hung back to let Pearce pass down the small stairwell, guiding Shauna down with him.
Frank had picked up the bag but was hesitating. He looked towards the flames, which were towering over him, only a few feet away.
He felt the searing heat against his skin. He could smell the burning materials in the flat below. Smoke clung to the back of his throat, yet this felt like the place he should be at the moment. Rather similar to the burning fires of Hell, where undoubtedly he would end up when his time came.
He glanced back at the doorway where Craig was waiting for him. Where there was a lot more waiting for him besides. Fatherhood, prison, the wrath of an angry copper and his pals, distrust from Blue Watch, his own conscience… And a whole lot more besides.
"Oi, Frank!" Craig was yelling, he took a few steps forward to find out what was keeping his colleague rooted to the spot.
Down on the ground, Mick had ordered Sally to connect the hose lines. She was far from happy with the task, but Mick had glared so darkly at her that she didn't dare argue.
She looked up towards the roof where she saw a dark silhouette behind the orange flames. Suddenly, there was a flash of flame, which shot out of the window of Flat 89. She and the rest of the Watch on the ground, ducked as shrapnel flew everywhere. She tried to glance back to the roof, but could see no sign of Frank or Craig…
London's Burning – Escape © Karen Moody 24/11/03