Read Parrot Blues Online

Authors: Judith Van Gieson

Parrot Blues (30 page)

“Many of the government's fire-fighting orders were ignored,”' Eric said. “The crew built a fireline downhill on a steep slope with no designated safety zones or escape routes. That's in the report, too.”

“Who was responsible for that?” I asked.

“James Chancellor, the Incident Commander, made some errors,” Eric replied.

“What happened to him?”

“He died in the fire.”

“If you want to talk about errors. The lookout didn't see the fire blow up in the canyon and warn the hotshots, either.” Nancy turned toward Eric. The edge in her voice had gotten noticeably sharper. A cold front was blowing into this marriage.

Eric's eyes had come back into the room, but they'd brought long distance with them. “I don't want to argue about that, Nancy,” he said.

“Suit yourself,” she responded.

“Hotshots always have the option of saying no if they think an assignment is too dangerous,” Eric told me.

“And how often does that happen?” I asked. It seemed to me that a person who would become a hotshot firefighter wasn't a person who'd be likely to turn down an assignment because it was dangerous.

“Very rarely,” he admitted.

“You know, sometimes you sound like the government, like you're blaming the hotshots for what happened,” Nancy said. “The major mistakes were made a lot higher up than on the fireline. That's where the buck ought to stop.”

“I'm trying not to blame anybody, Nancy. Sometimes conditions are so severe there's nothing anybody can do. It was a major cold front with winds of forty miles an hour. Nobody could have predicted how fast that fire would blow up. Nobody can control how dry a winter is. Fire fighting is a dangerous and risky business. Every firefighter is aware of that when he or she goes on the line.” Believing Joni's death had been inevitable seemed to be making this easier for him. Fate was a tent that
was hiding under. “I've been on the line myself. I was a firefighter when I was in college,” he explained. “Nancy would like to have been, but they weren't hiring women then. Now they're hiring forty percent.”

“It's the law,” Nancy said. “They're not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.”

“Joni wanted more than anything to be a Duke City Hotshot,” Eric said. “She was very good at it and she loved the work. Would she want us to sue the Forest Service?”

“I think she would,” Nancy said. “That report blames the victims, and it criticizes the hotshots for their can-do attitude. What kind of attitude would you expect a twenty-two-year-old hotshot to have?”

The same kind of attitude I had when I was twenty-two and felt invincible: what mattered was keeping up with my peers, who felt equally invincible. “Why don't I read this report and see what I think?” I said.

“Okay,” they both agreed.

“But you should know that I can't take this case if you're divided. It's going to be a difficult and emotionally draining experience.” For them. Although it also had the potential to be very rewarding monetarily for them and me. “The government is going to fight us every step of the way and they've got the resources to do it. It will take a deep commitment from both of you to proceed.”

Eric's eyes turned back to the window. “We'll discuss it,” Nancy said.

“Is there anyone who was at the fire I could talk to? The hotshots who survived?” I asked.

“Joni's boyfriend, Mike Marshall, was there,” Nancy said. “He'll talk to you.”

“Anyone else?” I'd hate to base a case on the account of a man who'd seen his girlfriend die.

“Ramona Franklin was a good friend of Joni's,” Eric said.

“A great friend. Ramona's the lookout who never saw the fire.” Sparks flashed in Nancy's dark eyes.

“Talk to her,” Eric said, handing me a strip of paper with an Albuquerque phone number on it. Nancy gave me Mike Marshall's number and a video.

“Some of the people involved were interviewed on TV. I made a video of it,” she told me. “The Forest Service offered to fly the families to the site. Mike Marshall is coming, and we've been waiting for the right day. You're welcome to join us when we go.”

“Let me read the report first and talk to the other hotshots. If I think there's a case, I'll come.”

They both stood up, thanked me, and turned toward the door. Eric departed two steps ahead of his wife.

can find more of Judith Van Gieson's mysteries as ebooks:

North of the Border: A Neil Hamel Mystery (#1)

Raptor: A Neil Hamel Mystery (#2)

The Other Side of Death: A Neil Hamel Mystery (#3)

The Wolf Path: A Neil Hamel Mystery (#4)

The Lies That Bind: A Neil Hamel Mystery (#5)

Parrot Blues: A Neil Hamel Mystery (#6)

Hotshots: A Neil Hamel Mystery (#7)

Ditch Rider: A Neil Hamel Mystery (#8)

The Stolen Blue: A Claire Reynier Mystery (#1)

Vanishing Point: A Claire Reynier Mystery (#2)

Confidence Woman: A Claire Reynier Mystery (#3)

Land of Burning Heat: A Claire Reynier Mystery (#4)

The Shadow of Venus: A Claire Reynier Mystery (#5)

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