Save Her Soul - Lisa Regan
Rain lashed against Detective Josie Quinn’s face. Strands of her black hair had escaped her ponytail and now stuck to her skin, snaking from beneath the helmet she wore. The Achilles inflatable rescue boat bobbed along in the churning floodwaters, causing a knot of nausea in her stomach. She looked behind her to see her colleague, Detective Gretchen Palmer, holding tightly to one of the ropes affixed to the sides of the boat. Her face had taken on a pale green hue.
“You okay?” Josie asked, hollering to be heard over the motor and the rush of water.
Gretchen nodded and waved a hand in the air to indicate they should keep going. Behind Gretchen sat Mitch Brownlow, a member of the Denton City Emergency Services Department. Mitch was in his sixties, grizzled but spry, and he’d been carrying out water rescues for the last forty years. He didn’t spare either of them a glance as he steered the boat further into the flood zone on the east side of Denton.
A large tree branch floated on the water, flying toward them with frightening speed. Josie braced for impact, but Brownlow steered them expertly around it, his determined but calm expression never wavering.
It wasn’t normally within the Denton Police Department’s purview to assist in flood rescues but the city—and a large portion of the county—had been hit hard by some of the worst flooding in its history in the past few days. Denton was a small city in central Pennsylvania, nestled among several tall mountains. A majority of its residents and businesses were concentrated in the valley, near the banks of a branch of the Susquehanna River. The rest of the city’s residents were spread out along the twisty mountain roads. In its entirety, Denton spanned twenty-five square miles, although most of that was mountainous wooded areas. An extremely warm winter, followed by an extended rainy season, had left the land waterlogged and soft. Then came several days of heavy rain and thunderstorms. The Susquehanna and its tributaries had swelled at an alarming rate, swallowing up most of the city proper. Many of the residents had been displaced and were now living in makeshift shelters in the city’s high school auditoriums. Just when emergency crews seemed to be getting a handle on the flooding, more rain would dump from the sky, and the flood waters would devour even more areas of the city. Perhaps the only thing Denton had going for it during this disaster was the warm weather. It hadn’t fallen below seventy in weeks, and May was nearly over.
Denton’s police department was stretched thin trying to assist the city’s emergency department. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation. The patrol officers were already working double and triple overtime to try to help the residents, protect evacuated homes, and keep people from entering flood zones. With so many houses and businesses underwater, the flooded areas were filled not just with debris but also with harmful contaminants. Josie and her colleagues on the investigative unit—Detective Gretchen Palmer, Detective Finn Mettner, and Lieutenant Noah Fraley—had also filled in wherever they were needed. With so much of the city underwater, there wasn’t much crime to investigate. After the horrific flooding in 2011, Mayor Tara Charleston had spent a good deal of the city’s budget on equipment for future flood response. Denton was better prepared than most flood-prone areas of Pennsylvania. A few years earlier, after the Mayor’s new budget allocation had been expanded to include flood rescue training for police officers, Josie and Noah had taken a swiftwater rescue course. Mettner was already qualified. For once, Josie agreed with a decision the Mayor had made.
Gretchen had been hired long after that. She was the only one on the team who didn’t have water rescue experience, but after disclosing that she did have experience whitewater rafting, Brownlow had insisted she come along. “She can help lift people into the boat, can’t she?” he had said. “Besides, she’ll be tethered.” Someone had found her a dry suit and helmet to wear from the city’s stock, and off they went.
Today they were needed to rescue an elderly woman trapped on her porch in northeast Denton. A radio squawked on Josie’s shoulder. “Boat two nine two en route to Hempstead Road.”
Brownlow answered, “Roger that. Boat three seven one already en route. ETA five minutes.”
“Meet you there,” the other man’s voice chirped back.
Hempstead Road was on the fringe of the city, a block of old houses that sat at the bottom of a