Truths Unveiled - By Kimberly Alan
“I’ve got to be out of my mind to come back here,” Pamela Harrington muttered. She turned the rented Explorer into a service station just outside Middleton’s city limits. A quick peek at her watch told her she’d been driving nonstop for close to three hours.
After parking the truck alongside a gas pump, she switched off the ignition and released a deep breath. Chicago General was a top-notch, metropolitan hospital. And they offered her a fantastic job as an emergency department physician. So why was she here, out in the middle of rural Pennsylvania?
“Fill ‘er up, ma’am?”
Startled by the interruption, Pam jerked her head toward the open window. Smiling, a young, red-headed attendant waited for her response.
“Sure. That will be fine.” She stepped outside to stretch her cramped muscles.
“You that doctor who used to live around here?” he asked, placing the gas nozzle in the tank.
Pam’s over-anxious nerves shot to a new high. She held up a hand to shield her eyes from the sun’s bright rays, burning low in the late afternoon sky. She wanted to make this trip anonymously. Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen. She gave him an inquisitive stare. “What makes you ask?”
Grinning, he pointed his chin toward the inside of the truck as he washed the windshield. “Simple deduction. Your hospital ID is laying there on the seat, the back bumper sticker says you rented this vehicle at the airport and you meet the physical description.”
“I’m impressed,” Pam replied, removing a fifty-dollar bill from her pants pocket. “Care to tell me who’s interested in my arrival?”
“Sure,” he shrugged. He replaced the nozzle and gas cap, then took a pen from his back pocket and wrote out a receipt. Handing it to her, he said, “My cousin. He paid me ten bucks to call him when you got this far.” Then he flashed a mischievous grin. “Want to make a counter offer so you could surprise him yourself?”
Pam’s eyes and smile widened simultaneously. She held up the bill. “Sorry. This goes toward the gas. What’s your name, anyway?”
He touched the rim of his baseball cap. “T.J. Jr., ma’am. At your service.”
Studying the attendant’s features, Pam felt a mixture of fire and ice soar up her spine like nasty bee stings and settle at the base of her neck. “As in Thomas Jarrod, Jr.?”
He sent her a wink. “That’s my cousin. I’m Timmy Jarrod, Jr. So what do you say? Want to reconsider my offer?”
Before she could answer, a deafening roar, like a crash of thunder, rumbled nearby. T.J.’s bewildered eyes locked onto hers. The ground beneath their feet started to shake. It lasted several seconds. The shrill of a siren immediately followed.
T.J. darted toward the building. “That’s the fire signal!”
Instantly alarmed, Pam followed him into the tiny convenience store portion of the gas station. Once inside, she heard a calm, steady voice giving instructions over a scanner.
“Signal Ten. Companies One, Three and Four. Explosion at the Power Master Tool Factory, 43 Sumner Avenue. Multiple injuries reported. All Middleton companies responding. Be advised, Middleton Regional Rescue is also being dispatched.”
“That’s me!” T.J. grabbed the portable radio and a strobe light. “This is Fire Fighter 132. I’ll be responding to the scene.” He motioned for Pam to follow him outside, then locked the station door. “Hey, your truck’s better than my old pickup. Can I drive?” He ran toward the vehicle, then stopped and looked at her. “You are that doctor, right?”
Pam gave him a quick nod. “That’s me.” She tossed him the keys. “How far is it?”
“About ten miles. I think it’s an industrial park.” He started the engine. Then he pushed an adapter into a power plug and placed the flashing blue light on the dashboard.
As Pam buckled her seatbelt, T.J. floored the gas pedal, lurching them forward. The tires squealed out of the lot and onto the road.
Tom spoke clearly into his emergency radio. “Medic One to dispatch.”
“Medic One, go ahead.”
“Dispatch, I’m at the scene. Requesting Rescue Flight Helicopters and all available medical rescue units to this location. Alert the burn unit. Be advised, this building is fully involved. Over.”
“Roger that, Chief,” the dispatcher replied. “They’re on their way. Neighboring towns are also responding. Over.”
Stepping out of his truck, Tom looked around. Walls of orange flames, laced with thick black smoke, danced high in the afternoon sky. It was as if they were in tune to the tempo of the sirens piercing the air. He released a deep breath. The flames had already spread through