The cereal spoon stopped midair. Rina turned to her husband. "What was that?"
"I don't know." The lights flickered and died along with the TV, the refrigerator, and probably everything in the house electrical. Decker reached over and picked up the portable phone. He punched in one of the landlines but got no response.
Rina lowered the spoon into the cereal bowl. "Dead?"
"Yep." Decker flicked the light switch on and off, a futile gesture of hope. It was eight in the morning and the kitchen was bathed in eastern light that didn't require electrical augmentation. "Something blew. Probably a major transformer." He frowned. "That shouldn't affect the phone lines, though." He pulled out his cell and tried to contact someone on a landline at work. With no response coming from the other end, Decker knew that the damage was widespread.
The Los Angeles Police Department's West Valley substation—Devonshire Division in another age—was a few miles away from where Decker lived. When this kind of thing happened, the place was a madhouse, a switchboard of panicked people with emergency lines ringing off the hook. "I should go to work."
"You didn't eat," Rina said.
"I'll grab something from the machines."
"Peter, if it's just a transformer, there isn't anything you can do about it. You'll probably have a long day. I think you should fuel up."
There was logic to that. Decker sat back down and poured some skim milk into his cereal bowl, already laden with strawberries and bananas. "I suppose the squad room can wait another five minutes." They ate in silence for two bites. He noticed the wrinkle in Rina's brow. "You're concerned about Hannah."
"I'll stop by the school on my way to work."
"I'd appreciate it." Rina tried to think of something to say to distract both of them. The default conversation was the kids. "Cindy called yesterday. She and Koby are coming over Friday night for dinner."
"Great." A pause as Decker finished his cereal. "How are the boys?"
"I talked to Sammy yesterday. He's fine. Jacob only calls before Shabbos or if he's upset. Since he hasn't called, I'm assuming everything's okay."
Decker nodded, although his mind was racing through emergency procedure. He stood and tried the land phone again. The machine was still lifeless. "Is the den computer still plugged into a battery pack?"
"I think so."
"Let me try something." Decker unplugged the small, portable, kitchen TV and lugged it into the back den. Rina followed and watched her husband drop to the floor and insert the electrical cord into one of the empty sockets. The seven-inch screen sprang to life. Decker tried one of the local stations. The TV was color but showed only images in shades of black and gray.
"What are we looking at?" Rina asked.
"A fire." As if to underscore Decker's pronouncement, a billowing cloud of orange flames materialized. His cell jumped to life. "Decker."
"Strapp here. Where are you?"
For the captain to be calling him on his cell, something was really wrong. "At home. I'm just about to leave—"
"Don't come into the station. We've got a dire situation. Plane crash on Seacrest Drive between Hobart and Macon—"
"What?" Rina asked.
Frantically, Decker waved her off.
"Is it Hannah?"
Decker shook his head while trying to digest the captain's words. ". . . took down an apartment building. A few firefighters are already at the scene, but the local units are going to need reinforcements ASAP. All units are being directed to Seacrest and Belarose. We're planning tactical."
"I'm ten minutes away."
"You got a roof light in your vehicle?"
"Use it!" The captain hung up.
"What?" Rina was pale.
"Oh my God!" Rina gasped.
"It landed on an apartment—" Decker stopped talking, his ears picking up the wail of the background sirens. He glanced back at the TV screen.
"Where on Seacrest?"
"Between Hobart and Macon."
"Peter, that's about five minutes from Hannah's school!"
"Go get the Volvo. I'll convoy you over with the siren in the unmarked and then go out to the scene."
Rina's eyes were still glued to the TV screen. Unceremoniously, Decker turned it off. "You can listen on the radio. Let's go!"
Rina snapped out of her stupor, realizing the extent of what was to follow. A very long day followed by a very, very long night. She wasn't going to see him for the next twenty-four hours. But unlike the people on the plane, she would see him again. Her heart started racing, her throat clogged up with emotions, but words escaped her.
Once they were outside, she found her voice. "Be careful, Peter."
He nodded, but he wasn't paying attention. He opened the car door for her and she slipped inside. "I love you."
"Love you, too. And yes, I will be careful."
"Thank you. I didn't think you heard me."
"Normally, I probably wouldn't have, but right now I could hear a butterfly. That's what happens when overdrive kicks in. All senses suddenly warp speed to hyperalert."
Like most private schools, Beth Jacob Hebrew Academy High School—grades nine through twelve—had recently flexed its flaccid muscles against its overindulged adolescent inhabitants. Teachers, tired of beeps, whistles, and ring tones interrupting lessons, complained to the administration that in turn passed a draconian law—according to fourteen-year-old Hannah Decker—that prohibited the possession of any electronic gadgets, the sole exception being calculators for advanced math. The ordinance had gone into effect three weeks prior—a case of poor timing because with the land phones out, the school was frantically trying to reach parents on the limited cell phones that it had.
Most of the parents had an inkling that something was wrong, so by the time Decker and Rina pulled up, there was already a line of SUVs waiting to haul away the children.
Excerpted from The Burnt House by Faye Kellerman Copyright © 2007 by Faye Kellerman. Excerpted by permission.
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