Fire Brand

By: Diana Palmer

 CHAPTER ONE

JUST WHEN GABY thought it couldn’t get worse, it started to rain. She groaned as she tried to adjust part of her raincoat over the lens of her .35 mm camera, and kept shooting, aiming away from the red and blue flashing lights and the spotlights so that she wouldn’t spoil the shot.

“Are you out of your mind?” the thin man beside her grumbled, jerking her back down just as a bullet whizzed past her ear. “Gaby, that was stupid!”

“Shut up and keep taking notes,” she told him absently. The whir of the camera shutter was lost amid the renewed firing. It sounded like an automatic, which it probably was. The armed robber holed up in the old department store building was known to have one. He’d already killed the store manager and negotiations had broken down before they had even begun. “There’s a pregnant hostage in there with him. See if you can find out her name.”

“Will you stop slinging out orders?” he grumbled. “I know how to cover a story.”

Oh, sure you do, Gaby thought irritably, as long as it’s in a boardroom or a good restaurant. Only fate could have managed to leave Harrington alone in the newsroom when she had needed a photographer. And once the shooting in the street started, Harrington had plastered himself against a police car and refused to move. Gaby had no choice but to give him the note pad.

She pushed back her long black hair and snapped the camera lens cap on to keep the rain out of it. She was drenched already, her jeans and bulky pink knit top plastered to her skin under the concealing folds of the beige raincoat. And while she could take a photograph, Harrington’s were better—if he just had the nerve to go with his talent. He was a photojournalist and sometimes did interviews, to fill in for other reporters. He hated taking crime photos.

“I never should have let Johnny talk me into coming with you, you maniac,” Fred Harrington muttered. He glared at her through thick lenses that were spotted with drops of rain. She wondered if he knew how big they made his dark eyes look.

“If Johnny were here, he’d be out there where the Bulletin guy is right now,” she returned, nodding toward a beanpole in baggy jeans with a long ponytail and glasses, wandering into the line of fire. “For God’s sake, Wilson, get out of there!” she yelled across the police car she and Fred were crouched behind.

Wilson glanced her way and raised his hand in a friendly salute. “That you, Cane?” He grinned.

About that time, a disgruntled police officer tackled him and took him down, right on top of his camera.

“Good for you, officer!” Fred yelled.

Gaby elbowed him. “Traitor,” she accused.

“Stupid people should be trampled,” he replied. “Fool! Lunatic!” he called across to the rival paper’s reporter/photographer, who was being led away not too gently by his accoster.

“I love you, too, Harrington!” Wilson called back. “Hey, Cane, how about calling this story in to my editor for me?”

“Eat worms and die, Wilson!” she said gaily.

He stuck his tongue out at her and vanished behind the bulk of the angry police officer.

“Will you two keep it down?” one of the nearby policemen muttered. “Honest to God, you reporters are the biggest pests.”

“Just for that, I’ll misspell your name,” Gaby promised.

He grinned at her and moved away.

“You’re crazy,” Fred said fervently. He was new to the newspaper scene, having preferred photography to journalism—although he could write good cutlines and even do good interviews. He didn’t have the wherewithal for this kind of assignment, though. Gaby usually had the political beat. She and Harrington were only here because the police reporter was out sick. And any news reporter could be commandeered to cover police news in an emergency.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted movement. There was a uniformed man with a rifle running into a building across the street from the abandoned department store building. “Something’s happening,” Gaby said. “Look sharp. You might get a little closer to Chief Jones and see if he can fill you in on what the SWAT team’s going to do.”

Fred glared at her. “Why don’t you do it? I can take photos.”