Willow Chapter 1
It was not the explosion that would have killed them. It would have been the resulting fire.
Peter Blackmon was not sure he remembered where he was or why he was there. The bomb had been in the back of a van that had been driven to the front of the slave auction house. The van had been kept from the front door by heavy flower planters designed for just that purpose. That did not prevent the ninety pounds of explosives from collapsing the building’s façade and damaging the rest of the structure.
As the building reeled under the impact of the car bomb, electrical connections were stretched and torn apart. Energized wires shorted out and began dozens of fires throughout the building. Smoke, the most common killer in structural fires, began to accumulate in the rooms and halls.
In the slave preview area, the blast had knocked Blackmon across the room and into the bars of the slave pen. He had smacked the back of his head hard enough that he only was aware that something was not right. He could not get his feet under him and his arms flailed without purpose. As smoke began to sting his nose, he began to lose even those small crumbs of lucid thought.
The next moment of semi-clarity crystallized into a man’s voice shouting from less than a foot away, “Are these yours?”
“Are these your slaves?” the voice shouted again.
“If these are not yours, they were trying to escape. So are these yours or not?”
Blackmon got his vision cleared enough that he could turn his head to look where the ogre with the booming voice was pointing. Lying on her back a few feet away was Page. Blood was coming from her nose and ears. Her breathing was quick and shallow.
“Billy! Spike these two and let’s get going. We know some went around the south side of the building.”
Blackmon could see beyond Page that a thin man had a tool in his hand that he was pressing to the back of a dark head of hair. The popping sound the tool made was barely perceptible over the ringing in his ears. The girl the hair belonged to twitched for a moment then went limp. Thin man was moving down the line of bodies towards Page.
“Mine!” The croak that came out of Blackmon’s throat came at the cost of a choking cough coming right behind.
Ogre turned towards him, “What?”
“Mine!” was all he could get out of his smoked scorched throat.
“Okay, Okay,” Ogre turned to Thin Man and said, “Not these two. These are his and we sure do not want to spike someone else’s meat. Let’s get moving.”
Ogre and Thin Man moved away out of Blackmon’s sight. He managed to roll to his left and push up. He got himself in a sitting position, legs and feet splayed out in front of him like a child on the playground. He rubbed his eyes to improve his vision so he could take stock.
A man in a uniform was running towards him. He had a bag in his hand with a big red cross on it. The man knelt down in front of him. “How are you doing? Are you hurt? Can you breathe? Can you talk?” The questions poured out of him much faster than Blackmon could process much less respond.
He pointed towards Page. He was sure Page was going into shock.
“Hey man…I don’t do pets. I saw a Vet Van out front. They can help but I can’t. I would lose my job.”
Blackmon reached into his pocket and pulled a fistful of money out. He held it up to the EMT.
The EMT grabbed the money and ran off the way he had come. Blackmon could not make his eyes follow him all the way. He flopped back down on his back and tried to get his head to clear. The last thing he remembered was someone saying, “They are over this way.” Everything then turned gray and then black.
He woke up staring at the sky. There were many voices around him and he turned his head to the left and right. He had been moved. Instead of the pavement covered in broken concrete and glass, he was on a yellow pad or blanket. It in turn seemed to be on something softer, like grass. He felt his face and realized he was being given oxygen though a nasal cannula. He watched for a few minutes as more people were laid in a line. Emergency personnel swarmed around the new arrivals. Some were moved onto stretchers and quickly pushed in the direction of the waiting ambulances. Others, broken and shattered beyond help, were comforted with a word and then left to follow the course that could not be changed.
Blackmon managed to sit up and that got the attention of one of the fireman nearby.
“Hey, take it easy…we got you. Leave that thing on your face…you breathed some smoke we think.”
“Where…?” Questions were forming in his head much faster than they could come out of his mouth.
“Do you know where you are?” the fireman asked.
Blackmon thoughts began to clear a little. “Fresno?”
“Yea, hey that is good. Just relax and breathe. You are not critical and all of the ambulances are taken up by those that could not wait. In a few minutes we will start moving people like you to the hospital too. Just keep breathing and stay calm.”
Blackmon’s thoughts were coming clearer and clearer. He began to fumble for his cell phone and found it in his right pants pocket.
But then he froze. Who would he call? The only person in his life at the moment was Page, and Page was…where was Page?
“Hey. I came here with someone…” he asked the fireman that had been talking to him, “Do you know where she is?”
“We have over a hundred casualties. We are still trying to get a handle on this. No one was brought out here with you, so I am not sure. We don’t have a list of people yet, but I can put them on the watch list. What was the name?”
“Her name is Page.”
“Just Page, no last name. She…she is a slave.”
The Fireman looked up from his notebook he had been writing in. “Oops, ah sorry, I don’t track slaves. We deal in people first and IF we have time the property.“ He then pointed to something taped to Blackmon’s chest.
“Hey, check that. It looks like an Animal Control tag. They may have found her.”
Blackmon looked down on his ruined blazer and saw a yellow tag taped there. He pulled it loose and after a minute was able to focus on the words.
YOUR PROPERTY WAS TAKEN TO OUR FACILITY DUE TO INJURY OR LOSS. TO CLAIM YOU PROPERTY PLEASE CALL THE NUMBER BELOW OR COME BY DURING NORMAL BUSINESS HOURS.
IDENTITY OF PROPERTY
2 SLAVES, INJURED.
ONE BLONDE, NAKED, BLACK BOOTS, SILVER COLLAR WITH THE NAME “PAGE.”
ONE DARK HAIRED, NAKED, NO COLLAR.
IF NOT CLAIMED WITHIN 48 HOURS WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO SELL UNCLAIMED PROPERTY TO RECOUP OUR COSTS.
A wave of relief flooded over Blackmon. Page was alive and safe. Her medical needs were being tended to and he knew where to find her.
He laid back and closed his eyes. But then his eyes popped open again.
Two slaves? How could there be two slaves? Carol was gone! He had come to Fresno with only one.