Authors: Kay Springsteen
by Kay Springsteen
Published by Astraea Press, LLC
This is a work of fiction. Names, places,
characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any
similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, is
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LIFELINE ECHOES BY KAY SPRINGSTEEN
Published by Astraea Press, LLC
Copyright 2011 KAY SPRINGSTEEN
Cover Art Designed By Elaina Lee
Edited By Stephanie Taylor
This work is first dedicated to the Lord, my
God, who is my ultimate Lifeline.
Also, with happy memories of my dad and mom,
James and Audrey Springsteen, my shining example of what it means
to be soul mates.
To my childhood friend, Sandy Roegner, who
patiently answered my questions about what it feels like to be an
emergency dispatcher holding the lives of others in her hands.
And dedicated to emergency workers
everywhere. Thank you for all you do.
A special thank you to Jen, whose
photography inspired the descriptions of some photographs in this
story. The Photography of J.L. Gould may be enjoyed at
There is no natural phenomenon which is held
by all mankind in greater dread than earthquakes. Our ideas of
permanence, solidity and strength are based upon the condition of
the earth, as we daily see it; so that when the firm ground shakes
under us, there naturally comes over the mind a feeling of abject
helplessness. ~New York Times April 9, 1872
Seven years ago. . .
The day the earth tried to swallow L.A.,
Alexandra Wheaton dropped her double chocolate iced mocha in the
parking lot. It landed with a splat, pale brown slush sliding off
the toe of one white shoe to form a sticky puddle beneath her foot.
Cleaning it up made Sandy two minutes late for her job as a
dispatcher for Los Angeles City Emergency Services.
Her day was about to become much worse.
Moments past eight in the morning, the
tectonic plates along the Newport-Inglewood-Rose Canyon fault line
started to move with a little more force than the normal sway and
push. The seismograph needle in the monitoring station leapt wildly
and the machine registered the largest magnitude quake along that
fault in greater than forty years.
Millions of dollars spent on equipment
upgrades for emergency services over the past year proved no match
against the relentless heave of the agitated earth. Radio towers
toppled and satellite dishes were knocked out of alignment,
creating a system-wide communication blackout until Los Angeles
Central Dispatch switched to their ten-year-old backup system. When
the earth stopped its initial temper tantrum, the telephone
switchboard began to light up with calls from citizens, while the
status of each individual emergency response unit was being
verified by radio check-in.
In less than ninety seconds, chaos erupted
in Central Los Angeles. The nightmare deepened moments later when a
ruptured gas line beneath the Convention Center was ignited by the
cigarette Marcus Fulton had been smoking in the basement janitorial
Sandy couldn't stop the tremors running
along the inner fault lines of her own neural pathways. But she was
a professional, so with a voice that only barely trembled, she
dispatched Fire Station Number 9 to the L.A. Convention Center.
The first shift after Sandy's vacation was
off to a very rocky start. Before her shift was over, she would
learn two important things. First, she was getting the heck out of
L.A. Second, it was possible to fall in love with someone, sight
unseen, in twenty-three hours and fifty-seven minutes.
Sunny and warm, the perfect day for mourning
lost love. Maybe this would be the year she'd finally be ready to
move on. Even as the thought teased her, Sandy suspected it might
take another cataclysmic event to let go of the man she'd given her
heart to in less than a day.
Summer was a handful of days off, but the
mountain air was clean and brisk, nothing like the heavy smog of
L.A., where she'd first met the man whose memory haunted her. She
had no memories of him in this place except for the ones he'd
painted into her mind while they talked. Yet this is where she felt
Her feisty red roan colt pranced beneath
her, reminding Sandy that he needed to run off his excess teenaged
energy. Dry dirt kicked up by Domingo in the wake of his fancy
footwork muffled the sound of his footfalls to dull scuffling
plunks, which he punctuated with occasional impatient snorts.
The dusty ground became more firmed and
flattened. Gray rocky outcroppings thrust upward amid a tan
landscape dotted by the washed-out green of desert grasses. More of
the same lay between them and the scrub pines along the swell of
foothills in the distance.
Sandy pointed Domingo in the direction of
those hills, finally allowing the exuberant colt to set his own
pace. Brawny muscles alternately flexed and contracted beneath her,
as he catapulted them across the plain, racing at a full gallop.
The denim jacket she hadn't bothered to fasten caught the wind and
billowed behind her like a cape. Chilly air worked its icy fingers
along the exposed skin of her long neck, bringing with it a
wonderful ache and the exhilaration of knowing she was alive.
She topped a gentle rise, and a sea of
yellow and purple wildflowers surprised her, God's own casually
sown garden. The sky overhead was deep blue and cloudless. With the
prairie behind her and the snow-covered peaks ahead, Sandy pulled
Domingo up inside a cathedral of Ponderosa pines, closed her eyes
and inhaled the pungent scent. It was exactly as he had described
it, which made it the perfect place to remember him.
Seven years had passed, yet her pain was as
exquisite as a fresh wound, probably owing to the fact that she
revisited the memory once a year on the anniversary of that
horrific day. In the hills of Wyoming that he had loved and missed
so much, in the place he had brought her to with just his words,
Sandy picked the scab off the wound she never quite allowed to
The job was all that mattered now. Sandy
made herself disregard the toppled shelves and scattered books. She
blocked out all thoughts about the likely state of her own home. As
she listened to the chatter on the official channels, she kept
meticulous handwritten notes regarding the status of each unit
"Battalion 9-Alpha, this is Engine Squad
9-Bravo, do you copy?" The connection was filled with static and
the voice was muffled, hard to hear.
Sandy waited for the response of the
battalion chief on scene. None came.
The callout was repeated, the voice sounding
a bit more urgent. "This is L.A. Engine Squad 9-Bravo, dispatched
to the Convention Center—" Again static broke the transmission.
Following protocol, after the second
unanswered call, Sandy intervened. "Copy you, ES-9-Bravo. This is
central dispatch. Your transmission is breaking up."
The response was drowned out by a loud burst
of static in the earpiece.
"Nine-Bravo, be advised you're breaking up,"
More harsh squawks of static burst from the
receiver. Sandy winced, feeling like her head might explode. Then,
amid the static, she clearly heard the code every dispatcher
dreaded. "Nine-Bravo is 10-60, this location. Code three, code
three, code three . . . trapped. . ."
The code for imminent danger!
Static filled the airwaves again as Sandy
punched buttons on her console, frantically trying to boost the
"Dispatch, are you there?" The voice was
screaming. "Central! This is 9-Bravo in need of assist. The
building's coming down around us!"
Afraid to switch over to
relay, with the risk of losing contact altogether, she motioned to
Ellen, the dispatcher sitting next to her. Quickly, Sandy wrote on
her notepad in bold black ink:
At the next desk, Ellen nodded and switched
channels to contact the Battalion 9 squad leader over the comm.
"Nine-Bravo, this is Central Dispatch,"
Sandy acknowledged. Only with great effort did she prevent her
stomach-wrenching fear from leaking into her voice. Dread shot out
little tentacles of hopelessness to curl around her lungs,
squeezing the breath out of her. "I'm reading you, sending help
your way. What's your location?"
"Civic Center parking garage—A level. The
building's coming apart! We need extraction." The voice was still
urgent but now without the panic.
She had to get her own panic under control
and keep it that way, Sandy reminded herself, or she couldn't help
"Copy you, 9-Bravo. Who am I speaking
"Mick-" More static, then, "Mic-key."
Sandy scribbled everything she could make
out into her hand-written notes. "Mickey, you're breaking up very
badly. How many do you number? How long have you been
"Two confirmed, dispatch, possibly three. I
can feel my partner. He's not moving. I heard someone else moaning
down here earlier. I don't know how long it's been. I think I've
been unconscious—I'm pinned—can't move. It's dark—can't see a
Sandy passed off the information to Ellen so
her coworker could convey it to the battalion chief. The sarcastic
part of Sandy's mind registered the irony of having crossed into
the twenty-first century and being reduced to the mockery of a
child's game of telephone.
With a pointed shake of her head, Ellen
caught Sandy's eye and handed her a message from the battalion
chief. As she read, Sandy's heart fluttered in her chest briefly
before moving upward to stick in her throat. Her free hand came up
of its own volition to cover her mouth, as if to prevent herself
from saying the words she was reading. Her stomach threatened to
pitch up her breakfast.
The Convention Center had collapsed with
several men inside. Some of them were buried under four floors of
rubble, while above them, the fire from the gas main explosion
burned fully involved and uncontained. Rescue efforts would be
delayed and prospects for extraction were grim. A chaplain was en
God help them all! How could she tell
someone he wasn't going to be rescued? What could she say to a man
when her words were likely to be the last he'd ever hear?
Ryan kicked in the clutch and rammed the
gearshift into second to take yet another turn on the series of
switchbacks through the mountains. The 1967 Corvette Sting Ray had
been a mess when he'd bought her, but she'd been a bargain. It had
taken almost every one of his days off over the past two years, but
he had fully restored her from the engine up. The work had been a
welcome distraction from other aspects of his life. This was his
first long trip in her and he was enjoying the way she held fast to
the road, caressing the pavement around the twists and turns
through the mountains the way a woman caressed a lover.
The throaty growl of the engine was drowned
out by the whoosh of the wind running capricious fingers through
hair he'd allowed to grow too long. It was early in the year to
drive with the top down in the mountains but Ryan didn't care. The
bracing cold reminded him he was alive.
It had been too long, the guilty whisper
nagged. He should never have let his life get so far out of hand.
It shouldn't have taken an emergency letter from his baby brother
for him to come home and make things right with the old man.