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Fire. Heat blasted his face and Adriano swiped the tears from his eyes. He needed to be able to see and already, barely ten feet inside the door, the smoke was thick and black, choking his lungs and stinging his nose and mouth.
"Amy," he called out and paused for a moment to listen, ears strained, eyes burning and fear churning in his gut. Only the greedy roar of the fire answered, and he forced himself to take another step and then another, deeper into hell.
Normally, the girl would have been easy to track but he couldn't smell a damned thing. His senses were as blunt and useless as a human's. Amy's mother had pointed toward the southeast corner of the building as she wept, tearing at the arms holding her back, and that was the direction he headed, grimly forcing his way down the narrow hallway littered with pieces of fallen plaster and wood. He hoped Amy wasn't anywhere near this place. He hoped she'd gotten frightened and was hiding at the park or a friend's house. Maybe someone had only missed her in the count.
The building shuddered and he instinctively reached out a hand to steady himself against the wall only to snatch it back when heat singed his fingertips. His men had set this fire, following orders directly from the top. It would be ironic if he died here but he could accept that, so long as he was the only one.
Clamping his mouth closed, he buried his face in his shirt sleeve and eased under a fallen support beam. The creak of straining wood sounded eerily loud above the rush of flames. There wasn't much time before the whole building fell on his head but only one room left to check. The last one on the left, closed. The people here had been sleeping six or seven to a room, the girl's mother had been working late and the child had been lost in the confusion.
It seemed unlikely that anyone would have taken the time to close a door behind them in the panic to get out. The metal knob burned his palm but he barely felt it, his heart stopping in his chest when he realized it was locked. He stepped back and kicked it twice until the wood split enough that he could push his way inside.
"Amy," he called out again, his voice a dry croak.
And then he saw her. Her foot poking out from beneath her blankets, little toes curled. This was the part he remembered so vividly in his dreams. Those tiny toes, nails painted with pink polish, a chip on the big one. He snagged her ankle and pulled her toward him, dragging her toward the window. She was heavy and he knew it even then. Before he managed to haul them both over the ledge. Before he crawled to her across the grass sodden with the spray from the hoses. Before he looked into that angelic face and those staring eyes.
She was dead. And it was his fault.