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Authors: Carol Plum-Ucci

Fire Will Fall

Fire Will Fall

Carol Plum-Ucci

Harcourt
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT
BOSTON NEW YORK
2010

Copyright © 2010 by Carol Plum-Ucci

Harcourt is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from
this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Plum-Ucci, Carol, 1957–
Fire will fall / Carol Plum-Ucci.
p. cm.
Sequel to: Streams of Babel.
Summary: Moved to a mansion in the South Jersey Pine Barrens, four teenagers,
trying to recover from being poisoned by terrorists, struggle with health issues,
personal demons, and supernatural events, as operatives try to track down the ter-
ror cell.
ISBN 978-0-15-216562-8 (hardcover : alk. paper) [1. Bioterrorism—Fiction. 2. Ter-
rorism—Fiction. 3. Communicable diseases—Fiction. 4. Spies—Fiction. 5. Inter-
personal relations—Fiction. 6. Supernatural—Fiction. 7. New Jersey—Fiction.]
I. Title.
PZ7.P7323Fi 2010
[Fic]—dc22
2009023854

Text set in Minion

Manufactured in the United States of America
DOC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
4500217778

To my wonderfully patient
editor, Karen Grove

Acknowledgments

To Angela Osborne and Angela Piniera, thanks for your editorial input at times when my brain was in six pieces. I vow never to torture you again (fingers crossed behind my back). To Dr. Robyn Tiger, thank you for answering my medical questions day after day; I guess you thought those e-mails would never stop. To my husband, Rick, and my daughter Abbey, thanks for not killing me for always being off in my cave writing this book. It sure took long enough, eh?

Thanks for all!
Luv ya, Carol

ONE

SCOTT EBERMAN
FRIDAY, MAY 3, 2002
7:05
P.M.
TRINITY FALLS, NEW JERSEY

I
DON'T BELIEVE IN OMENS
. So when the rain fell in buckets against the living room window as I waited for our ride, I kept telling myself it wasn't a shadow of things to come; I was not leaving Trinity Falls forever. I'd be back by fall.
We were all coming back.

The limo pulled up to the curb a minute later, and I dashed out my front door. My head was soaked two steps later. A door at the far back of the endless car opened, and a girl's hand beckoned like crazy. I dove through the door, and Rain Steckerman quickly tugged at one of my soaked sleeves so I could yank my arm out.

The driver slammed the car door, but through the glaze I noticed the door to my house was wide open and my two bags stood just inside. Nobody else was in there. This is what can happen when nine of the fifty-two pills you're taking list memory loss as a side effect.

"Let the limo driver get them!" Rain said quickly, drowning my curses. "Be rich and famous—just for this forty-five-minute drive."

I watched the driver run up the walk, grab the two swollen garbage bags, and shut the door. I don't own luggage—that's how rich I am. As for the famous part—I'm not a rock star or anything you'd want to be. I'm just a guy who lives in a small South Jersey town that found itself in a horror flick two months back.

Some unheard-of international terror cell decided our town of mostly professional, well-educated Americans would be a good place to conduct an experiment. They poisoned the water, hoping to kill every person within the five-block area off one main water vein. They only killed two, so some people like to say they failed miserably. I don't agree with that. I was halfway through paramedic training this spring when my brother and I and Rain and Cora Holman were diagnosed as "Stage Four Toxic." We never know whether we'll wake up feeling okay or like we have some butt-kicking flu. Nearly a hundred Stage Twos and Threes were diagnosed in Trinity, and even the Stage Threes responded surprisingly well to antiviral medication. Stage Four is another term for "a real challenge to cure, though doctors on four continents are trying." There is no Stage Five.

I slid my arms back into my soaked sleeves and intentionally waited until the driver got around to the trunk and popped it.

"He forgot to turn off the light." I dashed from the limo, and the rainfall drowned out the end of Rain's "Wait! My dad can take care of—"

I threw open the door, ran upstairs into the bathroom for a bath towel, and shoved it under my jacket as I took two stairs at a time down, hurrying. I reached for the living room light but stopped to survey the room before switching it off. Mom had moved us here from Las Vegas thirteen years ago, when I was six. So many kids had sat on this worn-out gray couch. We'd watched so many football games, baseball games, hockey games being won or lost here, over so many bags of Doritos and microwave popcorn. My paramedic squad had stood in the kitchen shooting the bull on so many non-busy nights. I had been in training, and my squad loved Mom's mint iced tea.

Mom's chair ... I moved over to it, knew it still smelled like Mom because I'd stuck my nose to it a couple of times and caught my brother, Owen, doing it, too. My mom had drunk enough poisoned water to move beyond Stage Four. I banged the chair lightly with my fist instead of reaching for one last deep inhale. It's a smell you don't forget.

"Sorry!" I hollered as I raced back to the limo. The driver held the door for me again. His rain poncho didn't cover his extra-polite smile, which reminded me of a melting wax face in a horror movie.

Rain didn't look so thrilled with me now. She sidled up to Cora, whose mom died the day before mine did. Cora was wearing a sweater with a scarf around her neck, despite that it was seventy degrees outside. The limo was long, with most of the seating in one row from back to front, so Cora and Rain were facing sideways. My brother, Owen, sat sideways also, but up close to the front with his head on the backrest and his eyes shut, though I could see him shaking his head slowly back and forth over my actions.

The three of them had just been released from St. Ann's ten minutes ago. I'd gotten permission to be released earlier, having had a symptom-free day. I had come home to close up the house, get some more pictures of Mom, and pick up whatever I'd missed during our eight weeks in St. Ann's. The three of them were graduating seniors, and even though there was only two years' difference in our ages, I was eons more mature. Mom always said I was born thirty. I'm not sure the nurses would have let them come home by themselves.

The driver pulled away as I unfolded the towel, and I made certain not to give my house a last, longing look. Instead, I watched Cora while I pulled off the soaked jacket and threw the towel over my neck. She was reading get-well cards. The four of us had gotten more than fifteen thousand cards from Americans who watched the news or read
Time, Newsweek,
or
People
magazines. We tried to read all the cards and letters, but Cora was way ahead of the rest of us. She'd give us a heads-up sometimes if it was a name we all knew, like John Mayer or former vice president Al Gore or Brittany Murphy. She'd wave the card, and we'd pass it around. We got telegrams from dignitaries of over a hundred countries. All of that kept us going.

But with no remarkable improvements in our conditions yet and being moved to a more permanent locale, our foursome was getting harder to buoy. Right now, Cora was reading tensely, waiting for Rain to explode on me so she could pretend not to notice.

"Hope your little campaign of refusing help from others is worth it," Rain lectured on cue. In other words, her dad certainly would have noticed the lights being on in our house while on his way home tonight and would have turned them off and locked the door. "Now you'll wake up with the Throat from Hell tomorrow."

"Tomorrow is not important," I stated, wiping off the back of my neck and my hair with the towel. "It's always today, and today, I'm having a four-star day. Besides. Acting like an ass has therapeutic value once in a while."

Rain slowly reached out her hand, and I gave her skin. That's the good thing about Rain—she can sympathize with just about anyone. Four-star day meant it had been a symptom-free day, at least for me. I glanced at Cora again. She said nothing, but her sweater and scarf were telltale: four-star wasn't for her.

Rain moved to a little refrigerator under the TV, saying, "What's your pleasure? Coke? Diet Coke? Sprite? Or water?"

"Whatever."

"C'mon, don't be a party pooper. Club soda..." She made a big deal out of filling a plastic cup from a silver ice bucket and pouring Perrier over the top, though her eyes were glassy enough to reflect the little overhead light. Tears or fever? I figured tears. She seemed keyed up, like she was trying to distract herself from a horrible mood, which she'd had on a daily basis over the past three weeks. Rain was an extremist. It was always laughter or tears, with very little in between.

Still, she handed me both the cup and the bottle with both pinkies high in the air. The limo was compliments of Rain's dad, Alan Steckerman. He had been an FBI director in southern Jersey for many years, but after the 9/11 terrorist attacks last September, he moved over to the newly formed United States Intelligence Coalition, joining with agents from the FBI, the CIA, and all branches of military intelligence. There are at least two USIC supervisors in every state, and they're supposed to guard against, or in this case solve, acts of terror.

The limo is Mr. Steckerman's way of saying, "We're working on it. In the meantime, think positive." They'd already made twelve arrests. All had been foot soldiers, but I tried to remind myself that the big guns could be caught any day.

I held up my cup, and Rain got the idea, throwing my bottle cap at Owen so he would open his eyes and raise his Coke can off his knee. Cora held up her cup, and they all looked at me. I'm supposed to be the strong one.

"Here's to the future," I said as my brain went into cliché autopilot. I knew the risks we faced better than they did. I wanted to keep it positive, but the words weren't there.

"To the future," they joined in, but their voices flickered.

I forced myself onward. "We all have mixed feelings about going out of town." Rain quietly ducked her head.

We were being taken to a place about twenty miles up the coast from Trinity Falls, a dark corner of the Pine Barrens, where the nearest house would be a half mile inland from us. The Kellerton mansion was on the historical register. New Jersey, apparently, doesn't like spending a lot of money on historic restoration of cool places, but they'll spend it for far-out health care these days. The people in the Atlantic County Historic Society offered this old mansion to "house state residents physically traumatized by an act of terror," probably realizing that it would be restored pretty fast if the state agreed.

The bottom line: Rain, Cora, Owen, and I will get to live in a beautiful mansion on fifty acres that ease up to Great Bay, like we're rich, even if we're not. The historical society wants to smooch us, not that I mind their little agenda. Everyone's got an agenda. If I feel powerless to help myself, at least I can help the little old ladies of the Atlantic County Historic Society.

Rain, on the other hand, would be farther from her friends, which meant fewer visits, and the most beautiful place in the world couldn't replace those daily gatherings—not in her mind.

I went on. "But we'll make this work. We're
all
coming out on the other side."

"Hear, hear," they cried.

"No more fights," I said, eyes firmly on Rain.

Slowly, she turned her glass to Owen and muttered, "Sorry."

"Me, too." He clinked her cup but wouldn't look her in the eyes.

I had no idea what she was apologizing for this time, or what he was forgiving her for. Between the two of them it had been a daily dropping of bombs over the past two weeks. Rain had lived kitty-corner to us for thirteen years, and they'd always been friends. At this point, she and Owen were just sick of each other.

"Listen, guys. We're going to have to readjust to more quiet, more leisure time..." I cleared my throat. "All I'm saying is that the more you two fight, the more wear and tear you put on yourselves. Whatever it is, either talk it out or let it drop."

Rain looked ready to explode. Finally, she kur-powed. It was about Owen again. "I just hope there's an extra TV. I don't mind that he tapes sports on
his
TV and then comes in to watch
my
TV so he doesn't miss either game. I don't mind that he takes up half my bed when I'm trying to take a nap because he's freezing and wants part of my blanket. I don't even mind that he goes from cold to hot and kicks off his smelly socks under my blanket—"

"My sweat socks do not smell," he insisted.

She ignored him. "And I don't even care that in the middle of the night, I'm kicking sweat socks out of my sheets, okay? All I want is that when our lives are upsetting me ... I want him to understand, to ... to be there for me."

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