“I’m fine. Don’t baby me. I did this to myself.”
“Yes. Yes, you did.” Tyler stepped through the blanket of snow covering the broad gap between his truck and the station. We reached the back door, and with a quick twist of the knob, it was open. Tyler swept his arm toward the hallway ahead. “After you.”
I crossed my arms to ward off the cold as I walked inside. It was much harder to keep warm when I was hungover for some reason—another thing to be pissed about.
Tyler stomped his boots on a large industrial mat, and I did the same. He gestured for me to follow him down a hallway lined with cheap frames holding pictures of former superintendents and a few fallen fire fighters. The last picture was from the late nineties, and the guy couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. I paused, staring at his freckles and sweet smile.
We passed an open doorway that led to a brightly lit garage full of pumper trucks, engines, and equipment. Packs and helmets hung from hooks on the walls, and extra hoses were squared away on large shelves.
“I’ll let you get some shots in here after we get the okay from the superintendent,” Tyler said. “My squad boss said he’s in today, sorting through applications.”
After a few closed doors, we crossed the threshold of another doorway. Tyler pointed behind us. “That’s the squad boss’s office. The superintendent is in there now, cussing at the computer. His name is Chief.”
“Is he the chief or superintendent?”
“His name is Chief. His position is superintendent. He’s the one who has to clear you to stay at the dorms.”
“Gotcha. Wait. I’m staying at the dorms? Where are the dorms?”
“Farther into Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’re going to follow us around, we can’t come into town to get you every time we get a call.”
“Holy shit. So I’m going to have to, like … pack?”
“Yep. These,” he said, nodding forward, “are our quarters. TV room,” he said, pointing left. Two sofas and four recliners sat in front of a large television. It was a widescreen, but seemed to be its own unit, older than most of the guys watching it. Tyler waved, and they waved back, curious but not enough to move from their chairs. “Another office,” he said, pointing to a room farther down on the left. “We do our reports on that computer. And there,” he said, pointing right, “is the kitchen.”
I walked through the doorway, seeing a rectangular table that seated eight on one side, and a modest cooking area with cabinets on each side, a refrigerator, and a stove. Next to the sink sat a toaster and a microwave. They seemed to have everything they needed, although it was the size of a closet to serve eight or so men.
Tyler continued through a second doorway. “These are the sleeping quarters.”
“Seriously?” The room looked like an infirmary, with beds set almost side-by-side, separated only by individual, square, armoire-like pieces. “What are those?”
“They hold our personal belongings—extra clothes, coats, stuff like that. There are two on each side, sort of like lockers.”
“You sleep like this? In one big room with a bunch of guys?”
“Sometimes. Yes, some of them snore.”
I made a face, and Tyler laughed. “C’mon. Let’s go see the superintendent.”
We walked back through the kitchen, passing the guys in the TV room. They were just beginning to stir, standing up and stretching.
“They eat breakfast and watch the news. Then they go down and do chores unless we get a call. In off-season, we work a typical forty-hour week, five AM to four PM or four PM to ten PM.”
“Yep. Wash the vehicles, sweep and mop floors, dishes … whatever. We don’t have maids here.”
I snarled at him, knowing it was a dig at me.
“Downtime—if we get any—is a lot different at the hotshot duty station. We dig new trails and fix fence and signage, run drills…”
“So, not really downtime,” I said.
Tyler knocked on the door across from the quarters, and a deep voice growled from the other side.
Tyler winked at me and opened the door. The superintendent sat behind his desk, partially hidden by several file folders and an ancient, boxy computer, looking frustrated.
“Do you know anything about Twitter?” Chief asked, his black eyes targeting me.
“The Twitter. Do you know anything about it? Someone with a lot more time and who makes a lot more money than me decided we needed to have a Twitter account, and I haven’t the slightest fucking clue how to … what is it called?”
“Tweet,” Tyler said, trying not to laugh.
He pounded his fist on the desk. “Goddamn it! Tweet!”
“Yes. I could probably help,” I said, “but I’m here on an assignment, Mister…”
He looked at me only briefly before shaking his head and returning his attention to the computer. “It’s just Chief. What assignment?”
“I’m a … photographer for the MountainEar.” Even though it was the truth, I felt like I was lying. “I’ve been assigned to the Alpine Hotshots. Mr. Wick would like to share with the community what you guys do.”
Tyler breathed out a laugh. “Chief, c’mon. Miss Edson would like to—”
“Edson?” Chief said, finally deciding I was worth more of his consideration than Twitter.
Chief narrowed his eyes at me. “As in Edson Tech?”
“Uh…” I began, not sure which was the right answer. My father had just as many enemies as he had friends. Probably more.
“She’s just a photographer,” Tyler said. “Quit busting her balls and tell her yes or no. I’m in here on my day off.”
“Yeah, and why is that?” Chief asked.
“Yeah. Can she shadow the crew and take pics or not?”
“Did she get her red card?”
“If she can show me how to send a twit, then yes.”
I took off my coat, handed it to Tyler, and walked around the desk, kneeling next to the superintendent. “Tweet, Chief. You tweet on Twitter. And you have to have an account to tweet. Fill this out.”
He tapped on the keyboard, following the steps to create an account.
“Click on that button,” I said, pointing. “Here, you can upload a photo. I bet you have your logo in your Pictures folder.” I clicked a few times, and like I’d thought, the Alpine Hotshot logo was in a file folder. One of their snapshots from the field made for a nice header photo, and then I stood. “All set.”
“Click on that icon, and type whatever you want.”
“Not whatever you want, Chief,” Tyler specified. “Type something associated with the hotshots, but no cuss words. And keep it under a hundred and forty characters.”
He wrinkled his nose. “A hundred and forty what?”