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If she'd had a foot fetish Anna would have been an extremely happywoman. Cradled in her lap was a prime example of pedis giganticus belonging to one Howard Black Elk. More mole foam than fleshwas visible.
"Fighting on slopes keeps tearing 'em off," Mr. Black Elk told her between gulps of Mountain Dew. "Anybody but you does 'em they're gone by lunch. You got the touch."
Absurd as it was, Anna took great pride in the durability of her blister dressings. Caesar's army may have moved on its stomach, but firefighters moved on their feet. After ten days, of skirmishes, the army battling California's jackknife Fire was proceeding a bit gingerly. The line queued up outside the medical, unit tent was Anna's barometer, and the pressure was rising. Sho-Rap, the Shoshone and Arapaho firefighting crew out of Montana, seemed, to suffer more thanmost. Maybe because they were big men. Even with the protective fire boots they were required to wear, gravity hit them harder.
Anna eased the ruined dressings off Mr. Black Elk's foot and examined the carnage. Black Elk was an Arapaho Indian but he wasn't with the Sho-Raps. He was a member of the San Juan crew from the southwest. "You busted open the blisters," she accused.
"Got to let 'em drain."
"No you don't. They'll get infected." She looked into the man's face to see if she was getting through to him. "Are you going to quit that?"
Anna didn't believe him. She cleaned the ball of his foot and his heel with hydrogen peroxide. When he winced at the sting she said, "Serves you right."
A heady sense of Normandy, Tripoli, John Wayne and Twelve O'ClockHigh reverberated through fire camps. Like everyone else, Anna reveled in, it. A soldier's life-particularly in a war where death was highly unlikely and the battle soon over was a life enhanced with an illusion of importance untrammeled by responsibility. Orders were simple: climb, stop and dig. Hard physical labor and the ability to sleep on rough ground were all that was asked. Anna found peace in the freedom from choices.
With great care, she began reconstructing the protective barriers of foam, Second-Skin and bandages on Mr. Black Elk's foot. The rest of San Juan Plateau crew began drifting over from the chow line to swell the ranks waiting for medical attention.
The San Juans were an interagency crew with firefighters from the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the, National Park Service.Three of the firefighters were from Mesa Verde National Park, Anna's duty station. Anna had arrived independently when the call went out for more emergency medical technicians to man the medical units.
These units provided care to the firefighters in the spike camps. As the Jackknife cut a black swath through the Caribou Wilderness and Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California, Incident Base the maincamp housing supplies and command headquarters needed units closer tothe fireline. Small camps, called "spikes" by firefighters though officialdom no longer used the term, were springing up like fire moss.
"You guys with blisters go ahead and take the dressings off and clean your feet with peroxide," Anna said to those waiting. "I think Stephen's got a spare bottle."'
"Go easy with the stuff," Stephen Lindstrom, the other EMT, said. "We won't have any more till tomorrow afternoon."
Lindstrom was with the Forest Service out of Reno, Nevada. When Anna and three crews had been spiked out nineteen miles from base camp, she'd begged for and gotten him. Efficient and gentle, he was one of the better EMTs she'd worked with.
"How 'bout I get you some dinner before them hogs swill it all down?"
Anna looked in the direction of the familiar Memphis plus drawl. Jennifer Short, a seasonal law enforcewent ranger from Mesa Verde, leaned against a sugar pine near the outdoor examination room Anna and Stephen had piecedtogether from a ground cloth and twelve folding chairs.
Jennifer had been on the Jackknife fire for seven days, one day less than Anna, and she was still wearing makeup. Anna couldn't help but admire her. Anybody who stuck to their beliefs under duress deserved respect The sooty fingerprints around her nose and the trails of sweat running through her dust-coated rouge only added to the effect: bloody but unbowed.
"Thanks," Anna said. "Stephen, want some supper?" Belatedly she askedJennifer, "Would you mind?"
"Why I'd just lie down and die if he said no," Jennifer said, and winked.
Dividing her time between bites and blisters, Anna managed to finish he rsupper and thirteen feet in the next hour. Kneeling at the fourteenth and last, she began unlacing a well-worn, custom-made White's fire boot. "Helps if you remove your boots for me," she said mildly.
"My feet's not what hurt."
Anna rocked back on her heels and took in the face attached to the expensive boots. "San Juan crew, crew boss, right?"
"John LeFleur." The firefighter stuck out a hand with spatulate fingers reminiscent of the toes of Amazon ram forest frogs Anna'd seen hopping through various PBS specials. She forced herself up from her knees.Cold, fatigue and hard beds were taking their toll. Getting old, shechided herself. once-hard work had made her tougher, now it only made her fired. she stuck out her hand and, tying for a pressure that was manly without being macho, took LeFleur's.
His bottom lipwas swollen and bruised, Dried blood caked where the skin had split. "Does Your face hurt?" she asked. The third-grade insult, "Because it's sure killing me," flickered nonsensically through her mind, but John LeFleur certainly wasn't hard to look at Anna had him pegged for forty-five or so his hair was still...