Muffin Top

By: Avery Flynn

Chapter One

Nothing good ever happened when the captain asked Frankie Hartigan to come into his cramped office at the back of the firehouse and close the door.

Frankie ran the last few calls through his head. It had to be about the asshole with the Jag. They’d had a warehouse fire down by the docks, and this knucklehead had parked right in front of the hydrant. Really, the guys didn’t have a choice but to bust the car’s windows and run the line to the hydrant through there. The rich dipshit had pitched a royal fit, right up until Frankie had come over, straightened his entire six-foot-six-inch frame, and asked him if there was a problem. There hadn’t been. Shocker.

“Have a seat, Hartigan,” the captain said as he sat down behind a desk overloaded with paperwork and manuals and—rumor had it—a computer untouched by human hands.

Frankie looked around. Captain O’Neil’s office always needed its own Hoarders episode, but today it looked worse than usual. There was shit everywhere. The two chairs in front of the desk were filled with half-empty boxes, old standard operating procedure manuals were stacked four feet high against the wall, and the coveted firefighters-vs-cops rivalry trophy from last year’s charity hockey game had the place of honor on top of the tower. Even if Frankie wanted to sit down, there wasn’t a place to do it. So he did what he always did when he got brought in for a good reaming out: he stayed standing.

“I’m good.”

The older man sat there, staring at Frankie from under two bushy gray eyebrows so fluffy they looked like they were about to take flight. “Is there anything you’d like to tell me before I start, Hartigan?”

Frankie did the walk down memory lane again and came up with only one possibility. He’d been a fucking angel lately. At thirty-three, he really must be mellowing with age. “Is this about the dipshit with the Jag?”

“Oh, you mean the one who plays golf with the mayor? The one who needs two new windows and a fresh detail?” O’Neil gave him a hard, steely glare that lasted for all of thirty seconds. “That little prick got exactly what he deserved, which is what I told the fire commissioner when he called to take a chunk out of my well-endowed ass.”

“Well, that’s the only thing I can think of.” And if it wasn’t that, then why in the hell was he in what amounted to the principal’s office at Waterbury Firehouse No. 6?

“Good,” O’Neil said with an ornery chuckle. “You never know what someone will confess to when you start off that way.”

“You’re a piece of work, Captain.”

“I’m an old relic, but I’m here and I’m not going anywhere, even if they are making me archive or dump most of this stuff.” He waved a huge bear paw of a hand at the mess.

Frankie looked around. “Yeah, I thought it looked like more than normal.”

“Well, you won’t be seeing it after today.”

That yanked his attention back to the man behind the desk. “Are you going somewhere?”

“Nope.” The captain’s face lost all signs of humor. “You are.”

For the briefest of seconds, Frankie wished he had taken the offer of a chair. Then, the familiar sizzle of the Hartigan obstinate Irish temper sparked to life.

He crossed his arms and glared at the captain. “Are you shit-canning me?”

“Nothing of the sort. It has recently come to my attention, thanks to all of my spring-cleaning efforts, that you haven’t taken leave of absence in—I don’t even know how long—which is totally against regulations. I can’t believe human resources and professional standards haven’t ganged up on your oversized Irish ass already about it. The department has gone all-in on the mental wellness aspect of firefighting safety, and that includes taking your required leave to mentally refresh yourself.”

Frankie threw up his arms in frustration, wishing like hell that the captain’s office was big enough to pace in. Just the idea of mentally refreshing himself was like a fart in a flower shop. “That’s a bunch of touchy-feely bullshit.”

“Agreed, but you have three weeks built up, and you’re taking it all as of now.” The captain fished around on his desk for a minute and then pulled out a sheet of paper, handing it over. “And here’s the letter from up the food chain ordering you to take three weeks immediately.”

Frankie looked down at the sheet of paper like it was a warm, flat beer in August. Like it was a death sentence.

“This sucks.” The sheer boredom of sitting on his ass for three weeks was going to kill him. He was already to the point where he took extra shifts just to avoid having too many days off in the month to sit around the house he shared with his twin, Finian, and do the same shit he’d been doing since they got the place a decade ago. It wasn’t that he needed the money—although, come on, everyone had too many bills to pay—but the firehouse was his life. The adrenaline. The camaraderie. The going out and saving shit. It’s what a guy like him was made for. “What in the hell am I supposed to do for three weeks?”