Mike felt rather than heard the first explosion. The floor beneath him vibrated just slightly at first, but then much more violently. Above him the ceiling began to crumble ominously, sending a thick layer of dust down over him and Bobby.

He then heard the metal legs of the cots that had been their beds for the last two days start to vibrate against the cement floor.

The second explosion felt and sounded much closer, and was accompanied by a distinct, threatening rumbling sound that shook everything around him. Mike looked up and, as he watched, the ceiling began to crack and break apart.

A third explosion rocked the ground beneath them, sending jarring waves of pain through Mike’s already battered body. He knew in his gut that the next explosives to be detonated would be those only metres from him and Bobby. And when that happened…

Above their heads, the crack in the ceiling was growing at lightning speed, circling around and creating a large chunk of concrete that was ready to break away at the slightest tremor.

A primal survival instinct kicked into gear deep within Mike’s gut and, with a strength that he didn’t realised he’d had, he rolled over onto his side and pulled Bobby’s limp body in close to him, attempting to form a protective shield. Stretching out with his good hand, he snagged the metal frame of the nearest cot and pulled it across to cover their prone bodies.

He doubted the flimsy metal frame of the cot would afford them any real protection, but he’d be damned if he was going to just lay there and quit. If nothing else, he was going to die knowing that he’d at least tried to save his friend’s life.

There was another violent tremor through the building, followed by a deafening crack. A violent pressure unlike anything Mike had ever experienced slammed down on top of them, and then there was nothing.

Stop!” Deakins yelled, forcing his way through the rest of the crowd and running over to Shore and Webb. A couple of security officers stepped in to block his path, only to back off again just as quickly at the sight of his badge and his furious expression. “Damn it, stop the demolition!”

Webb stood up, looking smug.

“Sorry, buddy. If you’ve got an injunction, you’re too late. We’ve already started the process.”

As if to emphasise his words, there was a muffled roar and the ground trembled as the first explosives detonated.

“No!” Alex cried out as she and Carolyn came to a halt by Deakins. He glanced at her, and then back at Webb, his expression turning downright dangerous.

“Stop the demolition right now, or I swear to God, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you’re held responsible for the deaths of the men who we believe are trapped inside that building.”

Shore looked up in horror.

What? No, that’s not possible! We checked that place thoroughly late Friday afternoon…”

“They were locked in a cage in the basement late Friday night,” Deakins said sharply. All eyes turned briefly to the building as a second explosion roared, shaking the ground and sending a cloud of dust high into the air. Deakins went on quickly, urgently. “Now, for God’s sake, stop the demolition!”

“We can’t!” Webb cried out. “Once the sequence is started, we can’t stop it!”

Deakins looked past Webb to Shore, who nodded, looking thoroughly sick.

“He’s right. We can’t stop the sequence of detonations once we’ve started. That’ll only happen if there’s a malfunction, and one of the explosive packs doesn’t detonate. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do. If there are people in there, only a miracle’s going to save them now.”

A third explosion rocked the building and the surrounding area, and this time the entire south-side wall began to collapse, signalling the start of the building’s demise.

“Bobby…” Alex whispered, tears flooding her eyes. Carolyn threw her arms around her colleague and friend in a fierce hug, tears of grief in her own eyes at the realisation that she was not going to see her own partner again alive.

Nearly a minute passed while the building trembled on the brink of collapse… but nothing happened.

“What the fuck…?” Shore muttered. A moment later, he looked up at Deakins in amazement.

“You may have just got your miracle. The fourth pack has malfunctioned. It never detonated.”

Carolyn looked from Shore to Deakins, sudden fire in her eyes.

“We’re going in there.”

“The hell you are, lady,” Shore growled as he straightened up and began signalling to his men. “That building is ready to come down, not to mention there are un-detonated explosives that could go off at any time. No one is going in there except me and my guys.”

“You don’t understand,” Alex said hoarsely. “They’re our partners!”

“You’re wrong,” Shore told her, his voice taking on a more gentle, understanding tone. “I do understand, and that’s all the more reason why I can’t let you go in there. Any chance they might have is gonna be slim at best. You ladies go in there… Your intentions might be good, but you’ll only create more problems than you solve.”

He paused, looking from Alex and Carolyn to Deakins.

“I promise you, if they’re in there, we’ll get them out.” Turning away from them, he spoke quickly and urgently to the half dozen or so men who had gathered. “Listen up, here’s the situation. There could be…” He looked back at Deakins. “Two guys…?” Deakins nodded, and Shore went on quickly. “There could be two guys trapped in the basement. We’re going in after them. One of you, grab the bolt cutters, the heavy duty ones. We may need to cut through metal. And someone grab a couple of the emergency backboards, so we’ve got something to carry them out on.”

He paused again, looking back at Deakins, Alex and Carolyn.

“What are their names? Folks are more likely to respond to their names being called than if we go in there yelling ‘hey you’.”

“Bobby and Mike,” Alex said softly. “Please, just find them.”

Shore nodded reassuringly at her.

“We’ll do what we can. All right, let’s move.”

Shore led the way into the building, picking his way through the unstable structure with extreme care. He knew where the cop had meant as soon as he mentioned a cage. He’d seen that cage in the basement when he planted pack number four. At the time, he’d wondered who would have any use for something like that. Now, he guessed he knew.

“You really think anyone’s down here?” one of his men asked in a low voice as they headed for the stairwell that led down into the basement.

“I don’t know,” Shore admitted. “I hope to God not, but we can’t take any chances. Just be careful. This is where pack number four was planted. That’s the one that’s malfunctioned. We don’t want it going off while we’re down here. Andy, you got the heavy duty bolt cutters?”

“Yeah, I got them.”

“Okay.” Shore paused at the stairs, and looked back at his men. “It’s going to be pretty damn tenuous down there, so be careful. I don’t want any of us to have to be carried out of here.”

There was a murmur of assent, and they then made their way down into the dark basement.

Waiting in the crowd, Big Joe watched the unfolding scene with a fierce scowl, oblivious to the excited murmur that swept through the people as they tried to work out what was happening. He’d seen the cops coming, and for a moment had been afraid that his plans would fall through at the eleventh hour. But then the explosions had begun, and the building had started to crumble.

Except, now there was a problem, and a team of men had now gone into the building with what looked suspiciously like rescue gear.

Big Joe grimaced as the male cop turned and scanned the crowd, a frown on his face. He knew better than to simply turn and run, but the first opportunity he had, he was out of there. His whole beautiful plan had just gone belly-up, and now he needed to take measures to ensure that he didn’t go down with this particular sinking ship.

“Shit, how the fuck are we going to find anything down here?” one of Shore’s men grumbled as they surveyed the damage before them. Shore didn’t answer immediately. He could barely make out anything at all through the grime and dust and ruin.

“Okay, looks like part of the ceiling’s come down,” he said finally. “Be careful. Spread out and start looking. Check everywhere. Their names are Mike and Bobby, okay? But be aware that they might not be responsive.”

“Yeah,” someone muttered. “’Cause they’ve probably been flattened by now. This is stupid, Boss, risking our own necks for a couple of morons who shouldn’t have been here to begin with!”

Shore wheeled around to face them.

“I don’t give a fuck about that, Chris. What I do give a fuck about is that there could be a couple of guys down here somewhere, who might still be alive. And while there’s a possibility of that, we’ve got a responsibility to do everything we can to get them out. Now, start looking!”

The men spread out, none of them daring to say another word. Shore watched them for a moment before making his way over to the other side of the basement to start searching.

Through the rubble and dust, he was able to make out the cage, though it had been half-crushed by the segment of ceiling that had broken away and fallen. He could see the slab of concrete that had fallen, causing the top of the cage to buckle under its weight, but it hadn’t crushed the cage completely. Though he couldn’t see anything from where he stood, he suspected there was a possibility that something… or someone, could have been trapped beneath the slab without being crushed to death.

Frowning, Shore picked his way around to get a look at the under-side of the slab. At first he could see nothing, even with his powerful flashlight. It just appeared to be a mangled ruin of concrete and metal. But then, as he was starting to turn away, he caught a glimpse of something else, something that was not metal and was not concrete.

Moving in closer and getting down on his hands and knees, Shore peered under the slab, and a moment later sucked in a sharp breath of surprise.

“Over here!” he called out. “I’ve found them! Damn… I think they might still be alive!”

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