Under Fire: A Novel

Under Fire: A Novel

by Margaret McLean


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A Boston firefighter is shot and killed in the line of duty while rescuing Amina Diallo and her fifteen-year-old son, Malick, from their burning store. Diallo, a Senegalese Muslim immigrant, is arrested for arson and murder, and will likely be convicted in record time.

Attorneys Sarah Lynch and Buddy Clancy face more than racial and religious prejudice in this impossible courtroom battle. Diallo is targeted by a gunman in open court, a key defense witness is attacked, and documents are stolen. Someone is trying to stop Sarah and Clancy from winning the case. They must find out who and why. A dangerous pursuit of the truth becomes Amina's only chance in Margaret McLean's Under Fire.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765393739
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 11/27/2012
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

MARGARET MCLEAN was born and raised in Rome, New York. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Boston College and earned her law degree from Boston College Law School. She practiced law as a criminal prosecutor. McLean currently teaches law at Boston College's Carroll School of Management. She lives in Norwell, Massachusetts, with her three children. Under Fire is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Under Fire

By Margaret McLean

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2011 Margaret McLean
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-7189-8


THERE'S SOMETHING SINISTER about black smoke — the way it creeps up, closes in, and chokes the life right out of you. Jack Fogerty had to conquer it head on. He jammed the steel Halligan between the knob and frame and yanked sideways. The wooden door splintered and popped open. Smoke billowed from the Senegalese Market and enveloped him. Jack twisted his regulator and went on air. Fire alarms blared.

Please God help me save them. Tell me where they are. The woman and boy lived upstairs above the store. Jack and his partner, Andy, plowed through the dense smoke, hugging the wall and staying low. Where was the stairwell up? Should be in front. Save them. It was his calling in life, a driving force passed down by generations of firemen — his father, grandfather, great-grandfather.

Orange flames engulfed a shelf in the back and spread upward. Glass jars shattered. Not much time before the fire burned a hole through the ceiling, reached the second floor, and banked back down.

Jack studied his thermal imaging camera to navigate through the smoke. He pointed the screen from side to side and scanned the wall crammed to the ceiling with shelving and products. No way up. Could the stairs be to the left? Where was the engine company with the lines? White indicated heat, and the image of white flame off to his left had doubled. God help me save them.

Jack tripped and fell sideways into a wall of glass jars. Pain tore through his elbow. Andy pulled him to his feet, and they moved along the right-hand wall. He scoured up and down with his camera. Nothing. An explosion. A battery of cans pounded the floor. Find the stairs or they will die. Jack stumbled again. Sweat trickled down his back.

A gap appeared between the shelving, and the image of a doorknob came up on screen. Locked. Andy squeezed beside him and wedged the Halligan into the wood frame. The door flew open. Smoke poured into a steep stairwell leading up. Jack slammed the door and bounded up the stairs with Andy at his side.

They entered the hallway of an apartment. Did he hear footsteps? A white image appeared on the thermal screen. It looked like someone moving away.

"Hey!" Jack yelled as loudly as he could through his air mask, but the figure kept running until it disappeared off screen.

Jack swung the camera to the right, revealing dark images of a couch, desk, chairs ... a living room? A figure appeared near the corner diagonally across from them. He saw scurrying, lots of movement. Another white blur. Were there three altogether?

Andy leaned into him. "You grab that one. I'll take the camera and do a left-hand search down the hall. Meet you back here."

Jack nodded and handed off the camera. The yellow flashlight clipped to his waist provided little illumination. He entered the living room with his right hand on the wall. A flash. Something exploded in his stomach, knocking him to the floor. Glass shattered.

Jack's head felt dizzy, and his insides contracted in excruciating pain as he sat up. Had he been shot? A hot, sticky liquid plastered his stomach. Get them out of here and ignore the pain. He bit down and discerned movement a few feet away. Jack sprang from a squatting position and grabbed hold of an arm.

"My son! He ran that way." The woman doubled over, coughing.

"Get down on your hands and knees. Now!" he shouted. An explosion thundered close by and shook the building. Dishes smashed onto the floor. The fire had made its way up. The hot, sticky liquid oozed over his hip and down both legs. Blood. Where was Andy?

"Malick!" the woman screamed.

A body crashed into Jack's side. He felt searing pain. The son. He clenched his teeth and grabbed the boy. "Where's the other one?"

"Nobody else." The woman wheezed and coughed.


She nodded and hacked again.

"Is there another way out up here?" They couldn't go back down; that exit would be blocked by fire and smoke.

The woman gagged and exploded into another coughing fit. He couldn't tell if she nodded or shook her head. She pointed toward the hallway, and Jack saw the orange glow. Fire. Where the hell was Andy?

"Down!" Jack made them crawl along the living room wall. Get them to a window. He prayed they'd be there with a ladder or the rescue box. Where the hell was the engine with the lines? Flames crackled in another room. Windows shattered. They had less than a minute to get out. Hot as hell. Jack vomited a thick, bloody-tasting sludge into his air mask, nearly blocking the regulator. Had to get them out and find Andy. God help me save them.

The boy collapsed. Jack dropped his Halligan and scooped him up in both arms. He was heavy. Give me strength. The woman smacked her forehead against the floor as she gasped for air. Couldn't carry them both. Jack heaved the boy over his shoulder, tore off his glove, and held the woman's hand in his. He willed himself forward as his eyesight faded in shades of red and army green. Somebody help us.

"Jack!" Andy appeared like a blurred apparition crawling toward them along the wall.

"I found the son. Passed out." Jack rolled the limp boy into Andy's arms and released the woman's hand. He motioned toward the window. Andy hesitated. Jack pushed him away.

He vomited more sludge and blood, blocking his regulator. Jack fought the urge to tear the useless air mask from his face. His eyelids curled shut. Please God lead them out.

The pulsating beep of an alarm hammered into his head. A fireman's PASS device had activated. Someone wasn't moving. Not Andy. Please not Andy. The beeping reached a crescendo and then faded.

Jack was lost and swimming through the black smoke as hard as he could. Heat radiated through his gear, roasting his flesh. In his mind he willed the woman, boy, and Andy out the window and onto a ladder. Please God help them. Please ... please ... please.

An invisible force pulled him up like a swirling funnel cloud. Maureen, John, Brian, Steve, ... the baby on the way. He knew right then she would be a girl. The last words of the Fireman's Prayer flowed through his mind:

And if according to my fate
I am to lose my life,
bless with your protective hand
my children and my wife.


THE HEAT BORE down on Sarah Lynch as she rollerbladed toward the pier. The sun scorched her shoulders and calves. Perspiration drenched her long red ponytail. She had to stop and catch her breath.

Sarah tipped her head back and drained the water bottle. Another funeral. This time, she wasn't required to attend. She felt the urge to turn around and slip back into the routine she had carefully carved out for herself: playing in three coed hockey leagues and teaching ice skating. The routine carried her from an early morning shower to her pillow at night. It filled her brain with fluff.

Sarah skated through the swarm of pedestrians on the Northern Avenue footbridge past James Hook Lobster. This mid-July day felt different from the rest. The roasting heat didn't come from the sun that afternoon. It radiated up from the heart of the people. Someone had poured an accelerant across the city and ignited a firestorm. Anger. Hatred. Shock. The fireman was one of their own.

The crowds thickened and pressed against her. It was so hot. She finally reached the federal courthouse where two Boston fire trucks extended their long ladders above the curved glass entrance. An enormous American flag stretched between the rescue boxes on top, and a lone fire truck idled below the flag with lights flashing.


She turned to see State Police Sergeant Frank Brady, the lead fire investigator for the state fire marshal's office. Frank was fit and stood about six feet, two inches tall. He had dark hair and luminous green eyes, but his best feature, the wide, magnetic grin, was absent that day.

"Long time no see." He placed his hands on her shoulders and kissed her cheek. "I miss you."

"Yeah, me too." Sarah heard her own voice waver. She should've returned his phone calls and e-mails. She'd been that way with all her old friends until they eventually gave up trying. "I've been meaning to call ..."

"I know, I know. No worries, right?" Frank patted her back. "It's good to see you now." He gave her a tiny smile before turning serious again. "What're you doing here? Did you know him?" He pointed toward the fire truck.

"I'm here to watch, pay my respects." She wasn't quite sure why she had rollerbladed across town to be here. Another funeral.

"Gonna be huge, over twenty thousand firemen. They're lining up right over there and marching to St. Vincent's." Frank motioned toward the World Trade Center. "Then it's over to Florian Hall afterward."

"Such a tragedy." Sarah eyed the fire truck idling under the flag. Why did it have to happen? Was it really God's will as the priests claimed? She didn't know, would never figure it out, and no longer wanted to try. But Sarah did know that someone was out there, probably next to that truck, drowning in the first stage of grief. Sarah remembered the shortness of breath, the nausea, the ringing in her ears.

"Boston hasn't seen anything like this before. Shot down in the line of duty." Frank wiped sweat from his brow. "We could use your help on this one. Nobody's been 'Lynched' in Suffolk County since you left the DA's office."

Lynched. Sarah hadn't heard that for a long time. It had suited her well back in those days as a prosecutor, created headlines. Would she have been assigned to this one?

"Can you believe I'm heading up the fire investigation? First time Boston asked for our help in years."

"Really?" Sarah knew about the friction between the Boston Fire Department and the state police. They must've determined it was a conflict of interest for the Boston arson investigators. And the case was so emotional. How could anyone shoot a fireman? It had weighed on her mind from the time the story broke. "Do you have a good case?" She had to yell over the drumming of the helicopter blades.

"The facts are pretty straightforward, but —" He paused and pinched his lower lip. "It's different. You know, we arrested a black lady from Senegal. She's Muslim, too."

Sarah considered his words: a black lady from Senegal. In her experience as a prosecutor, most arsons and murders were committed by men.

Frank nodded. "She set the place on fire for the insurance because they were about to foreclose on her store. The fire department got there too quick, so she started shooting." Frank shook his head. "The lady shot Jack Fogerty, the first fireman on scene. After that, he continued rescuing her and her son. Got 'em to safety first and then he died. Unbelievable. How could somebody just shoot a fireman like that?"

Sarah recalled the fireman's family pictures in the Globe. The children were so young. "I'm sorry for his wife and kids. Now she's a widow, and they've lost a dad."

"And she's pregnant too. Fourth child." Frank's gaze lingered on the truck. He appeared lost in thought for a moment. "You working?"

"Sort of." Sarah didn't feel like getting into her daily routine. It sounded so meaningless. "I may apply for an assistant coaching job at Boston College." She shrugged. "Up in the air."

"Not practicing law?"

The question jolted her. Sarah should've known it was coming. People always asked when she'd resume her law career, especially old colleagues.


"I prefer the ice." She couldn't think of anything better to say.

"You're a star, I'll give you that. We all rooted for you in the Olympics. Silver medalist and all. I'm proud of you."

"Yeah ... thanks." And she should be proud. Sarah had achieved something most others could only dream about. Making the Olympic team, winning the silver. But, when it was all said and done, she knew the truth: hockey was her great escape. She looked up. Frank was rambling, and she could barely hear him through the noise.

"... a real winner in the courtroom, so fiery, so talented." Frank studied her. "How long's it been?"

"Four years." A lifetime ago. The thought of practicing law again made her shudder. "I can't go back. My heart's not in it." Sarah still had nightmares about a gun, shots firing, and the most important person in her life ... falling.

Frank looked into her eyes. "I'm sorry about what went down. Life's not fair sometimes. It shouldn't have happened to John ... or you. I don't know how —"

Sarah raised her palms. She couldn't talk about it anymore.

"Understand." Frank nodded several times. "Still single?"

"Haven't found the right one." The right one was dead.

A siren blared and four Boston Police cruisers with pulsating blue lights proceeded toward them. The Boston fire commissioner, department chiefs, and officers marched in perfect parallel columns of two in their dress blues, white caps and gloves, and black bands running across gold badges. The color guard came next with its array of national, state, and fire department flags, followed by the piper band's steady drumbeat and solemn chords. The lone fire truck pulled out.

One woman caused all this?

Frank pointed toward the courthouse. "Fogerty's men will ride with him on Rescue One for the last time to the church and then to the cemetery. They're the honor guard with the red shoulder cords. See the men marching right beside the truck?"

Sarah shielded her eyes. "With the gold cords?"

Frank nodded. "Pallbearers. They were real close to him, part of his working group, some of his best friends."

The gold letters spelling Boston Fire glowed against the red fire truck. The reds and golds swirled together. The casket assumed center stage atop the truck, draped in an American flag and surrounded on all four sides by large fanned bouquets of red roses mixed with baby's breath. The casket loomed past Sarah in slow motion. It gave her chills. She watched until it was nothing more than a small red, white, and blue rectangle in the distance.

"I'm heading over to the church. Nice to see you again, Sarah."

"Tell everyone I said hello." She hugged him. "Good luck on the case."

"Thanks." Frank walked several paces and turned back. "Sarah? Aren't you related to Buddy Clancy?"

"My uncle. Why?"

"He's got the case."

* * *

Nick Marinelli needed this case. It was meant to be.

He stood in a single-file rank between Massachusetts Governor Ryan Noterman and Suffolk County District Attorney Martin Wright. The funeral procession would soon be passing before them and through the grand entrance of St. Vincent's Church. Sweat soaked his black hair, and the white dress shirt clung to his chest and back like a wet rag. The sun scorched his eyelids, yet he barely noticed. It was the heat from within that blistered.

Governor Noterman cocked his head. "Everything all set for the arraignment tomorrow?" He had a powerful voice.

"We're ready." Nick hated politicians and wished he wasn't wedged next to this suave African American with his magnanimous personality. Noterman was a second-term Democrat, known for his tax increases, steep budget cuts, and hiring freezes. As a result, Nick's unit at the DA's office had been cut in half. They were all overworked and underpaid. Noterman's solution: casino gambling, which would rescue the state from a financial doomsday. Nick knew he lived for the limelight, and here he was, front and center.

The governor rocked back on his heels. "How's the case coming along?"

"Fine." Nick refused to elaborate. The evidence appeared solid, but something frightened him. It wasn't quite right, and he couldn't figure out why.

Governor Noterman filled his cheeks with air and slowly released it.

The DA leaned across Nick and addressed the governor in his thick Boston accent: "Got a solid one."

Solid. Nick despised that word. It made him think of granite, something hard and impenetrable. One time he dropped a dumbbell on his mother's granite countertop and it cracked. They had to replace the whole thing.

"Your office better win this one, Marty, or you'll never get that IAFF endorsement when you throw your hat in for AG."

"Not worried in the least over the union. They wanted Marinelli and that's who they got." The DA snickered. "You're the one who needs the unions for that casino of yours."

"Back pocket." The governor eyed Nick. "And how old are you?"


He whistled.

"Our best arson guy." The DA clasped Nick's shoulder. "Gets the convictions, and that's hard to do because the evidence burns up. Arson investigators love him and so does my union."

"Your union." The governor rolled his eyes. "I hear you come from a family of firefighters, Nick."

"Can't even count 'em all." His Italian relatives had been calling around the clock. They pressured him for details he couldn't provide.

"I know about your father. A shame."

"That's why I specialize in arson." And you know nothing about my father.

"What about the homicide?"

"He's in good hands with Detective Callahan." The DA raised his voice over the news helicopters.

Governor Noterman shouted back, "I hear the accused retained Buddy Clancy."

Disgust clouded the DA's face. "And it won't take Clancy long to play up the race card. No offense, but we got a black Muslim woman here."


Excerpted from Under Fire by Margaret McLean. Copyright © 2011 Margaret McLean. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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