Come on, boy. Your dad needs you."
Daniel looked up from his exam in disbelief, certain his father would never pull him out of this test. But a grim-faced Joe Manzetti stood in the doorway of the classroom, trails of perspiration streaking through the soot on his face. Being summoned to fix the aging equipment at the steel mill was a regular occurrence for Daniel, but it wasn't going to happen today.
"I'll be there in an hour," Daniel said as he glanced around the classroom, noting the glares of resentment among the other students competing for the same scholarship. They all had the advantage of decent schools and private tutors, while Daniel's only knowledge of engineering came from tinkering with the equipment in the steel mills of Baltimore's east end.
"There's been an accident and your dad is trapped," Manzetti said. "You need to come right away." The blood drained from Daniel's face. Everyone at the steel mill knew what this test meant to him and would not have summoned him for anything short of a life-and-death catastrophe. He threw his pencil down and shot up from his seat, not even glancing at the proctor as he bolted from the room.
"It was a boiler explosion," Manzetti told him as they left the school and ran across Currior Street. "They've put out the fire, but your dad was trapped by the tank that got blown off its base. He's still pinned beneath it."
Daniel broke out into a sweat. There would have been tons of steam if the boiler tank had been blown out of its brick encasement, and his father's entire body would have been scalded. "How badly was he burned?"
"It's not good, boy. We can't get the canister off him until the fire tubes are disabled. The boiler was mangled in the blast, so we need to do some quick work before the pressure makes it blow again."
And that was why they'd summoned Daniel. Anyone could operate those boilers under normal circumstances, but when the equipment broke down they relied on Daniel to figure out what was to be done. He was only nineteen years old, but he'd always had a knack for tinkering with machines to make them work better or do something different.
His legs were trembling after sprinting the two miles to the mill, a stitch clawed at his side, and his lungs were barely able to fill, but the workers parted as he and Manzetti entered the boiler room. Clouds of steam and soot still hung in the air, bricks were strewn everywhere, and on the concrete floor, crumpled beneath a massive copper boiler, Daniel's father lay sprawled like a broken doll.
His father's eyelids flickered. "Fire tubes still attached," the words rasped from his father's throat. "Be careful, lad."
Daniel glanced at the twisted fire tubes and the ruined boiler. Soldering the tubes closed would work, but it would take hours. He had to think of another way to disengage the tubes before they could lift the boiler from his father, or there would be another explosion.
"I need a sledgehammer and a steel pin," Daniel said. "Get a couple of valve clamps and some leather gloves," he added, his gaze fixed on the white-hot fire tubes. A wave of murmurs passed through the workers who circled the site of the accident, but a few of them ran to get the tools. There was no time to explain the unconventional solution that was taking shape in his head. He wasn't even sure it would work, but trying to disable those fire tubes directly would be suicide. "And I'll need a lot of water....just in case." Stupid to worry about it, since he and his father would both be killed instantly if this didn't work.
The men brought the equipment to him, and the assembled workers began pulling back to a safe distance. A tremor ran through his father. "You know what you're doing, laddie?"
Daniel didn't meet his father's eyes, just placed the steel pin against the first of the mangled fire tubes, the heat so fierce it penetrated his thick leather gloves. "Yup," he said with more confidence than he felt. "Just like pricking the crust on one of Mom's pies to let the steam out," he said as he positioned the sledgehammer atop the pin. The first whack did nothing other than send a shrill ping through the air. Neither did the second, but the third blow pierced the pipe, and the escaping steam sent out a high-pitched whistle.
Daniel reared away from the burning steam. "Clamp down the safety valve," he yelled over the noise. Two workers moved in, arm muscles bulging as they wrenched the equipment into place. It took a minute, but the pipe lost pressure, and the whistle lowered in pitch and then fell silent. The fire tube was disabled.
A smattering of applause came from behind him, but Daniel didn't tear his gaze from the ruined mass of the boiler. There was still one more pipe to disable. Sweat rolled into his eyes and he brushed it away with a grimy forearm before he set the next pin into place.
"Want you to know . . . proud of you, boy," his father said.
Daniel kept his eyes fastened on the fire tube. He wished his father wouldn't talk like that, like this might be the end. "Yeah, okay," he said, keeping his gaze steady on the task before him. He struck the first blow at the remaining fire tube. It was a good, solid blow, as was the second. On the third blow the high-pitched whine began.
An instant later the pressure burst in the tube and shot the pin free and straight into Daniel's face. He was hurled backward and crashed to the ground, blood pouring from a cut across his brow. The roars of approval from the men signaled he had succeeded in disabling the fire tube.
Daniel grinned as he pushed into a sitting position, barely able to see through the sting of blood in his eyes. A dozen men were pushing bricks out of the way, lifting the copper boiler up a few feet. He couldn't see his dad because of the cluster of workers surrounding him.
Then a worker with a soot-stained face walked over and squatted down to look directly at Daniel. A hand clamped him on the shoulder. "I'm sorry, boy. Your dad is dead."
Excerpted from THE LADY OF BOLTON HILL © Copyright 2011 by Elizabeth Camden. Reprinted with permission by Bethany House. All rights reserved.