When an inferno in Manhattan claims fifty lives, Georgia Skeehan, a rookie marshal with the New York City Fire Department, is thrust into command of the investigation. Georgia suspects the fire may have been started by something New York has never seen before: HTA, a kitchen-sink concoction with the thermal power of rocket fuel. HTA fires—though rare over the last decade—are so ferocious that they can melt a building’s steel and concrete framework in minutes.
Georgia soon unearths another startling possibility: The blaze may be connected to three other unsolved New York fires—and to several eerie, scripture-laden letters from a madman who calls himself the “Fourth Angel.” As she races to unravel the clues before more lives are lost, she is troubled by the erratic behavior of her partner and by the betrayal of another marshal—a man she trusted with her heart and her life.
As Georgia battles for respect in the nearly all-male bastion of the FDNY, the Fourth Angel tightens his grip on his real quarry—and plots an even more catastrophic and fiery finale.
“Chazin dazzles with her knowledge of pyrotechnics and comes up with plot twists aplenty.” —People
“A red-hot debut.” —USA Today
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It was the eerie insistence of the sound that first caught the young woman's attention. A shrill bleat, remote yet unremitting, began when she turned on the ladies' room faucet. It reverberated through the drain and up the white-tiled walls, a haunting counterpoint to the party chatter and samba rhythms wafting in from the magazine's sixth-floor lobby. Air in the water pipes, the woman told herself. Old New York buildings have a lot of strange noises.
She bent over the sink and splashed cold water along the caramel contours of her face, trying to stave off another bout of morning sickness — a misnomer, she decided, given that it was already eleven on a Monday night. An amulet jingled from a silver-plated chain around her neck, three rose-colored quartz crystals in a filigree cage. A gift from her father when she was a little girl, and the only part of him that stuck around. Men leave, her mother had always told her. The young woman stared down at her champagne-colored chemise, stretched tightly across the small, telltale bulge of her belly, and shook her head. She was learning that herself now.
She turned off the spoke-wheel faucet, but the sound continued, breaking into two distinct noises: one whistling like steam, the other buzzing like an alarm clock. She stiffened, finally allowing herself to hear the naked urgency in the tones. The flat, ceaseless warning.
A smoke detector outside the bathroom joined in the jarring squeal. In the magazine's lobby, the music stopped. Footsteps scrambled in all directions, punctuated by gasps and garbled words. But what scared the woman most as she headed for the bathroom door was the peculiarity of the voices. They were high-pitched and monosyllabic — even the men's.
The lights flickered once, then went out, turning the windowless bathroom into a tomb. She pounded the walls until she felt a slide bolt. Less than five minutes ago, it had slid across with ease. Now the bolt refused to budge.
"Come on, girl," she cried, panic lacing her soft southern drawl. Strange odors, like copper pots left too long on a stove and burned bacon, assaulted her. A pepperiness crawled into her windpipe. She knew the old caveat about escaping a smoke-filled room — get down low and crawl. But the bolt could only be reached from a standing position, so she alternately stood and yanked, then sat and coughed until her larynx ached. Finally, on her fifth try, the bolt gave way and she flung herself out of the bathroom.
A wave of heat and dense smoke rolled over her, sucking the air from her lungs, making her arms and back feel as if they'd been stung by a swarm of bees. Quick shallow breaths were all she could manage, but each one felt as if she were inhaling through a cocktail straw. Her hand brushed against the sandpapery stubble of a beard and she recoiled, falling back against the hem of a dress, the sharp edge of a pair of glasses, a cascade of braided hair. The dead and dying were everywhere.
Far-off, anguished voices cried out. But they were increasingly drowned out by a rumble like an elevated train. A slimy casing now covered the woman's toffee-colored legs. Suddenly, the realization hit her: that casing was all that was left of her skin. She was burning alive.
The pain bit deep into her. She scrambled over shards of glass without feeling them. Through the veil of black smoke, she made out the dim shape of one of the loft's fourteen-foot windows. She was sixty feet in the air — a jump meant almost certain death — but she didn't care anymore. She'd die quickly. That's all she wanted now.
With seared fingers, she crawled nearer the ledge. The roar was getting closer. Small, bright orange flames rolled across the high, pressed-tin ceilings like waves upon the ocean, each one bigger than the one before. The monster on her back was ripping huge chunks of flesh off her now. From somewhere far away, she thought she heard a siren. She turned.
A flash of light exploded out of the elevator vestibule. As loud as a blast of napalm, it ignited for only a second. But when it was over, for the young woman, there would be no more pain and suffering.
There wouldn't even be a recognizable corpse.CHAPTER 2
No one tells you the basics about being a woman in the New York City Fire Department. Sure, it's the usual stuff. Proving you've got guts. Not getting bent out of shape over some Penthouse pinup in the locker room or the water-filled condom tucked into the pocket of your turnout coat. But it takes a woman to truly understand the most fundamental problem with being female in the FDNY.
There's no place to pee.
Not in the firehouses with their communal bathrooms. Not at a fire scene where you can stand for hours, kidneys burning, while the guys sneak around the corner and do it against a wall. And God knows, not when you are a fire marshal speeding to an eight-alarm blaze right after downing two large mugs of coffee.
It wasn't like Georgia Skeehan had a choice in the matter. The big guns would be at a fire this size — Frank Greco, the chief of department; William Lynch, the commissioner. Her partner, Randy Carter, wasn't about to hang around the Dunkin' Donuts while she lined up for the bathroom. (Is there ever not a line in a ladies' room?)
Carter drove, leaning on the horn of their dark blue, department-issued Chevy Caprice as it barreled south down Ninth Avenue, sirens wailing. Through the windshield, Georgia made out the cloud of dense gray smoke rising above Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood. A static of dialogue crackled across the department radio. Dispatch confirmed a 10-45, code one. Then another. And another. There were bodies in this fire, and it sounded as if no one knew how many.
"Did you see the progression on this thing?" Georgia asked Carter, studying a rough chronology she'd scribbled from dispatch reports. "The fire went from a second alarm to an eight in under ten minutes."
Carter nodded, tugging at the sleeve of his gray pinstriped suit. He was the only marshal Georgia knew who wore anything better than a Sears sports jacket to work.
"Body count's up to eighteen already." He frowned, deep lines etched into dark skin.
Georgia could deal with the carnage. It was the smells she never got used to. Rancid human smells. The sickly-sweet stench of charred flesh. The bitter, coppery odor of burned hair and coagulated blood. She popped a peppermint Tic Tac in her mouth and offered one to Carter. He waved it away.
"Artificial flavors and sweeteners," he explained in a voice still tinged with the rural North Carolina of his boyhood.
"You're going to be getting a mouthful of carbon monoxide and God knows what else in a moment, anyway. What's the difference?"
"You choose the way you want to die. I'll choose mine." Carter floored the accelerator through a red light, narrowly missing a yellow cab. Georgia braced herself against the broken glove compartment.
"I don't have a choice about the way I die," she reminded him. "You're driving."
He allowed the faintest grin to cross his lean, craggy features, which pleased her. They had been partners for nearly a year now. Georgia never asked, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that somewhere in this ex-Marine drill sergeant's seemingly spotless thirty-year career with the FDNY, he must have ticked off some well-connected chief. Anybody that senior who got stuck with a female rookie partner had to be on someone's shit list. Of course, it also didn't help that he was black.
"At least I don't ride some Hells Angels motorcycle," he ribbed her. "Next thing I know, you'll be getting a tattoo —"
"If I do, it'll be in a place you'll never see."
One-thirty-one Spring Street was cordoned off for two blocks in every direction. Trucks, engines, and rescue rigs jammed the pavements, their ruby flashers throbbing with almost physical force against the low, darkened buildings. An early-April drizzle pearled across the Caprice's windshield, refracting the red lights like splatters of blood. Georgia shivered. Easter was less than two weeks away, but it didn't feel warm enough yet to be spring.
"Better put your gear on," Carter cautioned. "This one's gonna be a doozy."
"Doozy, right." Georgia watched Ladder Nine's tower ladder rain high-pressure water on the smoldering ruins. Her bladder felt like Niagara Falls behind a dam of Popsicle sticks.
"Randy," she ventured hesitantly. "I gotta go."
"Go where?" His gaze narrowed as it sank in. "Man, Skeehan. I'm gonna start calling you The Faucet. Seems every time we get a run, so do you."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Start wearing Depends."
Georgia stared at the men in fire helmets and bulky black turnout coats swarming the pavement. Each thickly padded coat boasted three stripes of gray reflective tape across the torso, sandwiched between fluorescent yellow bands, plus two more on each sleeve. The tape gleamed in the spotlights of hovering camera crews. So much for privacy. Georgia relieved herself behind a foul-smelling Dumpster as a television chopper whirred overhead. Her son would probably pick her out on tomorrow's news.
Carter was fumbling around in the Caprice's trunk for the PET — physical examination tools — kit when Georgia returned. The kit contained tape measures, hammers, claw tools, and screwdrivers, everything needed to pull apart the wreckage to determine how and where the fire started. Determining a fire's cause and origin, or C&O, is the first step in any investigation.
"While you were, uh, you know —" Carter stammered. "Relieving yourself ..."
He shrugged on his turnout coat without meeting her gaze. His deep- set eyes had the sorry look of a basset hound's. "Word's gone around. One of our guys didn't make it."
She would always be twelve when she heard that phrase. "Who?" she asked softly.
Carter slipped his gold marshal's shield on a chain around his neck. "A brother named Terry Quinn. From Fifty-seven Truck. Twelve years on the job. You didn't know him, did you?"
"No, but that's Jimmy's company. You know, Jimmy Gallagher? My mother's ..." Georgia hesitated. She always felt funny saying "boyfriend." "My mother's companion."
Carter nodded. "Humdinger, this is. Some kind of fancy party was going on on the top floor. A lot of important people were inside, including this Chinese dude — Wong or Wing or something — "
"Wang? Rubi Wang? Holy ... The founder of Nuance?" Only a man over fifty, like Carter, wouldn't instantly recognize the fashion designer's name or his magazine.
"Yeah." They finished suiting up. At the police barricade, they flashed their badges and picked their way across the spongy ash, past firefighters packing up hose lines. Shattered glass crunched underfoot like soda crackers. On a charred side wall were small mounds of what appeared to be human body parts — some of them black with burns, some greasy and grayish-white.
In order to uncover the fire's point of origin, Georgia and Carter knew they would have to trace the blaze's V-pattern — its widest path of destruction back down to its narrowest and lowest — in this case, the basement.
The basement, or what was left of it, was as filthy as a coal mine. Charred and melted debris. Ankle-deep puddles of black water. Air gauzy with smoke and oily with the residue of burning plastics. Carter squatted before a cast-iron radiator, grimacing at a newly acquired stain on his pants.
"We're doing the grunt work so those Arson and Explosion guys over at the NYPD can waltz in here tomorrow and grab all the headlines," he complained. Only marshals are allowed to examine physical evidence at a fire. If an arson includes a homicide, however, jurisdiction can often turn into a political slugfest between cops and firefighters. "If A and E takes this, they're buying me a new pair of pants."
"Hey, they have extras," Georgia noted dryly. "You can't go on TV as much as they do in the same suit."
Carter grinned as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves and brushed a hand across the radiator. His smile abruptly vanished. One of the coils was encrusted with white ash, as fine and brittle as chalk. Two others were partially fused together.
"What kind of fire melts cast iron?" Georgia had meant the question to be rhetorical. She forgot Carter was the only marshal who could recite the flashpoint of almost any substance.
"A fire with a core temp of at least twenty-eight hundred and fifty degrees Fahrenheit," he said without meeting her gaze. Georgia started. Fires that level whole buildings average no more than about 1,500 degrees. This blaze was nearly double that. Mother of God, what are we dealing with here?
Carter swept water off a patch of concrete and shone his flashlight across it. Georgia noticed an irregular black stain, darker at the edges and clear in the center, like a dye that had bled outward.
"That looks like a pour pattern," she told him excitedly. Pour patterns are stains left when an arsonist uses a flammable liquid to start a fire. The liquid — typically gasoline or kerosene — tends to protect the surface beneath when it burns, charring mostly at the edges.
"Something burned here," Carter agreed. "But it's not a pour pattern." To prove his point, he directed his flashlight to a grouping of identical stains on another part of the floor, then to a similar drip down a brick wall burned clean from the intense heat. "Pretty clever torch to get a fire started halfway up a wall, I'd say."
"If it's not a pour pattern, what is it?"
"Probably tar stains from when the roof melted. We'll get it tested, but I'll buy you lunch if it's anything else."
Georgia looked up through what had once been the rafters to the halogen-lit night. Roofing tar. She wondered if she'd ever get good at this job.
A thick Brooklyn accent crackled over Carter's handie-talkie. "Carter, Skeehan, come in."
Carter rolled his eyes and mouthed the words, "Man of Action." Frank Greco's nickname. Georgia grinned. In five years as the chief of department, Greco's most notable accomplishment was changing the shade of blue in the officers' dress uniforms.
Carter depressed his speaker button. "Here, Chief."
"The commissioner needs a COA for the cameras. So does Mr. Michaels. What can you pull together in fifteen minutes?"
"What's a COA?" whispered Georgia. She thought she knew all the department jargon.
"Condensed overview analysis," said Carter, shaking his head. "Greco-speak. Gives the chief something to do at headquarters all day besides play with himself. Rest of us peons call it a briefing."
"Oh. Who's Mr. Michaels?"
"Beats me." He shrugged, then depressed the speaker button. "Chief? This Mr. Michaels? Does he own the building?"
"And the Knickerbocker Plaza Hotel. And half of New York besides. That's Sloane Michaels. You copy, Carter?"
"Ten-four. We'll get right on it." Carter clicked off the speaker button, then added, "You bald-headed, butt-kissing, can't-decide-your-way-out- of-a-paper-bag bureaucrat."
Georgia laughed. "So that's how you ended up with me, huh? Forgot to turn off the speaker first?"
"Something like that."
They split up to look around. Georgia shone her flashlight across a pile of rubbish where one of the building's timber support beams should have been. Hundred-and-twenty-year-old lofts typically boast beams thirty to forty feet long and a foot thick. Even in the worst fires, the wood does little more than become blackened and segmented on the surface — a condition known as alligatoring. Yet here all she could find was a huge mound of charred splinters, none more than six inches in length.
"Randy, this is incredible," Georgia called out, sloshing over. "I think the fire disintegrated the timber supports."
Carter had his back to her. He was staring at something in his hand. She was nearly on top of him before he looked up, startled. He slipped whatever he was looking at into his coat pocket.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
"I'm trying to do my goddamned job here. How 'bout doing yours for a change?"
Georgia froze. Not once in all their time working together had Randy Carter ever lost his temper — not the tour when he took a shot to the jaw from a drug dealer. Not the night some bozo firefighter started peeing on crime-scene evidence. Not even when the other marshals ribbed him about having a rookie girl for a partner.
"Are you all right?" she asked softly.
He tipped back his black fire helmet and ran a hand from the top of his receding hairline to the bottom of his graying mustache. "Yeah." He exhaled. "I'm sorry. I'm just having a bad tour. Look, maybe y'all better handle the briefing."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Fourth Angel"
Copyright © 2001 Suzanne Chazin.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
A sizzler with a story that races along with the speed of an out-of-control blaze...so well crafted....
(Jeffrey Deaver, author of Speaking in Tongues and The Empty Chair)
A fascinating glimpse into the dangerous world of firefighting and arson. Chazin makes you feel the heat.
(Kyle Mills, author of Storming Heaven and Free Fall)
The art and science of fire investigation come alive...personifies the tenacity, skill and resourcefulness of New York Fire Marshals.
Louis F. Garcia, Chief Fire Marshal, FDNY
Suzanne Chazin will do for firefighting what Patricia Cornwell did for forensic science...A white-hot debut from a tremendous new talent.... (Lee Child, author of Running Blind)
It was a cold morning in March 1997 when the 10-75 first came over the teletype at Rescue Three. 10-75: the code for fire.
I'd spent the last nine hours at the FDNY's Rescue Three for a magazine article I was writing about the company. But I'm also the wife of a New York City firefighter, so my interest was as much personal as professional. I'd eaten with the men, slept in their firehouse and gone on emergency calls. And now, I was standing in the truck, trying desperately to keep my balance and stay out of the way as the rig barreled over potholes and the men strapped on their air tanks and checked their equipment.
The fire was in a six-story tenement in Manhattan's Washington Heights. Flames poured out of the upper windows. Smoke billowed so black, you could see it a mile away. One of the firefighters talked me through a line of chiefs and I made my way up six flights of stairs in the adjoining building. It was cold enough outside to see my breath, but even without fifty pounds of gear on my back, I was sweating heavily.
On the roof of the adjoining building, I looked across. Firefighters were leaning out of smashed windows, spitting black bile and gulping for breath. Three firefighters had used a saw to cut a huge hole in the roof. Smoke and flames shot out like a geyser. I stared at the sooty, exhausted men, at the red demon they were battling. My own heart pounded with adrenaline and fear. I was twelve feet from the blaze. So this is what fighting a fire is like, I thought.
My husband Tom has been a firefighter with the New York City Fire Department -- the largest fire department in the world -- for 19 years. He is a deputy chief, and when he is on duty, he's responsible for every fire, explosion and building collapse from midtown Manhattan to Harlem. He is a second-generation firefighter; his father was a member of the FDNY for 30 years, and many of the characters and incidents in The Fourth Angel -- from Jimmy Gallagher to the back room politics of the FDNY -- are drawn in part from his experiences.
I had never met a firefighter before I began dating my husband, but I soon learned a lot about his world. It was dirty and physically draining. There were the near misses that he sometimes didn't tell me about for days. The walls he walked away from just seconds before they collapsed. The fires that started out small then suddenly exploded down a hallway, testing his instinct and reflexes. Tom was in charge of one of the ladder companies at the Happy Land Social Club fire that killed 87 people in March 1990. He walked through a graveyard of young corpses, just as Georgia does at the opening of The Fourth Angel. You don't forget that kind of devastation.
I didn't grow up around firefighters, yet their world was never far from my heart. I was born in Manhattan's Stuyvesant Town, a block from Engine Company 5. My earliest memories were of hearing those sirens in the middle of the night and catching a glimpse from my bedroom window at the red flashing lights as the engine roared by. When I was seven, my parents moved to Tenafly, N.J. A year later, the entire downtown burned. I didn't see the late-night fire, but I saw its aftermath -- a small-town main street reduced to charred timbers and rubble. It was the first time I had witnessed the cataclysmic nature of fire and it frightened me. I had nightmares about our house burning to the ground for a week.
I grew up with a heightened sense of the physical world and its dangers. My father was a hospital engineer who had dealt with steam leaks and boiler explosions on his job. It was his knowledge of hospital boiler rooms that inspired a scene near the end of The Fourth Angel in which Georgia is being chased through a boiler room. And it was my dad who helped me figure out some of the logistics of electrical cabling for the book's climax.
But it was my husband Tom who first alerted me, through an FDNY bulletin, to a series of unprecedented fires across the country started by a kitchen-sink concoction with the thermal power of rocket fuel. From the moment I first read Tom's technical material on HTA, I was haunted by one chilling question: "what if these fires had been set in New York?" Suddenly, I had my story, and our two separate professions-the writer and the firefighter-converged. Or, as my husband put it plainly not so long ago: "I fight them, she writes them."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Enjoyed this book soooo much!! Wish I could give 4.5 stars. A time or 2 there were just too many obstacles. It has people you will love & some you don't. It is great to see a strong heroine w/ lots of heart!!
All three of her books are great. I just wish there were more in the series. With all the police investigation books out there this was a nice change of pace to read about fire investigation.
Slow to start as characters develop, but I could not put it down the final 10 chapters of the book. Good explanations for the novice firefighter reader. A definite book for the firefighter who wants an escape, but also wants a touch of realism. Didn't think I would like fiction, but what is presented could be real.
This is an outstanding book. After the first page, I couldn't put it down. If you like suspense and thriller, this is the book for you. I'm looking forward to when her next book, Flash Over, is released.
Loved the book, it kept me interested all the way till the end. I look forward to her next book featuring Georgia Skeehan.
Ms. Chazin has successfully composed a first rate novel which illustrates a clear understanding of the work performed by NYC Fire Marshals, both in front of and behind the scenes. She has accurately depicted the gritty underside of Fire Investigation in the BIG APPLE -- at times rotten to the core. Initially, I was sleptical, afterall how could this outsider portray New Yorks BRAVEST conducting some of their best investigative work. As a retired New York City Fire Marshal and the participant in over a thousand investigations I was especially cynical of an outsiders ability to tell such a story. I took the opportunity to read 'The Fourth Angel' on a recent lenghty flight and would put the book down reluctantly. Her knowledge of forensics and fire science is quite clear. I was suprised by her appreciation of the legitimate fear of electrocution at a fire scene. Building occupants in New York City, both legal and illegal are notorious for diverting electrical service from unauthorized sources bereft of any over current protection. Shutting power at the main breaker or a disconnect at the service entrance is no sure bet the 'the power is off'. Ms. Chazin's work although fiction is full of true NY characters, very much like it's firehouses and fire investigation base operations. I read 'The Fouth Angel' in two consecutive sittings, I enjoyed it and encourage avid readers, inside and outside the field of fire investigation to read this book. I look forward to the sequel and re-visiting 'The Fourth Angel' in theaters.
The writing is crisp, the story is fiery, and other writers will burn with envy. This thriller is not only entertaining but wonderfully informative about firefighting. Great scary scenes; a persuasive love story; lots of humor, too. Run like blazes to your local bookstore for a copy--or get it via the Internet!
A great read and superb writing. I loved the gutsy, tough, yet warm and caring character Georgia Skeehan. I'd like to see her in future stories. The book has a great plot that takes so many twists and turns you're never quite sure 'who did it' or what's going to happen next. I couldn't put it down and I didn't want it to end. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT!!!
Here's one I'm glad I didn't miss. It's got everything a good thriller should have: picturesque writing, sharp-edged dialogue, a riveting plot that kept me guessing, a gritty, accurate sense of place, and, most of all, a character I truly cared about. A Manhattan loft burns to the ground in only 20 minutes, 50 people are dead, and Georgia Skeehan, an investigator with the New York City Fire Department, finds herself unwittingly thrust into the center of one of the biggest arson investigations in New York City history. She's an underdog in every sense of the word: a rookie, a woman in a macho job where men hold all the power, a single mother, and a former firefighter plagued by self-doubt. Danger lurks around every corner. Are the fires the work of a serial arsonist? And if so, why is her own department undermining her at every turn? Great forensic detail and intelligent twists make the story a page-turner, the supporting cast is rich, and Georgia makes such a dynamic and empathetic heroine, you want to savor every scene.
New York City Fire Marshal Georgia Skeeham examines suspicious looking fires. She became an investigator out of homage to her father, a firefighter who died in the line of duty as did her partner. It is not easy being a female amidst the testosterone dominated department, but she accepts the garbage because she enjoys her work and more important has to support her child. The Spring St. inferno is Georgia¿s worse nightmare coming alive as hundreds of people die in the blaze. Going over the heads of her superiors, Georgia finds a tie between this deadly blaze and several other nasty fires that leads to her concluding the city has a serial arsonist on the loose. Georgia is placed in charge of the task force trying to capture the fiery killer. Wading through corruption in the department and the city, Georgia seeks to stop THE FOURTH ANGEL before he enflames one of Manhattan¿s most beloved buildings, a place where her mother and her son happen to be visiting. This is the first novel in what appears to be a dynamic new series. Suzanne Chazin shows she has researched firefighting as she cleverly incorporates firefighting techniques into her plot so that the reader feels ready to fight a fire. Thus, the novel needs a warning label: ¿leave firefighting to the trained professionals¿. The story line is fast-paced and filled with action and is a chilling thriller that is so frightening because Ms. Chazin makes it seem so real. Harriet Klausner
As soon as I heard about this book I knew I needed to get it. I too am a new female fire investigator fighting her way through a world of men who don't all think I should be there. I was glad to see that what I faced was universal and that it can turn out okay. This fast paced book was true to life with a premise based around fires that can burn a building to the ground in a few minutes. A reality that I hope never to see. Suspence, romance, and mystery are all wrapped into one to create a book that ranks among Patricia Cornwell, Sue Grafton, Kathy Reichs, and Janet Evanavich.