BENEATH THE FLAMES

Gregory Lee Renz

Book Cover

GENRE

ACTION DRAMA FAMILY SUSPENSE/THRILLER ROMANCE

    Core Theme

    SYSTEMIC RACISM.

    TIME PERIOD

    2000s

    COMPARABLE TITLES

    GREEN BOOK, THE BLIND SIDE, FREEDOM WRITERS.

    CHARACTER LIST

    MITCH GARNER: 20S. RURAL FARMER, TURNED URBAN FIREFIGHTER.

    JENNIE MCADAMS: 20S. MITCH'S HIGH SCHOOL SWEETHEART. NURSE.

    JAMAL: 20S. MITCH'S FIRST BLACK FRIEND, AND COLLEAGUE.

    MISS BERNIE: 50S-60S. JAMAL'S MOTHER. MOTHER FIGURE TO MITCH.

    JASMINE: TEENS. INNER-CITY CHILD, AT RISK OF GETTING INVOLVED WITH THE WRONG CROWD.

    ALEXUS (LEXI): PRE-TEENS. JASMINE'S YOUNGER SISTER.

    Logline

    Can a brash adolescent inner-city girl and a guilt-ridden firefighter overcome their racial biases and contempt for each other and join forces in the fight for their lives against a vicious gang leader?

    Target Audiences

    Age: 18-34,35-54,55+

    Target Gender: Universal

    Setting

    Rural Wisconsin and inner-city Milwaukee

    Based on a True Story

    No

    Publishing Details

    Status: Yes: with a Publisher

    Publisher: Three Towers Press (Author retained all dramatic rights)

    Year Published: 2019

    Starting Description

    A raging fire in a neighboring farmhouse has young farmer and volunteer firefighter Mitch Garner blaming himself for the horrific death of five-year-old Maggie. His only hope for redemption is to leave the quiet farm and prove himself as an urban firefighter in the heart of the violent inner city.

    Ending Description

    Mitch tracks down the leader of the One-Niner gang who has abducted Jasmine, his twelve-year-old friend. A violent fight ensues with Mitch being shot and stabbed and the gang leader killed. Mitch survives and returns to the farm at peace, marrying his high school love.

    Group Specific

    Information not completed

    Hard Copy Available

    Yes

    ISBN

    978-1595986887

    Mature Audience Themes

    Extreme Violence,Nudity,Sexual Abuse,Substance Abuse, Language/Profanity

    Plot - Other Elements

    Coming of Age,Meaningful Message,Twist

    Plot - Premise

    Overcoming Monster/Villain,Internal Journey/Rebirth,Tragedy,Voyage and Return

    Main Character Details

    Name: Mitch Garner

    Age: Twenty-two

    Gender: Male

    Role: Protagonist

    Key Traits: Aggressive,Complex,Empathetic,Desperate,Engaging,Faithful,Heartthrob,Heroic,Masculine,Modest,Sexy,Selfless,Skillful,Strong Moral Code,Naive

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Jasmine Richardson

    Age: Twelve

    Gender: Female

    Role: Skeptic

    Key Traits: Badass,Aggressive,Complex,Confident,Decisive,Engaging,Underdog,Blunt,Outspoken,Sarcastic,Unapologetic,Aspiring,Empathetic,Faithful

    Additional Character Details

    Name: DeAndre

    Age: Mid-twenties

    Gender: Male

    Role: antagonist

    Key Traits: Badass,Aggressive,Crazy,Criminal,Decisive,Greedy,Leader,Villainous,Narcisstic,Uneducated,Manipulative,Unapologetic

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Miss Bernie

    Age: Mid-fifties

    Gender: Female

    Role: mentor

    Key Traits: Charming,Complex,Confident,Empathetic,Engaging,Faithful,Gracious,Honorable,Modest,Religious,Blunt,Selfless,Outspoken,Visionary,Strong Moral Code

    Development Pitch

    BENEATH THE FLAMES is R-rated Chicago Fire meets It’s a Wonderful Life. A fire in a neighboring farmhouse has young farmer and volunteer firefighter Mitch Garner blaming himself for the horrific death of five-year-old Maggie. His only hope for redemption is to leave the farm and Jennie, the girl he’s loved since high school, and journey to the violent inner city of Milwaukee to prove himself as an urban firefighter. The challenges he faces from the relentless hazing by senior firefighters, the anguish of dealing with the atrocities of gang-violence, and terrifying fire fights has him on the verge of quitting within weeks. His salvation comes in the form of a brash adolescent girl, twelve-year-old Jasmine Richardson, who he’s assigned to mentor. They are worlds apart culturally, but Mitch and Jasmine eventually overcome their racial biases and contempt of each other. He discovers helping Jasmine and other inner city children overcome the crushing poverty and violence of the hood is what brings him the inner peace he was searching for; not proving his bravery as a firefighter. Both their futures rest on this farm boy risking his life to back down the leader of the One-Niner street gang who’s intent on prostituting her. The action, plot twists, character arcs, and multiple story layers which include an abusive father, a mother’s suicide, a love triangle, coming of age, gang violence and murder, and the search for inner peace would adapt beautifully to a riveting series.

    Genre

    ACTION, SUSPENSE, ROMANCE, DRAMA

    Brief

    Soon after 9/11, a rural, midwestern farmer leaves his hometown to join the Milwaukee Fire Department. He struggles to gain his footing in the mostly urban community, but eventually bonds with two inner-city children that change the course of his life forever.

    Overall Rating

    GOOD

    Point of View

    THIRD PERSON

    Narrative Elements

    Authors Writing Style: GOOD

    Characterization: GOOD

    Commerciality: GOOD

    Franchise Potential: FAIR

    Pace: GOOD

    Premise: GOOD

    Structure: GOOD

    Theme: FAIR

    Accuracy of Book Profile

    The Log Line feels like it's missing a sentence or two of context. It's possible that we need a brief introduction to Mitch and the post 9/11 world to ground the reader in the setting, before attempting to hook them with the ultimate question. Additionally, the Short Summary section feels like it glosses over the heart of the story a bit. Mitch's final battle with DeAndre doesn't feel as important as his relationship with the urban community, and the eventual unification of his farm life and city life. Perhaps a few more sentences are necessary to bridge the gap between beginning and end. Otherwise, great job with this!

    Draw of Story

    We're dropped into the action right away, which is great. After a few peaceful moments on the farm, Mitch is called to a raging fire and faces his first major hurdle: save young Maggie. We root for him to succeed, and share in his devastation when he doesn't. It is a heart wrenching moment, and we sympathize with him immediately. Soon after, we watch as he becomes self-destructive, and we're left waiting for him to find a way to recover. Using 9/11 as a catalyst was smart, because makes his decision to join the Milwaukee Fire Department feel both natural and relatable. It also shows us Mitch's strength of character, which makes us want to embark on this journey with him, and root for him at every turn.

    Possible Drawbacks

    A white writer writing Black characters is a tough challenge, especially in today's political climate. It's difficult to do it right, and extremely easy to do it wrong. The use of ebonics throughout the book does feel it goes a bit too far. Though it may be accurate and there is certainly a level of lived experience and obvious compassion from the writer, it's possible that non-white audiences could find it slightly offensive. If adapted, it could be beneficial to employ a sensitivity reader or a Black screenwriter in order to ensure the authenticity and well-roundedness of the Black characters, and their dialogue. In the meantime, there are some great resources out there that may be worth taking a look at. One in particular is called 'Writing the Other' by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. It could help shed some additional light during the next phase of this project.

    Use of Special Effects

    THE STORY DOES NOT RELY ON SPECIAL EFFECTS

    Primary Hook of Story

    Mitch's reasoning for joining the Milwaukee Fire Department is a hook in its own right. This was a fairly common occurrence post 9/11, so it works great as a catalyst here. Seeing him struggle in an urban community is a great hook as well. From his actions at the barn fire, we know that he's a good person with good intentions, whose eyes are being opened to a world he never knew existed. It's interesting to watch him unlearn the racism instilled in him by his father and his sheltered farm life, and to see him want to be accepted by his new community. It makes us sympathize with him, root for him, and quite possibly it could inspire others to want to do more good.

    Fanbase Potential

    A story like this might appeal to fans of action films, those who enjoy complex romances, and anyone who has ever struggled with wanting more out of life. The protagonist is a likable hero, who is easy to root for and quite sympathetic on the page. In that sense, there is a large potential market here. But, there is some heavy subject matter throughout, which makes an R rating feel appropriate and diminishes the possibility for Young Adult crossover appeal. Still, there is potential that this could be beloved by many, both nationally and internationally.

    Awards Potential

    Action-packed stories like this one are sometimes overlooked by major above the line Awards. But the heavy subject matter and emotional range required by some of the characters could garner some attention. Mitch in particular goes through a complex series of emotions as the story unravels, which could be handled extremely well by a talented actor. In terms of supporting cast, Miss Bernie's relationship with Sid requires some heavy emotional labor as well. There is below the line potential, too. Things like cinematography, score and perhaps costuming could be plausible.

    Envisioned Budget

    MEDIUM BUDGET

    Similar Films/TV Series

    GREEN BOOK, THE BLIND SIDE, FREEDOM WRITERS.

    What’s New About the Story

    At its core, this story is essentially a deep dive into Mitch's character development, spanning from his sheltered farm life to his struggle to belong in the more urban Milwaukee community. We see growth through his lens, which allows us experience the highs and lows alongside him while understanding his motivations, actions and behaviors clearly. But to make it more unique could mean seeing him struggle a bit more on the page. More often than not, Mitch is heralded as a hero, especially by the Black community. He wins over Miss Bernie, Jasmine and even a 1-9er, after he discovers that Mitch saved his daughter's school. It could be interesting if Mitch was a little bit less of a savior, and struggled more to overcome his own bias and views on race.

    Lead Characters

    Mitch is a likable hero, which makes us want to root for him and makes him easy to sympathize with. His intentions are pure, and we can tell from the beginning that he's a genuinely good person. This makes him an interesting person to follow, because he is continually put into situations that test him. Miss Bernie radiates warmth, and it makes us want to know her better, to grieve with her and to succeed with her. The way she deals with the racist Sid is nothing short of admirable, and it gives us an interesting glimpse into what it means to be a Black woman in a rural, racist part of the country. More generally, the characters each have a distinct identity and role to play, which elevates them a bit. For instance, Jasmine's motivation is different than Lexi's, which is different from Jamal's, which is different from Sid's. It creates a diverse cast of characters that interplay nicely with each other on the page.

    Uniqueness of Story

    BENEATH THE FLAMES feels like it has the potential to be a rare gem, but it needs a bit more work to get there. Putting in the legwork to round out the urban community, reeling in some of the ebonics and giving Mitch a stronger emotional struggle when it comes to unlearning his father's racism and bias could all be great places to start. If adapted, it could also be beneficial to consult a non-white perspective to really make that aspect of the story feel authentic, while eliminating any sort of potential stereotyping or white savior tropes. It's a unique challenge, but one that could really be worth it.

    Possible Formats

    Film: Studio, Streaming TV Series: Limited Run / Mini-Series

    Analyst Recommendation

    CONSIDER

    Justification

    There's enough here to consider the source material for adaptation, but it's worth noting that it may need an added, non-white perspective in order to maximize that potential. Mitch, as a protagonist, is quite likable and his eventual acceptance into Milwaukee's urban community could be endearing. But humanizing him a bit, and having him struggle to undo his father's racism could make him feel more authentic and raw overall. And ensuring the same authenticity within the urban community, by working to avoid stereotypes and potentially offensive dialogue, could help to make the story feel more well-rounded and complete overall. The concept itself is great, and there is a lot to like about the project, but it feels like it needs a bit more elbow grease to take it to the next level. Best of luck!

    Brief

    Soon after 9/11, a rural, midwestern farmer leaves his hometown to join the Milwaukee Fire Department. He struggles to gain his footing in the mostly urban community, but eventually bonds with two inner-city children that change the course of his life forever.

    What We Liked

    BENEATH THE FLAMES has a likable, well intentioned hero who goes from a sheltered, rural farmer to an urban Milwaukee firefighter. He is easy to root for, easy to sympathize with and experiencing his life through his lens is quite compelling. On his journey, he must learn to overcome the racism and bias instilled in him by his father and acclimate himself with several Black colleagues who become his closest friends. After one of them dies as a result of local gang violence, our hero is faced with a new mission and steps in as a surrogate son, teacher and eventual guardian to two inner-city girls that change his perspective, and his life.

    Film: BENEATH THE FLAMES has firm starting and end points, which makes it ripe for the feature format. It follows a singular hero as he works to overcome racial bias and acclimate himself to an urban community while aligning himself with close Black friends and parental figures. Along the way he faces gang violence and the stresses of being a rookie firefighter, until he meets two inner-city children that change his life and his perspective.

    TV: Because the story has such definitive starting and end points, the project may be best suited for a miniseries format, in lieu of the typical television format. That said, there is a lot of source material to mine from. The story explores diversity, systemic racism, heroism and complex family dynamics all while following the protagonist as he goes from rural farmer to urban firefighter. In that way, it'd be a great candidate for television. The journey is a long, but compelling one and it feels like there is a lot of potential within these pages.

    Key points:
    Socially relevant.
    Diverse cast.
    High stakes.
    Great pacing.
    Complex characters.

    Synopsis

    MITCH GARNER (20s) is working on his family’s farm when he gets paged about a nearby fire. He is the first volunteer firefighter on the scene at the Hillenbrand’s farmhouse and learns that MAGGIE (5) is trapped in her bedroom. Backup arrives and Mitch and his partner, JIM, hurry to get her to safety. They spend the next several hours fighting off the fire and emerge to learn that Maggie is dead. Mitch struggles with his inability to save Maggie. His father, SID, comes to check on him, but Mitch brushes him off. He seeks solace in a treehouse that he built with his mother and pulls down a copy of her favorite book. After a quiet dinner with Sid and Mitch’s brother, CHRIS, Jim arrives to tell Mitch that the fire chief is bringing in a psychologist.

    Mitch’s high school sweetheart, JENNIE MCADAMS, arrives. She tries to console him, but he pushes her away. The department sends over DR. JEFF MALLORY to talk to Mitch. Dr. Mallory explains PTSD to Mitch. Mitch falls asleep while driving a piece of machinery and it tumbles into a ravine. He gets out just before it erupts into flames. Sid calls the fire department and for hours, they struggle to contain the spreading fire. Eventually, they must give up and let the entire farmstead burn. Sid chides Mitch for burning the farm. Mitch plans to commit suicide and make it look like an accident, in hopes that his life insurance policy will help pay for the damages. Just before he sets out to take his life, news of 9/11 appears on the television. Mitch watches and decides to join the Milwaukee Fire Department.

    Mitch tells his family the news, and his father kicks him out for being ungrateful. On his first day of training, he meets LIETUTENANT HAGER and CAPTAIN STOCKLEY. Mitch notices the segregation between whites and Blacks. In the locker room, a Black recruit, LAMONT, questions him about his John Deere tattoo. Mitch prepares to fight him, but JAMAL reminds his fellow recruit about the consequences of violence. The recruits are tasked with climbing a five-story training tower. Lamont panics one floor away from the top, and Mitch steps in to assist him. Jamal asks Mitch why he stepped in to help Lamont. Satisfied when Mitch reminds him that the bosses told them to help each other, he offers to rent Mitch an apartment. Mitch turns him down.

    The recruits are put in a room full to smoke to see how they handle it. Mitch is seconds away from dropping out when Jamal stops him. Jamal notices that Mitch is being bitten by bedbugs and urges him to rent his mother’s apartment. Mitch agrees to look, but upon arrival his truck is ransacked by several children. Still, he agrees to try it for a month and see how it goes. After their first week of training, Jamal and Mitch go out for beers. Jamal reveals that he must retake his written exams on Monday or risk being kicked out of the program. Mitch offers to spend the weekend in Milwaukee tutoring, much to Jennie’s dismay. As the weeks go by, Mitch never makes it back to see Jennie.

    Mitch attends graduation alone. After the ceremony, he is surprised to discover that Chris, Jim, and Jennie arrived late and couldn’t fit into the auditorium. Jennie chides Mitch for never coming back to visit her. She breaks things off.

    Mitch arrives for his first twenty-four-hour shift at Engine 15. He meets his new partners, NICOLE and fellow newbie, DEWAYNE. He also meets RALPH, who takes an immediate dislike to him. An alarm blares and they respond to a report of an unconscious woman. Inside the residence of DEANDRE, a member of the 19 gang, an elderly woman is being eaten alive by maggots. Mitch vomits at the sight.

    Mitch is tasked with tutoring several inner-city children in a program that the firehouse sponsors. The kids arrive, chaperoned by JASMINE. Mitch identifies her as the girl who ransacked his truck. They argue and Jasmine reveals that his police report got her beaten by her mother’s boyfriend.

    Mitch has dinner with Jamal and his mother and wonders aloud how to help Jasmine and the others. Jamal’s mother pressures Mitch to find a way to help the inner-city kids. He sees Jasmine and her sister, LEXI, at their run-down house across the street from the station. When he approaches, Jasmine tells him that their mother has been forced to pick up extra shifts at the laundromat to pay for the truck incident. Mitch offers to pay, if only Jasmine and the others will come back to the firehouse. When she tells him that she’ll think about it, Mitch follows their mother, BERNITA, home from her job and hands her a check. Meanwhile, chemistry between Mitch and Nicole blossom.

    Mitch and his partners get called to a roaring fire. Engine 15’s archenemy, Engine 30 appears and demands that Mitch hand over his water line. Mitch complies, and heads into the burning building with KENNY. He hears a mysterious sound and runs into the burning room to rescue a cat. Meanwhile, Kenny throws his back out trying to rescue the oversized owner of the bar. The man is pronounced dead at the scene, and Mitch catches flack for leaving Kenny to fend for himself.

    Mitch returns to his family’s farm and finds it in financial trouble. He offers to quit the fire department and return to work, but his father kicks him out. He finds Jennie at her bartending job and spends the night with her. The next morning, he asks her to marry him. But she tells him that he must finish what he started in Milwaukee.

    Mitch returns to Milwaukee to discover that Jamal has been shot dead in the street. Lamont tells Mitch to leave it alone, but Mitch vows to bring justice to the killer. Jamal’s mother and Mitch bond in their grief. Outside of the firehouse, DeAndre drives by and flashes Mitch the 19’s gang sign.

    The entire Milwaukee Fire Department turns out for Jamal’s funeral. Jamal’s mother rides in the fire truck with Mitch and refuses to start the church service until Mitch is seated next to her. The firefighters bond together and repair Jamal’s mother house. When one of Engine 15’s rigs dies, Mitch uses his farm machinery knowledge to fix it. And when the firemen get called to help birth a baby, Mitch uses his knowledge of birthing calves to pinch the umbilical cord and save the baby. Despite his new reputation with Engine 15, Ralph still despises Mitch.

    Lexi and Jasmine’s house deteriorates further, and Mitch takes it upon himself to fix the roof and redo the wiring. The kids return to the firehouse and Jasmine helps Mitch keep them in line. Kyle begins seizing and we learn that he’s a crack baby. Jasmine assures Mitch that he’ll be fine, and Mitch allows Kyle to sleep it off. When he awakens, Mitch takes the kids to the fire rig. Kyle pulls the airhorn, getting Mitch in a jam with one of his partners, CRUSHER.

    Kenny and Crusher invite Mitch to drinks, to get him to bond with Ralph. But they argue again, and Ralphs tries to choke Mitch. Ralph storms out of the bar and we learn that his son has been trying to get hired by MFD for years, with no success. Later in the evening, Kenny and Crusher warn Mitch about the ignorant LIETUENANT LAUBNER. If he ever gives an order, Mitch and the rest of Engine 15 are to do the exact opposite. They also reveal that Nicole is a lesbian.

    Tension riddles the firehouse, as Ralph and Mitch try to avoid each other. Mitch buys the kids coloring books that better represent them and Donald Driver jerseys. They begin to call themselves the 80’s. He returns home to Jamal’s mother, and finds her passed out in her chair. He tells her about the children and learns that Jamal’s mother and Jasmine’s mother used to be church friends. But after Jasmine and Lexi’s older sister died and their father took off, Bernita retreated.

    Nicole comes on to Mitch in the firehouse weight room. They are interrupted when an alarm rings and they are called to a basement fire. Nicole leads Mitch to the fire source and helps him to extinguish it. She gives Mitch the credit. Lamont appears at the rig and tells Mitch that his sister, CHIRELLE, got tangled up with DeAndre and Jamal was killed trying to protect her.

    Mitch oils up his Browning rifle, before heading out for his first date with Nicole. She tells him that she faked being gay to stop the others from hitting on her. They spend the night together, but Mitch can’t help but think of Jamal. He returns home to get his rifle and hides outside DeAndre’s crack house. When his car pulls in, Mitch shoots the windows out. Lamont warns Mitch about retaliation but is soon killed by DeAndre.

    The police visit Mitch and Mitch gives them enough evidence to arrest DeAndre for Jamal and Lamont’s murders. But soon enough, DeAndre is on the run. Mitch continues tutoring the 80s and Jasmine begins to excel in school. After a bad seizure, Kyle ends up in a nursing home. On Thanksgiving, Mitch dines with Jamal’s mother. They stew in their grief, and Mitch leaves to have a drink with Nicole. She tells him that she loves him and asks him to move in with her. He doesn’t say it back.

    The 80s arrive and Mitch notices a bruise on Jasmine’s neck. She alludes to being sexually assaulted by my mother’s boyfriend, MAURICE. Mitch is surprised to hear that DeAndre was protecting Jasmine’s family from Maurice’s abuse. Mitch reports Maurice to the police, but Jasmine’s mother covers for him.

    Late one evening, Alexus bangs on the firehouse door. Mitch learns that her house is on fire and Jasmine is stuck inside. He rushes into the house alone to rescue her. He finds her in an upstairs bedroom and tries to get her to safety. The smoke gets to him, and he passes out. He wakes up in the back of an ambulance to learn that Jasmine is barely alive.

    Mitch wakes up in the hospital, with Nicole standing over him. He learns that Jasmine may have brain damage from smoke inhalation. Chris and Jennie arrive to check on him. Mitch is thrilled to see Jennie, but she assumes he’s fallen for Nicole. She leaves, sobbing, and Nicole notices that Mitch still has feelings for her. Chris tells Mitch that they need $20,000 to save the family farm, and Mitch offers to sell his truck. Kenny and Ralph arrive to reveal that Bernita stabbed Maurice with Kenny’s kitchen knife. Ralph begins to respect Mitch.

    Mitch recovers and begins spending time at Jasmine’s bedside. When she finally wakes up, he hurries to the nurse’s station where he is confronted by 19’s. He threatens them and demand they leave, eerily calm. The 19’s tell him that the violence isn’t over. A social worker is assigned to find Jasmine and Lexi foster care, and Mitch offers up Jamal’s mother.

    Mitch continues visiting Jasmine until he is allowed to take her home. Mitch trades his handywork at an inner-city school for a used van. He meets BROTHER WILLIAMS, an old friend of Jamal’s mother and learns that the school will be shut down if they cannot pay for proper repairs. MFD chips in to help, and the school remains open.

    Jasmine refuses to return to her regular school, afraid that she’ll be bullied for her scars. Mitch consults Brother Williams, who provides Jasmine with a special African scarf to wear around her neck. He convinces Jasmine to attend his school and tutor some other girls.

    Mitch walks home after a long day at the school, worried about Jasmine. She has refused to participate in counseling and remains depressed. He is cornered by the 19’s, one of which identifies himself as one of his students’ fathers. He thanks Mitch for the work he’s done and promises not to bother him anymore. Still, he offers a word of warning: pray that DeAndre never returns.

    LIEUTENANT LAUBNER takes over Engine 15 and puts Mitch on probation for his actions in saving Jasmine. Ralph and Mitch begin to bond, and Ralph teaches him to be a better firefighter. Mitch is on duty with Nicole and DeWayne when they’re called to a blaze. Laubner enters the building with him but leaves his radio behind. The group becomes trapped, and Mitch must fight his way through the fire, back outside. With the help of other engines, Mitch can rescue his crew. Laubner gets escorted from the scene, and Nicole is asked to take his job for the day. Nicole’s parents meet them back at the firehouse and thank Mitch for saving their daughter.

    Neither Mitch nor Nicole can sleep after the incident. Mitch tells her that he still loves Jennie, and they decide to only be friends. Lauber is fired, and Mitch is heralded a hero. But soon, he receives a call from his brother and learns that his father had a stroke. He travels to the hospital, but his father kicks him out. He learns that the farm needs $40,000 to survive and vows to find a way to save it. He visits Jennie and sees a pair of men’s slacks, and it leaves him breathless.

    Mitch decides to take a leave of absence from the department and take out a loan to help save the farm. He is only given $10,000 but he tries his best to make it work. As he’s preparing to leave Milwaukee, he learns that Jasmine has been slitting her wrists. Jamal’s mother and Brother Williams vow to look after her while Mitch is away.

    Sid treats Mitch miserably as he tries to help around the farm. Jennie tends to him as needed, and Mitch continually tries to tell her he loves her, but Jennie always pulls away before he can. Sid gets consistently worse, and Jennie makes an appointment for him to see Dr. Mallory.

    Mitch learns that Jasmine overdosed on pills and hurries to see her in Milwaukee. He tells Jasmine the truth about Maggie, and how he once wanted to commit suicide because of it. Jasmine hears him, and he arranges for Jamal’s mother, Jasmine and Lexi to return to the farm with him. Sid’s racism causes him to lash out, and Jamal’s mother urges Mitch not to intervene. She begins cooking for the family, and minding Sid whether he likes it or not. Meanwhile, Mitch is denied loans from several different banks.

    The sheriff arrives to inform Mitch about the impending auction of the farm. Sid tries to boot Jamal’s mother from the house, and she yells at him. Then, she chides Mitch for not telling her about the back payments. Mitch drives her back to Milwaukee, to get her house in order. He visits the fire station and learns that his crew has been covering his shifts, so he keeps getting paid. He returns to Jamal’s mother, and she presents him with a check from Jamal’s life insurance policy.

    Sid is less than enthused to have Jamal’s mother as his new partner, but the girls are thrilled to be staying. Together, they begin to work the farm as Sid recovers. One afternoon, Jasmine finds Mitch in a panic to tell him that Lexi fell in the pond. Mitch hurries to save her but cannot locate her. His dog, Billy, begins to bark and they discover that he pulled her out of the water. J

    All but Sid votes that Billy should be able to eat with the family, after his heroic actions. Jasmine, fed up with Sid’s antics, gives him a fierce tongue lashing. Jennie offers to take Jasmine shopping for bras and to get the girls swimsuits so they can learn how to swim. Jennie and Mitch work with the girls for hours. When they’re finished, Mitch sends them to prepare supper with Jamal’s mother. He and Jennie stay behind, and soon enough they kiss. Mitch tries to escalate things, but Jennie pulls away to hurry home to her boyfriend.

    Brother Williams and Jamal’s mother make plans for the school kids to assist at the farm. As the kids look around the farm, Brother Williams hands Mitch Kyle’s jersey and lets him know that he’s passed. That evening, Brother Williams hands Mitch a check, filled with donations to the farm that Kyle and the other children helped raise. PEACHES, the daughter of one of the 19’s, hands Mitch a note from her father. He learns that DeAndre has returned.

    The children rebuild Mitch’s treehouse, and he arranges for them all to have riding lessons. Dr. Mallory arrives with his colleagues, so they can witness Jasmine’s drastic improvement. Jennie arrives with her boyfriend, and Mitch learns that they’re engaged. She confronts him in the barn, and they argue. The children leave, and Mitch goes back up to the treehouse. One whole wall has messages from each of the children, including Jasmine. He finally begins to realize that there was no way he could’ve prevented Maggie from dying.

    Billy becomes ill, and Jasmine refuses to leave his side. She takes care of him, and he makes a miraculous recovery. Lexi begins teaching Sid how to read and write again, and he and Jamal’s mother banter like siblings.

    Mitch decides that it’s time to talk about his mother. Mitch learns that Sid is not his real father but agreed to raise Mitch as his own after his mother’s boyfriend ran off. Sid apologizes for the way he treated Mitch.

    Dr. Mallory arrives with a proposition. The hospital wants to build an animal therapy facility on the farm. The catch is that Mitch would need to stay. Mitch doesn’t believe that he can leave Milwaukee and asks Jamal’s mother if she and the girls would stay. Jamal’s mother tells him that Milwaukee is her home, but that he should stay and start a family of his own. She tells him that Jennie loves him, despite her engagement, and encourages him to pursue her.

    Mitch decides to return to the farm and plans to finally tell Jennie how he feels. But just as he’s about to get the words out, he receives a call from Jamal’s mother and learns that Jasmine is missing. Mitch and Jennie rush off to Milwaukee to find her.

    In Milwaukee, Mitch alerts the police precincts and the fire departments, but to no avail. At Engine 15, Nicole pulls Jennie aside and tells her the real reason for their breakup. Mitch tries to drop Jennie off before seeking out DeAndre, but Jennie insists on going with him. They arrive at the crack house, and Mitch finds a woman wearing Jasmine’s necklace. DeAndre appears and chaos ensues. Jennie distracts DeAndre long enough for Mitch to break his arm, but not before DeAndre is able to shoot Mitch in the side. Ultimately, Mitch gives DeAndre a fatal head injury, as the rest of the 19s disappear into the woods. Engine 15 arrives as Mitch lay dying. Jennie urges him to hold on longer, but Mitch is losing his grip on the world.

    Years later, the church is crowded for the baptism of Mitch and Jennie’s baby girl, Jasmine. Lexi gives the baby Jasmine’s necklace. On this way out of the church, he gets a page for a barn fire. Just like that, Mitch Garner is back to work.

    About The Author

    Captain Gregory Renz was inducted into the Fire and Police Hall of Fame for the dramatic rescue of two boys from their burning basement bedroom. His twenty-eight-year career as an urban firefighter fueled his searing debut novel BENEATH THE FLAMES which was awarded the Gold Medal in the Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards along with a Best Book Award by the American Book Fest Awards, a Midwest Book Award, and a Public Safety Writers Association Award. His short work has been featured in The Prairie Review.