Forged in Fear: Della discovers something of Nigel's ...
FORGED IN FEAR
I was at the newspaper when the call came in. Two-alarm fire. I said a little prayer for the safety of our volunteer fire department. These well-trained men and women were a lifeline for folks in rural communities like Laurel Falls, putting their lives at risk to save our homes and lives.
Nadine was throwing her notebook and recorder into her purse when she looked over at me asked if I could drive her to the fire; she'd left her car to be worked on at Billy Davis’s garage. Then she quickly added an apology for inconveniencing me.
You’ve got to be kidding me, I wanted to say, but her serious look made me hold back. I drove like a demon.
When we got past Hanging Dog, well into Beaverdam, I could see the smoke rising in a cove to our right. I parked in a meadow just below the circle of fire trucks and rescue vehicles; we grabbed our notebooks and ran toward them. At the top of the hill, we saw an old shack mostly burned out, smoke and stink filling the air. The shack was so remote, they hadn’t bothered to cordon off the scene, so Nadine and I could walk right up to it.
Nadine went off to do her reporterly thing, and I nosed around. I could see inside the shack where some charred ropes dangled from what remained of a chair. Not much else inside except three or four pieces of rusted-out—and now burned-out—farm equipment.
After a while, the smell was getting to me, so I motioned to Nadine that I'd be in the car. As I turned away, though, something apricot-colored caught my eye just outside the smoldering shack. I’m certain my heart stopped beating for a few seconds. I stepped closer and clearly identified two distinct buttons. That and the general tailoring told me it had once been a waistcoat.
Next thing I knew, I heard a loud, mournful sob. It wasn't until Nadine asked if I was okay that I realized it had come from somewhere deep inside me. I knew that waistcoat as well as I knew the man who'd worn it the last time I'd seen him. The only thing that gave me hope was it looked as though it might have been used to beat out the fire, at least enough to get out of the burning building.
Nadine put her arm around me when I asked if the firefighters had found any bodies in the shack. "No, honey, they didn't," she said in a comforting way, even though she had no idea why I was asking. "Just a bunch of abandoned junk like they do around here. Can't throw anything away in case it might be needed again."
But that didn’t make me feel any better. Nigel was in trouble—or worse—and I didn’t know how to help.
Look for Chapter Twelve, the final chapter, in a couple of weeks.