New Flesh on Old Bones

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Fire in the Sky

Leonard Stiles was already on his third drink when a rapping on the front door forced him out of his recliner. When he opened it Chief Grady stared him in the face. An array of expressions flashed across the chief’s face, first angry, then confused, then frightened.

The voices coming from the two-way radio clipped to Grady’s collar chattered official business about the fire. “What the hell, Leonard?”

“What?”

“Don’t give me that. You know what I’m talking about.” The chief’s angry expression disintegrated and he looked discombobulated. “I’m mean really, did you have to burn the place down?” He grabbed the roll of antacids from his pocket and popped one into his mouth.

“Come in, Grady and let’s have a drink.” He held up the tumbler that still contained a little of the amber liquid. “We’ll make a toast.” He managed a sloppy grin.

“Dammit, Leonard, this is serious. When this gets linked this back to you―and it will.” He suddenly looked overwhelmed. “You’re looking at ten years.” A voice on the two-way suddenly broke in and called out Grady’s name. “Stay here,” he told Leonard. The stepped back and answered the call. After a few minutes he returned to where Leonard wavered in the open doorway and said, “I’ve got to go. I’m going to come back and check on you, so don’t do anything else stupid.”

“Like what?”

“Like kill yourself.”

The mayor smiled, it was smug, and he took another sip of Kentucky Bourbon.

Frustrated, Grady spun around and marched off, got in his car and sped away with lights flashing and siren wailing.

The chief spent all night and a better art of the morning watching the Paradise Fire Department fight the blaze. By the time the sun broke over the horizon the fire was no more than smoldering ash. Whatever method Leonard had employed to burn the place down had been a good one. All that was left was the foundation.

The entire time Grady wondered if Leonard had blown his brains out and they were splattered all over the wall. The Chief had had to fight off the grisly image. Even if the mayor were still alive Grady wasn’t looking forward to making the arrest. Everyone in Arthur knew Leonard and the chief was certain it wouldn’t be long before fingers started pointing, and they’d all point to Leonard Stiles.

Suddenly, one of the interior walls, made frail by the blaze, suddenly collapsed. Immediately all eyes were drawn to the eerie sight that the wall once hid.

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