Slippery Slope

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Slush: Melting, wet snow.
By the time the fire trucks arrived, Kristy and Brent had walked around the little house several times, banging on the doors and windows to make sure no one was home. Although they were fairly confident about that, Derrick had not answered his phone despite them calling him several times, nor had Jessica’s parents.
“It just proves how pissed they are,” Kristy commented to Brent. Brent shook his head, “No, I don’t buy that. I have a really bad feeling. If they saw it was us calling, they would answer - something’s up.”

“Something more than this?” Kristy said, waving her arm at the house where flames now shot through the roof, even as the fire department trained their hoses strategically to the area. “I don’t know what could be worse than this, because now they’re homeless!”

“Homeless!” She repeated desperately and sat down on the curb to continue to watch the firefighter’s efforts. Brent sat down next to her and slung his arm around her. “There’s nothing else we can do,” he said.

Suddenly, in front of them a pair of legs appeared. Scuffed, worn, plain toe black oxfords, stained with salt, covered by dark, cuffed dockers. They both looked up the legs, over the long cut black wool pea coat, to their origin. It was Detective Sam Kosner. Kristy and Brent looked at each other and then back down.

“Why am I not surprised to see the two of you here?” Sam remarked, twirling a lollipop in his mouth.

Kristy shot to her feet, “We had nothing to do with this!”

Sam regarded her and slowly nodded his head, looked down at Brent and then back at her again, “And yet, here you both are.”

Kristy flapped her arms against her side and turned her face to the sky. Brent, too, stood up, but slowly.

“I know how this might look, Detective, but Kristy’s right, we had nothing to do with this.”

Again, Sam simply nodded. The three stood silently, looking at each other in turns and back to the house, where the fire was now coming under control from the soaking spray of water. It was lucky that the weather was much milder than usual. The hydrants were clear of snow and there was no danger of the hoses freezing. Despite the quick response, however, the fire had spread rapidly, damaging the first and second floors of the house. It would be hard to say for sure how bad it was or what had caused it till the fire inspector got inside but it looked like no one would be living there for a while. Sam suspected this was no accident and wondered about the black cloud that seemed to be following Derrick Dalton.

“May I ask what you two were doing here?”

Brent and Kristy exchanged a look that was not lost on the detective. These two wore their hearts on their sleeves and they were worried at being in trouble again. But the interrogations had revealed to him that they were probably incapable of the devious thing of which they were accused. Kristy, especially, seemed genuinely hurt by the claims, while Brent was too laid back to be a part of something that would require meticulous planning. Still, their timing was incredibly poor - once again they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. They definitely sensed it, too.

“It’s my fault,” Kristy stammered. “I was so upset that Derrick could think that I, that we, could do anything to hurt his wife and child, I insisted to Brent that we try to talk to him - face to face. It’s not the most sensible idea I’ve ever had, I know. But I swear, we were just sitting in front of the house. We had driven by a couple of times and then Brent saw the smoke.”

“That your car?” Sam asked Brent although he already knew the answer. Brent nodded. Sam smiled, “Not the most practical choice for this neck of the woods,” he remarked.

Brent looked him up and down. “Nice oxfords,” he replied.

Sam looked down at his thin-soled shoes, “Yeah, these? I’ve had them since I worked in Boston. Men don't go through shoes the way women do. First time it’s been warm enough to wear them. Have to admit my feet are a bit damp. But I’m not ready to part with them. You know what I mean?”

Brent nodded again and the three fell silent. All around them, however, the neighborhood was abuzz.

People had emerged from their homes from as far as several blocks away and stood in little clusters, laughing and chatting as if they were at some impromptu outdoor cocktail party. Already bored by the novelty of the fire, people seemed to be catching up with each other. Children tossed slushy snowballs and ran in circles around their parents.

Amidst this this scene Derrick’s car appeared, slowly weaving between the emergency vehicles. He pulled up right in front of them but was staring at his house, his mouth and eyes wide. There was an immediate hush as everyone watched Derrick jump from his car and put his hands to his head, disbelieving what he was seeing. He started forward across the street and then reeled back as he seemed to catch Kristy and Brent from the corner of his eye.

“What the hell?” he yelled at them, advancing and waving his arms.

Sam put his hands up and stepped in front of him, blocking his path. “Derrick, you need to back off.”

“The hell I will. Is this why the two of you kept calling me?” He turned to Sam.

“I got several several phone calls from both of them tonight.”

Sam looked at him. “Why didn’t you answer?”

“Are you serious? After everything that’s been going on, you think I want to speak with either one of them?” Derrick stabbed his finger toward them over Sam’s shoulder. Sam gently pushed him back.

“Let’s not get hot, now, son,” Sam replied. “They had absolutely nothing to do with this.”

Derrick stared then shook his head as if he had been doused with cold water. He stalked off across the street toward the firefighters.

Sam watched the man go and turned back to Kristy and Brent, noting their mutually incredulous look. That Sam believed them had obviously made an impact.

“Thanks, man,” Brent said to Sam. “Not to contradict you, but how do you know we had nothing to do with this?”

“Simple,” Sam said with a crooked smile, “I had the two of you followed.”

“What? Followed?” Kristy exclaimed.

Sam removed the chewed up lollipop stick from his mouth and tossed it to the ground, “Yeah. That the two of you are almost always together made it pretty easy, too.”

“I can’t believe this,” Kristy looked at Brent and back at Sam. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”

Sam actually laughed. “This is a small town, Kristy. Except for a few domestic abuse complaints and some drunks passing out in the street, there’s not much going on. To make a long story short, no, I don’t really have anything better to do. You two and your friend over there,” he pointed his chin at Derrick, “have made things pretty interesting around here.” Her pique made her cheeks flush and her eyes sparkle, making her even more attractive. Sam inadvertently leered at her as an image of what she must look like aroused instinctively flashed through his mind. Kristy shifted on her feet and pulled her jacket close around her.

Brent put his hand on Kristy’s arm, “Babe, what are you saying? We should be happy he did. They know we didn’t do anything.”

Kristy continued to stare at him, her expression a mix of disgust and discomfort. Sam chuckled to himself. One of his points of interest had been verified by the tail he had put on them: Brent and Kristy’s relationship seemed purely platonic. It was a legitimate angle for him to explore after getting from Asher that Derrick and Kristy had until very recently been romantically involved. That Derrick had not revealed it was understandable. The guy’s wife most likely didn’t know and the man was probably hoping to keep it that way - Little Rick was proof that the two relationships had overlapped. The woman in the road remained a mystery for now.

Sam turned and watched as a firefighter pointed out several areas of the still smoldering structure to Derrick. The fire chief stopped briefly to chat with the pair and then walked through the front door. He reappeared after a moment, yelling something to his men while pointing to the the corner of the building. Seeing Sam, the large man jogged across the street. He was puffing as if he had run a distance by the time he got to him. He grabbed Sam's hand with his meaty paw and pumped it up and down once. The man's face was grave.

"Chief," Sam said. "What is it?"

"Sam," he began, "we've got a body in there."

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