She kissed him and was aware of the blood throbbing in her veins. Cleansed by Fire.
July 25, 2013
A VG Serial: Cleansed by Fire
Georgia and a passel of teenagers were scraping, sand-ing, and preparing the damaged pews in the back of the church. When the door opened, she looked back and saw Mike looking into the church.
“Come on in. Grab that rag over there, and help me wipe these down,” she instructed Mike. She tried to sound business-like, but a ripple of warmth ran down her spine.
“I came to take you away from this, not to join in,” the detective said.
Several of the kids looked up from their work. Mike smiled at them.
“Just kidding.” To Georgia, he asked, “Why are you working on this tonight?”
“We’ve got some men coming any minute to stain and varnish the pews damaged in the fire. The kids agreed to have them all prepared. I’m the drill sergeant.”
“Yeah, you look like a drill sergeant,” said Mike. He chuckled.
“Okay. I’m the foreman, forewoman, taskmaster. Vic Lindale said if they get the pews varnished tonight, there’s a fifty-fifty chance nobody will stick to them on Sunday.”
The door opened and Norm Winters walked in.
Georgia looked over to see who had come in. “Hi, Norm. We’re just about finished.”
“Looks like your crew has done a good job.” He glanced at Mike.
Georgia stopped wiping the back of a pew. “I don’t think you two know each other. Norm, this is Detective Mike Oakley. He’s the one who solved the church fires. Mike, this is Norm Winters, Sam’s father.”
They shook hands. Deep lines creased Mike’s forehead. “Sam? The Sammie who was hurt in the fire?”
Norm nodded. “Yes.”
“He actually told us, as the EMS guys were putting him in the ambulance that another church was going to be burned. I didn’t know whether to believe him but Father Frank was convinced.” He looked at the floor for a moment, then back at Norm. “I need to talk to Sammie. Do you know why he thought another church was going to be burned?”
Norm shook his head. “No. He hasn’t said anything like that to me or his mother. But, interestingly enough, he told me this afternoon he wanted to talk to you.”
“Did he say what about?”
“He says he can add some information about the fires.”
“The sooner the better. I can come to your house, if that’s more convenient.”
“Let me give you a call. He’s still in the hospital. The doctor said he could come home tomorrow if all goes well today—on the condition he stays in bed and remains quiet. He has a pretty serious concussion. In fact, they ran an MRI. Thought for a while he might have a cracked skull.”
“They’ve ruled that out?”
“Finally. Gave us quite a scare, though. He was out for, maybe six hours. Didn’t respond to stimuli.” He sighed. “His mother and I didn’t sleep at all last night. When he finally came to, it was several more hours before he could remember anything about last night. He’s still having severe headaches.”
“Sam and Father Frank are our wounded heroes,” said Georgia
“Yeah,” said Mike. “Even with a broken collarbone, Father Frank managed to save another church from being torched. He’s the one who really solved the church fires. And almost got himself killed doing it. All I did was arrest the arsonist.”
“He sure did it the hard way,” said Georgia. “He looked like he was in pain during Mass this morning.”
“But he saved the church,” said Norm.
Georgia looked at Norm, and could see the tired wrinkles under his eyes, the slight stoop to his shoulders.
“Norm, don’t you think you should go home and get some sleep. You look beat. Or as Leo would say, you look like you’ve been pulling a mule uphill.”
She glanced at Mike to see if he reacted to her mention of Leo. If he did, she couldn’t tell.
“No, no. I need to help get Prince of Peace back in shape. I feel…”
“We’re glad to have your help, Norm. But don’t overdo it,” said Georgia.
Norm smiled a tired smile. “A little stain, a little varnish and it’ll look like new.”
“How about some new tile on the floor?” Georgia asked.
“Next week.” Norm looked at the detective. “I’ll bet you’ve laid vinyl tile in your life.”
“Well, I have, but it’s –.”
“Great. How about next Thursday? Seven o’clock?” A big grin spread across his tired face.
“I don’t go to—.”
“Thursday’s fine,” said Georgia. “I don’t do tile. But I’ll watch and tell you if you do anything wrong. Okay, Mike?”
The detective grinned. “I think I’ve been shanghaied.” He nodded. “Thursday’s fine.”
“Great.” Georgia beamed. “Norm, I’m leaving the kids with you. I think all they have to do is pick up the sandpaper and tools.” She turned to the teenagers. “Guys, I’m leaving. Mister Winters is in charge. Any questions, just ask him. See you Thursday.”
She grabbed Mike’s arm and pulled him toward the door. “Let’s escape while we can.”
“Okay, where are we going? You said you were picking the place tonight,” said Mike as he started the car and headed out of the parking lot.
“That’s right, bowling,” said a grinning Georgia.
“First of all, I like to bowl, and I haven’t been in years. Second, I want to see how you react under pressure.”
“Pressure?” Mike frowned.
“The pressure of losing to a woman.”
“But I won’t lose.”
Georgia smiled and wiggled her head back and forth. “We’ll see.”
“At the bowling alley. They have good hamburgers, decent fries, and acceptable pie. What more could you want?”
“A thick steak?”
“Life is not always steaks, linen napkins, and waiters. Tonight, we rough it.”
“And play under pressure,” said Mike.
“What if I win? How will you react if you’re completely trounced?”
Georgia looked thoughtful. “That’s a good question. I’ve never faced that before.”
Both enjoyed the outing. Mike claimed that Georgia did a dance as she approached the foul line.
“I have never seen anybody roll a bowling ball that slowly. The first few frames, I really didn’t think it would make it to the pins.”
“Ah, but it did, and it knocked down a lot of pins,” said Georgia smugly. “I, on the other hand, never saw anyone throw a ball so hard and knock down so few pins.”
“When your ball got there, I think the pins just fell over from laughing. A lot of people throw a hook. But I’ve never seen anybody throw an ‘S’ before. How do you do that?”
“A trade secret.”
Mike pulled the car into Georgia’s driveway, turned off the engine and started to get out.
“Let’s just sit here for a few minutes,” Georgia said.
Mike settled back in the seat and waited. After a moment, Georgia began.
“I know you weren’t that enthusiastic about the bowling, or the food but it really was fun, now wasn’t it?”
“I had a great time. Even if you did nose me out on the last frame. With a ball that almost went in the gutter, yet somehow knocked down nine pins.”
Georgia had been grinning. Now she turned serious. “Mike, I’m not a pushy person. And I certainly don’t want to be pushy with you. But I wish you’d reconsider your position on the church.”
He started to speak, but Georgia laid a finger across his lips.
“Of course, I’d like you to go to Prince of Peace because I do and I want you there with me. I know from our hours of conversations that you are a good person, and believe in Christian values. But I’m worried that you’ve let your work turn you into a pessimist.
“You see these bad people and you decide most people are bad. You see the failures of the church and you want to write off the church completely.”
She scooted over and put her head on his shoulder. “I’ve been there. After Leo was killed, I was so disillusioned, so disheartened, I didn’t want to believe in anything good. It took me a long time to get back to a normal view of life. If I really admit the truth, I don’t think I actually made it back until I met you. Then I could see life was good and I could be a happy participant.”
She stretched up and kissed him on the cheek. “Let me help you get a more balanced view of people and the world.”
“A more balanced view?”
“Right. Only a few people are criminals. And I think churches should get some of the credit for keeping that number small. Are there some people who go to church on Sunday and break the law on Monday? Absolutely. Are there some policemen who capture a criminal on Tuesday and break the law on Wednesday? Yes. But you still believe the police department is worthwhile. So is the church.”
She put her arms around him. His strong, muscular body felt good. More than good, it excited her, made her want more of him. This had all happened so fast, her first reaction was not to trust it. But she wasn’t sixteen. She had learned to make a decent assessment of people. And, though she was frightened to admit it, she believed she was falling in love with this man.
Mike pulled her around and kissed her firmly on the mouth. She joined in, adding a fervor she hadn’t enjoyed in many years. She felt flushed and thrilled. She was aware of the blood throbbing in her veins. She pressed her feverish body closer to the object of her longing.
When they finally broke apart, Mike took her face in his hands. “I don’t want to lose you, Georgia.”
“I don’t think you can.” She slid over near the door. “Right now, though, I need to go in and get my breath back. I’m not sure I’m in control of myself.”
“I could come in, as a police officer,” Mike said with a devilish grin. “Help you get yourself under control. I’m trained in that sort of thing.”
“You can do a lot of things, Mike. But I don’t think you’re the one to help me control my emotions right now. If you came in, I might take advantage of you.”
“I’m willing to take that chance.”
“I’m not.” She brushed her finger tips lightly across his cheek. “Not just yet.”
They kissed once more at her front door and then, reluctantly, she closed the door on him.
Chapters of the serial are published on Monday, Thursday, and Sunday.
You can learn more about Cleansed by Fire and other James H. Callan novels on his Amazon Author Page.