The man had been seen at every fire, and now he was on the run. Cleansed by Fire.
July 8, 2013
A VG Serial: Cleansed by Fire
Father Frank turned on all the outside lights, then hurried back to watch over Sammie until the emergency medical team arrived.
The firemen arrived first. Almost before the trucks stopped, men were on the ground, pulling out hoses, hooking them up to the pump, stringing them out toward the church. The Fire Chief called out orders and moved among his men to direct the effort.
Only a minute behind, the ambulance raced into the parking lot, lights flashing, siren calling attention to a crisis. Father Frank stood up, yelling and waving frantically at the EMS, guiding them to Sammie.
Several cars with blue bubbles on the top arrived and volunteer firemen raced over to help the professionals. Yet another fire truck stopped on the road just down from the church parking lot, and attached a hose to a fire plug, tapping into a larger supply of water.
Two minutes later, three cars entered the parking lot. Detective Mike Oakley jumped out of the first. Georgia Peitz bounced from the second. Both headed toward the ambulance. The third car skidded to a stop and Officer Tom Turner stepped out.
Two EMTs worked on Sammie for a few minutes before loading him on a stretcher. At that moment, his eyes fluttered and opened. Father Frank was standing beside him. The boy’s eyes were listless, apparently unable to focus on anything.
“You’re going to be okay, Sammie. We’re taking you to the hospital,” said Father Frank.
Sammie’s eyes squinted and took on the look of pain.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” Father Frank said, and prayed he was right.
Sammie tried to move his head, but the EMTs had fastened a brace around him to keep his head and neck immobile.
“No,” the boy rasped.
“The firemen are here. They’ll save Prince of Peace.” Father Frank tried to give Sammie a reassuring smile.
Sammie tried again, his voice weak, no more than a ragged whisper. But his concern came through strong. “Burn … ’nother … church.”
Mike now stood beside Father Frank. The EMTs tried to pick up the stretcher to move it into the ambulance. The detective restrained it with his hand.
“Another church? Tonight?” asked Mike.
“Yes.” Sammie’s eyes closed.
“We’ve got to take him to the hospital now,” said one of the medical technicians.
Mike held up his finger. “One second.” To Sammie, he asked, “Which church?”
Sammie opened his eyes into thin slits. They closed almost immediately.
Father Frank leaned close, touched the boy’s cheek, and whispered, “Please, Sammie. Can you tell us which church Ward is going to burn?”
Again, the boy’s eyelids opened mere millimeters, then collapsed. His breathing was labored.
This time, before either Father Frank or Mike could say anything else, the two EMTs picked up the stretcher and loaded it into the ambulance.
“If you care about this boy at all, we’ve got to get him to the hospital.” They shut the door, got in the ambulance and drove off.
Father Frank, Mike, Georgia, and Officer Turner watched the flashing lights exit the parking lot. Over near the church hall, another car was parked, and a man stood some distance in front of it watching. Mike focused on him, and started to walk in his direction. As soon as Mike took his first step, the man turned to leave.
“Hold it. Pine Tree Police. Stop right where you are. Don’t take another step.”
The man hesitated, and in that time, Mike closed the distance.
Mike put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “We need to talk about why you’re always at these fires.”
Earl turned. “Like hell we do.”
He shoved Mike hard enough the detective, caught unaware, fell down. Earl headed for his car.
Turner rushed up beside Mike. “Shoot him,” he yelled. “He assaulted a police officer. He’s resisting arrest, probably burned all those churches. He’s evading arrest. Shoot him.”
From his position on the ground, Mike just winced as he looked up at Turner.
“Then I will. He’s escaping.” Tom unsnapped the safety strap, yanked out his revolver, raised it, and aimed it at Earl’s back.
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.