Was the boy loyal to the arsonist? Or was he frightened of the firebug? Cleansed by Fire.

More chapters from Cleansed by Fire

A VG Serial: Cleansed by Fire

Chapter 28

As soon as Father Frank got back to the rectory, he phoned Mike. “I don’t want to be an alarmist, but as I was driving back from… back to the church, I stopped at the Shell station. Harley Fewks came in and bought five gallons of diesel. In a con­tainer.”

“Thanks for observing and reporting.” Mike let out an audible breath. “Didn’t I tell you to stay out of this? For your information, I’ve already been in contact with Mister Fewks this morning. The lab came up with diesel on his hands, so I went to talk to him. Turns out, he’s got a Kubota 7800 diesel. A pretty small tractor. It probably makes sense to buy fuel five gallons at a pop.”

Father Frank thought of Fewks’ parting remarks, hesi­tated a moment, trying to decide how much to tell Mike. What Fewks had said was the result of frustration and anger, not necessarily signifying any intention.

“Well, I just thought I’d mention it.”

“Glad you did. I’m not writing old Harley off. But he’s got a reason for the diesel. In fact, we’ve asked all the service sta­tions if anyone made any unusual purchases of diesel—someone they knew had no need for it. No luck there.” He paused just a beat.

“Heard you brought one B.D. Rake to emergency last night.”

“That’s right.”

“Report said you found him on your porch.”

“Yes.”

“Just hanging out on your porch? Maybe wanted to buy a Bible? Or get your take on the Rangers?”

“No. Actually, Earl brought him. Claims he found B.D. in bad shape and brought him over for me to take to the hospital.”

“And he didn’t have enough gas to make the hospital?”

“I asked him why he brought B.D. to me instead of taking him directly to emergency. He didn’t answer. Just said I could take the boy or let him die.”

“And you didn’t think this was important enough to put in the report?”

Father Frank took a deep breath. Of course Mike was right. “Yes. I should have put that in the report. At the time, I was in a bit of shock myself. Sorry. I apologize for not putting it in.”

“So, maybe he caused B.D. to overdose, or maybe Earl gave him some bad stuff. And he didn’t want to answer any ques­tions about his involvement.”

“That was my guess,” said the priest. “He didn’t want B.D. to die—for whatever reason. But didn’t want to answer ques­tions either.”

“We need to talk to Earl.” Mike tapped on the phone for a few seconds. “Please don’t make my job harder by withholding information.” Mike paused only a second. “Anything else you want to add?”

Once more, Father Frank considered mentioning the veiled threat Harley had made just before he left. He decided against it. He was beginning to sound like a crybaby.

“No. Not now.”

Father Frank had a late supper, then drove to the hospital to check on B.D. once more. The nurse reported that B.D. had not regained consciousness yet, but he was breathing better and his vital signs had improved. She sounded more optimistic than the doctor had earlier in the day. Father Frank wondered if that simply reflected a more optimistic nurse.

She said no visitors were allowed in but the priest could look in from the door. Father Frank stood for a moment, studying the boy. Even with all the IV’s and monitors, B.D. looked more peaceful than the other times Father Frank had seen him.

As before, he stopped in the chapel and asked God to help this young man, both physically and spiritually.

He walked out to the parking lot thinking that if, heaven forbid, there was another church fire now, B.D. had a perfect alibi. He got into his car, started the engine but did not shift into drive. Something was niggling at his brain. He had, perhaps arbitrarily, come up with four suspects, as Monsignor Decker had called them. Earl stood at the top of the list. Father Frank had little doubt that Earl was involved in the Pine Tree drug scene. But why would he bring B.D. to the rectory? A soft spot in his heart—didn’t want the kid to die? Or just didn’t want to lose a customer? Didn’t want to answer any questions at the hospital? Whatever the reason, it did not change Earl’s position on the sus­pect list.

Unfortunately, Father Frank didn’t have a clue as to whether any of the four had alibis for any of the fires.

A clue.

What information did he have? Not much. And then, he groaned as he snapped his fingers. Of course.

Sammie.

Sammie was the key. Sammie had plunged Father Frank into this. And yet, Sammie had given no clues. At least, that’s what Father Frank had been thinking.

Wrong.

Sammie had provided two important pieces of informa­tion. One, the arsonist had to be a friend, or at least an acquain­tance of Sammie’s. If he had heard about this on the street, why not say who it was? If he knew the person only slightly, perhaps just met him, why not tell? And the fact that Sammie had known information about more than one fire implied he had a more permanent relationship, or at least connection, with the arsonist.

The second fact—perhaps ‘fact’ was a little strong—came from his behavior. Either he felt a strong sense of loyalty to the person burning the churches or he feared the person.

Father Frank banged his hand on the steering wheel. Why hadn’t he thought of this before?

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.

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