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House In Flames

Jake Callahan wasn’t much of a drinker and even if he had been he was unlikely to slip into the Attic Door so early in the afternoon. Jake was looking for someone and he was pretty sure he’d find him sitting on a bar stool in the local watering hole

Sunlight flooded the little establishment when Jake opened the door but his bulk helped filter out most of it. The bartender looked up, saw the outline of body armor under Jake’s clothes and went back to mopping the bar top. The Attic Door was walking distance from the Winter Garden police department, big cops walked through his doors at all hours of the day and night.

Jake spied the man he was looking for and walked quietly behind him. The bartender might have been surprised that a man as large as Jake could move so gracefully but he didn’t let on. Jake pulled his badge out and slapped it loudly on the counter next to the man who was sitting there. “Padre. Awfully early in the afternoon to be hitting the hard stuff, isn’t it?”

“Jesucristo, Jake! Why do you have to that? And I’ll have you know I’m drinking an Arnold Palmer,” the short, round Hispanic padre responded indignantly.

“Sorry, Father. Can’t help myself,” he said, picking up the priest’s glass, sticking his pinky in it and taking a tiny taste. “Oh, by the by, Arnold Palmers aren’t made with Long Island Ice Tea.”

“They’re not? Why, that’s how I’ve always drunk mine. How can I help you, my son? Have you decided to return to Mother Church? It is a scandal to the ages to have an Irish cop who’s not a Catholic, don’t you think?”

“Better take it up with my pops, he’s the one who cut the cord. Uhm, I would like a word with you if you have a minute. Not exactly a confession but a professional consult if you will?”

Father Riojas’ answer was immediate. “Sure, Jake. Let’s go over to that far table. What’s on your mind my friend?”

“Evil, Father Romeo. Evil. I’ve seen lots of it before but this time there’s nothing I can do but wait.”

“Would you like to tell me about it? All kidding aside I can hear this as a confession and then no man can make me repeat what you say.”

“Well, I guess so. I’d talk to my wife but this may be too much even for her.”

“I see, Jake. Please, tell me what is on your mind.”

“Yeah. So, you know that big fire last night? The one that was all over the news today?”

“Certainly. The one where the young man leaped into the burning building?”

“Yes, Father that one.”

“So what about it?”

“I just got back from interviewing him. Young guy named Nik Diabhal. He’ll be on the news later. The story he told really has me tied up in knots.”

“If it will help you you should tell it to me. Perhaps I can be of some assistance in making sense of what you have learned.”

“Well, it’s worth a shot. It started when I got to the hospital and got permission from his doctors to talk to him. They said he was safe but they were visibly upset. I didn’t find out why until after I talked to Nik.

“Even through the window the boy looked tired. He’d been through a lot but I knew that the longer I waited to question him the foggier the young man’s memories were likely to become. I knocked, opened the door and entered. Nik opened one eye and looked at me.

“’Nik? Detective Jacob Callahan, Winter Garden police department. Doc says you’re in good enough shape to talk to; mind if I ask you some questions?'”

“I think I already told everybody what happened. There was a fire, I heard screaming and I went in to help. What more is there?”

“Oh, just looking for some details, that’s all. Sounds like you took quite a risk in saving little Buttons. That’s something you probably feel pretty good about, huh?”

Nik produced a half smile and raised his right eyebrow for a split second, “Well, in retrospect I guess it was pretty stupid but I’m okay so I guess it’s like Billy Boy said, huh?”

“Pardon? Billy? Was there someone else with you?”

Nik snorted a laugh, regained composure and said, “No. Billy Boy? William Shakespeare? ‘All’s Well That End’s Well’? ‘Romeo and Juliet’? He was a British playwright back around 1600? Ever hear of him?”

“Sure, Nic I’ve heard of him. ‘O happy dagger!This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die.’ Didn’t turn out so well for our star crossed lovers, huh? Buttons did okay but she wasn’t the only one in the house. Did you know that? What did Mrs. Rousillion say to you that made you go into the house? That fire must have been roaring.”

“I don’t know that we can qualify the babbling and wailing she was spouting at that moment as speech. She was screaming and pointing, I heard the crackle of fire, timbers breaking, a dog barking and, well, other things, you know? I knew somebody was in trouble in there and I jumped in to help. As I said, stupid; right?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t use the word stupid to describe you, son. Foolhardy maybe?”

“Thanks, Dad. Boy is Mom going to be embarrassed when she finds out that the jig is up. I went in, it was hot, I got scared, grabbed the dog and left. What more do you want to know?”

“Well, in addition to Mrs. Rousillion’s incoherent screams you mentioned hearing, ‘other things.’ You said you heard, ‘a dog barking and, well, other things.’ Was one of the ‘other things’ a baby screaming?”

“Yeah. I heard the kid. She was making quite a racket. I jumped in but I stayed low to the ground to avoid the smoke, see? I’ve had training. I know how to save lives. So there is the little girl screaming and Buttons barking and I scooped up old Butts and quick crawled back to the window and got out pronto. Anything wrong with that? Did I break some kind of law?”

“I swear I looked at Nic for what felt like a full sixty second count before answering. ‘Well, Nik that’s why I’m here; to investigate. If things turn out the way you describe them then I guess the answer to number two is no; you didn’t break any laws. There’s some news teams outside, I think they’d really like to talk to you.

“‘Oh, and I’m sure Mrs. Rousillion would love to tell you what she thinks of you. After all, you did save her dog’s life and Diana was one of four grandchildren. Hell, she has three more. I’ll be sure to stay in touch, Nik. I have a feeling that I’ll be seeing a lot more of you.'”

“That’s when I left, Padre. I was flabbergasted. I should have written the report right away but I needed to talk to somebody. You came to mind and here I am. Have you ever heard of anything so despicable? I deal with crooks everyday. Murderers. Junkies. Desperate folks . Nik isn’t desperate he’s just evil incarnate.”

“Jake, I don’t know what to say to you. I will pray for you and for him and for poor Mrs. Rousillion and baby Diana. What a sad tragedy.”

“You can say that again. Have you ever heard of anything so deprived?”

“Only once. In the nineteen seventies there was a group that called themselves NAMBLA. A terrible, terrible group, evil beyond saying. Please, do not look them up tonight, you have suffered enough. Jake, to make this a confession you must ask for forgiveness. Perhaps forgiveness for shirking your duty? Then we can pray. Together. Not as penance but for little Diana and for that boy, Nik. God has great power.”

“Sure, Padre. Let’s pray. God does have great power. I sure hope he uses it.”