The Truth Seeker

By: Dee Henderson

“For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

JOHN :





One

The fire had been alive; it had left its signature in the coiled, twisted wood, the bent metal, the heavy ash. It was a tamed beast, but still here, ready to come back to life with a nudge. Lisa O’Malley walked with great respect up the stairs following her brother Jack into the heart of the fire damage. The heavy boots he had insisted she wear were welcome as she realized it was glass crunching beneath her feet. Lightbulbs and picture frames had shattered in the heat.

The fire coat was harder to get accustomed to. The Nomex cloth was rough and it felt like thirty pounds on her back as she struggled to keep her balance. When Jack worked a fire he ran stairs wearing the coat and an air tank, carrying another forty pounds of gear. She didn’t know how he did it. The man rarely showed a serious side, but it was there when he was doing the job he excelled at.

Reaching the upstairs landing, she turned her flashlight to inspect the hallway ceiling and walls. The superheated gas created by the fire had reached down five feet from the ceiling, burning into the paint and wood, marking a suicide line. Two or three feet down indicated a severe fire; five was explosive. The firemen confronting this fire had been taking their lives in their hands in facing it head-on.

“Watch your step, I don’t trust this hallway. Stay close to the north wall.”

Lisa returned her flashlight to the floor to pick her next steps. Jack had hesitated before letting her come up. The house was safe for now, but with the weight of walls and joists shifting to beams not designed to handle the weight, every day brought the structure closer to collapse.

It had rained yesterday, making the damaged wood swell and further stressing the structure.

She was careful not to get snagged by a nail or by exposed wiring.

The fire crews had pulled down part of the hallway ceiling and torn portions of the walls back to the studs in order to locate dangerous pockets of lingering heat. Six days ago this had been a two-alarm fire.

In the smoldering remains, still in his bed, the body of Egan Hampton had been recovered.

She reached the back bedroom and stopped.

“An accident—” She could only shake her head in disbelief. The furniture was charred, the mattress burned down to the springs; books on the shelf were now warped spines enfolding wrinkled pages of ash; the alarm clock was a chunk of deformed plastic adhered to the bedside table; the television tube had cracked and buckled in.

The only items not burned or blackened in the room were a portion of the bedding that had been protected by Egan’s body and a section of the floor rug that had been under the bed frame. The bedroom door was still on its hinges but it had burned on both sides to a fraction of its normal width.

“Like I said, it was a hot fire.”

She stepped with caution inside the room, instinctively looking up to make sure she wasn’t going to get hit with something. The ceiling was open in sections, revealing part of the attic, and in one place she could see all the way through to the sky.

Through the destroyed window she could see the orchard and nursery, the buildings and commercial greenhouses that comprised Nakomi Nurseries, the business Egan had built up over the years and recently passed to his nephew Walter to manage.

Jack dealt with fire every day; he knew how it moved and breathed and burned. She’d learned enough from him to understand the patterns.

This looked like a flashover—everything in the room heating up, reaching burn point, and suddenly bursting into flames en masse. “Did the room smolder and smoke before flashover or was it a steady fire? In the police report Walter said he saw the smoke and then a flash and called .”

“It began as a smoldering fire.” Jack knelt and picked up large shards of glass from the shattered window. “Look at the smoke stain that burned into the pane of window glass.”

He used the crowbar to pull off the bottom piece of the window frame casing and turned it over to show her the details. “You can tell it started as a floor fire burning upward because the fire swept across this wood and out the window. Had it initially been flames at the ceiling coming down the wall and out the window, the burning would be pitting on the top of the wood, not this charring underneath.”

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