“Nine-one-one, state the nature of your emergency.”
“Some crazy crack-head is damaging property and setting fires in my street!”
“Sir, could you please give me your name, the location of the emergency and your telephone number in case we are disconnected?”
“Yeah, this is Carl Hogan at one-eleven Sandcastle Lane. Lady, you’d better get the cops over here ASAP before he burns the whole street to the ground!”
“Emergency personnel have been notified and they’re on the way, Mr. Hogan.”
It was just past midnight when Gloria from dispatch radioed the local police as well as the fire department and EMS. Chief Grady flicked on the sirens and lights as he sped toward Sandcastle Lane. So much for a quiet evening, he sighed but there was no time to wallow in disappointment. At least it’s not more mangled remains on the beach, he thought. Yet, that thought made him wonder why Hooper still hadn’t returned any of his calls. There had been no contact since the night they’d had dinner together but the insult had to be brushed aside as he turned onto Sandcastle Lane.
“Oh, what fresh hell is this?” Grady muttered.
At the end of the block, a deranged lunatic was shrieking at the top of his lungs, seemingly dancing around a fire. As the chief drove closer it was hard to tell if the man was dancing around the fire or if he was on fire. In a flash he threw his vehicle in park and rushed to help the flaming man. Yanking his jacket off, he flung it around the man and beat out the flames. Once the man’s clothing had extinguished, Grady rolled him over.
“Oh God! Poole!” He cried then reached for his radio. “Dispatch, what’s the ETA on that ambulance? I need them here now!”
Poole was barely breathing as Grady’s plea went over the airwaves. The deputy barely resembled himself; it was the nametag that gave him away. He had gouged at his eyes so deeply the chief feared the kid would never see again. Clumps of his hair had been torn from the roots and that which remained, had been singed by flame. Though it seemed like an eternity until the ambulance arrived, they were there within minutes.
“Quick! Over here!” Grady shouted, waving at the approaching ambulance.
The EMTs descended and Grady stepped out of the way. While they worked on Poole, he extinguished the flaming piles of trash on the street.
“It’s about time somebody put that fire out,” shouted a voice from the shadows.
“Ah! Hey there, Carl. I’m going to need a statement from you,” Grady replied.
“Oh, I’ve got a statement. It’s these dang kids and their drugs…I’m telling you, Chief, we’re losing the war on drugs. ”
“Look, Carl, I am not interested in your theories. Poole was my deputy and I’m telling you, he was not on drugs so stick with the facts. What did you see?”
“Sorry,” Carl muttered. “Well, first I noticed a bonfire on the beach.”
“Really?” Grady snorted. “Cause there’s nothing on the beach whatsoever so either you were high on drugs or you’re obstructing justice. Either way, I’d be more than happy to arrest you right now if you don’t start spilling the truth.”
Carl Hogan relayed everything he’d seen, still swearing that there had been a bonfire, actually two bonfires, on the beach. Grady wrote down every word, though the expression on his face revealed that he just wasn’t buying it.
“You don’t believe me, Chief, but you will. In the morning you’ll see where the fires were and realize that I wasn’t drunk. Don’t try to deny it. I know that’s what you think….once a drunk, always a drunk but I’ve been clean for two weeks now. There were twin bonfires on the beach and some kid with a camera was down there talking to your deputy. Meanwhile, he, your deputy, was up here watching through his own video cameras. They were talking on speaker phones or something.
“Poole had cameras? Where?” Grady gasped.
“He set ‘em on fire. I don’t know what it was that he saw but he started screaming like a madman and squirting lighter fluid on everything. He lit a match and the stuff went up like a Roman candle. That’s when I called nine-one-one.”
Grady loaded the melted equipment into his trunk, bid good night to Carl, and set off for the hospital. On the way, he stopped at Poole’s grandmother’s house. He was certain she’d want to be at the hospital with her grandson and Grady didn’t want the old gal to drive on her own. He hated the idea of waking her in the middle of the night but he didn’t want her to hear it from the old biddies with nothing better to do than flap their gums all day long. With sadness he knocked on the door. It took a few minutes but eventually Rose Poole answered.
“Oh dear, Jesus, no! Please, don’t let my boy be dead.”
“Ma’am,” Grady replied. “Poo, erm, I mean Doug, isn’t dead but he’s at the hospital. If you’d like to get changed; I’ll drive you over there.”
The frazzled woman agreed and scurried off to get dressed. Though her arthritis ached and her hands trembled with fear, she managed to pull on her clothing quickly. Chief Grady opened the car door and helped her into the passenger side. He drove as quickly as he dared with an elderly woman by his side.
“Is Josh with him? Is he hurt too?”
“Yes, my other grandson, Doug’s cousin. He’d been staying with me this summer to work an internship at the local paper. They hired him on full time, you know, because he’d done such a good job. Well, he and Doug went out together this evening. Chief, one day you’ll see when your sons give you grandchildren. You’ll love them despite their faults but Josh has always been handful. He has a long history of getting Dougie into trouble.”
“I’m sorry but Doug was alone. I don’t …know anything about his cousin.”
“I’ve raised enough kids to know when I’m being lied to, Chief Grady. I’d appreciate it if you’d just tell me the truth.”
“I-I-I wasn’t, I mean I didn’t,” he stammered. “Okay, let’s try this again. I wasn’t deliberately lying to you. I just remembered something our only witness said and I wonder if it pertained to your other grandson, Josh.”
“Well…are you going to tell me?”
“No, ma’am. Not yet anyway. Right now we need to tend to Doug and I’ll look into the rest. I promise you, once I know something for certain; I will tell you.”