126 Old Gust Front

Kitty figured she’d be well ahead. Not only did the Minosas have the weedy, watery, and darker return to the condo dock but also the same car trip back to the west side. And more likely than not, after dropping Thea and Erin, they’d head straight for their McMansion, not the training center. Herbie, if uninvolved in the caper as she supposed, would first look for her again in the morning.Chapter 125 Old Gust Front

She drove directly back to her Gospel Hostel, mentally packing up her few belongings and hoping she’d find at least one of the boys around to help remove her things from the storage unit. If Myrtle and her henchmen believed they had drowned her, they probably wouldn’t toss out her stuff until morning but she wanted to be out of there by then, deprive them of the satisfaction, turn the tables on them, and set them worrying about what would happen if she had ‘miraculously’ survived.

It was completely dark when she pulled in the driveway. Way off in the distance she’d observed occasional flashes, lightning no doubt, hardly surprising on a warm summer night though when she stepped out of the car it was breezy and cooler than it had been down at the lake, an odd meteorological reversal. She went in calling Moth’s name, nearing the office. He didn’t answer; he must be out, another odd thing. She was going up the stairs up to her room when the smell of smoke assailed her. Coughing, she tried to call again but the call died in her throat as the haze tread beside her up the stairwell. She covered her mouth with her hand and hit the floor, crawling through the less smoky tunnel of air likely to be there. The carpet wasn’t hot but it was hard to see ahead. She felt her way to the doorway of her room and turned inside.

Her candles were burning, all of them set in a ring on the floor, and by their smudgy flames and through her smarting eyes she perceived Moth passed out beside them. Smoke menaced from the pile of tracts on the chair, a stationary haboob skulking and ready to convulse. Kitty was all too familiar with smoke damage; there would be nothing here left to save except Moth. She pulled at his feet and he slid easily, lightly along as she dragged, as though there was nothing to him at all. It would be a bumpy ride for him back down the stairs but it was the best she could do. She swallowed her rising panic, even as she uncovered her mouth, using both hands to haul him along behind her as she crawled back the way that she’d come.

When she reached the head of the steps she rotated him, swiveling his head to go down first, cupping her arms under his shoulders in an adaptation of lifesaving in water, so as to cradle his head on the descent. It would take her longer to go down that way, backwards for thirteen steps, but with each riser descended the smoke seemed to thin. No sounding smoke alarm yet disturbed them. Had Herbie had ever bothered to install one? Moth gasped and gagged. Kitty risked half-standing and taking a new hold she spluttered her way to the front door and out. It seemed like hours since she’d entered the house. The breeze had since become a wind. She stood and breathed it in before she stooped back down to Moth.

“Moth? Moth?” She pinched his cheek, tossed his face from side-to side between her palms. He opened his eyes, saw her, and erupted into a throaty rattle before he stumbled to his knees. “Moth, the upstairs is on fire. Do you understand?” Moth nodded. “Is there anything on the main floor you need? We don’t have long to try and find it.” Kitty knew it was absurd to suggest re-entering the house; minutes collapsed to seconds in a burning building. She looked up at the second story. There was a glow but neither flames nor smoke were yet visible.

“Everything. Nothing.”

“Moth, there’s no time for this. Think, quick!”

“Money. There’s lots of money.”

“Let’s get it, then. Go, I’ll be right behind you.” Kitty detoured into the kitchen to wet them each a dish towel to cover their faces, tossing them over her elbow as she tore off plastic bags from the box under the sink. She turned into the office where Moth was bent, unlocking the safe. Kitty wrapped a towel round Moth’s heaving shoulders, and opened the bags under his shaking hands to collect the goods, deliberately dropping several bundles of bills. Smoke, wooden and thick, stung its way in from the hallway, forming an obstacle to their exit.

“Cover your face. Go, go, go!” She propelled Moth from behind as he stumbled reluctantly forward, blinded and choked by the denser smoke, toward the outside and the saving wind. On the drive, they found themselves enveloped in the stunned and receiving arms of Woody and Tad.

“Don’t call!” Moth beseeched as he saw Tad reaching for his phone.

“What? Why? It’s on fire!”

“No, don’t.” Kitty knew they all needed to be gone before neighbors raised the alarm.Ā  “Meet us at the storage place.” She could only hope that stubbornness would not rear its mulish head like the flames now dancing at the upstairs windows. And as she pulled out of the driveway with the full bags and a depleted Moth in tow, she heard the shattering of glass and saw the stabbing flames charge the roof, forced by the gusting winds.

Once in the car memory served, and her pre-conflagration agenda sped back to mind, quicker and more alive than any flicker of flame. Away from her second ‘accident’ scene of the evening, and a second escape, her headlights confirmed that the church truck was leading the way to her requested destination. Both vehicles pulled into the now familiar space. Tad tumbled out of the truck, staring and mute. Moth emerged from the passenger side of her car, a poor creature beside its intense red, brandishing one stuffed large kitchen bag. Woody spun testily out of the driver’s side of the truck and lit in to her.

“You’re just letting the house burn down?”

“It was me. I accidentally started it.” Moth tried to explain but Kitty interrupted.

“Listen. Your mothers and your snitty cousin all tried to drown me tonight.” Tad inched closer, unwilling to believe his ears.

“What? Where? How?” Kitty supplied the missing answers, opening the envelope in this imaginary game of Clue, coming rapidly to the Conclusion and revealing to all the players the location, the weapon, and the perpetrators.

“On the boat, with a net, all of them. While your Dad was below. They hustled me into a net they thought was closed. Pitched me over the side to drown. You figure it out. So I don’t much care if the house of torture burns. Right, Moth?” Moth gave her a sharp glance. Kitty winked her reply, willing him to understand that she knew everything. Moth signaled his comprehension, and relief.

“Burn, house of torture, burn.” He began a chant, raising the white bag as an offering to appease any singed household gods. Kitty smiled at Woody and Tad and pointed at the trophy.

“The contents of the office safe. A good time to make a break, boys?”