08-30-2011, 08:14 PM
I found Criss sitting on the running board of an EMS truck, an oxygen mask on his sooty face. I dashed over to his side.
"Criss!" I cried out, "Are you all right? What happened?"
Criss turned to look at me. "Janey!" he gasped through the oxygen mask.
I sat beside him on the running board. "Criss! What happened?" I demanded.
"I was getting ready for the matinee backstage when I heard a window break," he began. "Then I smelled smoke and saw the fire in one of the banquet rooms. I went to get a fire extinguisher when I saw...I think it was a Molotov cocktail go through the window and set the main room on fire. I heard a glass bottle break and fire just spread all over the place."
So it was arson! I thought. Those old biddies are resorting to arson! "You all right now?" I asked anxiously.
"I'm okay," he answered. "At least it didn't happen during the matinee."
To that, I gave a silent amen. "Criss," I said to him, "I think it was the CBB. They've had it in for you ever since you got here. They tried to force you out of business with their petitions, and now they're trying to burn you out!"
"Janey," Criss gasped.
"It's true!" I insisted. "You remember what they said? That they'd purge this town of you, no matter what? They've gone too far this time, and we've got to stop them."
"Janey!" Criss grabbed my arms. "Don't be too sure it was the CBB, okay? It could have been anyone! Let the police handle this, willya? It might not have even been them. It could have been someone else. Don't go jumping to conclusions, okay? You promise?"
I looked into his hazel eyes, and I could tell that he was serious. "Okay, I promise," I said. "Only because you're my boss."
Even from behind the oxygen mask, I could tell that he was smiling.
It was around three o'clock in the afternoon when the firefighters finally left after over two hours of battling the blaze. Now, it was the police who took over, investigating the cause of the blaze. Sergeant Mulrony questioned Criss and me as the other investigating officers picked their way through the charred ruins of the Magic Castle.
"Have you received any threats about this before the fire?" he asked Criss.
"No," he answered. "At least, not directly."
"You know of anyone who has anything against you?"
"Well, there's this outfit called the CBB that thinks I'm a witch."
"The Citizens for a Better Boren," I explained. "Most of them attend the Boren Bible Church on Plain Road. Mrs. Shook is the President."
"Can you think of anyone else?" the sergeant went on. "A disgruntled employee or something?"
Criss shook his head. "I can't think of anyone who works for me would do such a thing."
"You fire anyone recently?"
"No. Oh, wait..." Criss pinched his eyes, trying to remember. "I did fire this kid, a busboy, for smoking pot out in back; it was yesterday. But I doubt he'd be the one. He was only fifteen or sixteen, and he didn't seem too upset about it. Getting fired, I mean."
"I'm still positive it was the CBB, sergeant," I insisted. "Their whole conflict was published in the paper. You can read about it for yourself."
"Janey," Criss moaned. "You promised."
"I know, I know," I said, "but they're the prime suspects in this case. They're the only ones who had any motive against you."
Sergeant Mulrony closed his notebook. "Okay, we'll check out this CBB outfit, and this former employee. You got his address?"
"In my office," Criss replied.
"Good. In the meantime, young lady," he said, turning to me, "don't go spreading any rumors. You don't want to get sued for libel making false accusations."
"I'm not making any false accusations!" I protested. "I'm confident that it was the CBB that did it."
"All the same, just put a lid on it for now," he warned me. "If this group is responsible for the fire, we'll handle them. Don't go playing Nancy Drew and try to solve this yourself. Taking the law into your own hands is risky at best."
"All right, all right," I sighed. "Fine, have it your way. Just bring 'em in, okay?"
Sergeant Mulrony nodded in smug satisfaction. He turned to Criss. "You get me the address of that kid you fired. I'll go look up the Citizens for a Better Boren. We'll straighten this out, don't worry."
"I'm not worried about who did it," Criss said. "I'm worried about how I'm going to put the Magic Castle back together again."
Though I had promised I would not get directly involved, my sense of moral outrage goaded me into making a personal call to Mrs. Shook. I remembered where she lived from all the boring afternoons I was coerced into spending with my mother when she went "visiting" with her for some church business or something. I had to wear my Sunday best dresses and sit in a big overstuffed chair like a "little lady", as my mother admonished me, while she and Mrs. Shook chattered on about this and that for what seemed like forever. It took them twenty minutes just to say good-bye, for gosh sakes!
Well, this time, I wasn't wearing my Sunday best, and I certainly wasn't going to behave like a "little lady", but give that old bag a piece of my mind! True, she may not have been directly involved in the firebombing (I remembered she had bursitis in her right shoulder and could not have tossed the bottle bomb), but I was sure she was somehow behind it.
I pounded on her front door angrily. "Mrs. Shook!" I shouted. "I know you're in there! I want to talk to you right now!"
Mrs. Shook opened the door. "Good grief, child!" she exclaimed. "You didn't have to break the door down! Come in."
I entered her home, full of antique furniture, inspirational one-liners, and Thomas Kincaid reproductions. I skipped the formalities and got to the point. "Mrs. Shook," I began, reining in my rage, "the Magic Castle was firebombed this afternoon."
"Oh," she muttered, seemingly innocent in my view. "Oh, dear. Was anyone hurt?"
"No, thank God, no one was," I replied patiently. "But it was arson, that's for sure. And I have reason to believe that you and the CBB had something to do with it."
"Surely you don't believe that--"
"I do. Maybe not you, personally, of course, but you and your organization have been trying to drive Criss Angel out of town ever since he got here." I stepped forward, staring at Mrs. Shook squarely in the eye. "I want the truth, Mrs. Shook! I want to know if you had anything to do with the fire!"
"Young lady, I assure you, I had nothing to do with any type of fire anywhere. This is the first time I even heard of it. I admit this Mr. Angel and I have had our differences, but--"
"Differences?" I was aghast. "You practically threatened him at the picnic, remember? You were going to "purge" the town of him, remember? You and your group of stormtroopers even petitioned to close him down, and you tried to humiliate him when the mayor gave him that award, remember?"
"I think you need to calm down, dear," she tried to soothe me. "How about a cup of tea or something?"
"How about you telling the truth?" I retorted. "Was the CBB responsible for the fire or not?"
"The CBB have used legal means to restore the morality of this town, young woman," she insisted. "We did not resort to any type of violence in any form. That is the sole truth, and you can take that to the bank!"
I composed myself with a big sigh. "All right," I said finally, "I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. But keep in mind, there is an investigation going on about it, and the authorities will find out who did it. I told them about you and the CBB, and how much you hate Criss. You'll be expecting them pretty soon, so you'd better serve plenty of tea and cookies."
"Fine, fine," she nodded. "And I'll tell them exactly what I told you. Just remember, young lady, when you jump to conclusions, you have to swim back."
I took my leave without saying good-bye. Okay, I thought. Maybe she wasn't involved herself. But there are other members of the CBB. One of them could have acted alone, without the others' knowledge. Or they hired someone to do it for them. But, I am absolutly, positivly sure they had something to do with it! They had the most motive, as they say on those crime shows. And when the police uncover the right piece of evidence, the CBB will be history!