THE NIGHT BEFORE THE FIRE
“Look, Jim, it’s a golden retriever!”
A wolf howled mournfully at the moon.
Bert had been afraid of the eight-in-the-evening darkness. Far away Officer Elwin was flirting with a couple girls over a glass of hard lemonade in the Bahamas. Or at this hour maybe he was still asleep. So much the better. Jim’s face told Bert that there was no reason to be afraid, and Bert felt much better, and Jim didn’t feel anything at all.
The snow crinkled under their feet as they walked on. “Cool,” said Jim, referring to Bert’s dog, which was in Bert’s dog kennel, because they were, now, suddenly, in front of Bert’s dog kennel, in front of Bert’s house, which was a good place for Bert to be with Jim now, much better than the busy city streets, where Bert felt the cold weight of a hundred pairs of eyes following every move. Bert’s dog was, in fact, a large pit bull. Bert opened the door of the kennel and walked inside. He patted the dog affectionately. Then he left the cage as Jim presented his case to the large dog, giving a scratch behind the ears that seemed to arouse a particular excitement in Bert’s canine friend.
“Bert, I’m locked in,” said Jim as he rattled the cage door.
“Oh… I’m sorry.” And with that Bert turned away, Jim following him inside, Bert having let him out.
“You must be starving,” said Bert, as they walked into the kitchen, to which Jim replied that yes, he was a little hungry, but didn’t want to impose. Bert fetched him up a sandwich and a glass of lemonade and began cutting carrots. Chop, chop, chop, went the sharp little kitchen knife as it ran through the orange flesh.
Suddenly Jim became pale. Bert looked at him. “How are you liking that lemonade, Jim?”
Jim swallowed. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” he said, the color coming back to his face. “Just swallowed too fast, is all.”
“Good, good. For a moment I thought you… hadn’t liked it.” Chop chop chop, and the deed was done. He shoved the plate of carrots over to Jim.
“Actually,” said Jim, “maybe we can cook the carrots? I prefer carrots cooked.”
“Ah yes,” replied Bert, “better cooked than cut, eh?”
Bert set a pot of water on the stove and watched as it began to bubble. The steam lofted up into his face. He imagined how painful it would be if one were to stick one’s hand in the water. He multiplied this sensation by a hundred in his head, then brushed the thought aside with a smile.
Suddenly they were in the living room, and Jim’s new girlfriend had arrived. “Hey, Bert, you’ve met my knew gal, haven’t you?”
Bert wasn’t sure he knew who Jim’s girlfriend was anymore. “I… think so,” he said.
Jim’s blonde belle held out her hand. “Beverley Ande—Parker,” she said, shaking Bert’s hand. “Parker. Sorry. I’m still getting used to calling myself by my maiden name again.”
“She’s recently divorced,” said Jim. “But I think you knew that already?”
“I think so,” said Bert. Back on the market a bit quick, he thought. She seemed familiar. He shrugged it aside. “So, you two staying the night?”
“If you don’t mind,” they said.
“Cool with me,” he said. “Here, follow me.”
He led them up the stairs. Bert called, “Watch out for the slippery spot!” too late as they reached the top steps. Jim slipped and tumbled down the stairs, taking a nasty-looking hit to the head on the hard floor at the bottom. There was a pregnant moment of silence.
“Man, it is not your day today.” said Bert.
Jim got up. “I know,” he sighed.
“I should hope not…”
He led them to the bedroom, where he had neatly set the king-size with the red bedsheets for the couple that morning. “Here, you can take my bed,” he said. “I’ll sleep on the couch downstairs.”
“Thank you so much… for everything,” said Beverley. They closed the bedroom door and turned away, and Bert turned to go back downstairs.
The house snoozed peacefully for an hour or two, before turning an angry red. It was on fire.
Jim lived on the tenth floor of an apartment building. If his home had caught fire, Bert was sure, he could not have survived, barring a dramatic fire department rescue—which Bert had his money on probably not taking place. But Bert lived in a two story house. Escape was possible. Maybe the fire truck would come on time, but Bert had his money on the fire department making a communication error or something. No, it was all up to him to make the rescue. There was just one floor separating him and Beverley, and Jim. Maybe, just maybe, he could salvage someone from this mess.
Suddenly upstairs, he flung open the door in a flash. The sight was not pretty. Jim was dead. A large burning piece of wood had struck him and lit him up like a yule log. Bert did not shed a tear. There was work to be done. Beverley was mostly unconscious and was breathing in dangerous amounts of smoke. Bert knew he had to get her out fast.
Bert was not blessed with Jim’s muscle. Jim was a strong, muscly man who could have lifted his unconscious girlfriend to safety with ease. But Jim was dead. Bert did not know he could carry an adult woman, but in his time of need he found the strength of three Jims and lifted her with ease. He raced down the stairs and out the door, praying for her life.
Her heart had stopped, as had her breathing. Bert knew he had to administer CPR, and fast. He put his hand to her bosom and began pressing, then put his lips to hers and breathed life into them. Nothing. He repeated. Compressions. Breaths. Compressions. Breaths. Compressions. Breaths.
Finally she awoke. She looked up at him. “My hero,” she mouthed through coughs.
Suddenly there was a fire truck. All too late. The driver got out and walked towards them. “Sorry,” he said. “There was a miscue in the fire department. Somebody gave me the wrong directions. I ended up going in the complete wrong direction…”
Suddenly a police car had pulled up behind the fire truck, and now Officer Elwin got out and closed the door behind him.The bright red and blue lights lit up Beverley’s face.
“Officer Elwin! Back from the Bahamas already?”
“Yes, it was quite a trip. Thank you, Bert.”
"You’re very welcome, Officer.”
“So, gust of wind knocked over a candlestick, you say,” said Officer Elwin after a pause.
“Yeah, I think that’s what happened. Jim More died in the fire.”
“That’s unfortunate… All right, I’ll just leave this one to the fire department. Pleasure doing business.” And he disappeared.
Behind them, the fire blazed on as water gushed from the fire truck hoses.
And then Bert Anderson woke up. It had all been just a dream.
Beside him his wife was still asleep. Her luscious blonde hair flowed out in all directions over the red blankets of the king size. It was a beautiful sight, seeing her at such peace, asleep in bed, in this particular case. He got up quietly, not to wake her.
Bert had had a weird dream about his friend Jim More last night. It was very strange. He and Jim were really close. Jim worked at the Bower & Bower Law Offices, which was where Bert’s wife worked, and that’s how Jim and Bert had gotten to know each other.
He poured out a bowl of Cheerios and thought about his plans for the day. He would visit Jim at his ten-story apartment that night, he decided at last. Jim lived a twenty minutes’ drive away. He wondered if he had enough gas.