I should never do anything pre-coffee.
“It was only a teeny fire,” I told my uncle over the phone. I sat outside on the steps of my apartment complex, watching the Phoenix Fire Department carry equipment out of my second-floor apartment. Black smoke trailed behind them. The air smelled awful, like the time I’d fallen asleep in front of a campfire and melted the bottom of my sneakers. Except this smelled like an entire Nike factory.
“Teeny fire?” Uncle Bob said. “Isn’t that an oxymoron or something?”
“Nah,” I said. “That’s firefighter language for no one got hurt. Right?” I asked an especially cute guy carrying a heavy-looking hose.
“Yep,” he said over his shoulder as he passed me. “Teeny. No one hurt.”
I smiled at him again and watched him descend the stairs. On the back of his firefighter’s helmet was a sticker that said, “Be Nice.”
“Olive,” said my uncle with a sigh. “Stop flirting with firemen and tell me what happened.”
“I’m not entirely sure.” I was not a morning person. “I got up early to go to that meeting you put on my calendar.”
Since acting didn’t always pay the bills (okay, rarely paid the bills), I worked part-time at my uncle’s private investigation business. Right now I was mostly filing and writing reports, but Uncle Bob promised he was going to give me some real detective work soon.
“You got up early?” I could hear the skepticism in my uncle’s voice. “What time?”
“Eight.” There was a pause on the other end. “Ish,” I finished.
“To go to this meeting that starts in…” I could almost see him squint at the old clock on the office wall. “Twenty minutes?”
“Right. Go on.”
“I put the kettle on the stove.” When my old coffeemaker bit the dust, I had replaced it with a French press, a much better fit for my minuscule galley kitchen. “Then I got in the shower.”
Another pause. Then, “You usually do that? Turn on the stove and get in the shower?”
“Sometimes. Then when I get out, the kettle’s boiling and I make coffee. No waiting.” Not only was I not a morning person, I was not a patient person. Especially in the morning. “Since the water was running, I didn’t hear the smoke alarm.”
“That’s why you didn’t hear the alarm? You were in the shower?” said the cute fireman, who was going back up the stairs. I nodded, though it did seem sort of obvious. I was wearing only a towel.
“So you turned on a gas stove, left the room, and put yourself in a situation where you couldn’t see or smell smoke or hear an alarm,” said Uncle Bob. I could tell he was trying to make a point. “And what happened when you got out of the shower?”
“The apartment was full of black smoke. Really nasty. I could taste it.” I scraped the top of my tongue with my front teeth. I knew I probably looked like a dog that just ate peanut butter, but I really wanted the greasy bitter smoke taste out of my mouth.
“Here,” the cute fireman came back and sat down next to me on the stairs, pulling a Day-Glo green bottle of Gatorade from a pocket in his voluminous firemen’s coat. “Helps with that awful taste,” he said, opening the bottle for me. Not only was he chivalrous, he was even better looking up close, with light brown eyes and the longest lashes I’d ever seen. I was wowed and envious at the same time.
“Thanks.” I hiked up my towel, grateful that I’d sprung for the large bath sheet. I twisted open the Gatorade. It was lukewarm, but it did make my mouth taste better. Like pleasant, lemony-limey smoke. The fireman shrugged out of his heavy firefighter’s coat. The t-shirt he wore underneath showed off strong muscled arms. I tried not to stare.
“Olive?” Uncle Bob was still on the line. “Was it really a teeny fire?”
I looked at the big fire truck and the half dozen firefighters going in and out of my apartment. “Yeah,” I replied, sticking with the definition of “no one got hurt.”
“Good. I want you at this meeting. Can you make it?”
“I’ll be there,” I said. “A little late, but I’ll make it.”
I didn’t make it. It wasn’t entirely my fault–the client arrived early and left just a few minutes later. The meeting wasn’t important after all, Uncle Bob said, and I believed him.
We were wrong. That meeting could have saved a man’s life.
You can read more about Ivy in The Sound of Murder, the second book in the “Ivy Meadows” theater mystery series, published by Henery Press. The first book in the series is Macdeath.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 a.m. eastern on Monday, October 12 for your chance to win a print copy of The Sound of Murder. (US entries only, please.) Good luck everyone!
Meet the author
Cindy Brown has been a theater geek (musician, actor, director, producer, and playwright) since her first professional gig at age 14. Now a full-time writer, she’s the author of the Ivy Meadows series, madcap mysteries set in the off, off, OFF Broadway world of theater. Macdeath, Ivy’s first adventure is “a gut-splitting mystery…a hilarious riff on an avant-garde production of the Scottish play” Mystery Scene Magazine). Cindy and her husband live in Portland, Oregon, though she made her home in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than 25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities. She’d love to connect with you at cindybrownwriter.com (where you can sign up for her Slightly Silly Newsletter) or on Facebook or Twitter.
[photo credit: AJC Photograph]