by Kate Fellowes
This story was first published in the Canadian visitor’s guide several years ago.
“What do you think happened here?” Officer Robert Packard asked, gesturing to the remains of a blaze, recently extinguished.
“Could have been a lot worse,” Fire Chief Henry Swift said, pushing back his helmet. “Lucky thing someone noticed and called it in.”
One corner of the building was gone, the rest water-soaked and soot covered.
“But how’d it start? Suspicious?”
A few years ago, as everyone knew, Al Morris, the owner, had been charged with arson and insurance fraud for burning down his earlier establishment. He’d paid his debt and gone back into business.
“I can’t think any man would try that trick again,” the Chief said, “but it’s looking bad. Of course, we’ll investigate further, but,” he put his finger to the side of his nose and winked.
“Got it. Thanks.” Officer Packard headed across the lot to where several people, including Al, watched the action.
Al looked sick. His hands clenched on the wooden police barricade.
“This is just awful! I’ve worked so hard to get it together again and now this!”
“Yeah, now this,” Officer Packard let his tone ask the question.
“You can’t think I had anything to do with this! I made a hash of things before, but I’m an honest man now!”
“Anybody out to get you? Not a fan of Al’s Auto Parts?”
Al looked at the thin man beside him, who wore a shirt bearing the company logo.
“You were pretty steamed at me last week when I said I was cutting your hours, Dale.”
Dale shook his head. “Yeah, but I can work extra at the hardware store. It’ll be okay.”
Dale looked to the policeman. “We did have an angry customer the other day, Officer.”
“Who?” Al asked. “Why were they angry?”
“Frank was in to special order another part. Got pretty steamed when I couldn’t give him a better price,” Dale told Al. “It’s not my fault shipping’s so expensive. Those rubber bumpers weigh a ton! You know how he gets.”
Al nodded, turning to Officer Packard. “Frank Vogel is restoring a sports car. Comes in all the time to order parts for it. Gets excitable.”
“Enough to burn down your shop?”
“Wouldn’t think so, but—” Al shrugged.
Officer Packard found Frank at the address Al supplied. Out in his garage, he was sitting on an overturned bucket sanding a patch of primer on a 1969 MGB.
“Yeah, I’m at Al’s a lot. He usually works a deal for me, but he wasn’t in. I had to talk to that skinny kid. Gave me a hard time, so I gave him one back. What of it? I might lose my temper,” he said, “but I’m not a pyromaniac.”
“Have you known Al long?” Officer Packard asked.
“Ten years, maybe?”
“Would you consider him a friend?”
“We’ve tipped back a few together.” Frank rose slowly from the bucket, pulling a rag from his pocket.
Frank spit on the rag, rubbed it over a chrome fitting. “If you’re asking me if I helped him burn down his old business, that answer would be no.”
Officer Packard turned his attention to the vehicle, watching the man move on to rub the length of the back bumper.
Frank gave the shiny surface another swipe with his rag. “That’s what you call a mirror finish, sir,” he said, smiling at his own reflection.
“She’ll be a beaut when she’s restored,” Officer Packard said sincerely.
“That she will,” Frank agreed.
Back at the smoldering remains of Al’s Auto Parts, Officer Packard approached Al and Dale, who were picking around the wreckage.
Addressing one of the men, he said, “You’re under arrest for suspicion of arson.”
“You’re crazy!” Dale said. “I didn’t do it! It must have been Frank.”
“No, it was you,” Officer Packard said.
“Because Frank’s MGB has chrome bumpers, so he wouldn’t have been complaining about the cost of a rubber one, would he?” the Officer went on.
“Dale, why would you do that? You’ve ruined me!” Al said, dismayed.
“Because you cut my hours, Al!” Dale burst out. “I was steaming mad at you.”
“You’ll have plenty of time to cool off down at the station,” Officer Packard said, leading the young man away.
Looking on, Al shook his head slowly, then turned back to salvage what he could from the remains.
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