That Old Flame of Mine

 

cover for That Old Flame of Mine

She could tell the heart of the fire was in the basement. They didn’t have long to search for Tory. The flames were spreading up the stairs, igniting the other floors as they reached out toward the roof.

“Third floor,” she told John. She’d purposely chosen him because he’d been a cop for years and she figured he could deal with a crisis better than the others. “Banyin, check the ground floor then get out.”

John and Stella ran up the long winding stairway, parting at the second floor. Tory’s bedroom was on this floor but Stella couldn’t take the chance that she could be somewhere else in the house.

She ran to Tory’s bedroom. The door was locked. She didn’t waste any time kicking it open. She pushed off the face mask and yelled for her friend. There was no response. She ran to the luxurious marble bathroom, shouting Tory’s name. The bathroom was empty too.

“Any sign of her?” She called John and Banyin on the radio.

“Nothing down here,” Banyin responded. “Should I come up there and help you all look?”

“No. Get out,” Stella responded. “John, any luck?”

“Not up here. I’m on my way down.”

Stella looked around the smoky bedroom that was as yet untouched by the fire. Tory might be at the park. She might be outside in the crowd by now. She could be having tea with friends. There was no way to know.

She prayed Tory wasn’t in the basement, although common sense told her that she’d been getting ready for the party. She shouldn’t be there.

 “Chief,” John said on the radio. “You gotta get out of there. You won’t make it back down the stairs if you don’t move now.”

“I’m on my way.” Stella was going through Tory’s bedroom one last time. When there were children involved, they always checked the closets. She was going to sweep the closets then hope to God that Tory was already at the party.

Stella opened the closet door in the bedroom and pushed through tons of clothes and shoes to reach the back. All of the clothes were neatly hung, even color coordinated. The shoes were all in boxes or hanging in shoe racks.

Until she got to the back.

Here the clothes were thrown on the floor, shoes everywhere. Stella pushed everything out of the way and swore when she found Tory beneath the mess.

Tory wasn’t breathing.

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 J. J. Cook is a pseudonym for a married couple who writes mysteries, mostly set in the South, with a touch of paranormal and romance. That Old Flame of Mine is the first book in the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries set in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee featuring Fire Chief Stella Griffin.

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