6. Where there is smoke, there is fire
Both Jean-Pierre and Katarina were rather shaken hearing the story from Marie-Anne. It had taken her a lot of effort to tell the truth, and they both noticed that Jean-Pierre’s sister truly felt guilty for the execution of her husband.
'I find it difficult to approve such a thing, sis, but I can understand a person being utterly exasperated act this way. I understand your life was in danger after you had discovered the real Gerry Oldman. Your judgment had been severely affected by your situation. I cannot say what I should have done in your place, considering the difficulty estimating the circumstances at that time.'
A faint smile appeared on the face of his sister, comforted now by Katarina. She had lent Marie-Anne a handkerchief to dry her tears of remorse.
'You don't have to worry, Marie-Anne,' Katarina spoke, answering her partner's reaction. 'We won't turn you over to the authorities. You can stay here as long as you want until you find yourself a proper accommodation. That man of yours, even if I never knew him, is better off dead than alive.'
Jean-Pierre noticed the sternness in the voice of his soul partner and surprised by it furrowed his brows. Since her mother died indirectly through the actions of the General, she had gotten a rough side. He genuinely admired her resilience after everything she had endured. When he heard her speak those harsh words, he realized the same thought had come to his mind already. Yes, they had become tougher.
When they heard the shouting, for a moment they didn't know what was happening, even if they could hear the words very clear. 'Fire! There's a fire!'
Katarina for a second looked startled at Jean-Pierre but instantly jumped up and followed by her friend and his sister ran in the direction of the sound. Most of the employees had heard the shouting too and were running to the building where the caretaker lived. It was an annex to the castle, used by the concierge who also was the night watchman.
Through the large windows of the hall, giving a clear view of the lodging, they saw a black smoke coming out of a couple of window panes. A row of people was passing buckets with water they threw through the broken windows on the fire. It was clearly that this wouldn't be sufficient.
'Has somebody already notified the fire brigade?' Katarina shouted, almost in a panic, at some of the persons she recognized. She recovered herself when the first extinguishers nodded affirmatively. Then she heard in the distance the siren of the speeding flaming red fire engines.
It was quite easy for the professional firefighters, dressed in their black suits with yellow fluorescent shiny helmets, to quench the seat of the fire. It didn't take long with the lot of material they had mobilized and the different water hoses they used to squirt the water under high pressure upon the little building before they had extinguished the flames. They had just arrived in the nick of time to prevent a bigger catastrophe.
The commander of the firefighters, together with his assistant, had entered the small building after checking if everything was safe. Katarina with Jean-Pierre at her side was waiting for the verdict of these men. Fortunately, at first sight, the damage had been limited to the little annex building.
Katarina noticed the rest of the firefighters were cleaning up and bringing back the material to the fire trucks. They wouldn't even have to stay looking for occasional flare-ups. The commander had already let them know this. She saw the big bloke of a leader of the fire brigade leaving the cottage and instantly knew something was wrong. The man kept talking for a moment with his assistant but then came in their direction.
'I'm sorry, Baroness, but I have to notify the police. We have found an empty can inside that contained a fire accelerant we think. This fire isn't an accident but set on fire intentionally. In the meanwhile, my colleague has informed them about this case. It would be advisable that nobody leave the premises of the castle. I suspect the inspector would like to hear everybody's testimony.’
Apparently, Katarina was startled by the announcement of the fire brigade commander. 'Do you mean the perpetrator can be somebody of my personnel?' Her voice was whispering as if she was afraid the culprit would be in the neighborhood. Her eyes were looking everywhere while she took Jean-Pierre by the armed in a forced way as if she was seeking support.
'Maybe it's still an accident, commander,' Jean-Pierre spoke. 'Possibly the concierge could have left the can because he needed it to do some job. Who knows, maybe we're overreacting. Before we accuse people, we better interrogate the particular person.'
The firefighter nodded. 'That's not a problem to me, sir. But it's not my job, but that of the police. I've done my work. If you will excuse me, I have to do some paperwork considering this incident, so that I have my report ready for the inspector on duty. I hope you will be spared of ..., further accidents.'
The expression on the face of the man joining his last words showed he taught the arsonist wouldn't leave it at that. Both Katarina and Jean-Pierre understood it so well that it stroke fear right to their heart. Was it wise now to proceed with the festivities?
© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere