The fire alarm blared in the hallway outside her bedroom door. Startled awake, Macie was completely blinded by the
thick, black smoke filling the air. Remembering what her mother taught her as a child, she got on her hands and
knees and crawled along the floor.
For a split second she considered feeling around the top of her nightstand for the cordless phone, but thought better
of it and made her way toward the window. Only recently had she traded her upstairs bedroom for the one
downstairs off the living room. She was grateful there wasn’t a two-story drop outside; she easily opened the
window and climbed out, safely landing on the front lawn.
Unable to stand just yet, she was again on her hands and knees coughing from the smoke that inevitably found its
way into her lungs.
Some time later, she attempted to stand to make her way down the road to the neighbor’s house and borrow the
telephone to call the fire department. Through her hazed vision, she could see old man Billings coming toward her.
Charlie owned the house down the street since before she was born. Nothing happened in their neighborhood or
town for that matter that Charlie didn’t know about. What he didn’t witness firsthand, he assumed and was usually
right much to the towns amazement.
“Are you alright, Macie?”
“I’m okay,” she managed to say between coughs.
“I thought for sure, you’d know,” she said rather snidely pointing toward the fire.
“Well, that’s what I get for trying to be neighborly,” he said turning to walk away.
“Wait, Mr. Billings; I’m sorry. Please, did you call the fire department?”
“Yes, but I don’t think it’s going to do much good, your house is enflamed…look,” he said pointing over her shoulder.
Turning around, she sobbed, “Oh my god; no! Everything I own, everything that’s ever meant anything to me is in
They could hear the roar of the fire trucks coming down the street. Sirens screamed louder and louder as they
approached the burning structure. Charlie waved his arms like they couldn’t find the place, yelling for them to hurry.
A dozen firemen were on the job, pumping water as fast as they could at the house. No sooner did they begin their
job when a policeman came to Macie’s side and started throwing questions at her.
“Are you alright, Mam?”
“Is there anyone else in the house?”
“No, Sir. I live alone; it’s my family’s…it was my family’s house,” she said through tear-filled eyes.
“Do you know how the fire started?”
“No, I was sleeping and the fire alarm woke me up.”
“The paramedics are here; they’ll give you some oxygen, check you out and take you to the hospital.”
“I can’t leave my home.”
“Mam, in case you missed it, your house is gone.”
“Gee, I hadn’t noticed; thanks a lot,” she snarled.
The paramedics made their way past the officer to administered oxygen to Macie and gave her some water to drink.
She seemed basically unharmed, but would need to go to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.
Before the paramedics took her away, the officer told her the fire chief would find out how it started and someone
would be in touch with her either from the fire department or the police department.
After she left, the police questioned Charlie for a few minutes and left once the fire was out.
* * *
The following morning, Macie was chomping at the bit to get out of the hospital so she could go back to what was left
of her house and assess the damage. Being given the green light to leave, she got her bill with a promise to come
back the next day to pay it and left.
Grabbing a taxi outside the hospital, she gave the driver her address and sat back scared of what she would find.
The taxi pulled up behind her car that was parked on the side of the road.
The driver, being rather insensitive, asked, “You live here?”
Ignoring his ignorance, she simply said, “I used to.”
Making the driver wait, she went to her car and popped the trunk. Inside was her briefcase where she always kept it.
She made sure she put forty dollars in it every week for an emergency like paying cab fare. She was also glad she
had the forethought to put in an extra set of ignition keys so she could drive to wherever she would be staying now.
Macie paid the driver and walked to where her front door used to be. Standing there, she couldn’t believe what she
was looking at. The entire house was gone; there wasn’t even a board left standing, nothing. She could barely tell
there was even a house there only yesterday.
Looking at it now made her cry. Her shoulders shuddered as she sobbed openly over her childhood home. Everything
I ever loved was in there; I don’t even have one piece of clothing to wear. My pictures, my music and my
jewelry…everything’s just gone. What do I do next?
Unable to really focus on what came next, she went back into her trunk and took out her wallet that was also in her
briefcase. She never carried a purse; reasoning that her briefcase was heavy enough as it was without adding
something else to throw over her aching shoulders. She needed to go to the bank and get some money. Even though
she had her mountains of credit cards, she liked paying in cash whenever she could. She never understood the
concept of interest and she hated it even more.
After finishing at the bank, she drove to one of the nicer Inns in town; Drucker’s Bed and Breakfast. She knew the
people who ran it; she handled their daughter’s adoption from China last year.
Walking in the front door, she was instantly greeted by the aroma of cherry pie. Charlotte Drucker was famous for the
cherry pie she made for her tenant’s dessert every night. There were even people from town who would pay her to
bake pies for the holidays. Her husband, Louis said if they ever decided to retire and needed a few dollars for
vacation and whatnot, she could go into business during the holidays making pies.
At the desk was Kaitlyn, their oldest daughter.
“Good morning, Kaitlyn; is your mother home?”
“Sure, can’t you smell the pies? She’s in the kitchen; let me go get her.”
A minute later, Charlotte came bounding from the kitchen with a huge smile and a slice of cherry pie all ready for
“Good morning, sweetheart. I know it’s a bit early for dessert, but it’s five o’clock somewhere, right?”
Smiling, she said, “I guess; thank you.” Taking the pie from Charlotte ’s hands, Macie continued, “I need a room.”
“That’s no problem. Forgive me for asking, but don’t you have a house?”
“Yes, no…it burned down last night.”
“Oh my heavens, no! Are you alright?”
“Yes, just some smoke inhalation, but I’m okay now. I spend the night at Young’s Memorial Hospital . The doctor’s
took good care of me, thank you.”
“Does the chief know anything yet?”
“I haven’t heard. I don’t expect to for a day or so. He told me last night that there were no other fires under
investigation so he had all the time in the world to spend on mine. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
“It’s good, sweetheart; I’m sure. Come on, let’s go in the kitchen and get you some coffee to go with that pie and
then I’ll take you to our best room.”
Smiling, she said, “That sounds good, Charlotte , thank you.”
* * *
After she was done with her pie and coffee, Macie went to her room and plopped down on the bed. She was
exhausted and hadn’t even done anything. She wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come, so she started thinking
back to her childhood…
“Mom, I need a towel so I can take a shower,” screamed Macie from the bathroom.
“How many times have I told you to bring one up with you? I don’t have time to bring you a towel every time you
forget which by the way is all the time.”
“I’m sorry, Mom; I’ll do better tomorrow, I promise.”
“That’s what you always say, Macie.” Throwing the towel up the stairs, she said, “This is the last time I’m going to do
this. Next time you’ll have to get redressed and come down and get one on your own.”
That was the long and short of their relationship. Macie seemed to always screw up and her mother, Joan was always
yelling at her.
After her shower, Macie bounded down the stairs to get some breakfast before going to school.
“What’s for breakfast, Mom?”
“Whatever you make for yourself; I’m not your maid; you’re fifteen years old for God’s sake. I shouldn’t be making
your meals for you.”
“Mother, do we have to argue every morning?”
“Just the mornings you act like a clueless jerk.”
Without eating, she grabbed her books and left for school.
Now, sitting on the edge of a bed at Drucker’s, she wished for more time with her mother. Maybe they could have
resolved their issues before she passed away. The cancer spread quickly and almost from the moment she found out
about her disease, Joan wanted to stay in a hospital so no one would watch her die. She never allowed visitors after
the first few weeks and once she passed away, all the family got was a typewritten note. It contained a cold good-
bye and how she instructed the doctor’s to mail it once she expired; nothing more, nothing less.
Macie felt tired and wanted to nap, but she also needed to buy some clothes. She decided the nap would have to
wait and after asking Charlotte if she needed anything while she was going out, went to the mall.
Her heart wasn’t in her shopping today. If she had a choice, she would have waited. Deciding she would simply buy a
few pair of jeans, two business suits, five blouses, pajamas, toiletries, make-up, undergarments and a few pair of
shoes—her favorite things to buy—she finished and walked the entire length of the mall back to the parking area.
Catching a peripheral glimpse in the windows as she passed by each store, she began noticing the same man
seemed to be behind her no matter where she went. Testing her theory, she sidestepped into a store pretending to
check out their merchandise. When she came out, he was again behind her. The faster she walked the faster he
walked; now she was a bit frightened and decided to have a security guard walk her out to her car. She couldn’t be
absolutely sure he was following her so she didn’t mention the man she thought was watching her.
Once she was safely in her car; she took a breath. It felt as if she’d been holding it since she noticed the man behind
her. Quickly, she drove back to Drucker’s and dashed into her room, locking the door behind her.
Hanging up her purchases, she now felt an even greater need for the nap she wanted earlier. Giving in, her sleep
was filled with dreams of watching her house burn to the ground, making a sound sleep impossible.
Finally, she got up and went to the front dining hall for some lunch.
The next morning, Macie just finished her shower when there was a knock at her door.
Still a bit shaken over yesterday’s event at the mall, she carefully asked, “Who is it?”
“Fire Chief Wilson, Mam. May I speak with you?”
Unlocking the door, she said, “Please, come in. Excuse how I look, I just got out of the shower. My bathrobe was the
closest thing I could grab when you knocked.”
“No problem, Mam. I have the cause of the fire; it was arson.”
“Arson; are you sure?”
“No doubt about it. Do you have any idea who would want to burn your house down with you in it?”
“No, Sir. This makes yesterday’s event even more strange.”
“What do you mean?”
“I went to the mall to do some clothes shopping and some man was following me. I wasn’t really sure, but now I’m
“You need to contact the police department as do we. The fire was started with an accelerant.”
“Gasoline, turpentine, something that will catch fire easily and engulf your house quickly.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but do you need anything else from me?”
“Not at this time. We will be in touch.”
“Thank you Chief Wilson. I need to call the police station.”
“Let us know if you need anything from us.”
“I will thank you again.”
The fire chief left and Macie immediately dialed the local police department.
“Detective Nelson,” came the response.
“Detective, my name is Macie Truman. My house burned down the day before yesterday over on Maplewood .”
“Yes, Mam; I heard about it. How can I help you?”
“I didn’t call about the fire, not really; I went to the mall yesterday to buy some clothes and someone was following
me. At first I didn’t think so, but now, I’m sure of it.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“At first, I saw his reflection in the store windows, but when I ducked into a store and came back out a while later, he
was again behind me. Then today Chief Wilson came to see me over at Drucker’s Bed and Breakfast and told me the
fire was arson. Quite frankly, Detective, I’m scared now.”
“I’ll be right over. What room are you in?”
“I’ll be right there; don’t let anyone in until I get there.”
“I won’t; I’ll be waiting. Thank you.”
She hung up with the Detective and hurriedly got dressed in her blue jeans and a lime green blouse. Not long after
she was done, there was a knock at her door.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“Detective Nelson, Ms. Truman.”
Opening the door, she looked at the badge he was holding and then stood back so he could enter. Taking a seat on
the side of her bed, she waited for the detective to speak first.
“You said a man followed you yesterday at the mall.”
“Can you tell me what he looked like?” he asked taking out his notebook and pen.
“Yes, he was about five foot ten, stocky, mid-fifties, graying temples and he was wearing glasses.”
“Have you ever seen this man before?”
“Did you get any strange phone calls before or after you saw him?”
“Seen any strange people hanging around your job or your house in the past few weeks?”
“Not that I noticed, but I never really thought about looking. I was just going about my business.”
“I understand. I have an idea; how do you feel about going back to the mall?”
“That’s a hell of an idea, but I don’t think I can do it”
“Not even if I’m there?”
“What do you mean, Detective?”
“You go into the mall, pick up one or two things then walk back to your car. If he’s following you, I’ll be there to catch
It didn’t take her long to answer, “You know what? Why not? I have nothing better to do than to catch some creep.
“Are you sure?”
“Are you going to protect me?”
“Then let’s go; we’re burning daylight, Detective.”
Macie grabbed her keys, stuck some money in her pocket along with her driver’s license and left with the detective.
She wasn’t at the mall for more than ten minutes when she spotted the same man behind her again. Trying to remain
calm, she slowly made her way out to the parking lot after she paid for her purchases.
Approaching her car, she could see the detective in a car close by hers. The man following her seemed to drop back a
bit as she slid the key in her car door.
The man made his way in a wide sweep around her car walking right next to the one with Detective Nelson in it.
Suddenly, the detective swung his door open and flashed his badge.
The man did as he was told and stood still where he was.
“Mind telling me why you’re following Ms. Truman?”
“I’m not following anyone.”
“Let’s see some identification, please,” said Nelson holding out his hand.
The man took out his wallet and opened it to show the detective his private investigator’s license as Macie walked
toward the two men.
Showing the identification to Macie, Detective Nelson asked, “Do you know anyone who would want to have you
“No, I’m kind of a loner. I’m a busy attorney and barely have time for anything other than my job.”
Looking at the I.D. again, Wilson said, “Well, Mr. Gabriel Branson, who hired you to follow Ms. Truman?”
“Listen, that’s privileged information.”
“I don’t care what you call it; I’ll bet you have something you want to keep buried somewhere. Why don’t you save
me the time of finding it to use against you and just tell us what you have?”
Throwing him a look that could kill, he relented and said, “She says her name is Lee Chancellor. All I know is she
wanted me to burn the house down and then—if she survived—follow Ms. Truman afterward. I told her I was a
private investigator, not an arsonist.”
“She asked you to burn the house down?”
“Yeah, like I said; but I’m just a P.I. I don’t do crime.”
“I’ll bet. What did she say after you declined her request for arson?”
“Nothing; I told her I wouldn’t do it, but agreed to follow her if she still wanted me to do that.”
“Did she say anything else about the fire?”
“Nothing and I didn’t ask.”
“She wanted you to follow her after the house burned down? I don’t get it,” said Detective Nelson.
“I don’t either; she just hired me the other day and told me to follow her and let her know where she takes up
Turning his attention toward Macie, Detective Nelson asked, “Does the name Lee Chancellor mean anything to you?”
“No, I’ve never heard the name.”
“Do you know of anyone who is angry enough with you to try to kill you?”
“No, but I am a lawyer,” she said actually trying to lighten the mood. “Nobody likes a lawyer.”
Getting back to his conversation with Gabriel, Nelson asked, “Did she say why she wanted the house burned down?”
“No, but she pays very well.”
“How much did you get to scare the hell out of this woman?”
“Five thousand dollars.”
“Did you quote her that price?”
“No, she offered.”
“And you couldn’t resist, could you?”
“Hey, I’m not stupid.”
“Yes you are; you’re going to take me to her.”
“What? I can’t, that’s against client/P.I. confidentiality.”
“I don’t care if it’s against the Geneva Convention; we’re going…now!”
Glaring at Detective Wilson, Gabriel said, “Fine, but we have to go in my car. If she sees a cruiser, we’ll never find her.”
“No problem, I’ll take my cruiser and follow you. What’s the address?”
“ Five ninety seven Wilshire Avenue ; the big blue house at the end.”
“I know it; Wilshire’s a dead end, right?”
“Yeah, but if she sees you it’s all over and I’ve lost a great pay day.”
“Not my problem, but I’m yours if you screw this up.”
Macie said, “Can I go with you Detective? I’d like to see who this woman is.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea. If this woman is trying to kill you, we don’t know what state of mind she’s in or
what she’ll do to get to you. People like that don’t care that there’s a cop standing right there.”
“I realize it’s not exactly safe, but I want to face this woman. I need to find out what I did to make her so angry.
Please, Detective I’d like to go with you.”
“Alright, but stay behind me when we get to the door.”
All three left the mall parking lot and made their way to the big blue house on the end of Wilshire Avenue .
Branson stood on the top step ahead of the detective with Macie behind him. Gabriel knocked on the door and
waited. A few seconds later, the door was opened and there stood a woman, sixty years old, tall, white hair and
glasses perched on the end of her nose.
Detective Nelson pushed past Gabriel and flashed his badge.
“Ms. Lee Chancellor? My name is Detective Nelson…”
Before he could finish what he was saying, Macie peeked out from behind him and gasped.
Slowly walking around the detective and standing in front of him, she stared in amazement.
“This isn’t possible,” she muttered.
Both men couldn’t miss the look of shock on her face, and Detective Nelson asked, “What is it, Macie? Do you know
For a moment all she could do was stare with her chin resting on the top step.
Again, Detective Nelson spoke, “Macie, are you alright? Who is this woman?”
Shaking her head as if to clear years of cobwebs, she whispered, “She’s my mother.”
By: Terri Ann Armstrong