Spicy Lasagna Murder: Book 13 in The Darling Deli Series (3 page)

BOOK: Spicy Lasagna Murder: Book 13 in The Darling Deli Series
7.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Her plan seemed sound until she saw, through the open barn door, the figure of a man silhouetted against the flames. No, it was two men—and it looked like they were fighting. Moira inhaled sharply and was about to cry out when the figures disappeared from view behind a plume of smoke. She thought she heard a strangled shout.

She turned, but no one else had been at the correct angle to see the men. She could see David over by his car, rummaging around inside, but he was too far away to help.

“Someone’s inside,” she shouted over at the group of people under the food tent. A few people turned their heads her way, but no one made a move toward her or the barn.

“Someone needs to help them!”

Frustrated at how useless the crowd was being—really, they were going to record the blaze instead of trying to help?—she glanced at the barn again. The smoke was thick, but the fire didn’t seem to be that big yet. If someone was inside—if she hadn’t been imagining those men—then they might be confused from smoke inhalation. All she would need to do would be to go inside and guide them out. It would only take a few seconds—a minute at most. As long as she was careful and remembered where the door was, she would be okay. She couldn’t very well just let whoever was inside suffocate to death.

Moira took a deep breath, spared one last glance toward the car to check on David, then ran toward the open barn door. She tried to remember what to do in a fire.
Stay low
, she thought.
Smoke rises. And if your clothes catch on fire, stop, drop, and roll.

One thing she hadn’t counted on was how impossible it would be to breathe. As she stepped into the barn, she felt as if she were stepping into one of the deli’s ovens. The air was scalding, and the smoke began choking her from the very first breath she took. Flames rushed up the walls around her, and above her head the beams groaned. Coughing, she looked around for the men that she had seen.

She found the first body slumped against a stall. His eyes were open and staring, and she knew immediately that he was dead. She hurried over to him anyway, crouched low in an effort to find some breathable air. Her eyes were tearing from the smoke and heat as she checked his pulse, first on his wrist, then on his neck. Nothing. She turned to look for the other man. The beams above her groaned more deeply and she flinched, tensed to run toward the door if the building gave any sign of collapsing. Then she heard a moan.

She rushed toward the sound to find Farmer Samwell sprawled half out of a stall next to an old riding lawn mower. He had a cut on his forehead, and gazed at her with unfocused eyes.

“Mr. Samwell,” she exclaimed. “You have to get up. We need to leave.”

She tugged on his arm, but it was fruitless. The farmer was a big man, and there was no way she could carry him, or even drag him very far, not half-blinded and barely able to breathe as she was. Still, unwilling to leave him to his fate, she pulled on his arm. If she could just get him over to the barn door, she could call for help…

With a terrible scream, the beam above her gave out. Moira jumped back, but the end of it caught her on the shoulder, knocking her down. Something else landed on her arm, and she felt rather than heard her bone snap. It took her body a moment to acknowledge the pain, but when it did, she almost blacked out. She coughed and tried to get up, knowing that if she stayed in here much longer she would be as good as dead, but the beam pinned her to the floor. She tried to scream for help, but all she managed was a hoarse whisper.

Through the flames that were rising all around her now, she thought she saw a dark form watching her. The person turned away after a moment and faded into the smoke. After that, everything went dark.



Holding her right arm gingerly to her chest, Moira accepted the water offered by the paramedic, grateful to see that he had already opened the bottle for her. Her throat was parched and sore, and the water felt amazingly good as it slid down her throat.

“Mr. Samwell and the other man?” she croaked. “Are they…?”

“They didn’t make it, Ms. Darling,” he said gravely. “I’m sorry.”

“What about the third person?”

“What third person?” he asked, shooting a look of dread back at the smoldering remains of the old barn.

“He was standing on the other side of the flames,” she said. “By the other door.”

“Ma’am, the rescue team didn’t see anybody else. They’ll have to check again when… well, when it’s safe.”

Moira glanced at the smoldering building and felt sick. Even as she watched, another small fire flared up, and something else inside the building crashed. Anyone who went inside now would risk the entire thing collapsing on them.

She felt only marginally better when David, his face streaked with soot from helping to put out some of the smaller fires that had started, walked around the edge of the ambulance. When he saw her he wordlessly pulled her into a hug, only letting go when she cried out at the pain that shot through her arm.

“I was so worried,” he told her in a low voice. “When I couldn’t find you—and then someone said they saw a lady run into the barn—” He shook his head, jaw clenched tightly. Moira winced. She hadn’t meant to scare him. She knew that if their positions had been reversed, he would have done the same thing himself, but she also knew that that wouldn’t make him feel any better. He was already concerned that he was a bad influence on her; he certainly didn’t need her to point out that he wouldn’t have acted any differently.

“I’m sorry,” she managed. Her voice was deep and raw; even breathing hurt.

“I’m just glad you’re all right,” he said firmly. “You were lucky that the firemen got here when they did.”

Moira closed her eyes, trying to remember exactly what had happened. She must have passed out in the barn. The next thing she remembered was lying on a stretcher next to the ambulance with an oxygen mask strapped to her face and the concerned paramedic leaning over her.

“I need to find the fireman that got me out,” she said. “I want to thank him. He saved my life.”

“I’m sure you’ll be able to contact him after we get you to a hospital,” David said.

They both looked down at her arm, which was black and blue and probably broken. Her shoulder hurt where the falling beam had knocked it, and she could tell by the sticky feeling of her shirt that she must be bleeding.

“The worst is my throat,” she admitted to him. “It feels like it’s on fire.”

“I’m most worried about your smoke inhalation as well,” he said. “That can be pretty serious.”

The paramedic nodded.

“You should get to the hospital. Do you want us to take you…” He gestured at the ambulance that she was sitting in. “Or do you want to be driven by someone else?”

“David can drive me,” she said, preferring not to have to pay for an ambulance ride on top of everything else. “If you have time, that is.”

The private investigator snorted.

“Even if I hadn’t already planned to spend the day with you, I would make time,” he said. “Wait here, I’ll pull the car up. I doubt that after everything that happened they’ll care if I drive on the grass.”

A few minutes later Moira was buckled tightly into the passenger seat with her bottle of water.

“I’m sorry for making your car smell like smoke,” she croaked.

David turned to look at her with an exasperated grin. “Moira, that’s the last thing on my mind. You’re more important than any car.”

He put the car into gear and pulled away from where the ambulance was parked by the barn. The ride over the lawn was bumpy, which did nothing to help the headache that was beginning, but thankfully once they reached the well-tended dirt driveway, it smoothed out.

“Thanks for driving me,” she managed to say. Her throat hurt too much for her to want to say anything else, so she rode silently the rest of the way to the hospital.

Things happened quickly once she and David stumbled into the emergency room. Moira was rushed away by a nurse, while David was left to sit in the waiting room. First, she had to endure x-rays for her arm, then tolerated the cold stethoscope as first the nurses, then the doctor listened to her lungs from every conceivable angle. She was practically sobbing from pain as the doctor prodded her injured shoulder and finally declared that it wouldn’t need stitches after all. Then pain was forgotten as she received anesthesia in preparation for having the cast put on her arm.

Although she felt as if she’d been in the hospital for days, it was only a few hours before she was finally able to lean back on the bed without pain in her arm. The nurse had warned her that her feelings of euphoria would end soon, as the anesthesia wore off, but for now she was enjoying the sensation of floating on a soft cloud of comfort.

“They said you could have visitors,” David said, knocking on the door frame. “Can I come in?”

She nodded, too tired to make words and unaware that she wore a huge, silly grin. The skin on her face felt tight, and she wondered if she was burned.

“It looks like they got you all fixed up,” he said, taking a seat in the chair in the corner of the room. “How are you feeling?”

She surprised both of them by giggling.

“Really good,” she said.

He raised an eyebrow.

“Pain meds,” she whispered earnestly. Her throat was still too sore to speak normally.

“Ah.” David grinned himself as he nodded his understanding. “Well, enjoy them while you can. Did the doctor tell you anything about what you can expect for recovery time yet?”

She shook her upper body no.

“He said he’s coming in laaaaterrrrr.”

A second knock from the door interrupted them. Moira looked over to see Detective Jefferson.

“C’mon in,” she whispered, gesturing grandly with her good arm.

“Ms. Darling, I’m sorry, but I need to ask you some questions about what happened,” he said, coming in and standing by her bed. “Is now a good time? If you’re in pain or too tired, I can come back a little bit later.”

“No. Iss fine,” she told him. “Be’er now ’fore my medici-medicini-cation goes away.”

“All right. I’ll be as quick as possible, I promise.” He glanced over at David. “Mr. Morris, do you think I could talk to Moira alone?”

The private investigator sighed, but nodded and stood up to leave.

“I’ll come back when he’s done,” he promised her. “Feel free to tell him to stop if you need rest.”

Then he was gone, and the deli owner turned her attention to the police detective standing in front of her.

“What d’you wan’?” she asked.

“Right now I’m just going to ask you to start from the beginning,” he said. “Tell me what happened starting from just before the fire started until you got to the hospital.”

She nodded slowly, gathering her thoughts. Then she took a deep breath and launched into her story.

By the time she had finished, the detective’s eyebrows were near his hairline.

“Are you sure you saw a third person?” he asked, tapping his pen against the notebook.

She nodded. “Posilutely. Well, unless I was hallu-hallu— seeing things. I don’t know wha’ happened after that, to be tot’ly honest.”

“I’ll have to speak with the doctor about how likely it is to hallucinate when you’re low on oxygen due to smoke inhalation,” he said. “What you did was very brave, Moira.”

Her giddy mood suddenly turned somber. “S’useless,” she said. “They both shtill died.”

“Not many people would have even tried to save them,” he pointed out.

“I wish, I wish, I wish Icouldahelpedsomehow,” she said quietly. “Poor Mrs. Samwell. They were gon’ retire t’Florida together. Farmer Sam-Sam-Samwheel was only months away from retirement.” She took a deep breath, then asked, “Who wassa other man?”

She was half expecting Detective Jefferson to be unable to tell her, but to her surprise he had an answer for her right away.

“It was a man named Abram Franks,” he told her. “Also a farmer. Does his name sound familiar to you at all?”

She fell silent for a moment, struggling to remember where she had heard that name before. Her wits seemed to be coming back slowly; luckily she still felt no pain.

“Acsh’lly, maybe,” she said. “I think, not sure, but I think that Franks was one of his main competitors.” She gasped and cried a little in pain. “Detective, I thought I saw two men fighting right ’fore I ran into the barn. Do you think Franks could have attacked Samwell, and they knocked over something while— struggling?”

“It’s a possibility,” he told her. “We will definitely be looking into all possible causes for the fire. Now, you sleep. I have a feeling you’re going to need the rest.”

The detective left, and David came back in to sit by Moira, who was beginning to feel tired.
I wonder,
she thought as her eyelids grew heavy,
who the third person was?



Safely back at home the next day, Moira was miserable. The happy, floaty feeling she’d had with the anesthesia and pain meds had gone. Her throat ached, her voice was hoarse, her arm was throbbing with pain inside the cast—already itchy and uncomfortable—and the skin of her face felt tight and raw, as if she had a bad sunburn. Her bruised shoulder didn’t help matters either, and no matter how many times she washed her hair—a real hassle due to the cast—she couldn’t get the acrid scent of smoke out of it.

BOOK: Spicy Lasagna Murder: Book 13 in The Darling Deli Series
7.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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