The Magic in Your Touch Ch. 07bywavyscribe©
Leda was a slight woman, but it didn’t stop her from hugging the daylights out of Nate. When he grunted, she pulled back and wiped the tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean to mash your bruises. It’s just so good to hold you again, Nathan.”
Nate brushed at the moisture in his own eyes. “You too, Mama. You look great.”
“Nathan Morris, your mama did not raise you to lie. I know how dreadful I look, but none of that matters now. I’m here, with you. That’s all I’ve prayed for every night for six years.”
Nate looked around for Brandon and saw him still standing by the door. “Come over here, Bran. Have you guys been properly introduced yet?”
Calder said, “If by properly, you mean being met at the door, threatened, and almost refused entrance to see our own son, then I suppose we have.”
Nate ignored the sarcasm in his father’s voice, a habit acquired over long years of practice. He said, “Well, just in case, allow me. Calder and Leda Morris, I’d like you to meet my fiancé, Brandon Nash.”
Leda’s smile made her look a good ten years younger. “A wedding? You’re going to have a wedding? When?”
Nate felt the tight knot of tension in his stomach start to loosen. “We really haven’t had much of a chance to plan, but we’re hoping to take our vows in about three months.”
Calder came to stand behind his wife. “There is no way in hell you are going to marry this man in three months, Nathan.”
Nate felt all the blood drain from his face. He’d been hopeful, especially after his mother’s reaction, but it was obvious his father hadn’t changed. Nate hadn’t realized just how much he was hoping for a reconciliation until now. Still, he would hear his father out. If this was the last time he was to talk to him, he would allow Calder to say his peace.
Brandon was about to say something, but Nate held up his hand. “And why is that, Daddy?”
Calder said, “Because, you are my oldest son, and there is absolutely no way I’m going to have you married in some last ditch, thrown together ceremony. Your mother and I are going to see this thing done right. It takes at least six months to put together a proper wedding. We have to print the invitations, arrange the music, call the caterers, and so on and so forth.” He looked to his wife for help. “Tell him, Leda.”
Leda nodded, her smile even more radiant than before. “He’s right, Nathan. When your father and I got married, it took eight months just to make all the arrangements, and that was with both our mothers working together.”
Nate barely heard her. He was too stunned by what his father had just said. “Did you mean it, Daddy?”
Calder gave the first smile he’d given since arriving. “Of course I meant it. We’re going to do this thing right. When your children—” He stopped and looked at Brandon. “I’m assuming the two of you plan to adopt?” When Bran nodded, he continued. “When your children are older, they’ll want to know all about their fathers’ wedding. You’ll want to have some grand tales to tell them. I don’t want my grandchildren to think their parents got married in some tacky two-bit service.”
Nate said, “So, you want me to have children now?”
“Of course. Your mother and I aren’t getting any younger, son. It’s about time you settled down and started a family.”
God help him, but Nate wanted to believe his father was telling the truth. One part of him though, the part that was nearly destroyed six years ago, refused to give up that easily. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll molest them. Six years ago, you accused me of being some kind of deviant child predator.”
Calder shifted uncomfortably. “We all make mistakes, Nathan. I’ve come here looking for forgiveness.”
Nate looked to Bran, but he shrugged. “It’s your call, babe. I’m behind you, no matter what.”
He nodded. “I’m willing to try, Dad.”
A gleam sprang into Calder’s eyes. “That’s all I ask, son. That’s all I ask.”
* * *
Bran came downstairs to find his father surrounded by a throng of grandchildren, all enthralled by one of his many stories. The funny part was, his brothers and sisters, all of whom had heard that same story a hundred times, were just as wrapped up as the kids. His mother saw him and excused herself from the group. They walked into the kitchen away from the others. Bran pulled out a chair for Gale and sat down at the table opposite her.
“How did it go with Nate’s parents?”
Bran folded his hands on top of the table and looked his mother right in the eye. “It was perfect, Mom. It couldn’t have gone any better if the whole thing had been written down on paper.”
“In other words, it was too perfect.”
“Exactly. Nate’s mother seems genuine enough. It’s his father I don’t trust. I just can’t see the guy who wanted to have Nate sterilized for fear he’d reproduce and pimp out his kids suddenly having this immense change of heart. Not so much so that he’s up there right now helping Nate plan out our wedding. It just doesn’t gel.”
Gale played devil’s advocate. “People can change, Brandon. Seth did. I have no doubt his feelings for Nate are real.”
Since Gale knew all about the attack that led to Seth and Nate’s estrangement, Bran was sure she would understand his next point. “Neither do I, Mom, but Seth had very real reasons for feeling like he did. Even if you go on the theory that Calder was so traumatized by Seth’s attack that he turned on Nate, it doesn’t explain why he didn’t want to see the son-of-a-bitch that raped his son prosecuted. Hell, he didn’t even take the kid to the hospital, not to mention that shrink he sent Seth to who tried to convince him he wasn’t gay. No, that man is a bigot. I would bet my last dollar on it. And you know as well as I do that a bigot doesn’t change without some type of heavy intervention.”
Gale smiled and patted his folded hands. “Sometimes I forget you have a degree in psychology. For what it’s worth, I agree with you. The question is, what are you going to do about it?”
“At the moment, nothing. Nate wants to give his folks another chance, and if I interfere, he might end up resenting me for it later on. I love him too damn much to let that happen. If Calder does have an ulterior motive, he’ll tip his hat eventually. When he does, I’ll be waiting.”
The phone rang before Gale had a chance to comment. Bran grabbed the kitchen extension. “Nash.”
Sam sounded out of breath. “Sorry to bother you, Bran. I know you’d planned to spend the rest of the day with Doc Morris, but this is an emergency. We’ve had another fire.”
“Fuck!” Bran gripped the phone so hard his knuckles turned white. “Who was it this time?”
“Marjorie Newman. Her book store was a total loss. That’s not the worst part, though. She was inside the building when the fire started. Marjorie always closes right at five, no matter what. At six o’clock, when she still hadn’t come home, Eva went looking for her. She got there just in time to see the windows blow out. The medics pulled Marjorie out about twenty-minutes ago and sent her to Chicago General. The Fire Department is on the scene now, but I haven’t received word on Marjorie’s condition.”
“I don’t suppose the fire marshal has found anything, yet.”
“No, and he may not. The last fire was ruled inconclusive as to origin. Marjorie might be able to help us, if she makes it.
Brandon glanced at the clock. It was six forty-five. He knew that the first two hours after a crime was committed were often the most crucial. “Sam, I’m on my way. Don’t let the guys from Fire and Rescue contaminate my crime scene any more than necessary. I’m bringing in my own expert on this one, so it may take me a few minutes to get there.”
“Hate to burst your bubble Bran, but it could take days to fly in a trained arson investigator.”
“Not when you happen to have one upstairs taking a nap in your guest bedroom.”
“Shit, I forgot that he used to be the Reed County Fire Marshal. But Bran, he’s eighty-four years old. Think he’ll feel up to it?”
“We’re talking about the same man who just last week won the Third Annual Arm Wrestling Championship at Shorty’s Pub. Hell, he and Grandma still have sex four times a week. No, he’ll want to do this, especially if it means catching the guy who’s after Nate. I’ll be there as soon as I wake him up. I only hope he and Grandma aren’t naked when I go upstairs to get him.”
He hung up and turned to his mother. “I have to go, Mom.”
“So I heard. What do you want me to tell Nate?”
Bran kissed her and headed upstairs to retrieve his grandfather. “Just tell him I was called in on a case. I’ll tell him the rest of it when I know more details. Do me a favor, though. When Keith gets here, have him check Nate over. I’m afraid he’s had too much excitement over the last few days. And keep an eye on his father for me. I don’t trust that guy. The rest of the family can go home anytime, but I’d appreciate it if you and Dad would stay.”
“Of course, honey. We’re always here for you and Nathan. You know that.”
Bran nodded from the doorway. “I’m glad, Mom. I have a feeling we’re going to need all the help we can get before this thing is over with.”
* * *
Anyone looking at Gene Taylor would see the quintessential little old man. With his unruly shock of white hair and his faded blue eyes, no one would ever guess he had the mind of a crack detective. During his thirty years as fire marshal, not a single arson went unsolved. Bran was counting on those skills to pull this one off.
Bran spent the ride downtown filling his grandfather in on what little he knew. He also gave him all the details of the H. and G. Dry-cleaning case. Gene was silent, but Bran could almost see the old man’s mind working.
The ruins of The Book Barn were still smoldering when Bran whipped his SUV into the parking lot. Luckily, the blaze was contained before the fire spread to the surrounding businesses. Several anxious tenants and shopkeepers stood outside, most awaiting word of Marjorie.
Sam met Bran and Gene at the curb. His short brown hair was streaked with soot and he had smudges under his gray eyes. Sam’s tall, thin body was covered in ash, his uniform ruined. Bran gave him a disapproving inspection.
“What the hell were you doing in there, Sam? That’s the fire fighters’ job. You were supposed to be out here securing the crime scene.”
Sam disregarded the criticism with the ease of old friendship. “I know, I know, but I think you’re going to be glad I did when you see what I’ve found.” He steered them through the crowd and into the burnt shell of the building. He pointed to a spot in what used to be the back corner of the building. “I found it when I came in to secure the scene.”
Brandon saw a clear speak of yellow laying on the charred ground. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and lifted the scrap of paper for closer inspection. Gene looked on, but still didn’t comment.
Bran walked out of the darkened husk back to his SUV, Sam and Gene following behind. He opened the car door and held the paper up to the interior light.
“Well, I’ll be damned. It’s a rental car receipt. Name’s been burned off, but the tag number’s still intact.”
Sam nodded. “I’ve already called the rental car company. They’re running a check on it now. I left it where it was after I got the number off of it because I wanted you to see where I found it. Looks to me like the perp used the thing to start the fire, but for some reason, it didn’t burn. My guess is, whatever accelerant he used caught fire before that receipt had a chance to burn completely. The fire guys took some samples for testing. As soon as we get the name that goes with that slip of paper, we’ll have our guy.”
Gene spoke his first words since getting out of the SUV. “Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out, son. In fact, the whole thing couldn’t have been easier to solve if your arsonist had gift wrapped it and slipped it into your Christmas stocking.”
Bran leaned back against the car. “I agree, it’s too easy, Grandpa, but I’m going more on a gut feeling. From the look of you, I’d say you’ve got something a little more concrete.”
Gene stared at his grandson a few minutes before speaking. “You think the same guy who’s setting these fires is the one who’s after Nate, don’t you, boy?”
“The way I see it, the guy was smart enough to club Nate on the head, wreck his house and the doctor’s office, tamper with his brakes and set up the H. and G. job to make it look like a gay-hate thing, all without getting caught. You think he’s suddenly developed a brain tumor that turned him into a dumbass?”
Sam said, “Mr. Gene, are saying this guy got caught on purpose?”
Gene gave Sam a look that suggested there was definitely a dumbass in the vicinity, and it wasn’t the perp. He fielded his comments directly to Brandon. “So far, this guy has targeted only businesses that already contain natural accelerants, like the cleaning fluids at H. and G. and the fiberglass book binding resins here at The Book Barn. No need to risk exposure by bringing in your own stuff if the fuel’s already there. Look at that paper you’re holding, Brandon. What do you see?”
Bran turned on the high beams and stepped into the light. He studied the paper and said, “The corner where the name should be is the only part of the paper that’s burned. There’s no soot or tar marking the surface of the receipt, even though the thing was inside a burning building for a good half-hour before the fire was brought under control. The son-of-a bitch set fire to the corner, then put it out before the incriminating numbers had a chance to burn. I’d be willing to bet he started the fire in the other end of the building after he planted this where he knew we would find it.”
Sam scratched his head. “How in the hell did he keep the paper from burning up under the heat?”
Bran held the paper out for Gene’s inspection. “Flame retardant?”
“Yep. I’ve been out of the loop for a while, as far as the latest technology goes, but I’d say it’s an aqueous based resin, maybe one of the brominated compounds. It’s not that hard to come by. Most building supply companies stock it.”
Sam’s cell phone started ringing while Gene was still talking. The expression on his face went from eager anticipation to twisted disbelief. He muttered his thanks and closed his phone. He addressed Bran and Gene with a shake of his head.
“That was Bingham’s Car Rental. They traced the tag and came up with a credit card number. MasterCard just confirmed the identity of the card holder.”
Gene said, “Son, I’ve always liked you, but damned if you don’t have a habit of stringing out the drama. Just tell us who the damn car was rented to.”
Sam took a deep breath and said, “Seth Morris.”