Smoke on the Water Episode 22

Smoke on the water header

Chapter 22: Caroline

Two days after the fire, I stood with Hoyt on the sidewalk in front of the tavern and stared. From the front, you almost couldn’t tell anything had happened, other than the lingering scent of smoke in the air and the caution tape that had been strung up to keep the curious away. Not that it stopped the Lookie Loos from hanging out at the perimeter. Plenty of them had stopped to gawk. More than one looked our way as we ducked beneath the tape and made our way around to the back.

The full reality of the devastation hit me like a physical blow as I took in what remained. The kitchen, once full of life and warmth, was now a gutted shell. Charred remains of what had once been counters and appliances were scattered amidst the debris. The stink of burnt wood and melted plastic hung heavy in the air, a stark reminder of exactly what Hoyt had risked his life to pull me out of.

My heart sank as I stepped closer. The wall that had separated the kitchen from the bar and dining area was almost entirely gone, reduced to a few crumbling pieces of plaster and exposed beams. I could see straight through to where the bar once stood, now just a blackened, unrecognizable mess. The dining room, though not as badly damaged as the kitchen, bore the scars of the fire, too. Soot and ash covered everything, and the tables and chairs were upended, some reduced to charred fragments. The back side of the building housing the supply closet where I’d been trapped was straight up gone.

There was absolutely no question in my mind that if he hadn’t come after me, I would’ve died in there. The memory of the dark and the smoke and the heat made me shudder.

Hoyt wrapped an arm around me. “Okay?”


There was more activity back here. I spotted Ed, his face gray beneath his beard, his eyes devastated. This was his life’s work, reduced to ashes. How could I face him after this? And yet, I owed him that respect.

Bracing myself, I closed the distance. “Ed?”

Those lines of strain on his face eased a little when he spotted me. “Caroline.”

I swallowed against the knot in my throat. “I’m sorry.” The words slipped out, hardly louder than a whisper. My voice was still a rasp from smoke inhalation, but this struggle was more from grief and shame.

“Oh, honey, no. This isn’t your fault. I’m just so glad you’re all right.” He pulled me in for one of his gruff bear hugs, and I leaned into it, feeling unworthy of this good man’s absolution.

When he released me, I fought back emotion. “I don’t know what your plans are, but I’m there to help in whatever way I can.”

“I appreciate that, darlin’. We haven’t been cleared to start cleaning up the damage yet. Hoping to get in soon, though. That fella over there is an arson investigator.” He jerked his head toward where a man I didn’t recognize was poking through the rubble while Chief Thompson waited nearby.

“How did we land an arson investigator this fast? I thought they had to come from off-island.” I was sure Hoyt had mentioned that after the beach house fire.

Hoyt stepped up. “We’ve had so many fires this summer, we finally got moved up on the list. He’ll probably be checking out the beach rental, too.”

Across the parking lot, I spotted Bree and Ford. Tears tracked down her cheeks, and as I watched, Ford took her into his arms. She burrowed into him, burying her face against his broad shoulder. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head, holding on as she cried.

It was a Thing that Bree was letting herself lean on him. She liked to pretend she didn’t need anyone—a sentiment I more than understood. I hoped that at least one good thing could come from this nightmare. Maybe Ford would realize he felt more for her than mere friendship.

Beside me, Hoyt hadn’t stopped scanning the crowd, his body tense.

“What’s wrong?”

“Just watching everybody, noting their reactions.”


“Frequently arsonists will come back to see the results of their actions.”

Well, that was a chilling thought. The idea that the person who’d tried to kill me could be nearby, watching us all. I looked over the gathered crowd myself. Chet Banks was at the edge of the perimeter, staring at the damage. His eyes fell to me, and his expression shifted to an angry glare, as if I’d been the one to set the fire. Or maybe like he was sorry I’d made it out?

I stepped closer to Hoyt. Troy Lincoln was there, too. I knew he worked nearby. It was why he’d frequented the tavern so often. His office was only a couple of streets over. I couldn’t read his face, and I wondered what he was thinking.

There were tourists there, too. I saw a couple of teenaged boys I recognized as summer people. They’d become regulars around town over the past couple of months. Seemed like I remembered something about how their parents were professors or something and had booked one of the rentals for the entire summer. A frenetic energy fairly crackled around them as they stared at the damage. Did that mean something? Or was it just that this was the most exciting thing to happen on this usually quiet island since their arrival?

“He found something,” Hoyt murmured.

I turned in time to see the arson investigator rise from where he’d crouched in the wreckage, putting something into a container.

“Whatcha got?” Chief Thompson asked.

The investigator stepped free of the debris and walked over. “Maybe the thing the perp used to start the fire. This look familiar to any of you?”

He held out the heavy-duty plastic evidence bag. Inside was a silver square, warped from the heat. I realized after a moment it was a lighter. There were marks on the surface.

Hoyt spotted those, too. “Can I see that, sir?”

The investigator handed him the bag. We both peered closer, trying to make sense of the lines. They’d blurred some, but they were still mostly legible. It was a set of engraved initials.


My heart kicked up in realization. “David Foley. The drunk guy who got aggressive with me the night of the fire. The one I kicked out. He’d been smoking earlier. I didn’t see his lighter specifically, but what are the chances that another lighter with his initials would be here in the rubble?”

Jaw set, Thompson pulled out his cell. “We’ll have him brought in. We definitely have some questions.”