“What the heck?” Harry looked at his bedside clock. Three AM. What on earth was making all the noise? The forecast had called for heavy rain and high wind with a chance of thunderstorms overnight but he’d never heard anything like this.
Then he realized that someone was banging on his door… which probably meant someone had trouble. He jumped out of bed, grabbed a pair of gym pants and pulled them on as he went towards the door.
“Wake up, Hogan! Wake up! It’s wet out here!”
Lightning briefly lit the darkness as Harry pulled the door open and Bertie almost fell inside. He shut and locked the door before turning to look at her. “You look like a drowned rat. Hang on a minute.” He hurried to the bathroom and returned with a large thick towel.
“Thanks.” She dried her face and threw the towel over her hair. Then she removed her rain jacket and shoes. Wrapping her arms around herself, she shivered slightly. “Br-r-r-r. I’m freezing.”
“Impossible,” he replied. “It’s not cold enough for that yet. What’s up?”
“I’m homeless,” she told him in a hoarse whisper. “And it’s a terrible night out there… raining cats and dogs, howling wind, thunder and lightning. Not fit to be outside.”
“Then why…? Never mind. Sit down and dry yourself while I make some hot chocolate.” Obviously something was seriously wrong.
“Thank you. I’m sorry to wake you up like this, but I didn’t know where else to go.”
“Hey, you have a problem… you come to a friend. It’s what you do.”
She sat on the sofa drying her hair while he prepared the drinks. Then she curled her legs up, took an afghan from the arm of the sofa and wrapped it tightly around her.
“Sip slowly. It’s hot.” He handed her a mug, sat down in his chair and swivelled around to face her. “Okay, tell me what happened.”
The words tumbled over each other, as if she could not control them. “It was a nightmare… building on fire… alarms and sirens going off… sprinkler system on… people screaming and running every which-way…”
“Take a deep breath and slow down,” he said.
“Someone knocked on my door, shouting ‘ Fire! Get out!’ I barely had time to grab my jeans, sweater and jacket and push my feet into my shoes.” She looked at her feet. “I don’t even have socks.”
“Don’t worry about what you don’t have,” he said quietly. “You’re safe. That’s the most important thing. We’ll deal with the rest later.”
She nodded and sipped the chocolate.
“Any idea what caused the fire?”
She shook her head. “I just remember a lot of commotion. When I came out the main door, someone told me to go to the rescue vehicle… someone took my name and apartment number and asked if there was anyone else in the apartment.”
“So we don’t know how bad it is yet, if the building is a total loss or not.”
“It didn’t look good,” she replied. “My jeep was parked in the side lot, out of the danger zone so they let me get it. I couldn’t see much at the front of the building.” She shivered. “As I turned the corner I looked behind and I could see flames shooting out from the back windows. It looked like the whole place was on fire.”