And then all the money would be mine and I would be free as could be to do whatever I wanted with my life. It was that simple.
So, when the phone call I was expecting came in to me, I was rehearsed and ready.
“Hello?” I answered on the third ring.
“Yes, um… Mr. Ridgeway?”
“Yes, sir. My name is Detective Theiss. I’m with San Diego PD.”
“Um… yes…” I answered, trying to emphasize concern in my voice.
“Sir, I’m afraid I have some bad news. There has been a tragic accident.”
The detective went on to tell me about the house fire and how there had been a lot of damage.
“Oh, my God…” I said forcing myself to cry. “How much damage?”
“Well, according to the Fire Marshall, most of the second story was destroyed.”
“My wife! Leia! Is she ok?” I asked, my voice rising desperately. The tears were really flowing now as I got myself worked up.
“Your wife? She was here?”
I was a bit startled by the question. They hadn’t found her?
“Um… yes… I mean… she hasn’t been feeling well and had some work to catch up on. I’m up at the lake house with our boys. She decided to stay behind.”
“Well, sir. We didn’t find any residents here or signs of anyone.”
I didn’t know what to make of it. Was it possible that she was so burnt up they might take days to identify her body amongst the wreckage? Several questions were going through my head, but I kept my cool and tried to act natural.
“Oh, that’s a relief. Maybe she stepped out for a bit or went to a friend’s house. If something happened to her—“
I allowed my voice to break as I cried into my fist.
“We will keep searching. And if you could give me a list of her friends and their phone numbers, I can start contacting them. Don’t worry. We will find her. Can you come back here quickly?”
“Yes. I’ll leave right away.”
I ended the call with the detective, wiped my eyes, grabbed the twins, and packed the car back up. I was on the road within thirty minutes.
My head was filled with swirling thoughts that made me very uneasy. Was it possible that Leia had somehow escaped the fire? There was no way. She was knocked out almost cold. The tip of that nightstand had struck her on the temple. She couldn’t even talk, let alone stand up. With as much lighter fluid as I’d used she would have been totally engulfed in fire within minutes.
She had to be dead.
But what if? What if she’d escaped?
Even if she had escaped she would have been near death and probably found somewhere on the property, her body burned beyond recognition. I should have poured the lighter fluid directly on her. Then I would have been certain. But I was in a hurry and I just didn’t think of it. I was almost laughing at the way she fell to the ground in a stupor. Just thinking about how she tried to talk and stand up was hilarious to me.
By the time I got back into town I was feeling a bit better about everything. I was convinced that she was dead and gone. If they didn’t find her in the house than she would turn up on the property somewhere most likely scavenged apart by animals. We were close to the mountains. Sometimes at night packs of coyotes could be heard running around howling at the moon.
“She’s toast,” I laughed as I pulled into my driveway.
I woke up to a brightly lit room. I expected to feel pain and nothing but. The moment I opened my eyes the events of what I’d just been through roared through my mind. The fire was all around me. The smoke was too thick… I couldn’t breathe… I was burning.
And then I was falling.
And then… then… what?
I’d gone somewhere. I couldn’t think where, though.
My eyes hurt but I kept them open, ignoring the pain as I blinked back and forth trying to let my sight and my head adjust to where I was.
I was in a hospital room. I was alone.
The room was quiet and peaceful. It felt nice compared to the chaos that I’d just been through.
Looking downwards I could see I was covered almost head to toe in thick bandages. Even between the bandages, the skin looking back at me was burned and disfigured.
I shuddered to think what the rest of me looked like beneath the bandages. I’d been burned almost to death. Most of my body was destroyed and it would never be the same again. I’d work on rehab for months probably and even at the end I would still need bandages to not terrify people. My life was over. I should have just stayed in the fire.
“Well, I see we are awake.”