Fire An Accident, Sheriff Says
Sheriff Ben Bowman reports that a candle left burning caused the blaze that destroyed the Sands lake house and left Bertha Sands dead, her body burned beyond recognition.
The fire started on the bedside table, either by a breeze bringing a curtain in contact with the candle flame or the candle being knocked over by the family cat.
Since Mrs. Sands was known to have taken a sedative, it is believed she was sleeping too soundly to awaken when the fire started. The cause of the fire and the death of Mrs. Sands were ruled accidental.
There was a story about the funeral on an inside page with a photo of the burial service at the cemetery. The man standing stiffly beside Crystal, looking away from her with a bored expression, must be her now ex-husband, Edward Marshall. Carter carefully examined the picture, puzzling over Iris's absence. Hadn't she attended her mother's funeral? He skimmed the rest of the newspapers in the stack. Not another word about the fire or Bertha's death. No mention of an autopsy. Everything he didn't see said cover-up to him. No wonder Melissa and Lila accused Ben of not doing his job. The wonder was that with Melissa's power in the community and her animosity toward Crystal, she hadn't pushed the issue.
But if Ben hadn't done his job, neither had Uncle Seth. From his uncle's attitude at the banquet and the skimpy reporting job he'd done, Carter believed Uncle Seth knew more than he'd written. It was possible the fire was an accident, but the nebulous nature of the findings and lack of investigation left him in doubt.
In his previous jobs, the fallout from investigative reporting seldom touched him personally. The worst time was when a widow of a building inspector dragged her two preschool children into his office and berated him for causing her husband's death. The man had taken bribes, which allowed low-grade construction material to be used in a hotel, and ultimately, the deaths of five people and the injury of nine more when a balcony collapsed. She blamed him for writing the story, accused him of causing her husband to commit suicide.
He noted that she didn't blame her husband's dishonesty that resulted in the deaths and injuries of others for his suicide. No, she blamed his being found out and having to face the loss of his job, criminal prosecution, and imprisonment for his putting a bullet in his brain.
He realized now that his objectivity wasn't the noble attribute he had supposed but came of not being involved. Now it was Uncle Seth, his idol, his role model, who might face exposure, along with Ben Bowman, a man he liked. It struck him that if anything was amiss in Bertha's death, it must be Iris who was guilty. Now, Iris's medical condition made it unlikely she would be punished for the crime. Therefore, as his uncle had asked the night before, what good would it do to publish the truth? It would only hurt Crystal, who was on the edge now. If Iris had killed their mother, the news was likely to break Crystal.
Did he really want to look into this, find out that his uncle and the sheriff looked the other way when a murder was committed? He imagined a reporter coming to him, shoving a microphone in his face. "How does it feel, Mr. Jamison, to have exposed your uncle, your hero? How does it feel to know he looked the other way when a murder was covered up?"
He put the extra newspapers away and carried the two with the fire stories back to his office. He walked slowly, being drawn to do a thing he knew could ruin lives. Yet, he had to do it. What good were principles if they applied only to others? He couldn't be false to what he believed in even if it brought pain to those he loved.
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