Dense black smoke billowed into the air from the burning building in downtown Kimble, obscuring the West Texas night sky. The reflection of orange tongues of flame danced eerily on the windshield of the pickup truck parked in front of the building that had become a hellish raging inferno.
Inside the building, countless valuable artworks the owner had displayed on the walls were turning brown and curling at the edges inside their frames. The clothing on the body lying on the floor beneath the stairway smoked. When the fire reached flashover, the point where the heat became so intense everything flammable in the building spontaneously combusted, the clothing burst into flames.
When Deputy Chase Carpenter pulled up to the scene, the smoke was still thick. But, the firefighters from the Kimble Volunteer Fire Department and those from surrounding communities had the blaze contained. Carpenter got out of the white Perdido County Sheriff’s Department Tahoe. He surveyed the scene by the flashing red and blue lights of the fire trucks. Spotting Hank Miles, the Kimble fire chief, Carpenter sauntered over.
“How’s it looking, Hank?”
“We’ve got it under control,” Miles said. “It’s contained to the Ghost House Art Studio & Gallery where the fire started. For a while it looked like we might lose the entire block. It’s one of the hottest fires I’ve ever seen.”
“Any idea how it started?”
“No, we’ll have to wait for the arson investigator from the state fire marshal’s office to determine that.”
“So, you think it was an arson?”
“Yes sir,” Miles said. “The building has burglar bars on both doors and all the windows. We discovered someone had chained and padlocked the ones on the doors from the inside.”
“Wait, you mean—”
“Exactly,” Miles interrupted. “Someone locked himself inside and then set the fire. We got a winch truck out here and pulled the bars off the front door. When my guys got inside, they found the body.”
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