Cat!-a-lyst

The trapeze of a life dream has no safety net, neither does love.

“Time to get out of here, Xavier!” Meg Crichton said to her cat.
At the window to the fire escape, she tossed her phone onto the metal grate so she could get a better hold of the squirming cat and wriggle through the window. She’d already dialed 911.
“Take it easy, cat!”
“Hello, hello! Please state your emergency.” Meg heard the dispatcher and retrieved the phone. Standing at the top of the fire escape, she explained the situation over the noisy cat. When she finally finished relaying the pertinent information, she navigated her way down the metal stairs.
Holding the frightened cat, Meg stepped to the ground in the alley and heard the alarm, summoning the volunteer firefighters. A smoky haze obscured the lights of the buildings across Main Street. She thought it might take the firefighters a few minutes to assemble, but she already saw a few who lived close by running from every angle to converge on the fire station, just down Main Street from her building. She could tell some had detoured from journeys toward bed, fastening garments as they ran.
Soon the first fire truck emerged from the fire station garage, so close acceleration was hardly needed before it slid to a halt where she was standing. “We better get out of the way and give them space to finish destroying my wine bar.” She carried the cat to the corner of the block.
The activity went past Meg in a blur. Hoses were connected and in moments water was being sprayed everywhere. One group sprayed her building and two others the buildings on either side.
Meg stared as smoke and steam poured from the broken front window of the Ruby Sippers Wine Bar. She stood mutely stone-faced, as Xavier squirmed to get away. Even under normal circumstances the outdoors terrified the cat, so this noise and commotion drove the cat into a frenzy.
Andy Edgerton, owner of the hardware store adjacent, came out of his building, dodging the water from the fire hose now pouring from his eaves, scanned the situation, and went back in. A few moments later he reemerged with a cat carrier, still in shrink-wrap. He circled to the street side behind the fire trucks and ran to where Meg was standing. He tore the wrap from the carrier as he approached.
“Looks like you need one of these.” He shouted over the din.
“Thank you so much!” Meg believed simple thanks seemed inadequate to compensate for this degree of quick-thinking and thoughtfulness.
Andy held the carrier while Meg wrestled the wild-eyed cat inside. “Thank God! I’d have shredded arms by now if this cat still had claws! All this makes him crazy.” She retrieved her purse. “What do I owe you?”
“Forget it. Looks like you have enough worries for the moment.”
It seemed ages Meg silently watched as the wine bar and winery she’d been working toward for what seemed like decades burned. Every moment she wished it would all stop and rewind to normal. Soon enough clouds of steam replaced the smoke, and she realized barely fifteen minutes had passed since the first fire hose spray ruined her equipment and brand new furniture.
Meg thought she was going to be sick. She imagined smoke damage, water damage, and who knows how much was burned. She wondered, “Is this the end of my dream, the end of my life?”
“Covid!”
“Excuse me. Did you say something?” Andy turned his attention to Meg.
“Oh, sorry, just complaining to myself how much I worried about covid ruining my business. Now this fire almost certainly will. I’m shut down.”
“I know this is horrible, and I don’t want to sound glib, but maybe the winery can be salvaged. You supply all the B&Bs in town don’t you?”
“B&B! Beth! I need to call my sister!”
“No, I’m here.” Meg’s sister was hurrying toward her from the car parked across the street. Meg spun around and flew into Beth’s arms.
“I’m sorry, Li’l Sis.”
“My God, how could this happen?” Meg said.
“You wouldn’t dare ask it if Mom were here.”
“You’ve got that right.” She sniffed.
They separated, Beth wiping tears. Andy pulled some crumpled tissues from his pocket and handed them to her. He mouthed, “I’m so sorry,” and headed back to his store.
Beth said, “I’m so glad you and Xavier got out all right. Do you know how it started?”
“I only know when I opened the door to the stairwell, the apartment filled with smoke. I couldn’t go in there with a fire extinguisher so I grabbed Xave and got out.”
“Didn’t the fire alarms go off?”
“I didn’t need the smoke alarms. Xavier was yowling by the door when I was in the bedroom. I came out and once I opened the door the alarms went off when all the smoke poured in.”
“Have any of the firefighters talked to you?”
“Not yet, but it looks like someone’s coming over now. I’ll bet it’s the fire chief.”
“Are you Ms. Crichton?” Both women gave the man their full attention, but it was obvious he was addressing Meg.
Meg nodded.
“I’m Craig Landecker, Fire Chief. I’m sorry you’ve experienced this misfortune.
Meg said, “What do you know so far?”
No promises but I suspect, other than the two stairwells, inside and out, there should be no significant structural damage. Sorry to say, though, there’s some fire damage, and probably extensive smoke and water damage to the bar, the area in the back, and the apartment above.
“Do you know how it started?”
“I can’t say without having a look around and it’s still too hot to get close enough. I know it’s getting late, Ms. Crichton, but could you please be available for a while? I have some questions I need to ask you, and we will certainly tell you what we learn as soon as we can do a little preliminary investigation. Maybe we can get an idea of the source yet tonight.”