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The morning came slowly to life for most of the house residents.
Others had been up for hours, finalizing preparations for the open house that day. The festivities were to commence at eleven, and there was already a band there setting up.
A sudden thunderstorm of sound knocked Dale out of bed. The band the butler had hired for the event was doing a sound check, and the speakers the group used seemed to be pointing directly at his window. He looked out and saw the BBQ pit being tended by a thin bearded ex-navy cook, then band, and other odds and ends of the open house. "Wow." he said.
Dale dressed in play clothes and double-checked his room, it looked good enough, all things considered. He ran down the stairs to see what else was happening. He found out several things.
Colleen and the other girls had taken Peggy shopping. Sandy had learned that Peggy really didn't have a good selection of dresses, so it became a project for them, and they went to the mall to be there when it opened to take care of this problem.
Harrison was on the back porch watching cartoons, he apparently hadn't heard the sound check and seemed annoyed at Dale's asking him questions. The butler was on the hall phone arguing with the caterers, Martha was arranging the table in the dining room with flowers and trays of finger foods. Miss Alice was nowhere to be found.
Dale felt in the way, so he went out to see if he could help the man with the BBQ. He had worked at a few cookouts for his dad.
The slightly balding cook appreciated his help. He immediately sat down and drank a beer, letting Dale tend the fire.
The butler came out later, he told them the rest of the meat was on the way, the cook nodded and fished another beer out of a bucket full of ice. Dale smiled at the butler. The tall formal man nodded stiffly and walked toward the band.
"Real charming fellow you have there boy." The cook said to him.
Peggy was having fun at the mall. Yyavonne seemed to know every manager of every clothing store in the mall. She had described herself as an actress. To Peggy she seemed classy and aloof. Colleen had excellent taste and didn't even look at the sale racks. Sandy and the others just kind of went along for the ride.
They had her trying on and modeling a dozen outfits in every store. Of course there was always an outfit Sandy or Lauren had to try on as well. Colleen found one dress she had to have, a red sequined number with thin strings for straps.
"I have a pair of shoes that it will match." She said smiling.
Finally Yyavonne pronounced one of the dresses just right for the Open House and they made her leave it on until they picked out shoes to go with it.
"I don't have enough money to buy this today." She protested.
"Don't worry about it." Yyavonne told her.
"Miss Alice told us to get you a wardrobe for house functions." Colleen said sweetly.
Sandy chimed in. "There's several functions a month you have to 'dress for'. Alumni dinners, receptions for big-Whigs, and such. So Miss Alice helps out a little with a clothing allowance for us."
They woke up again for keeps just before ten. Jack was so stiff he couldn't move for awhile. Mary felt much better now, her headache was gone and she felt rested.
Jack wanted to know what was for breakfast.
"I don't feel like going to the snack bar." Mary said from the bed.
Jack looked at his watch. "They won't be serving lunch for over an hour."
"Call somebody." She offered.
"The only ones delivering at this hour is Tonio's. They deliver breakfast until noon."
Mary nodded. "Sounds good, what do they have?"
"I always get their western breakfast. Eggs, sausage, pancakes, fried potatoes, and biscuits. Its great."
Mary didn't think great was the word she'd use, but she nodded. He picked up the phone.
Later they were eating and talking about what Jack should say to the reporters. A shrill shriek interrupted them from Westin dorm.
"Must be a fire drill." Jack said while chewing.
They watched the building occupants walk in more or less an orderly fashion from the building.
Mary finished what she wanted from her tray, then she went down the hall to freshen up. Then she decided at the last minute to take a shower.
Jack polished off what was left of her meal. He found a spaghetti western on the TV and started watching it.
Mary wrapped a towel around her hair and put her robe on. She walked back to her room. Jack didn't seem to notice her opening the door. She got between him and the TV.
"Hey! What's up?" He looked at her. "You're wet."
"I wanted to remind you of the first time we met this year."
Jack thought about that for a minute. "You weren't wearing a robe then." His mouth froze as she let loose of the belt and the robe fell open. She reached behind her and shut off the TV.
Smiling she leaned over and kissed Jack pushing him back onto the bed.
In a few minutes they heard the alarm for Westin go off again. Jack glanced out the window at the building next door. He sat up.
"Mary... I think something is wrong over there."
The Open House was going great guns. Dale had been towed to the dance floor by Peggy. He wasn't Gene Kelly, but nobody was doing any real complicated dance, they were just moving around to the music. So he had a decent time.
They headed for the BBQ pit where the ribs and chicken were just getting done. There was a good-sized crowd there, the event had received some advertisement, but never was the free food mentioned. Miss Alice wanted people to come and see the house for itself, not coming just for a free meal.
Then there was a crabapple-tossing contest. You had to throw the apple from the bandstand into the trash can by the garage.
The butler made it on his first try.
The crowd cheered.
It was now just after noon.
There was a wine tasting. Peggy joined the line. Dale did too but he dropped out when he found out the grapes were stomped by barefooted old women with hangnails.
The tasters all swished and smelled, then tasted each of several wines. They finally picked a semi-sweet from Portugal as their favorite.
Kremin had organized a beer tasting with some help from a couple of the residents of the house. He had managed to get some of the cheapest beers available in this country.
The first was brought forward and poured. "Elder premier, from the great beer city of Coon Squash, Indiana. It claims to be a great Stable Beer." They all looked at it, then smelled it, and finally tasted it.
"Stable beer indeed." Harrison said. It was voted awful.
"Next. River Ale Light. Made in an old spark plug factory." He didn't taste this one, he just drank it. It wasn't quite as bad.
"Not bad. You'll never see it on the side of a race car though." Ken said. He finished his cup, and Dale's too.
The silliness got worse. So did the beers.
Dale had a comment about one further down the line. "It tastes like something my grandmother gave me for a cold once." He got laughs.
Jack pointed to the gable of the old building. There seemed to be steam coming from several of the vents. Mary frowned at it and enjoyed the feeling of Jack's hand sliding along her side and back.
Then they saw what appeared to be a glow under one of the eves. "It's on fire." Jack said. Mary was already on the phone. She called Cindy. Cindy told her to call Maggie, she'd call the fire department and tell them this wasn't a false alarm. Mary dialed Maggie, busy.
Mary hung up. "They're gonna need help getting everyone out of there. After that false alarm." She said dressing in a flash. Jack nodded and put himself together.
They met Cindy at the bottom of the stairs, it was her job to go help, they volunteered. Cindy knew they really weren't supposed to, but... "OK, stay with me."
They ran to a side door of Westin, a floor super was there and stopped them, thinking this was just another false alarm. Mary pointed up. Smoke was visible blowing around the gable. The girl waved them through and started hollering for people to hurry. The three ran to the top floor, which was already smoky.
They started beating on doors and hollering, there were still some girls in their rooms, Mary found one girl in the bathroom doing her hair. Cindy nodded when Jack wanted to kick in a locked door. It gave on his second kick. Nobody home. In just a couple of minutes the smoke was getting worse.
The floor was becoming unbearable, but they checked all the rooms on two wings, Maggie was coming off the third. "All clear?" She asked wiping her eyes and coughing, they nodded. The group headed for the next floor down.
The residents had become so used to false alarms two even slept through the siren, they awoke to Jack kicking in their door and Cindy screaming at them. Many didn't believe the smoke was really smoke.
But they got everybody out.
Outside Mary looked at the building, the flames were already coming from the upper windows, you couldn't see the roof in places.
"Damn." Maggie said looking at the fire.
The top of the building was fully involved when the fire department arrived in force. The call had been received from the sensors at headquarters, but only a routine phone call was made to reset the system by the campus brigade. They were on the phone to Maggie checking on the false alarm when Cindy's call came in. When the control center learned there really was a fire, they rolled everything available and put in a standby call for mutual aid to a nearby town.
The huge snorkel arrived right behind the campus unit. They began the battle. An assistant chief for the campus unit arrived and took charge, he asked Maggie a pointed question.
"Was the sprinkler system working?"
Maggie couldn't answer right away. Cindy did for her. "No sir." Maggie shook her head and muttered that none of the sprinklers had been on.
"Hell." The chief swore and got back to his radio.
They were relieved that the fire fighters that had swept through the building hadn't found anybody they had missed. The man in the mask and tank gave the assistant chief the thumbs up sign and went back into the burning building.
Maggie was already thinking of all the paperwork she'd have to do.
"How long after you heard the alarm did you see the smoke?" She asked Cindy who pointed the question at Mary and Jack.
"Couple three minutes. Maybe a little more."
They answered a few more questions then fell into mutual silence.
Maggie muttered the word for all of them. "Arson. Bet."
The band was taking a call of nature break when a longhaired man and a few assorted others took the stage. He said nothing, but produced an autoharp and sat cross-legged on the stage. He strummed it to himself a couple of times, and hummed a bit. The crowd grew silent as they wondered what this was about.
His friends were holding all sorts of instruments, they all nodded to him. One of the members of the band stood at the side of the stage and gaped in open wonder at them. The longhaired man strummed his auto harp once and smiled. Then he picked out the opening notes to a song, strong and clear, "Smoke on the Water" rang out. The longhair's voice was as clear and strong as his notes, and he sang with great enthusiasm. They backup was at best shaky, but nobody minded.
"Who are they and why are they up there." Somebody asked the butler.
"The singer said they wished to pay for the excellent meal and fine company. I told him we do not accept donations. He asked if we accepted music."
The butler smiled a toothy smile at the stage.
They group played three numbers and then the longhair asked the band if they wanted to jam together for awhile. They did. It was good.
This went on for some time.
Then suddenly the music ended, right in the middle of a song.
The butler was on stage, holding his hand up for attention. Silence fell quickly. "Pardon me. I have some bad news. Westin Hall is on fire. There are reports of injuries, Cannon Hall and Wilson Residence Tower have sustained what appears to be heat damage and are being evacuated. The van is available to any of you that wish to return to campus at this time, or you are welcome to remain here. Thank you." He walked slowly off the stage.
The band and the longhair talked it over for a minute. The others took a break, the longhair and a young girl with a recorder played some comforting airs for awhile.
Peggy had almost fainted, her dorm, on fire. Dale saw her face bleach out and took her by the shoulders. Not knowing what else to do he handed her a cold orange drink. She drank most of it. "I'm OK. We got to find out if the girls are OK."
"Miss High. I have arranged for Mister Burrows to take you and your friend to the scene." The butler nodded to the security guard and followed him to his car. Miss Alice was already there.
"I'm coming too, I might be needed."
When Cannon's roof started smoking from the nearby heat Mary about died. The snorkel operator saw it as well, and sent a huge spewing of foam that way.
Cindy and Mary started for the building at the same time.
"You can't go in there." Cindy said to her.
"We have to make sure its evacuated don't we?"
"I hate it when you're right." Cindy walked into the building and pulled the fire alarm as the fastest way to get everyone's attention.
A fire lieutenant came on the run. "What's going on?" She asked.
Cindy and Jack were already heading upstairs. Mary explained what they had seen and were doing about it. The lady fire fighter repeated the news into her radio then she followed the others up the stairs.
Mary stopped in her room. She thought about what she'd like to save if the place went. Grabbing almost at random, she finally gave up.
She picked up her big purse, she stuffed a few pictures and her diary into it. She picked up her portable radio and jammed it into the purse on the way out the door. Mary joined the others on the fourth floor.
"All your worldly goods?" Cindy asked her noticing her large purse.
Mary smiled. "Yours too?" she asked pointing to Cindy's shoulder bag.
They resumed banging on doors, sending girls on their way to safety. Jack actually seemed to be enjoying himself.
The fire was being contained in Westin's south wing, the city chief had taken over the command post and was being fed information by an aid. He was relieved when he was told that the evacuation of Cannon was well under way and Wilson was beginning to be cleared out. One less headache in the mix. The east and north wings of the 'T' shaped building were still burning out of control.
He ordered in another alarm to bring this to four-alarm priority.
The chief felt a breeze on his face. "Murphy's law. Has to be."
The blaze seemed to have a mind of its own. The fire in the wings had been split into three sections and all were being fought individually from inside and out. Now they were threatening to join up again. Making the job more difficult.
They arrived behind a fire truck heading for the blaze. The security guard's badge getting them through the police barricade.
They drove into the melee. The solid old building was crowned in fire.
Miss Alice couldn't hold back an exclamation as the fire came into view.
Two Dorms Part 11
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