Chapter Forty-eight

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I jumped up from the chair but didn't know where I was supposed to go. I took a step toward Karlson and then came back and sat down again.

"You the new Fire Marshall?" I said.

Karlson pushed a button on his cell phone and put it back into his pocket. "You'd better sit down."

My mother and Lina came into the dining room laughing about something. Lina had the cannoli in her hands while my mother carried the coffee. One step into the room, they stopped laughing and stared at Karlson as if they both had radar. They did—mom radar.

"What's wrong?" my mother said.

"Enzo?" Lina said.

I could hear Karlson inhale a huge breath. "There's been a fire," he said to our mothers. Both women surged forward and set their burdens on the table.

"Where?" I said. From my chair at the table, I was the closest to Karlson, but he wouldn't look at me. Maybe there was a reason. I stood and put myself between Karlson and our mothers.

"Where, Karl?" I said. "Where's the fire?"

"You'll want to sit down, Paulette," he said. He still wouldn't look at me. It was as if he told my shoes to take over the chair.

Since asking nicely wasn't getting me anywhere, I opted for expedience. I pounded my fist on the table so hard that my wine glass tinkled. Karl appeared startled, but his eyes were squarely on my face.
"Where's the God-damned fire?"

I could see the anger light his eyes at last, and I knew he was back with me again. The arrogant smirk quickly appeared on his face, and his hands curled into fists. This was the Odin I knew how to deal with. "Your apartment," he said.

"My?" I sat down in the chair exactly as he'd told me to do, but he didn't seem to notice his triumph. I could hear the door to the kitchen swing open and shut. Karlson sat down in the chair next to me.

"A neighbor called fifteen minutes ago because he saw flames leaping out of the roof," he said. "The Fire Department was there in five minutes, but it was already too far gone. The shop underneath may be salvageable, but your apartment is gone, Paulette. Do you understand? There's nothing left."

I heard every word he said loud and clear, but no picture formed in my mind. "Gone?" I said. "But I was going to paint it sunshine yellow and staple shoes to the furniture."

I think my mother was there then. She held a glass of something warm. It smelled like lemons and spices. I shook my head. "Never trust Swedes bearing gifts," I said.

And then the world went black for me. I knew I was breathing because I could hear myself, but someone far, far away was crying.

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