With apologies to the Beatles, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, and the state of Vermont.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Chapter Thirty: Even Bigger Problems

"Four thousand, six hundred, and thirty-two dollars, and twenty-seven cents," Dan said to Peter a few days later.  "And it's all gone."

"Who knew where the cash box was?"  Peter asked.

"No one outside of the commune as far as we know," Luna said.

"Any sign of a break-in?"

"None that we've found," said Dan.

"I hate to say it," said Peter, "but it sounds like an inside job."

"We've been thinking the same thing," said Luna, "and it's tearing us apart.  I'd hate to think that anybody here was responsible for our troubles.  I like all of them."

It was just the three of them in a back room.  Peter and Dan were sitting in chairs while Luna paced.

"George and Fred should be here soon," Peter said.  "Maybe one of them will have an idea."

"Maybe..." Dan said, but he sounded skeptical.

However, George surprised all of them by coming in and announcing, "I knew it.  I knew I saw her before."

Peter squinted at him.  "What are you talking about?"

"I was watching Wolf TV last night and they had on one of those super-patriot movies that they play frequently, and there she was.  She had long blond hair but I know it was her."

"Sorry, George," Peter said. "But I have no idea what you're trying to tell us."

"That young woman here with the short blue hair.  She's an actress.  She's in all these movies the conservatives make.  Her name is Barbara Busch."

"Barbara..." Luna whispered.

"She was at the produce stand right before the house meeting the night we think they tampered with the floorboards," Dan said.

"She asked me some questions about how we keep cash the other night," Luna said.  "I think it was just a couple of nights before the cash box disappeared."

"How well do you know this woman Barbara?" Fred asked.

"About as well as we know any of the new folks," Luna said.

Dan added, "Which is to say, not at all."


The confrontation with Barbara did not go at all well.  She denied everything.

"I've been working away for you for nearly two months and now you think I'm responsible for sabotage and theft just because I look like some woman this lawyer saw on TV." She looked like she wanted to throw something but she didn't.  "I know where I'm not wanted.  I'll be out of here in the morning."  She did slam the door behind her.

No one slept well at the commune that night.  Ken had woken twice before he was awoken a third time by Harry frantically clawing at the glass sides of the aquarium.

Ken had never heard him do that before.  He got up to see what was bothering Harry and realized that he could faintly smell smoke.

He opened his door carefully and realized that the hallway was filled with clouds of dark gray smoke.

"FIRE!!!" he yelled at the top of his lungs.

He banged on Cat's door until a sleepy Cat appeared and then the two of them banged on Viv's door.  Viv woke up quickly when she realized the situation.  "Is there anyone else up here?" she asked.

"Barbara," Cat said, but when they checked Barbara's room it was empty.

"The flames are at the bottom of the staircase," Viv said.  "We can't get out that way."

She led them back to her room.  There was a ledge outside her window they were able to crawl out on.

Ken noticed the drainpipe nearby.  "I can slide down on that," he said.  "I used to do it when I was a kid."

"You're crazy," Viv said.  "That drainpipe won't hold you."

Ken paid no attention and swung down on the pipe.  It broke off the house when he was two-thirds of the way down, but he landed on the ground, uninjured.  He shook himself and ran for the other houses, yelling as he ran.  Edgar was the first one out, followed by Sal and Nancy.  When they realized what was going on, Sal and Nancy split up and each ran into one of the other houses, banging on everyone's doors.

Edgar found a phone and called in the fire.  He then ran back to the building with Ken.  "Stay where you are," he said to Viv and Cat.  "We'll get you off there."  Viv was watching all of them while Cat was curled up in a ball at the edge of the ledge.

Edgar spotted Dan struggling with a long ladder.  Together the two of them got it back to the burning building and Viv and Cat were able to climb down it.

The fire engines arrived just as flames began shooting out of the second floor windows.

"I don't know how much of the building we'll be able to save," one of the firepeople said to Luna.

"I don't care," Luna said.  "Just as long as everyone is safe."

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