Mr. John Chambers had as spotless a record as all the rest. At the point when I contacted him, it was more in the interest of completeness than anything else. But as he refused to answer or return my calls, I found myself more eager to have a word with him. I tried to visit him at his home. Having confirmed he was at his residence, I found his unwillingness to answer the door highly suspicious. But I had no authority to coerce him from the safety of his domicile, and, being at my wits end, I simply left him a note.
“Mr Chambers, I believe your life may be in danger and I think you do as well. I would like to offer my assistance. If you would like my help, please contact me at…”
It was only a few hours later that my hotel phone rang. A man’s voice slurred into the line.
“Bring it on. The door’s open.” was all he said.
He was telling the truth. A second visit to Chamber’s home found the front door open a crack. I entered with my heart pounding, wondering if I was too late or if a drunken Chambers was laying in wait to ambush me. It was the latter, but by then he was so inebriated that I stood before him before he knew I was there. As he came to his senses, he asked me, “…you here to burn me?”
When I answered to the negative, instead of seemed relieved, he only became more distraught.
“If it’s not you, then it’s him. Oh my God, it really is him.”
It took time to coax the story out, owing to the fact that he had no interest in sobering up. He poured himself drink after drink as he spoke.
“Andy, Bill, and I discovered an error in the charity’s books. A substantial amount of money had been mislaid and accounted for as spent. We took it, kept it for ourselves. I blew mine on a trip to Vegas. But, you know, we felt like we had earned it. We raise lots of money for the poor, the needy… We’ve bettered our community for years. We deserved it!”
I could not mask the contempt on my face, and he saw it even through his intoxicated eyes. He became defensive only for a moment then broke down into maudlin tears. It was a short time before he regained his composure and went on.
“Then along came Micheal Watson, the young buck on the board. I don’t know how he tracked the money down, but he did. He knew it all. That little bastard wouldn’t listen to reason. We told him we’d get it all back. But he had resolved to go to the police… Our lives, our reputations, they would have been destroyed. He might as well have put a bullet into each of our skulls. He was, as sure as that, going to kill us. We had to stop him.”
A coldness overtook his demeanor. He went on in such a way that his words chilled me. I’ve confronted serial killers who had more warmth.
“We were at the charity’s lodge, up on the lake. It was just the four of us. He was no match for three of us. We grabbed him and shoved his head into the fireplace. We held him there until we thought he was dead. Then we arranged a fire to cover things. Up there on the lake, it took the firefighters a long time to get there…”
At the time, his confession began to anger me, or so I thought. I recall feeling hotter and hotter.
“And now, somehow, he’s…” he said stopping as he realized the ridiculous continuation.
“…He’s come back.” I finished.
He began to laugh, a shrill, wild cackle born of a drunken mind and one that was already mad with guilt.
“Mr. Chambers,” I said, “I advise you to go to the police and come clean. If you don’t, then I will.”
His laughter had stopped, but not owing to my words. He was looking past me, or through me.
“He’s come back.” he whispered.
“Did you hear me, Mr. Chambers?”
“He’s come back.” he repeated, though louder and his distant eyes began to widen.
“Mr. Chambers?” I asked, quickly glancing behind me, but seeing nothing. As I turned back, he shrieked.
I saw wisps of smoke rising from the cuffs and collar of his shirt. There was a bright flash which blinded me for a second. I heard his screams, tormented wails that made me pity even him. To be burned alive was about as awful a way to die as I could imagine.
When my sight returned, he was engulfed in strange blue flames, they appeared to spout from various points of his body in sharp, hissing jets. I threw my coat around him, trying to smother the blaze.
A police investigation has begun into the death of Micheal Watson and the missing money. It seems the truth will come out. Chambers is now a patient in the intensive care ward. He has struggled for his life every day since in constant agony.
If he ever recovers, he will stand trial for his crimes.
Perhaps, in a strange and terrible way, there are worse things than dying in fire.
story by Joe Stanley