Anne Philomena nearly fell over the dreadlocked twin huddled in her doorway. She had stayed until almost dawn watching the fire and the people both inside and outside the barricade which the SES folk had quickly thrown up. She’d seen the mayor and that dreadful chief engineer Robertson who was forever blathering on to the press and anyone who’d listen about the folly of pumping money into buildings that were past their used by date. But they had not been together so she decided they had not been colluding on this occasion, and while the engineer could have been responsible for the explosion and the fire, the mayor did not have the brains to execute anything so terrible.
“Dear, you look terrible,” she said as she reached over the twin to open her door. “Where’s your, ” she almost said twin but stopped herself just in time, “girlfriend?”
As the boy struggled to his feet she could see he’d been crying. She took his arm and led him to the couch in her living room where he usually sat hand in hand with the dreadlocked girl.
“Where’s …” She tried again.
“Melanie,” the boy whispered and a fresh lot of tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Melanie,” Philomina repeated and waited.
“I can’t find her. I went back for Jeremy. I thought she’d be outside.” He took a big sniff and wiped his face on the ragged sleeve of the sloppy Joe he was wearing.
“Outside?” Surprise, shock and pity all together ran through her. “You were inside when the fire started? Did you start it?”
“No!” The boy cried out, the hurt and pain evident in his face. “No, it was our home. We all had our own little nests in parts of the building the council officers didn’t often search. We were up on the gantry above the stage, Melanie and me.” Tears poured down his cheeks as he said the girl’s name. We took turns at watching out in case that ranger took it into his head to come around late at night. He’d done it a few times some of the others said but not since Melanie and …”
Anne Philomena put her arm around his heaving shoulders. “He came last night?” she asked once the gush of tears had subsided.
“I don’t know. It was Jeremy’s turn to be on watch. When the explosion happened I told Melanie to get out and went in search for him but the fire was everywhere. I could hardly breathe. I couldn’t find the little door on the basement level we usually used to get in and out. I was running around like a mad thing till a window blew out and I got through it.”
He was shaking now as well as crying. Anne Philomina ran to her bedroom and returned with the doona from her bed which she tucked around him. “I’m going to get you a hot drink. Then we can work out what to do. I’ll ring Doris McCreedy. She’s the practical sort. She’ll know how to mount a search for your friends without arousing the suspicion of the authorities.
As the milk heated she rang Doris McCreedy.
“Can you come to my house? The boy with the dreadlocks is here. He can’t find his girlfriend. They were asleep in the hall.”
“Put the kettle on. I’m on my way. I’ll pick up bread for sandwiches in case we have to feed the search party.”