They're burning the camp
And yes, looking to the north and up into the hills I could see the plumes of smoke. My friend, who works at a local shop and is quick to make certain the coffee is on when I stop by in the morning with my mermaid cup, ready for the first jolt of caffeine, told me that the guy who'd led the police in on the "cleanup" was last seen throwing kerosene pretty wildly through the forest, making certain the damp woods, the sleeping bags, the blankets, the clothing, the papers and the piles of whatever was there caught a good steady flame.
My friend had to come down to work. He'd brought his puppy with him--a four month yellow and brindle mix of some unlikely dimensions and great size, with curling hair and a puppy's smile. Tank, the pup, was tied up outside, safe.
Later that evening, while the fires burnt on and on, I got more reports. Seemed the good citizens and their police friends had in fact missed a couple of the more remote homes, including that of my friend, his girl friend, and their pup. "I know better than to camp where I can be seen. You got to work and pant a bit to get to my place". And I was glad for that. I asked what remained of the burnt out sites; had anyone saved the sleeping gear or the tents. No, didn't seem so.
So I sat and thought about it, and tried to calm my heart, and began getting new blankets and warm coats ready.
That was the day that Kenny died. He'd lived in that camp at one time, and in another hidey hole down by the river. He was a striking dude when he first sauntered into my bookstore to check me out, a low to the ground, stout black dog named Digger at his heels, a battered cowboy hat on his head. His hair was black and grew to his waist. His eyes were shrewd and green, and I heard tell later that he'd been quite the ladies' man in his prime. He himself told stories of his 4 or 5 wives. Beautiful women, he said, were his weakness. And he'd peer at me significantly, trying to charm the bookstore lady as he'd charmed many a barstool companion.
He did charm my animals. The cats would sit on his lap and the dogs cluster at his feet. When Champ the pitbull joined the crew it was Kenny who told me stories of Champ's past. Like many of his stories they may simply have been good yarns, but they had the ring of truth. "Ah, you've tamed the beast, you have" he'd say. "That dog, trust me, he was a killer, and now look at him, meek as a lamb." Champ would wiggle with joy and smile.
Kenny was a drunk and an addict. In the years I knew him--ten or more years--I saw him grow thinner, more unsteady, more befuddled. He suffered head injuries dating from his time as a veteran, and more from beatings, falls, accidents. He did jail time. He went to rehab. He got sick, and sicker, and sicker still.
I was his address and his link to bureaucracies. Some of them helped, some didn't. Everyone tried.
I was also his bard, for early on, as he told me his adventures and as I learned of his situations when he wasn't around--in jail, in the hospital--I wrote a few columns about him for the county paper.
He loved being the hero of printed stories. After the first he'd announce himself with "I've come with another episode in the Saga of Kenny" and settle in his chair. Yes, he had a designated chair at the bookstore.
There was the time he asked for me to clean his injured head and give him a bandaid. The skull looked broken, and I made him go to the doctor, though he protested mightily. 17 stitches, and his head was never quite the same after that.
So, as I say, he died the day of the burning. I didn't know it. I learned about it later, after Thanksgiving.
And I sat down and cried and cried. Well, he loved my old yellow dog, Buddy, and old Digger is also dead. So I can imagine, with sentimental foolishness, that Kenny is hale and hearty and wandering some fine forest land, with a low black dog and a cheerful yellow one bounding ahead into joy.