I Say, Where’s the Fire?

firetruckThe 1962 school year had ended and the arrival of the first day of June ushered in the start of the soon to come hot summer days in Noel.  Noel, Missouri, a small town located deep within the Ozarks of southwest Missouri, was home to less than one thousand residents.  However, on the sweltering hot weekends of summer the number of people in the town exploded as tourists flocked to the area.  Noel, you see, was nestled between the green tree covered Ozark hills and bluffs and the small, slow moving waters of the Elk River.

Campgrounds scattered along the banks of the river beckoned would-be campers with enticing signs picturing roaring campfires and people enjoying the cool waters of Elk River.  Enthusiastic tourists flocked to the small town filled with hopes that their favorite camp site was available; the same small patch of rock covered riverbank they had claimed the year before.

John was seventeen years old and for him the summer months offered the opportunity to earn some much needed money.  He knew Skip Meek, the owner of Shadow Lake, and the teenager finagled a job there renting paddle boats, keeping the ice containers in the bar filled and serving coke, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper and other non-alcoholic beverages to the customers.

Shadow Lake was a well-known night-spot where people from all over the nation’s Midwest came to drink, dance and have a good time on the hot summer evenings.  The dance floor overlooked a bend in Elk River and onlookers gazed at the water as it slowly moved on its downstream journey to River Ranch and Wayside campgrounds.  The live music generated by the various bands that played there could be heard by those casually strolling along the crowded Main Street sidewalks and sometimes as far away as the funeral home that signaled the end of the town’s business district.

On one hot sweltering evening the sound of the music was joined by that of the wail of sirens.  Sirens were very rarely heard in the small town and John, being an inquisitive sort, placed the two bags of ice he carried on the floor and walked outside to get a look at the source of the noise.

As John’s eyes moved from side to side, the Noel City Marshall’s car passed in front of Shadow Lake followed closely by a red fire engine.  With sirens blaring both vehicles passed over the narrow Main Street bridge and turned south onto the two lane road that lead toward the Arkansas border, a mere five miles away.

John stood there for a moment or two feeling that he deserved a break from his ice bag toting chores.  As the sound of the sirens slowly faded and John prepared get back to work once again the sound of those sirens came back to life.

As the boy stood with head cocked the noise became louder and louder until the Marshall’s car and the fire engine came into view.  John watched as the two vehicles passed the Main Street Bridge heading north and in the direction of Southwest City.  The sound of the sirens began to fade but John had no thoughts of going inside as he realized there may be more of the saga yet to come.

John was right.  After the passage of a minute or two the scream of the sirens could again be heard and the noise was becoming louder.  John looked around for any sign of smoke that may provide some evidence regarding the fire’s location but none was seen.  Then, and very abruptly, the sound of the sirens stopped and John watched as the car and firetruck turned off of Highway 59 and crossed the bridge.

Marshall Fine’s red 1960 Chevrolet slowed to a stop on Noel’s narrow Main Street almost directly in front of Shadow Lake while the fire engine came to a stop directly behind the Marshall’s car.  John watched as the two volunteer firemen seated in the truck’s cab seemed to be speaking to one another in raised voices.

The two men exited the truck and John quietly watched and listened intently as words were exchanged.   Words like “I told you,” and “you told me,” were overheard.  “I said,” and “you said,” seemed to be popular words as were, “don’t tell me.”

The arrival of pointed index fingers soon made their appearance as each of the men not only threw words at the other but also emphasized their positions by pointing those fingers.  With the passage of no more than a minute the straightened index fingers transformed into fencing rapiers as the men jabbed each other in their chests thusly attaching more importance to each spoken word.

John continued to watch and was certain that at any moment a full-fledged fight would erupt but the confrontation would soon be brought to an end.  The Marshall slowly exited the Chevy and walked down the street toward the two angry men.  As he neared the two John noticed the Marshall reach into his right rear pants pocket possibly to ascertain if something was inside.  Then John saw a black bit of leather which he recognized as being part of a slapper; a small leather covered striking instrument containing small lead pellets.

“I say, I say ah, just where is this here fire,” asked the Marshall as he placed his arms between the two men thusly separating them.  The two firemen once again began arguing but as the Marshall began to talk the two stood silently and listened.

Marshall Fine spoke in a voice too softly to overhear but it was obvious that the two found the words to be important.  After no more than a few seconds the disgruntled firefighters returned to their truck and left.  With little fanfare the Marshall got into his car and drove away down Main Street and across the railroad tracks.

The moments of excitement had passed and if there ever was a fire to be extinguished it was never located; at least to John’s knowledge.

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