As Carol helped the kids put on their winter coats, boots, and gloves, Joy noticed that Nick had no coat. In the hurriedness of the situation, no one else seemed to notice this as they piled into the Dodson van and drove west on Central Street.
The van was icy cold from sitting outside the shelter for several hours. The kids shivered and complained for Pastor Bruce to turn up the heat.
“I hope Mary’s situation isn’t too complicated.” Pastor Bruce said, trying his best to respond to the loud call from the back seat of the van for more heat. “I’m not too good with this kind of thing. Not too mechanical, you know. Besides, I don’t have any tools in the car. Hopefully we’ll be able to help.”
“Listen, Pastor Bruce.” said Nick. “Don’t worry. I’ve been around fireplaces most of my life. Where I come from, most of the folks know that I’m the one to call if there’s any problem with fireplaces, so relax. This should be a piece of fruit cake . . . uh . . . I mean cake.”
“Speaking of cake . . . Ed and Joy, did you guys get some dessert before we left?” Pastor Bruce yelled toward the back seat, trying to talk over the volume of the heater fan.
“No, dad.” Edward said with a twinge of sadness in his voice.
“We did get some turkey and Jell-O, though!” Joy exclaimed, as the van turned left on West Main.
“Well, Nick. I’m really glad I ran into you tonight. Thanks for offering to help.” Bruce said, turning his attention back to the front seat.
“No problem, sir. Glad to be of service. There was nothing much else on my schedule for tonight,” Nick replied, rolling his eyes as he thought to himself about all that had happened at the North Pole earlier in the evening.
As they traveled down West Main toward the duplex, Pastor Bruce told Nick about how the church had been given this duplex. One businessman who owned lots of property in the community had started coming to the church about a year ago. One day, the businessman invited Pastor Bruce out to lunch. Many times, when a person invites a pastor out to lunch, it means they’re going to complain about something wrong at the church. Much to Pastor Bruce’s surprise however, the businessman said it thrilled him to see the generosity of the churchgoers toward less fortunate people. The single mom’s ministry was working with about 12 ladies, and just that last Sunday, Pastor Carol was telling the church how they dreamed of having a halfway house to help moms get back on their feet. Well, sir, this businessman asked Pastor Bruce if the church would like to have ownership free and clear of a duplex he was trying to sell near the church. Bruce and Carol were thrilled, and now after a few months of prepping and painting the place, the first two moms had just moved in.
Just about the time Pastor Bruce was finishing up the church’s wonderful duplex story, they pulled up in front of Mary’s place. It’s a good thing they had left the shelter when they did. Mary was outside waiting at the door on the west side of the duplex, yelling and motioning to Pastor Bruce.
“Hurry up, Pastor!” Mary said with a shrill voice. “Please. The smoke is getting worse, and we can hardly breathe.”
“You stay here in the car, kids.” Pastor Bruce said as he closed the front door to the van. “I’ll keep the engine running so you can stay warm. We’ll be right back . . . OK?”
Nick and Pastor Bruce moved quickly toward Mary, who was now running from the front door toward them. Mary was coughing and gasping for breath.
“I tried to get the fire out, Pastor.” Mary yelled. “But it was blazing up too hot.”
“Where are Joey and Sarah, Mary?” Pastor Bruce asked. “Let’s get them outside right away and they can sit in our car with Joy and Edward while we take a look.”
Before Pastor Bruce could even finish his instructions to Mary about getting her kids to safety, Nick had already run right into the house. Like a man on a mission, Nick followed the trail of smoke and quickly located the fireplace in the far corner of Mary’s living room.
Lickity split, Nick took a deep breath, looked directly into the fireplace, and then jumped right over the smoldering logs in the fireplace and up the chimney to see what was the matter. No sooner than you can say, ‘Jack Frost’, Nick found the culprit. The flue damper valve was rusted shut. With a wink of an eye, and a twist of the wrist, the fireplace damper magically opened up and immediately all the smoke began flowing up the chimney as it was supposed to.
Nick was back down the chimney and resting comfortably on one of Mary’s easy chairs long before Mary and Pastor Bruce even finished rounding up the kids. By the time Pastor Bruce had deposited Joey and Sarah in the middle seat of his van and come back into the house, the smoke was already clearing out of the living room.
Mary Willson was overjoyed. Pastor Bruce was perplexed. “Nick, how in the world did you get that fireplace fixed so quickly?”
“Well, Pastor, I told you.” Nick explained. “Fireplaces and I go way back. Rusted damper valve frozen shut, that’s all it was. No big deal.”
“Hey, this place is really nice.” Nick continued, looking around the room. “Missing a Christmas tree, though. Suppose we could get that problem taken care of pretty easily, don’t you think, Bruce?”
Pastor Bruce was still just a bit shocked to see how quickly Nick had taken care of the fireplace problem, and a Christmas tree was one of the last things on his mind at that moment.