The light drizzle didn’t matter; the fire would still catch easily enough.
Even in the hands of someone who’d never done this before, someone who didn’t really understand the nature of fire, nothing would remain but smoke and ashes in half an hour. It wasn’t much of a structure anyway—just a wooden frame inside a shell of ancient brick and crumbling mortar. It didn’t even have a sprinkler system. I’d checked.
The man paused before leaving his car. Maybe he had a sudden attack of nerves. But no, he was just struggling with a black ski mask. He pulled it over his head and emerged without a sound. He wore only black, but I’d know him anywhere. His loafers whispered across the pavement as he made his way around to the back of the old building.
The rest of the block consisted of abandoned warehouses, decaying factories and vacant lots strewn with trash; there wasn’t another soul in sight. Only the homeless and the junkies hung out in this part of town, and they were all sleeping it off or out committing crimes. No one saw him but me, and that’s the way I wanted it. Not that I gave a rat’s ass what happened to this guy. The building was all I cared about. It took some doing to get to this point, some intricate negotiations. There were a million reasons that this building had to go. I just happened to know the best one, and in a few minutes, the plan would ignite, if you’ll pardon the pun.
He stood at the back wall by an old, single-pane window. Whoever renovated this piece of crap did it on the cheap. Or maybe they were going for “rustic.” Whatever. It would burn all the faster because of it.
He glanced around, nervous as a middle school shoplifter, but I knew he’d never spot me. One quick overhand hurl and the first bomb crashed through the window, followed swiftly by a second. The sound of breaking glass gave way to a muffled bang and then a whoosh as fire raced along the floor and worked its way up the walls. If the strikes were as true as they sounded, nothing would survive.
The explosion itself disappointed me, but a louder bang would’ve attracted unwanted attention. The fire spread, visible now through the windows, mesmerizing to watch. The man stood there, frozen. The awe of fire can do that to you. But he needed to get a move on, get out of there before the cops came. I threw a rock—not a big one—at his back to shake him out of his trance. He glanced around, but I ducked away, out of sight. Maybe he’d think it was a projectile from one of those little explosions that kept coming from inside. Pop! Pop! Pop!
He looked uneasy, though, as he scurried back to the car. He started the engine and silently drove away, slicing through the early morning darkness until even the trace of taillights disappeared.
I wanted him gone so I could watch in peace as the whole thing unfolded. I like the progression of destruction as a fire chews every bit of fuel it can reach, eating its way to its own death. First the ceiling, then the walls and then…well…then she screamed.
I was the only one who heard her, the only one who pictured her trapped inside, the only one who heard her life end as the heat and smoke stripped the air from her lungs. I was the only one who wondered if, mercifully, she suffocated before the flames found her flesh.
When the fire began to slow, I heard the sirens as the first fire engines approached. I knew before the firemen did what they’d find. A charred body of some nameless immigrant. Some clues about how that fire had started, but not enough to trace. He might get away with it after all, that lucky, stupid bastard.
I could just picture him. By now he’d have a glass of wine in hand, toasting his night’s work. In his mind, the task was all done, the hard part over.
But I knew better. It takes time to learn that setting a fire might end one thing, but it always starts something else, sets something else in motion. The minute he lit the first fuse, he unleashed something he couldn’t control. He didn’t know that, but I did.
That’s why I was there—to make sure that whatever this fire set in motion moved in the right direction. I didn’t start this, but I was pretty sure I would have to finish it.