On the far side of town, exactly six miles from the Cineplex, four fire engines, four cop cars and two ambulances idled loudly on the street in front of 4209 Wellings Way. The yellow wood-sided home that occupied that land was barely standing beneath the night sky. What was left was lit up like a Hollywood set by large field lights running on generators and the headlights from the hook and ladder truck. All of the neighbors were out on the street. Crowding around. Gawking. Talking quietly among themselves though that was hardly necessary given the rumbling of the big rigs.
The fire was out finally, though small pockets of smoke rose through the air here and there. Hoses were still stretched out across the front lawn, however, they lay deflated on the ground. No longer in operation. The hydrant turned off. No use for them now.
Several firemen were standing in clumps on the lawn, busy now with bottles of water and post-incident recap. Their boots still on but their fire proof jackets and oxygen tanks on the ground beside them. Coming off the adrenaline rush, breath by breath. Tale by tale. The firemen did everything they possibly could to save the home. But everything they could do, wasn’t enough.
“Jesus, Frank, what happened?” one fireman, a rookie, said to another fireman, more seasoned.
Frank shrugged his shoulders and took a big swig from the plastic bottle in his hand. He was covered in perspiration and soot. “I guess dude wanted to take it all with him.” he offered before pouring more water down his throat.
It wasn’t obvious what caused the blaze. Which isn’t uncommon. There’s not always a smoking gun visible after a fire like this. Besides, they weren’t there to solve a mystery, they were there to prevent even more damage. And they were successful in their endeavor. Even if they were standing in front of a burnt-out house.
All anyone agreed on at this point was the fire was significant. The speed at which it consumed the house, suspicious. But there was no way to tell from here what exactly happened. Maybe it was electrical. Maybe gas. An investigator would fill in the blanks. And they’d know, in a day or two. Maybe three.
The incident commander waged a guess “Class B?”
“This is a hell of a lot of damage for a simple Class B.”
“I didn’t say simple.”
They all nodded quietly. Accepting that there was a lot more to this story than a candle or a pot left on the stove. More than a curling iron left by a towel on the sink. More than they needed to know. But they were still curious. The gossip would be plentiful. The owner of 4209 Wellings Way was known around town. In fact, he was an acquaintance, at the very least, to many of the men standing on the front lawn right here and now. Anthony Meyers was one of them. A member of the club. One of the boys. He wasn’t a cop or a fireman. But he was still one of the boys. And this was his home. Or at least was his home.
The arson investigator, an elderly gentleman arrived on the scene about fifteen minutes ago and he was telling a much younger guy who was videotaping the damage with a Go-Pro camera exactly what images to catch. Making sure he panned upwards to the burnt out second floor. Across blown out windows. Charred siding. To the space where the roofline once hung. To the blackened first floor. The exposed rafters and beams that once made the center-hall colonial stand so stately.
The front door still hung on its hinges. No walls surrounding it. Just standing in mid-air. He captured that with the Go-pro. A Christmas wreath. A door mat still in position and in good condition. Waiting for house guests that would never pass through again. He zoomed in on the broken glass in each window. Blown outward, plantation shutters peeking through.
“Looks like it just fucking exploded Matt.” the camera man said with dry eyes but a heavy frown.
“There was nothing…nothing anyone could do….it moved so fast.” The arson investigator shook his head and planted his hands on his hips. Such a shame. So much loss. And more than likely, from the looks of things…at least preliminarily…not an accident. The arson investigator and his side kick walked back to the waiting firemen.
The incident commander patted the rookie on the shoulder once again. Total loss with a fatality on your first fire is a lot to swallow. Takes you down a peg. The reality that creeps in once the adrenaline wears off is sobering. Total loss. It’d take the kid a week or two to bounce back from this. Or at least until their next call.
The arson investigator asked “Anyone inside?”
And the incident commander said “Just one.”
“Medical examiner come?”
“Yeah, they cut him down and took him over to the morgue right before you got here.”
“Cut him down?”
“Oh.” The arson investigator flipped open a small pocket-sized notebook and plucked a pen from behind his ear. “Suicide by hanging or did he…”
“Hanging. Master closet. Looked like a bungee cord.”
The arson investigator scribbled in his pad. “I’ll need the full write up. And I’ll check in with Jean in the morning. Good job tonight Boys.” he said as he walked across the lawn right past the spectators and meandered over to his unmarked Lincoln.
Back across town, Bethany switched on the lamp beside her bed and shuffled out of her street clothes in to proper pajamas. The next few days would be brutal. She expected to feel that. But she also expected to feel some relief. It was finally the day she had dreamt of. The one she painstakingly planned for. The one that would save her from everything she was going through. Everything was finally over. But she didn’t feel good. Didn’t feel satisfied. Didn’t feel justified. She was horrified. What have I done? she thought to herself. And she was glad she didn’t really know the extent of it yet. She knew something was going to happen to Anthony tonight but they all thought it better, the less she knew, the more genuine her reactions would be. The only thing she asked, and this was for the sake of the children, that whatever they did. They did it quietly and quick. Though Anthony, that bastard, that animal, that fool, didn’t deserve a death so quiet.