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Part One: Midnight and a Burning House
Monday morning, at a little past three o’clock AM, Tim Simons awoke from a nightmare about being stuck in a burning building. When he got out of bed and saw that his bedroom mirror was reflecting orange flames, he assumed that he was still dreaming; there was no heat, no indication of an actual fire.
His mouth felt as dry as a desert.
He headed down the hallway and was attacked by Midnight, his Siamese cat, who was on the prowl for socked feet. Tim howled and reflexively kicked him. Midnight took off around the dark corner like a breeze and disappeared into a shadow.
Stumbling through the dimly lit room, Tim made it to the kitchen cupboard, retrieved a cup and filled it with tap water. He swallowed it all in one gulp and headed for the bedroom, rubbing his eyes and walking like a drunk.
The large mirror at the end of the hall was lit up with orange flames. He stepped backwards and turned around. There was only darkness and the blue eyes of the Siamese assassin waiting crouched, ready to spring like a tiger pouncing on its prey.
Tim looked back into the mirror, assuming that it was time to see the eye doctor or, perhaps, a good psychiatrist. The flames were still there, but they were consuming not his house, but someone else’s. He rushed to the phone and called the fire station, reported the fire and hastily got dressed.
He put on his robe and slippers, over his clothes (Since he was still half-asleep) and ran out the front door as Midnight clung mischievously to his robe. Tim dislodged him and threw him into the apartment, where he landed gracefully on his feet.
Outside, the smell of the smoke was intense. Orange flames were dancing evilly throughout the house. Every snap and pop of the fire could be heard. He ran across the street, towards the centennial home.
The heat was like a blast from an oven. Shielding his face, he tried to look through the haze and the flames for movement that would indicate if anyone were still inside, but the black, billowing smoke blocked any clear view.
He ran around to the back of the house. There, lying just outside of the backdoor was someone coughing. The heat was intense, making it nearly impossible to get close enough to help, but he ignored the pain and picked up the old lady in his arms and carried her as fast as he could. When they got into the neighbors’ yard the air felt cold by comparison. Tim set her down in the cool, dew-dampened grasses and collapsed. Just then he heard the loud sirens of the fire truck.
“Anyone else in there?” Tim yelled.
“No,” she managed to say between coughs.
The pounding on his front door woke him from a fitful sleep. He got out of bed and slipped on his bathrobe. It reeked of smoke. He took it off, threw it on the floor and put on a T-shirt and pants.
He stumbled to the front door looked out the peephole. Standing there was a middle-aged man with black hair that was slicked back. He was wearing black slacks, white dress-shirt, a blue tie and a black trench coat. In his right hand was a police badge. Tim opened the door while rubbing his eyes with his free hand.
“Good morning, Mr. Simons?”
“Yeah. That’s me.”
“I’m Detective Nichols. I understand you helped save Mrs. Fritzgerald last night.”
Tim let out a long yawn. “Yeah, the old lady? Yeah. Is she okay? I haven’t gone to the hospital yet.”
“Mr. Simons… I need to ask you a few questions. Is now a good time?”
Tim forced his brain to work at an hour that it was usually asleep. “Yeah, come on in. Just be careful of the cat. He loves to attack people.”
Tim strolled into the kitchen and went over to the coffee maker. “Care for
“Don’t mind if I do.” Nichols said as he sat at the small wooden table. Tim sat opposite him.
“Live here long?” Nichols asked, gesturing with his hand.
“About five years. Ever since my parents kicked me out. They said a twenty-year-old shouldn’t be mooching off his parents.” Tim smiled and looked into his eyes.They were red, bloodshot.
“So, what do you do for work?” Nichols asked, turning away and looking out the window.
“Well, I’m kind of in the market for a computer programming job at the moment. So, what did you need to know?”
Nichols leaned back in the chair and sighed. He took out a pad and pen. “I need to inform you that you are not officially, at this time, a suspect. I just need to ask you a few questions.”
Tim’s mouth dropped open. He started to speak but words failed him.
“We have reason to believe that Mrs. Fritzgeralds' house was burned intentionally.”
He shook his head from side to side. “What!”
“An eye witness spotted someone fitting your description around her backyard just before the fire was started. We are going to have the ruins examined to determine if it was the work of an arsonist. Now, we would like you to come down to the station and formally make a statement. As I said, at this time you are not a suspect; not until we get more proof, which may or may not incriminate you.”
“This is insane! I’m the one that rescued her!”
“And how did you possibly know that her house was on fire?”
“Well, I got up to get some water.”
“Okay, but how did you know?”
Tim stood up and went over to the coffee machine. “I looked out the window.”
“Mr. Simons, have you ever heard of ‘Hero syndrome’?”
He pulled out a ceramic mug, sat it on the counter and glared at him. “No.”
“Criminals sometimes do things-- like start fires for instance-- and then take the credit for ‘rescuing’ the victim. They like the feeling and the attention of being a ‘hero’.”
“Are you kidding me? This is insanity. Am I going to need a lawyer?”
“Well Mr. Simons, it may be a good idea.”
Tim rubbed his temples vigorously. Great, like I have so much money that it’s pouring out of my ears and I can just hire a lawyer.
He stared, trance-like, at the coffee as it filtered lazily into the pot. Just a few hours ago he had gotten up to get water, now he was practically accused of arson and attempted murder.
“Mr. Simons, you with me?”
“Sorry, what did you say?”
“I asked you if you’d like to come down to the station now.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“You can come now or come later—in cuffs.”
“Mind if I drink this first? I’m still trying to wake up.”
“Bring it with you.” He smiled wryly.
“Mind if I smoke?” Nichols asked, retrieving a cigarette from his pocket and lighting it. Tim didn’t answer. He was trying hard to ignore the two-way mirror that stretched across the opposite wall.
The door to the interrogation room opened. A petit, female officer entered. Her skin was a beautiful shade of brown. Her black hair was pulled into a loose ponytail.
Tim shifted in his chair, heart racing, feeling very self-conscious about his white, pasty skin and appearance in general. He cursed himself for not having brushed his teeth, put on deodorant or even had a chance to comb his hair.
She gracefully approached him with a smile and extended hand. “Mr. Simons, I’m officer Alison Brady.”
He stood and shook her hand. It was small and delicate but she had a strong grip.
She sat across from him, next to Nichols. She kept watching Tim intently with her violet eyes.
He started sweating profusely.
“Okay, I’ll just turn on the tape recorder,” she said, finally looking away from him.
She pressed the RECORD button. “Please state your name.”
“Timothy Alex Simons.”
“Today is the fifteenth of September, 2004. I am officer Brady. With me also is detective Nichols.”
“How’d you know about the fire?” Nichols demanded, sending a steam of smoke across the table.
“I had gotten up to get a drink. I looked out the window and saw the flames.”
“So,” Brady asked calmly, “you could see the fire from your window. How far is your residence from Mrs. Fritzgerald’s house?”
He cleared his throat. “Across the…” he stopped suddenly, looking into Brady’s eyes. They were brown, yet, moments later, he would have sworn they were violet.
“Something wrong?” she asked.
Nichols laughed. “He can’t remember his story. Can’t keep it straight!”
“Sorry,” Tim said. He looked away from her and stared at the tape as it turned in slow, lazy circles. “Her house is just across the street.” He looked into Brady’s eyes again, carefully. They were still brown. Tim winced inwardly, fearing he was loosing his mind.
“Quite a coincidence,” Nichols said loudly, “ that you happened to wake up at the same time you were spotted outside, before the fire started?”
“It wasn’t me.”
“Still,” Nichols sneered, “seems like a big coincidence.” He leaned back in his chair, dropped the cigarette onto the floor and stomped it out.
“Do you know of anyone who would want to hurt her?” Brady asked. “Anything unusual going on in the neighborhood?”
“Not that I’m aware of. Oh, except for all those pesky alien abductions.”
Nichols slammed his fist on the table. “Think you’re funny!”
“Mr. Simons,” Brady said softly, “please answers the questions seriously.”
“Sorry. Nothing unusual that I’m aware of, no.”
“Is there anything you’d like to add?” Brady asked him.
“I would never do such a thing to anyone, especially not an old lady.”
“Oh, give me a break! You were seen there.” Nichols spat out, leaning in close to his face. Tim suppressed the urge to poke him in his bloodshot eyes.
“I stole a candy bar when I was ten-years-old, ate it, lied about it. I filed my taxes late once. I J-walk on occasion, speed when in a hurry. I’ve never parked in a handicapped spot though, and always stop for pedestrians. I’ve returned library books late, but always pay the fine. I’m sure it’s on record if you don’t believe me. Do arsonists usually do that? Pay late fees at libraries? I’m not too familiar with how they do things.”
Nichols jumped out of his chair. “Listen you little punk—” His hands were suddenly pulling Tim forward by his shirt collar. He didn’t move a muscle. Nichols let go and sat back down. Brady shot Tim a warning glance. Then, a thought entered his mind like a strike of lightning.
“What about the ‘eyewitness’, why were they up at the time of the fire?”
“We’re asking the questions,” he said with a calm that belied his burning anger.
“Look, this is insane. I’ve got nothing else to add, so…”
“Thank you, Mr. Simons,” Brady said, smiling. “Give us a call if you remember anything else.” She turned off the tape recorder.
Tim stood up. Nichols watched him like a hawk, tapping a new cigarette on the table.
“Oh Timothy,” Nichols said, “stay out of trouble.”
Tim didn’t turn to look at him but could feel Connely’s condescending grin.
After a small breakfast (his stomach was too agitated to eat much) he drove to St. Thomas Medical Center.
Behind the receptionist’s desk sat a plump, middle-aged woman struggling to keep the phone pressed to her ear while simultaneously typing rapidly on the keyboard. When she saw Tim she stopped typing with one hand and held up her pointer finger, informing him that she’d be with him in a minute. He nodded.
She hung up the phone and smile at him. “How can I help you, young man?”
“I’m here to visit Mrs. Fritzgerald. She was brought in last night because of excessive smoke inhalation.”
The woman looked up at him quizzically. “You her grandson?”
Tim chuckled. “No, I saw her house burning and called the fire department, they told me why she needed to come here.”
“Why would they tell you that?”
“I went out to wait for them to arrive. They told me not to worry, and that she just needed to be here a little while.”
“How nice of you. You know, you remind me of my youngest son. He’s about your age.”
Tim nodded.“What room did you say she was in?”
“Oh, sorry. Let’s see.” Her fingers assaulted the keyboard at a speed he only hoped to some day attains.
“Room 117. Right here on this level. Down this hall, take your first right and then your second left.”
Mrs. Fritzgerald’s door was open. Tim knocked gently but got no response. He knocked again. Still, no answer.
“You can go in. She probably can’t hear you.”
An old, female nurse had addressed him. He tried not to stare at her hair, which was dyed brown, with about an inch of white roots.
“Thanks. How is she doing?”
“She’s going to be fine. We just needed to keep her here last night for Observation.”
“You her grandson?”
“Um, just her neighbor, actually.”
“That’s so sweet of you to visit.”
“Wish my grandson would visit me,” she mumbled and left.
The hospital room was bright and sunny. There were several potted flowers and a few cards in the window. Mrs. Fritzgerald was lying in the bed. Her eyes were closed. He hesitated and turned to leave.
“Ben?” She said, faintly.
“Hi there. I’m Tim, from across the street. How’s it going? They treating you well here?”
She stared at him for several seconds before her face lit up. “I remember you. You
carried me out of the yard.” Her voice was a little raspy.
“They say that you’ll be out of here soon.”
“I’m going to live with my son.”
“That’s great. That he’ll take care of you, I mean. Mrs. Fritzgerald, did you happen to see anyone outside your house Before…”
“Good heavens. No. Why?”
He cleared his throat and shuffled his feet. “Because—”
“Hey!” A gruff voice yelled. Tim jumped out of his skin. A large man entered the room. He had the appearance of someone who cut down trees with an axe for a living: plaid shirt, huge beard, large, hands, muscular, though slightly overweight.
“What are you doing here with my mom?” The lumberjack demanded.
"I was just visiting.”
“Momma, he bother’in you?”
She shook her head: no.
“I’m her neighbor.” Tim offered, hoping that the lumberjack wouldn’t break him like in half like a piece of firewood.
“Oh. Okay. Just making sure.” He smiled and extended his huge hand. Tim shook it. It felt like sandpaper. “Making sure you’re not one of dem sneaky lawyer-bastards or a scam artist.”
“No, definitely not.”
“Good, ‘cause if you were, I’d have to gut ya like a fish and hang you on
My wall.” He smiled, revealing yellow teeth and breath that smelled like cigarettes. “Name’s Ben. So, how you know my Momma?”
“Just her neighbor.”
“Well, thanks for stopping by.” He said, indicating that he wanted him to leave.
“Um, Ben, can I have a word with you?” Tim asked.
Tim looked over at Mrs. Fritzgerald. She had fallen asleep. He spoke quietly, “The police suspect that someone had started the fire. I know it’s hard to believe, but—”
“What are you saying? Someone tried to kill my mom!”
Tim looked over to the bed. Fortunately his outburst hadn’t woke her.
Tim continued in a whisper, “I don’t know. Just wanted to let you know.”
“And how do you know this?” He asked, looking at Tim with narrowed eyes.
“The police are talking to everyone on her street.”
“Nice to have met you.” Tim said, extending his hand.
“Yeah, same here.”
To be continued...
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