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Down To The Needle

Down To The Needle

Book excerpt

A fireman waved an arm to catch a police officer's attention and then pointed toward the flames. He shouted to be heard over the clamor. “The perp torched himself!”

Angry red and orange flames from the still burning back half of the warehouse licked at the night sky. Glowing yellow embers, blown by April's night breezes off the nearby ocean, took flight. Fire trucks encircled the building. Firefighters scrambled over strewn equipment. Men wearing Army camouflage uniforms darted about. Two ambulances waited for the injured.

An officer cupped a hand around the side of his mouth and yelled. “The perp's inside?”

Abigail Fisher and Joe Arno nudged in closer to hear the conversation between firefighters and the police. The roar and crackling of the fire drowned out most other sounds.

A fireman pointed to the front section of the building where the flames had been doused. “Burned himself into a corner.” He shook his head. “Still got the gas can in his hand.”

The officer took a step toward the building, trying to see. “How soon can we get in there?”

“You aren't going to ID this one right away. He melted like wax.”

Abi carried some of Joe's peripheral filming equipment, though only to make her look acceptable so she could tag along. Doing this was not new to her. Joe was a part-time stringer for Seaport's major TV station and could be called out at any hour of the day or night to cover breaking news. Abi stayed on his heels. She would indeed help now that they were there.

The work they did when called out to cover a story was meaningful, if not demanding. Yet, these events paled in comparison to what Abi envisioned should happen for her when the greatest personal predicament in her life would be solved. It was a calamity with effects lasting for decades and was taking a toll on her health. While anticipating a happy and momentous culmination to a personal tragedy, she always helped others when called upon. The hope she held inside never dimmed but seemed detached from her everyday life. Presently, she worried about the reason for the numerous fires. Seaport and neighboring Creighton had an average number of fires greater than most same-sized cities.

Spectators had gathered, held back by police. From where had they all emerged, considering this was a building at the edge of the industrial section of Seaport? The crackling of the fire and rumbling of the building collapsing drowned out most other sounds.

“Look out!” Abi screamed to be heard over the chaos. She gestured frantically as a portion of the front wall began to shift.

“Coming down!” The Fire Captain yelled through a bullhorn as everyone fled.

Two firefighters dashed out of the building just as the outer wall and some roof beams collapsed, propelling a gust of air that sent sparks flying. Choking smoke billowed.

Caught off-guard, Abi and Joe wore dinner clothing when unexpectedly called out from the restaurant to film yet another burning. Abi frantically dusted hot embers off Joe's jacket and then noticed a couple holes had burned through.

“Say so long to this Ralph Lauren.” She almost smiled. She dusted ash from her silk slacks and knew she would soon be shopping to replace them as well.

This wasn't the first time their clothes had been ruined at a crime scene. But it was just clothing, replaceable and not forever lost, like a human life snatched away.

Tin sheets began sliding off the collapsing roof. Firefighters jumped out of range of the razor edges.

Joe kept the lens directed toward each new event and moved about quickly. He whirled around suddenly, looking for her. “Abi?”

She had paused to snuff a hot ash that had settled on her sleeve. “Over here.” She could barely hear herself over the noise.

Joe pulled her aside. “I ought to hire you. Where's the rest of my crew?”

“You give new meaning to the term dinner and a movie.” She shook her head and grinned at the hilarity of such a serious situation.

“Glad you could help again.” He flashed a ridiculous grin. While their lives were anything but normal, they did their best to find something to laugh about to rise above the negativity.

This was not the first time Abi and Joe raced to a news event. Actually a photojournalist, Joe picked up jobs whenever he could get them. Crews covering breaking stories in the fast-growing towns of Seaport and Creighton were often unavailable. Way too many fires had happened over recent years, way too many. Though Abi found it stimulating, even rewarding trailing along at Joe's side, only one occurrence yet to happen could provide the fervent excitement for which she hungered. It would be the highlight of her existence and would heal a heartbreaking tragedy and set her life back on course. Excitement filled her days, but hope was what kept her alive.

“Look at us.” She laughed at her clothes. “We're ruined again.” She swatted at ashes in both his and her hair. He had ash stuck in his nose hairs. She checked her own.

“Wouldn't want life to be too dull, would you?” His humor helped keep her emotions on track, always buoyed her when her own problems seemed overwhelming.

They picked their way through the area and got a few shots of the gutted ruins. From a distance, Joe zoomed in on the charred body.

“All these fires, Joe, I've even thought about moving back to Lawton again.” She looked around at the all too familiar scene and shook her head in dismay. “The gang violence here, it's gotten way out—“

“Ha!” He pulled back his chin and gave her a questioning look. “You haven't lived in Lawton in five years. The gangs there are worse than here now.”

They climbed into Joe's Range Rover, finally, on their way to the TV station. Seaport had not enough news to employ full-time stringers like the hotshots down the coast in Lawton who used satellite power to relay their video clips.

“Strange, Joe, how the Army guys cleared out so quickly.”

“Why stay?”

“A lot of people wear camouflage these days. Does the Army really send people to help?”

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