Fire

He parks the car at the top of the hill and watches the fire burn, down by the river. It’s amazing how quickly the flames have taken hold, and already black smoke billows into the air. The night breeze carries the burning plastic smell, and the ash, his way. Every so often there is a muffled explosion, and a burst of orange and red, as another cannister ignites.

Someone told him that fire is the best way of destroying evidence, but he knows that her bones will remain. The forensic teams will work out who she was. But there should be nothing to connect him to the accident.

Off towards Elm Avenue, he sees flashing blue and red, and the wail of the siren cuts through the stillness. That is almost too quick, and he thinks how he should have started a couple of fires across town, as a diversion. But there hadn’t been time. Things moved too fast.

He shifts in his seat, the gun digging into his waist uncomfortably. It seemed like a good idea at the time, to get protection. It cost him a couple of thousand, and he doesn’t know if this is a good price or not. He doesn’t even know if it has a safety catch. But he didn’t want to face her unprepared.

He’ll have to ditch it, just in case, even though he’s still wearing gloves. Her blood is still sticky on the barrel, or muzzle, or whatever the proper name is. He’ll drop it in a river far away.

More sirens, and more flashing lights, this time from Broadwick. He can’t tell how many vehicles. The wailing merges. There’s none of the clear-cut two-tone sirens now. They all rise and fall on a continuum. Never quite one thing or the other.

Just like her.

And the flames remind him of the cabin, and the good times, before he realised what she was. The evenings spent in each others’ arms, the long talks about nothing.

All too good to be true. Maybe he made a mistake in suggesting they have a break, especially considering her reaction.

It had taken all his self-control to stay with her, that night she came to his house all mascara-run face and trembling lip. He hadn’t made any reference to the redness under her nails, thinking it only misapplied varnish or something.

Later, when he saw the news, he understood maybe exactly what she was capable of. And the poor sap who they blamed‌—‌he supposed it was fortunate the lad was already dead.

There is more black smoke now, and he thinks the fire trucks are doing their thing. He’s tempted to drive closer, but that’s how people get caught. Like how she kept driving past the club, all depressed because she’d been there moments before all hell broke loose, and who would do such a terrible thing?

Of course, he knew. But he didn’t want to see her anger. He played along, mentioned engagement, and a party. A friend hired a warehouse a few months ago, did it up for the night, only cost a couple of thousand. But it probably wasn’t for them. Maybe something more intimate.

And she loved the warehouse idea. She’d scoped them out, and when she called of course he agreed to meet and check out the building. She hinted that they should ‘christen’ it‌—‌after all, nobody else would be around, would they?

He couldn’t miss such an opportunity. He already had the gun, and the cans of fuel in his car.

Lights shines in his rear-view mirror, and he shields his eyes. Then the light turns off, and an engine stops. He hears a car door. A dark figure walks to his side window and taps, twice.

“Can I help?” he asks when he lowers the window. The figure wears a sharp suit but no tie.

“Friend told me to give you this,” the man says, and he has some kind of accent, maybe Eastern European, or maybe from the north somewhere. He holds out an envelope.

“Friend?” He looks back to the car, and now he sees a passenger with long hair, her features hidden. Maybe she nods to the man.

“Read it.”

The man returns to the car and sits in it. The woman says something to him. They both watch.

He opens the plain envelope and a single sheet of lined notepaper falls onto his lap. He unfolds it. Letters, cut from a newspaper, are stuck to it, like an old ransom note or something.

He reads. And his hands start to shake.

The letters make one sentence.

You think that would ever work?

Another siren screeches through the night, but this one is louder. The car behind blinds him before pulling away, and further down the hill it passes the blue flashing lights.

He sniffs, and smells petrol. He spots the rag on the floor. The one he’d stuffed between two of the cans. The one he remembered dropping in the warehouse.

The police car gets closer, and there’s another one‌—‌no, two‌—‌behind it. And more in his rear-view mirror. They screech to a halt, and officers jump out. With their lights blinding him, he thinks that maybe they have guns.

And he feels the cold steel in his pocket. His fingers curl round the handle and he slowly pulls it free.

He doesn’t know if it’s loaded, or even real.

But that doesn’t matter, because she’s won.

He thinks of the lad in the bar, the one who was blamed. Maybe she met him before. Maybe everything has been planned.

A single tear rolls down his cheek as the police yell something and he raises the gun.


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