By Geonn Cannon

Chapter Eleven,

Did You F-in' See What Just F-in' Happened?

"You're missing the movie," Rachel said. She smiled and let her eyes drift shut as well. Her hands were under the hem of Alex's shirt, her body pinned on the couch beneath the other woman.

"So are you," Alex said as she nipped the point of Rachel's chin.

"I've seen it before."

They kissed. Alex pushed her hand between Rachel's back and the couch cushion. "Is it really, really good?"


Alex rephrased her question: "Is it better than this?"

Rachel arched into Alex, moaned loudly and bit her bottom lip. "Oh, it's only okay..." She reached for the remote to silence the movie. Her fingers went limp and the remote fell to the carpet with a thud. Alex started to slip her hand beneath Rachel's dress, but the other woman squirmed and pulled her hand free. "Not down the back," she breathed. She put Alex's hand on her thigh and looked up at her with gleaming eyes. "There," she said, spreading her legs.

As Alex's hand moved north, Rachel tugged the hem of her dress up so the material wouldn't tear. She whimpered as Alex's fingertips stroked her through her underwear. She brought her left leg up and hooked it on Alex's hip. "Is this payback... for what I did to you... against the wall?" Rachel breathed, the words puffing around Alex's face.

"This," Alex said, moving her hand slightly, "is part one of payback."

"What's part two?"

Alex moved her hand again.

Rachel cried out in pleasure.


They moved to the bedroom, Rachel taking the lead and sitting Alex on the edge of the bed. Alex stared raptly as Rachel slowly undressed, documented every article of clothing as it was removed and carefully laid to the side. Alex shed her own shirt and underclothes, feeling silly in her slacks and bra as Rachel walked nude over to the bed. "I hate being the only one naked," she said, drawing her hand down Alex's bare stomach.

Alex took the hint and reached behind her back, finding the catch of her bra and releasing it.

"The-ere's a good girl," Rachel cooed. She bent down and kissed Alex's lips hungrily.

As they kissed, Rachel raised one knee onto the bed, straddling Alex's waist and sitting on her lap. Alex moved her hands along the outside of Rachel's thighs, holding her up as Rachel scooted closer and intensified their kiss. Alex moved her hands to tenderly cup Rachel's ass. "No higher," Rachel said against Alex's mouth.


"Keep your hands where they are," she breathed.

Alex kissed her again and squeezed gently to let her know she didn't plan to stray. Rachel, showing her gratitude, reached down and moved her hand between Alex's thighs.


Almost an hour later, both nude and tangled in the sheets, Alex made a mistake.

She was sitting in the center of the bed, Rachel comfortably facing her on her lap. She had her hands on Rachel's hips and casually slipped them to the small of her back to pull the other woman closer. Rachel tensed in her arms and hissed, "Stop," but it was a second too late. Alex frowned as her fingers passed over the rough and scarred flesh, leaning forward to peer over her lover's shoulder.

Rachel pressed her face against Alex's neck, warm tears flowing from her cheeks onto Alex's shoulder. She sobbed, "I was going to tell you."

Alex flattened her palm against the burn, horrified to see that it spread beyond the span of her fingers. It ran from just below her shoulder blades, fanning out in a triangle, until it faded just above the cheeks of her ass.

"Rachel," Alex breathed.

"Can you not ask?" Rachel whispered. "Please, Alex. Just... make love to me right now. Please?"

"Okay," Alex breathed. She moved her hand to Rachel's shoulder. Her other hand went traveling as well and cupped a sensitive area. Rachel cooed and kissed Alex's shoulder.


Rachel curled next to Alex, her hair a dark sunburst on the pillow behind her. Alex watched her sleep, the innocent way her lips parted to murmur at dream companions. She couldn't get her mind past the scar tissue; the way it had felt, the way Rachel's demeanor had changed as soon as it was touched... She eased her way out of bed, taking care not to jostle the mattress, and found her boxers on the ground.

She put them on, settling on her blouse when she couldn't find her undershirt. Semi-dressed, she sat in the recliner across the room and looked at Rachel's sleeping form on the bed. It was just past three in the morning, the streetlight and the moon had melted across the window pane and was washing the room in a muted yellow-blue aura. From the armchair, she could see Rachel's profile glow in the combination of lights.

'Who hurt you?' she wondered, the feel of that burn imprinted on her fingers. 'Who hurt you and how can I hurt him?'

After a few minutes, Rachel stirred beneath the sheet and stretched an arm across the now-vacant side of the mattress. Her hand hesitated for a moment and, when she realized she should meet resistance, her head came up off the pillow. "Alex?"

The abandonment in her voice broke Alex's heart. "I'm here," she said softly.

When Rachel sat up, the sheet fell away to expose one bare breast. "I... I thought you left."

"No. I couldn't sleep and I didn't want to disturb you."

"Come back," Rachel breathed, lifting one hand in an imploring gesture.

Alex, unable to resist, stood and undressed before climbing back under the blankets. When they embraced, she felt the scar tissue under her hand again. Rachel winced, but not as much as she had the first time. "Now you can ask," she said, her face against Alex's collar.

"Not if you don't..."

"It's okay. I can talk about it, but not during... I can talk about it now."

Alex kissed Rachel's temple and, although she was already sure of the answer, asked, "It's a burn, right?"

"Yes." She took a shuddering breath. "I was six. My big sister picked me up and put me in a closet and I was mad at her. She was babysitting me and I thought she was just being mean. I thought she wanted to be alone with her boyfriend. But then she ducked over me, covered me with her arms and... she..."

Alex felt warm tears on her chest and stroked Rachel's back.

"The apartment was on fire," she said, her voice barely a whisper. Her breath was captured between her mouth and Alex's breast. "She was on top of me, crying. There were security bars on the windows so we couldn't get out."

Alex closed her eyes. She knew those damn bars; mildly efficient keeping burglars out, wonderfully efficient at keeping firefighters out. Murray called them "fuck-me bars."

"I don't know how much time went by. It was... s-so loud. I dream about it sometimes, but I don't know how much is real and how much I've just made up to fill the holes. I remember being curled up with my face in the corner. I remember my sister crying and screaming. I don't really remember the pain. I barely remember the hospital, but only because you don't forget a hell like that. It's funny... I was permanently scarred by the fire, but all I remember was being hurt afterward in the hospital. When I woke up, my sister was dead and my back was..." She swallowed hard. "My sister took the brunt of the flames. It... some of it got past, burned my back. The main thing I remember is Rebecca's voice in my ear saying, 'don't be afraid, Rachel, I have you, it's not going to get you.' Over and over again."

After a long moment, she continued. "Since then, I've been terrified of fire. The stove, sure, to cook... I can handle that kind of heat. But... matches. And cigarettes. It's why I got so bent out of shape about you playing with that stupid lighter. Why I asked you to light the candles in the first place. If I even hold a book of matches I start shaking like a leaf. So when I saw you in the emergency room, I just thought... I thought, 'This woman ran into a fire. This woman faced a fire and won. I have to meet her.' You made my knees weak."

"Can I ask you... the first time I put my hand there, you tensed up. But afterward, you told me you liked it. Is it okay that I keep touching it?"

"It's numb most of the time," Rachel said. "It doesn't hurt or anything. But when you have your hand there, it's like you're... protecting it. Protecting my vulnerable spot. That's why I like having your hand there. It's... intimate."

Alex embraced Rachel and fanned all ten fingers over the small of her back. Rachel nuzzled Alex's shoulder and said, "Are you going to stay until morning?"

Her face in a mask of Rachel's sleep- and sex-mussed hair, Alex said, "At least."


He jerked awake, checked his watch and looked up the street. Her Jeep was still there. He supposed this was the night. He sighed and sat up, rubbing his eyes and replacing his glasses. No point in sticking it out here if they were just going to stay holed up for who-knew-how long. Crawford would be on duty in a few hours. It would be the perfect time to spring his new trap.


Alex took the first shower and Rachel hopped into the stall immediately after. Dressed in the same clothes as the night before, Alex ate a bowl of Crunch Berries in Rachel's kitchen. When Rachel emerged from the bathroom in a terrycloth robe, they kissed and Alex poured a bowl of cereal for her. "Milk?" she asked.

"Yes, please," Rachel said.

She got the carton she'd found in the fridge and brought it back to the table while Rachel poured a glass of coffee. Alex poured her a bowl of cereal and presented it with a flourish, smirking. "It's not exactly Alaska salmon bake with pecans, but I think it'll do for breakfast." She kissed Rachel's temple and brushed a stray hair out of her face. "Happy anniversary, by the way," she said.

"What?" Rachel frowned. "Anniversary?"

"One week ago today. That was when we met in the emergency room."

"A week?" Rachel said, thinking back. "My God. Well, happy anniversary! Did you like the present I gave you last night?"

"Mm-hmm," Alex said. "In fact, I think I'm going to play with it again the next chance I get."

Rachel blushed and sipped her coffee. "Do you have to go?" Rachel asked.

"Afraid so... duty at noon and I want to get some jogging in."

"Was last night not enough of a workout for you, dear?"

Alex smiled. "That was a different kind of exercise, I think. A lot of different muscles involved, at least."

Rachel swallowed her mouthful and said, "Are we going out again soon?"

"The sooner the better," Alex said. She covered Rachel's hand with her own. "I'll have to check my schedule, though, compare it with yours."

"Yeah," Rachel nodded. "Two people with crazy schedules... we're due for a long period of frustrating conflictions."

Alex looked at the time and stood, "I should go." She leaned down and kissed Rachel, tasting Crunch Berries on her breath. "And you really should know better, being a doctor and all... I expected to find bran or kashi or something."

"I have a sophisticated and eclectic palate. And I'll have you know I *do* have some kashi," Rachel countered. "Be safe today, okay?"

"Always," Alex said. "But now that I have a reason..." They kissed again and Alex stepped away, heading for the door. "Bye. I love you."

Rachel stopped the spoon halfway to her mouth and turned in her seat. Alex was smiling at her from the door and nodded. "Yeah, I meant it." She waved again and stepped out into the hallway.

Alone in her apartment, Rachel looked down at her bowl of soggy cereal and smiled. She rested her chin on her hand and laughed, those three words echoing in her head: "I meant it."


Murray grabbed Alex's shoulders from behind and started knocking her back and forth. "Ready? Huh? Ready?" Then he gripped her shoulders and squeezed, giving her the roughest massage she'd ever had.

"You're gonna kill me, Murray," she said.

They were standing outside a flaming warehouse, several different streams of water crisscrossing the face of the building. They'd just arrived and were waiting for word the fire was being held back before heading to the roof to cut ventilation. Leary approached, tugging his ear. "Murray! Let's go, we've got the all-clear! Get up on that roof!"

"All right, all right, it's about time! C'mon, Crawford," Murray said, moving to the ladder.

"No, take Bugs," Leary countered. "Crawford, you're with me. Help me get these fans set up."

"Chief..." Alex started to complain.

"Bugs has the saw, she's ready to go," Leary said. "Plus, she needs the experience. Let's go!"

She followed him as Bugs climbed onto the truck with Murray. Leary hoisted the big fan and she was right behind him, unwrapping the cord from another fan as they got it off the truck. They carried the fan to the front of the building and set it on the front steps, stepping back to watch Murray and Bugs scamper up the ladder.

Murray leapt onto the ledge with the grace of a dancer, Bugs following right behind him as if choreographed. Leary grabbed his radio. "We're ready down here whenever you give us the call, Murray!"

"Things are a bit shaky up here, Chief..."

"Bugs is new," Leary said. "Give her a..."

"No, it's... Goddamn, I'm like a... holy shit, Chief!"

There was a crash, a collapsing sound echoing from inside the building as the fire roared towards the sky with renewed life. Leary automatically slammed himself into Alex, his momentum carrying her away from the building in case of collapse. They both looked over his shoulder at the carnage, the flames licking the sky. Only one explanation for its renewed vigor; it had found a new and plentiful source of oxygen. "The roof collapsed," Alex said, unable to believe what she was seeing.

"Not again," Leary breathed, agony in his voice. "Not another fucking one."

"God, Chief. Murray!" Alex exhaled.

Static burst onto their radios, followed by a very loud and very heartfelt, "Fuck me sideways!"

"Murray?" Leary said into his mike. "Murray, copy; are you there?"

"Chief! Oh, fuck, Chief, fuck me blind, hold on."

Leary looked at Alex, eyes wide. After a few minutes of silence, Leary was going for his radio to call again when the door of the building was kicked open. A firefighter, uniform charred black, burst out. Judging from size alone, there was no doubt that it was Murray. He had another, smaller firefighter held against his side as he stumbled into the cool evening air. He made it only a few steps before falling on his face.

Alex and Leary rushed over and pulled the two away from the collapse zone, calling for medics at the top of their lungs. Murray thrust his head forward and his helmet hit the ground with a solid 'thud.' He yanked off his air mask and looked up at Leary with wide, half-crazed eyes. "Did you see?! Did you f-in' see what just f-in' happened?!"

"Did you fall through a roof?" Alex asked. She knew how stupid the question was but was unable to keep it from coming out.

"Chief never told me not to," Murray said. He turned and said, "Is Heather okay?"

Alex moved to Bugs, who was being tended to by a paramedic. "Bugs, are you okay?" she asked, grasping the other woman's hand.

"Murray saved my life," she said, coughing between every other word. Blood was streaming from her blonde mop of hair, her steely blue eyes moving back and forth without focusing on anything. "Murray saved me," she repeated. "He fucking saved me."

"Yeah, he did," Alex said.

She stood and went over to the Chief, who was standing by the ladder truck. Leary looked at her and said, "So, Murray tells me the roof is ventilated now."

Alex snickered at the statement and said, "Guess we can turn on the fans." They headed for the front door, picking up the fan Murray had knocked over during his hasty retreat. As they turned on the monstrously noisy contraption, she glanced over at him and asked, "Are you okay, Chief?"

"Thought I lost both of them," he said softly. He ran his thumb across his bottom lip, shook his head and walked away. Alex watched him go, looked down at the fan and then headed over to Murray.


Both of them?!

*Both* of them? How was that fair? That wasn't fair!

He smacked his fist against his thigh and allowed himself a mini-tantrum inside the safety of his car. Damn. He had put so much thought into that. It was supposed to have been perfect. He exhaled and let the rage slowly seep away until he was calm again. He threw the binoculars into the passenger seat and started the car.

He'd have another chance. He would just have to be patient.

With any luck, his next trap would get the entire damn company.

Appalled, he pulled out of the parking lot with his headlights off to avoid anyone noticing him. As he merged with the flow of traffic, an idea came to him. Perhaps there was a way to salvage some fun from this fire after all. It wouldn't be the same as a death, but what in life was, really?


Rachel slid the file back into place and smiled at one of the intern's jokes. She was about to head down the hall to check on a patient when her cell phone vibrated in the pocket of her lab jacket. She had already forgotten about the crank calls the day before and withdrew the phone, hitting the 'talk' button and saying, "Dr. Rachel Tom."

A hoarse, low voice replied. "Your girlfriend just died in a fire. My condolences."

He hung up without another word. She looked down at the phone in her shaking hand, eyes wide as her brain processed his words. One part of her brain told her that it wasn't true, couldn't be true, it was just the cruelest joke anyone had ever played on her. But then, another part of her brain whispered, 'but what if it is true?'

She moved down the hall, slowly building speed until she was running. She burst into the waiting room and snatched the remote from a man sleeping in an easy chair.

She changed the channel, surfing aimlessly until she found live footage of another warehouse fire. She saw the medic truck on the scene with its lights flashing, saw the firefighters milling around on two sides of the building... saw that the entire roof had collapsed, leaving a gaping maw spitting fire at the sky. From another dimension, she heard the reporter say that two firefighters had fallen through the surprisingly weak roof.

She hit the floor, her knees crying out in protest as they smacked the linoleum. Later, they told her that she'd screamed loud enough to be heard at the nurse's desk, but she didn't remember that at all.


Murray sat on his gurney, finally calmed down enough to sit still, looking down at Bugs as he breathed through the oxygen mask. The fire had been knocked down and all that remained was clearing the wreckage. Leary approached the medic truck, climbing onto the bumper and glancing at Bugs before he said, "All right, Murray, what the hell happened up there?"

Murray pulled his mask off and shook his head. "Okay, uh... we made it onto the roof, but something was hinky up there, man."

"Kinky?" Leary asked.

"No, hinky. Not quite... kosher."


Murray seemed lost for a moment. After he'd had a moment to think, he shook his head. "All I remember clearly is falling. I thought I was dead meat for sure..." Clearing his throat, he said, "The roof was way too unstable. Shaky. It got really bad after Bugs started cutting... like we were just standing on a surfboard made out of plywood. The roof started to buckle, so I jumped and grabbed Bugs. Figured I'd..." He exhaled. "I don't know. I guess I figured she could use me to break her fall or something, I don't know. I wasn't thinking."

"And you just walked away?" Leary asked, sounding as if he wouldn't believe it if he hadn't seen it with his own two eyes. "That was a three-story drop in there, man."

"Bugs hurt her knee and hip. Not bad, but I had to help her walk outta there."

"Where did you land?"

"There were no fucking floors, Chief... just air, all the way down to the ground level. We hit this big pile of crap... I don't even know what it was. I was on fire, but Bugs patted me out and we got outta there like the hounds of Satan were on our heels." He shrugged and muttered, "Probably ain't too far from the truth..."

Bugs said something into her mask, so Leary moved to her side and removed it.

"The rafters," she said. "I saw them when we landed... just barely... They were all screwed up..."

"It's an old building," Leary said.

"No... They looked like clean cuts. Like someone sawed through them."

Leary looked over his shoulder and spotted Crawford amid the overhaul crew. "Sounds like the arsonist theory might hold water after all." He clapped Bugs on the shoulder and said, "Get well soon, Riley. They only give us so many replacements during the calendar year."

"I'll be back ASAP, Chief, promise."

Leary climbed out of the truck and grabbed the doors, seeing Bugs take Murray's hand before he shut the door on them. He turned and stalked back towards the building. If someone was setting traps, like Crawford suggested, if they were trying to kill *his* firefighters... this was going to be the last damn time.


"It was like something out of the movies," Alex said, "the way Murray came strutting out of that building with Bugs? Oh, man, me without my camcorder."

Wizell slapped Murray on the leg. "I thought I told you to leave the heroics to me, ay? Or at least time them so I'm around to see it! Man, I cannot believe I missed Mr. Hero here. Three damn floors, man!"

"Excuse me," a nurse said from the edge of the curtain.

"Sorry you missed the big show, Weasel. But did Superman time his heroics so the spectators could watch? Did Batman?"

"You calling me Lois Lane?" Wizell asked.

Alex nodded at the other bed. "If anyone's Lois Lane, it's Bugs here. How's that IV drip working out for you, Riley?"

Bugs gave a thumbs-up. "I'm thinking of coming here after shifts from now on."

"Excuse me," the nurse said again.

Wizell finally heard her and stepped to one side. "Sorry, sweetheart," he said as she walked in.

"Look, Murray," Alex said. "You do realize we're never going to let you live this down, right? The teasing begins now! Okay, so, how many drivers does it take to completely screw up a ventilation cut?"

The nurse put a hand on Alex's arm. "Excuse me."

"Can it wait?" Alex asked. She had a whole list of jokes she couldn't wait to unleash on Murray.

The nurse tried to smile, but it didn't work very well. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but do you know a Rachel Tom?"

Alex frowned. "Yeah."

"There's been an incident."

The blood immediately drained from Alex's face.


The nurse looked up at the smell of smoke, automatically prepared to chew out whoever had lit the cigarette. Instead, she saw a frightened looking woman with soot-blackened face charging towards the desk. "Rachel collapsed?" she asked. She put her dirty hands on the counter and left two starfish-shaped smudges. She was wearing her bunker pants, wide suspenders holding them up over her once-white department t-shirt. Her hair was standing up in spikes, her blue eyes wide and searching. "Is there someone here who..."

"You mean Dr. Tom?" the nurse said.

"They said she collapsed," the firefighter said, snapping her eyes forward again, locking onto the voice of someone who might be able to help her. "Where is she, is she all right?"

"She's fine," the nurse said, coming around the edge of the desk. "She's right this way."

She led the firefighter down the corridor and knocked on the door frame as she stepped inside. "Dr. Tom? There's a..."

The firefighter shoved past her and made a bee-line for the bed. "Rachel, what happened? Are you all right?"

"Alex," Rachel gasped. She held her arms out for a hug and caught Alex just before she hit the bed. The nurse who'd been sitting with Dr. Tom rose from the easy chair, heading for the door. Both nurses left and closed the door behind them.


Alex sat on the edge of the bed, cradling Rachel under her arm. Rachel was sipping her apple juice and staring at her sneakers. "I feel like such a fool," she said. "Everyone making such a fuss over me..."

"You collapsed in the waiting room... correction, they said you *screamed* and collapsed. What happened?"

"Someone called me," she said, keeping her voice low. "They said 'Your girlfriend just died in a fire.'"

"What?!" Alex growled.

"Honey," Rachel said quietly, touching Alex's blackened hand. "Of course, I... figured it was just a crank call. I got a couple of those yesterday. But I turned on the news and there was this huge fire and they were talking about firefighters falling through a roof..."

"That was Murray and Bugs."

Rachel gasped. "Not that sweet man I met at the funeral... oh, God, and the blonde..."

"No, they're fine. They're a little banged up, they're downstairs getting the royal treatment, actually, but I'm fine."

Rachel sighed and closed her eyes. "I need to get over this. I can't panic and flail and fall down every time you leave for work in the morning. You could die in a fire, but I could get pricked with an infected needle. It's a crap shoot. We shouldn't spend all our time worrying about what may happen."

Alex rubbed her shoulder and said, "Maybe you're just... maybe last night..."

With a grin, Rachel pressed her face against Alex's shoulder. "What, you think now that we've slept together, I'm going to turn into an obsessive loony?"

Alex smiled. "You're the one getting all melodramatic in the waiting room."

Rachel sat up and said, "I'll be fine. I just have to call my cell company about these damn crank calls."

"Have they all been this bad?"

"No, the ones yesterday were just hang-ups... More annoying than anything else. This is the first time the guy spoke to me."

Alex shuddered. "It's a little frightening, though, right? That someone knows you at least well enough to know about me."

"I'm choosing to ignore that at the moment. The last thing I need is a stalker."

Alex hugged Rachel and kissed the top of her head. "Yeah... I got here first."

Rachel laughed and pushed away, sliding off the bed. "I have to get back at work before they declare me legally dead. Thank you for coming to make sure I was okay."

"I couldn't stay away," Alex said. They kissed at the door and parted ways. As she reached for the elevator call button, the doors parted and Leary stepped out. He scanned the corridor before glancing to his left and seeing her. "Chief, what are you doing here?" she asked, moving over to him.

"Been looking for you... they said you were up here. How is... uh..."

"Rachel. She's fine. Just a little episode."

"Glad to hear it," he said. He took her by the elbow and dragged her into the elevator car he'd just vacated. "Based on something Murray told me, I called the arson investigator and had him take a quick look at the latest fire. Turns out the rafters were cut by some sort of power tool. It was deliberate and it looks like it was done recently."

"How can he tell that?" Alex asked. Her mind was racing at what she was being told. An arsonist *was* targeting them. God, how could that be true?

"Something to do with weather and exposure... He said that the, uh, wear and tear were uneven or... something," Leary said. He waved dismissively. "I don't know the details. The important part is that I'm sorry for not listening to you before. These fires were definitely set. Someone out there is trying to hurt us."

Alex shook her head. "Okay, playing devil's advocate... how do we know this fire is related to the other ones?"

"It's just like the other two; it was also designed and developed from the ground up by Lancaster Designs, Incorporated. Project headed by Martin Lancaster."

Alex groaned and slumped against the wall of the elevator. "So who is the target? Us or Lancaster?"

"Von Elm is on his way over to talk with Lancaster now. I figured with your history..."

"Aw, Chief," she groaned.

He held up his hands. "Hear me out. Your history, plus... if you walk in looking the way you do now, he may feel sympathetic. We might learn something useful."

"So I'm there to be pitied?"

"No. I meant the look in your eye when you thought Murray and Bugs were dead. I'm talking about how Murray said you looked half insane when you heard Rachel might be hurt. I want you to scare that little jackass into cooperating."

Alex smiled. "That, I think I'm capable of."


He watched the news coverage, smiling the entire time despite the failure to kill anyone. Three fires, one casualty. He was so far behind schedule it was barely tolerable, but this mass panic was wonderful. Every major news station in town was playing footage of the fire, one of them combining their coverage with shots of all the fires in the past week. "Must be a month for fires," one reporter intoned with a raised eyebrow.

"Oh, yes," he responded to the screen. "Oh, yes, indeed."

Helicopters had circled the latest building like maverick honeybees, each making sure their network got its fair share of tragic entertainment.

It was magnificent. He only wished the fire had burned longer. The firemen were far too efficient in getting the blaze to die down.

He turned back to his desk and opened the file. He sorted through the paperwork and tried to decide which would be his next project. Seven buildings, all abandoned and none scheduled for demolition. All standing, skeletons of their former glory, homes to rats of both the vermin and human variety. They gathered garbage, blocked sunlight, they were called eyesores and bore embarrassing "Condemned" signs over their shamed faces. He could get them legally demolished easy enough, but... the thought of big machines pushing them over would make him nothing more than a bully. No, with fires, they ended their lives with dignity at the very least.

No more would they be ignored, he had vowed. They would not only be given a proper burial, they would go out in a literal blaze of glory. Their final moments would be seen by all and feared by anyone who had the misfortune to be nearby. But the damn firefighters...

He admitted he needed them. By taking a life, the building fulfilled its destiny. It accepted its place in the hearts of at least a handful of firefighters who would never forget the building that took their friend. A sacrifice to the gods.

He had a few things he wanted to try... new accelerants, new traps to set up. He was still furious that his rafter snare had come up empty. He'd worked a long time on that. Ah, well... he would just have to up the ante next time.

He pulled Crawford's cell phone from his desk drawer and stared at it for a long time. Was it too soon to put in another call to Rachel Tom? His finger was poised over the button when an intercom on his desk buzzed. He sighed and answered. "I asked not to be disturbed during the news."

"Yes, sir, I'm sorry. But there are some people here to see you."

Frowning, he stuck the cell phone back into his desk drawer and glanced at the door of his office. Who would be here to see him? He had no appointments. "Yes, sure, send them in," he said.

The door opened and his secretary escorted the unannounced visitors in. He couldn't resist smiling. "Alex! How nice to see you... and who is your friend?"

"Fire Marshal Bill Von Elm," the portly man said. "We need to have a talk about the recent fires, Mr. Lancaster."

He had to fight to keep his smile. Things had just taken a definite turn for the worst.

To be continued in Chapter Twelve

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