July 14, 2001

 

Two fires raged across town from each other, flames spearing up into the night.

In the River Market at the north end of the city, fire chewed out a confectionary-bookstore-patisserie and the offices and residences above them. The brick held while firefighters went about their work, and residents, owners, and spectators gathered as near as they could to watch. One woman sat alone on a curb away from the rest, a laptop and purse on the ground beside her, watching as her life went up in smoke.

She was grateful to be alive, even so, and she wondered when her business partners would arrive. She felt no fear, though she trembled in impotent rage. A man walked toward her, but she didn’t look at him, even when he turned and dropped onto the curb beside her.

“Are you okay?”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

Pause. “That’s … unusual.”

Indeed.

She took a deep breath to calm herself. When she felt she could speak again, she did, her voice hard. “That bastard tried to kill me and he’s taken away everything I own.”

He shook his head and clucked his tongue. “When you lie down with dogs … Obviously he didn’t get the memo.”

He was right. She began to cry, because she had nowhere for all that anger to go right then, and he folded her in his arms.

At the south end of the city in Mission Hills, a man carrying three children struggled through the front hallway of a house to get to the door. A small child was tucked under each arm and he shouted encouragement to the third, who clung to his neck. They screamed in pain as flames spread over all four of them. He stumbled through the gaping hole of the front entrance, fire licking up his pant legs. Firefighters ran to him and tossed wet blankets over all of them, bundling them and then dousing them before racing them to the awaiting ambulances.

“My daughter,” the man gasped as he was loaded onto a gurney. “She fell— My daughter!”

“Sir, is there anyone else in the house?”

“My wife,” he coughed, just before he passed out.

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