The alarm went off at 7:00am. Joe flailed around and found the snooze button.
The alarm went off at 7:09am. Joe flailed around and found the snooze button.
The alarm went off at 7:18am. Joe flailed around and found the snooze button.
This repeated every nine minutes until it was half past eight. Joe decided he should get up, despite the hangover.
One look in the mirror reminded him that it wasn’t the beer that had caused his bad head. His right eye and cheek were bruised, and the cut above his eye was red and prominent. He checked the rest of his body. There were small bruises on his arms, chest and legs. He’d looked worse after a tumble from his bike, but not much. He put a water proof plaster over the cut and had a shower.
He dawdled over breakfast, savouring a second cup of tea, and left the house with just enough time to get to the studio by ten. He hurt too much to get excited about a day with Rachel, no matter what he had been thinking the night before. The overcast sky meant there was no sun to warm his aching joints and soothe him.
A street away from the garage Joe smelt smoke. It was too late in the year, and too early in the day, for someone to be burning hedge trimmings. And there was an odd chemical undertone to it. He searched for a plume. Finding it he did a quick triangulation, estimated where it was, and panicked.
He ran the rest of the way to the garage. No matter how obvious it was, he held out hope that he was wrong. And he couldn’t see the source of the smoke until the last moment. But he knew what he was going to find, and when he reached the drive of Pete’s house the garage, his studio, was burning.
Now that his worst fears were confirmed, Joe felt strangely calm. In fact, he wasn’t worried as much as he was sure he should be. He pulled his phone out and took a photo of the flames, then called the fire brigade. When they were on their way he contacted Pete. And then there was nothing he could do.
The hedge that ran down one side of the garage was lost, and it was too hot to get close enough to move the stuff stacked against the other side. At least there was a large gap between the house and the garage.
Joe took more photos. He was envisioning a print- the soup tin but with a collapsing structure. There was board and canvas in the garage, two completed paintings, one spec work in progress and a few sketch books and photos. Finished paintings were distributed around bars, clubs, friends and family. He had lost two weeks’ work at most. Painful, but not fatal.
But his friend’s garage was burning down and it could be his fault. He took some more photos.
“I saw ’em do it.”
Joe looked around and down. The kid was about eight and cute as anything. “A big bastard and a man with tattoos.” Where did she learn language like that?
“What did they do?”
“They threw something and it set on burning.”
Joe heard sirens for the first time and noticed the fire engine turning into the road. He guided the little girl out of the drive way and to a safe spot on the pavement. “Will you tell the policeman what you saw?”
The fire engine pulled up and the crew deployed quickly and started pouring water onto the fire. Joe took more photos.
A fireman walked over. “Is there anything in there that may explode?”
“There are no compressed gasses. There is some turps. About a litre.”
“Do you know how it started?”
“I saw them do it.” the kid piped up. “He isn’t a policeman.”
“But you should tell him.”
The girl recounted what she had seen. This time there were more details, though some sounded like fabrications. It seemed the big bastard and the tattooed man had walked up to the garage, ignoring the house, smashed the small window on the door and held something up to it. Then they had walked away and the tattooed man had thrown something at the door and it had caught fire. The fireman gave Joe a questioning look. Joe just shrugged.
By now there was a crowd. The girl’s mother – or elder sister or cousin, it was hard to tell- came up and dragged her away. “What ‘ave I fucken told you about leaving the fucken garden?” Which explained where the language came from.
“Don’t you want to….?” Joe asked the fireman.
“I’ll write it up. The Police will question her later. It’s the house across the road, I don’t even need to ask for an address.
“The fire’s out. Do you want to check it out?”
“You’re lucky it didn’t spread to your house.”
“Not my house, but yeah.”
Pete arrived whilst they were picking through the wreckage. “Fuck.”
“Yeah. Err, sorry.”
“At least it didn’t spread to your house.”
“Yeah, but, your stuff. What the fuck happened to your face.”
“It’s not as bad as it looks. Some of it could make a sculpture or something. But your garage.” Joe gestured at the roof and walls that were no longer there.
“It’ll be insured.”
“For arson?” the fireman asked.
“Fuck. I don’t know.”
DC Wood turned up, and a round of statement taking began. A WPC was sent to talk to the child. She didn’t arrest the mother, despite the colour of language aimed at her. “Nice neighbourhood you live in.” Joe commented. Pete shrugged. He hadn’t had time to check his insurance policy and still didn’t know if the garage was covered.
The fire engine must have driven off, because when Joe next looked around it had changed into a yellow Smart. Rachel stared at the devastation. “Oh my god.” she whispered, “All your work.” Then, “What happened to your face?”
“Oh you should see the other guy.”
“Not a mark on him. There’s not that much lost.”
Wood was giving Rachel a suspicious look, almost unprofessional. Pete turned to Joe and raised his eyebrows. Joe nodded. “You must be Rachel.”
“I am. I’m really sorry. I recognise you, but I can’t remember your name.”
“This is your house isn’t it?”
“At least it isn’t damaged.”
“That’s what everyone keeps saying. I was more worried about Joe’s work.”
“Now that’s a sign of a good friend.”
“This is Detective Constable Wood. It’s arson and she’s investigating.”
The smile wasn’t reciprocated. “Hello. I’m done here. I’ll be back in touch.” She picked her way through the debris.
“You two need beers.”
“I need to phone my insurers.” Pete shook his head. “You two go. Besides, there’s only room in that thing for the two of you.”
They left Pete staring at the carnage and shaking his head. “Will he be alright?”
“Probably. He’s done more expensive damage himself.”
“Maybe. Where are we going?”
“You’re supposed to be my guide.”
“Where are you staying? Somewhere near Piccadilly? Leave your car there and we’ll find somewhere.”
Notes Lots of cross talk today, and much use of the word Fuck.
Other fiction- check out Heavensent, the propeller-punk sci-fi war novel I recently wrapped up, or download Another Education/Ruby Red or Ten Years Asleep.
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