The man wore a trench coat with the collars turned upward to mask his face, and a wide-brimmed hat obscured the upper part of his face. He looked around and over his shoulder while he walked. He carried something in one hand, but Dianne could not tell what it was until he stopped at the brownstone she had been studying, checked the address, and flicked a lighter. She backed a step from the window when she realized he held a Molotov cocktail. He looked around once more while he lit the fuse, and then he launched it through a downstairs window.
Dianne watched helplessly as the flame exploded inside and fire erupted through the broken window. The arsonist ran into the alley, was out of sight for only a minute, and then emerged wearing a firefighter’s uniform.
He stood at the edge of the sidewalk while sirens began to blare in the distance. Flashing red lights swept through the street with the fire truck’s arrival, and the arsonist joined his colleagues when they began to fight the growing inferno. Dianne backed completely away from the window, terrified that someone might see her despite her standing in a dark room. The thought of being caught as a witness to the crime brought about a sudden sense of paranoia, and even from her distance and the barriers between them, she feared someone would hear her loud, panicked breaths.
She retreated to the hallway and hid against the wall, then leaned back for support, dizziness giving way to a fear of passing out. She’d heard stories of corrupt firemen starting their own fires when business was slow, but this was the first time she had actually witnessed it. She wished she had the money saved to be able to call a police officer and file a report, and she even considered shouldering the debt in the name of all that was right and good in the world, but thoughts of what might become of Junior should she fall into criminal debt held her back. John had proven himself thoroughly unreliable, and it was unlikely her father would be willing to bail out two daughters in as many months, even if she happened to have been arrested for a noble cause.
“Junior, no!” She darted into his room, where she found him peeking behind his closed curtains. She pulled him from the window and swept him into her arms. “You’re supposed to be in bed.”
He tried to squirm from her hold. “I wanna see!”
“We need to stay away from the windows.”
“It’s too dangerous, sweetie.” She quickly searched for a reason he might be capable of appreciating. “The fire could trigger an explosion, and if we’re up against the windows, we could get hurt.”
“Can we watch from my bed, then?”
She shook her head. “It’s just too dangerous.”
He whined for a few seconds, resisting her attempt to hold him close then resting his head against her chest with a defeated cry. His hair smelled of the shampoo she’d used earlier that night to wash his short hair, and it was soft against her lips when she kissed his head. She cringed at the sight of red lights strobing rhythmically through the cracks between the closed curtains.