Justice Burning Sample

Justice Burning Sample:

He slipped behind the garage and pulled the small box of matches from his pocket. He’d found them in his grandfather’s fishing gear.

Crouching, he opened the box and pulled out the first wooden stick. Striking the match against its container, he watched it flare, and then gradually die as the stick burned down to his fingertips. As one match died out, he let it fall to the ground before doing it again. The intensity and the heat from such a small object sparked a rush of adrenaline. Of course, the risk of discovery made him cautious, but that was part of the rush.

At twelve, adults saw him as an irresponsible little kid, but he knew better. He could control the fire—he knew he could. He lit another match and watched it die. The acrid scent of burnt sulfur wafted in the breeze and tickled his nose.

He shook his head. Matches weren’t big enough anymore. For weeks, he’d been content with lighting them and letting them go out—but no longer. The fire needed to be bigger so he could watch it feed. How could he call himself Master, if he only controlled a tiny flame? A tiny flame however, could do big things.
He pushed together a pile of dried leaves he’d found in the corner, where the tired looking house connected to the sagging garage. The mound wasn’t big, but it’d do. He could easily stomp out the flames.

He struck another match. Shielding it with his hand as the wind shifted, he touched the flame to the dry tinder. It flickered, and then flared brightly. His lips spread in a slow smile as excitement ran through his body.

The flames grew; licking and popping as they bit into the twigs beneath them. A smoldering leaf snagged by the shifting breeze drifted away. Stepping on it with his sneaker, he ground the spark into extinction. He hunkered back down to watch the flames devour their food until there was nothing left.

He pushed more leaves onto the glowing ashes, and then prepared to light again.

A voice called his name. He froze. Cocking his head, he listened to see if she was coming outside to look for him. She called his name again. No, she stood at the back door, but her voice became more insistent.
He’d forgotten the time, September evenings still grew dark late. The sky deepened to blue shadows and streetlights flickered to life. His watch showed close to nine o’clock. Time to get ready for bed. He tucked the matches back into his pocket and shuffled his feet through the leaves as he sauntered back to the house.
A small breeze blew around the corner as he walked away. Toying with the leaves, it blew them against the wall of the garage. The low burning embers glowed as they caught breath on the wind. Spreading, a spark turned to flame and jumped to the next leaf; then spread again. Slowly at first, devouring whatever lay in its path, the fire smoldered deep in the bed of leaves. A thin wisp of white smoke snaked through the night air and disappeared in the wind. The dry, brittle siding offered itself to the spark. Creeping under the wooden boards, the demon fed on the abundance of fuel. Slowly at first, possessing it and then, as sleep prevailed, the blaze grew with incredible swiftness.

No one noticed; they were all in bed dreaming. Even the Master was oblivious to the strength building within the walls. He couldn’t control the fire. It was a mistake to believe that he could, for once the demon caught breath, it wouldn’t die without a fight.

Chapter One
Sunday, October 16th Present Day

The pungent odor of gasoline battled with the scent of charred wood. Aidan McLeod didn’t need Sparky’s nose to know this fire was no accident.

Shoving his hair off his forehead, he jammed a safety helmet on his head. He really needed to get a haircut. Soon. Stepping through the charred entry, he took stock of his surroundings.

After his wife’s death six years ago, Aidan had switched from fighting fires, to investigating them. He didn’t want his kids losing their only parent. Now two were grown and starting their own careers in emergency services. Talk about making a man feel old. Like he needed help with that. His forty-first birthday was a fire hazard. The kids had actually put all forty-one candles on his cake. Before he’d finished blowing them out, he was wishing for his fire hose.

A faint hiss issued from the rubble left by the house fire. The crew had worked flawlessly as a team, battling the blaze into submission, but they could only contain the flames as the two-story farmhouse burned to the ground.

Aidan was in Columbia, Missouri at the request of the local Fire Chief. As State Division Fire Investigator, he traveled regularly to help local fire departments solve the tough cases. This fire was the most recent in a string of city wide arson fires. He’d been working the case for three days. The arsonist was prolific, lighting fires with increasing regularity.

Rubble shifted beneath his boots and he adjusted his weight to regain balance. His light caught a flash of something red. He squatted to look closer. Heat still radiated from hidden pockets and he watched for embers that could re-ignite. Using gloved hands, he lifted a piece of wallboard to reveal a small gas canister. This was a first for the case. They hadn’t found fuel cans at the other crime scenes.

He snapped a picture with his camera, and then pried it from the rubble. The red paint was blistered and peeling on one side. The cap resisted his efforts at first, but eventually gave after a steady twist. More gas fumes punched him in the face. Aidan replaced the cap and made a note on his pad about the location of the can. There was a good chance they could recover prints. In addition, a test on the fuel could locate the origin of purchase. He tagged it, setting it aside as evidence.

Aidan dug through more hidden pockets within the rubble and made notes. Everything that remained from the fire was a clue to the identity of the perpetrator. The burn patterns, the smells, the angle of the debris.
At the rear exit, Aidan paused in disbelief.


He shifted his light more to the left and laughed. A wallet lay wedged between the doorframe and the sagging stairs. A nail protruded from the wood above, denim colored fibers clinging tightly.

“Did you really lose your wallet?” Aidan chuckled.

He took a picture of the nail, and then the wallet before pulling it free.

The leather tri-fold opened to reveal a Missouri driver’s license. The ID picture showed the pinched, acne scarred face of a young man named Cal Swanson. Black hair hung in limp strands around his ears and a metal stud crossed his left eyebrow. Aidan tipped his hat back and gave a low whistle. Cal had been at the top of his suspect list, but there was no hard evidence to tie him to the string of fires. Until now.

“This doesn’t look good for you, Cal.” Aidan bagged and tagged the most recent pieces of evidence and went to find the detective in charge.

“John, it must be your birthday, because this guy wrapped himself up like a present just for you.” Aidan handed the detective the plastic encased wallet and ID. “The fire began in the front. I think it overtook him faster than he anticipated. He left the gas can behind and tried to hightail it out the back door. A nail must have caught his jeans, ripping out his pocket enough to let this fall.”

John took the bag and cursed. “Well, I guess he was bound to make a mistake eventually. This is definitely enough reason to get a warrant.” He reached for his radio and paused. “You want in on the arrest? This is your case too and I appreciate your help in stopping this creep.”

“No, he’s all yours. I got lucky this time. Cal left the present; I just found it.” As a State Investigator, Aidan had the authority to make arrests in cases just as a detective would, but he was tired and ready to go home.

“Luck has nothing to do with it. You turned this case around and made sense of all the evidence in just three days. Heck, you even managed to figure out the approximate time and location for his next hit. If he hadn’t left his wallet behind, you still would have nailed him. I’m just glad to see this case cracked, your reports will make a big difference when it comes time to prosecute.”

“I’m glad I could help.” Aidan offered his hand. “It was good to see you again, John. Maybe next time it’ll be for a better reason. I’ll finish up my final report and fax it to you and the Fire Chief in the next day or two.”

John shook Aidan’s hand firmly. “I’ll keep you updated on the case from this end. Drive safe.” He keyed his radio to call in the warrant.

While John transmitted the information, Aidan moved away, his job done.

Aidan trudged toward the crush of vehicles circling the crime scene. His boots felt like lead, his lower back ached, and his turnout coat was rubbing the back of his neck raw. Water ran in little rivers down the sidewalk and into the street. Light strobes in red, white, and blue flashed against the surrounding trees, making the tree limbs dance freakishly as the breeze blew.

Folding his long, weary frame behind the wheel of his Jeep, he took a deep breath and sighed. The shower in his hotel room was sounding better by the minute. He debated staying one more night, or driving a few hours to make it home to his own bed.

The hotel offered a lumpy mattress, clanging pipes, and loud neighbors. Home promised a comfortable bed, his kids, and plenty of quiet. Not that he’d sleep much in either place, too many memories to keep him awake—which meant he didn’t have to worry about falling asleep at the wheel. A quick stop to grab his duffel and he could be on the road.

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