A Hot Time in the Old Town

"Which made what happened next even more of a damn shame than it already was.

"The first I knew anything was wrong was when I was jerked out of a sound sleep by someone hollering at me. I opened my eyes and there was a damn fireman standing at the foot of my bed. Helmet, raincoat, axe, the whole package. He yanked me out of bed, yelling something about a fire, and started dragging me toward the door. I tried to tell him there were three other men in the house, but he said they already knew. He practically carried me down both flights of stairs. I didn't see any fire, or even any smoke.

"Of course, when we got outside, half the damn neighborhood had turned out to see me in my shorts and nothing else. Smoke was billowing out of the basement windows--now smashed--and two trucks' worth of firemen ran here and there. I didn't see Bill, Frank, or Ezra anywhere.

"Hardly anyone would look me in the eye. They'd expected trouble from me, and now their suspicions were confirmed. Atwater, my neighbor from across the street--the best of a pretty sour bunch--told me he'd been sitting on his porch, trying to get the best of a bout of insomnia, when he'd seen the flames flickering in my basement window and called the fire department. He said an ambulance had already come and gone, taking Bill and Frank with it, both unconscious. Ezra he didn't know about.

"The police showed up. The way the neighbors whispered among themselves, you'd have thought I was Al Capone.

"When the fire was out and things had settled down to a dull roar, the cops took me into the basement. And oh, my holy Christ, what a stench. Smoke, ashes, gasoline--yes, that's right--and other smells, too. Hair, flesh. You don't want to know.

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