A Hot Time in the Old Town

"Poor Ezra Bowman, burned practically beyond recognition, lying there among blackened boards and jumbled springs that had once been his bed. No chance in hell.

"Took them no time at all to piece it together. Frank and Bill had gone down to the basement where Ezra was sleeping and nailed him a good one with a crowbar to make sure he didn't wake up. Doused him in gas, struck a match, and that was it. And there was no doubt that those two were responsible. See, they'd had so much to drink that they both passed out halfway up the basement steps. If Atwater hadn't called the fire department, they would've cooked right along with Ezra.

"Now, I can't say for certain what made those bums do that to that poor boy--I know you shouldn't say 'boy' to refer to a black man, but he was, damn it. Just a boy, by any useful standard. Just a boy.

"I can't swear before God as to why they did it, but I think I know. And I think it was nothing more than the usual reasons.

"Frank Conway and Bill Lundy had both been laid off from the glass plant that day. So that evening, when they sat on the porch, drinking liquor they could no longer afford, they looked over at Ezra, with his youth, with his job, with his books whose titles they couldn't even understand, and what they saw was some--I can't make myself say it, but you know the word--who could still pay his rent when they no longer could. Who had no earthly business being better than the two of them.

"Nothing more to it than that."

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