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News & Features » August 2017 » “The Fire Club” by Nathan Ward

“The Fire Club” by Nathan Ward

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays. 

This week, fire isn’t the only danger to watch out for.

The Fire Club
by Nathan Ward
Pembroke, Massachusetts, 1974

It was at the town library that I heard about Officer Harrington’s quick thinking on the front steps of the MacCann house. The family’s home was one of those winterized cabins you saw closer to the lake, humble weekend places that had become full-time residences with plastic insulation stapled around the inside windowsills. He had arrived at the door hoping to talk to Mrs. MacCann’s teenaged son Curt about the recent suspicious fire in the town forest. Curt was her remaining boy since the loss of Johnny MacCann in a chopper over Laos two years before. The father, Mr. MacCann, had once been a cop himself, before Harrington joined the force, but some kind of nervous collapse now kept him mostly on a cot back in the TV room.

Officer Harrington’s work routine ran to drunk drivers, kids boosting cigarettes, and the occasional domestic clash, and he approached the house with his usual forthright manner. He stood in the buggy yellow pool of light by the screen door, knocking at 8:30 at night and hearing the television gurgle inside. After a second knock, Sandy MacCann appeared wearing a dark blue terry cloth robe and holding a lit cigarette. As he explained himself she leaned against the cracked-open screen door, clasping her robe closed with two fingers. Officer Harrington explained about the fire that she must have smelled two nights before, and had seen the trucks rushing to all night, a blaze large enough to require fire companies from three towns. She clearly understood him but did not offer any conversation in return. No sooner had she nodded her recognition then she stepped away from the door. Harrington pitched his voice down the hall following her retreat, explaining how the investigators suspected it was arson but didn’t have all the evidence collected from such a large burn area. He heard some drawers slide open and closed as he talked. Then she reappeared and the screen door opened all the way this time.

Harrington knew enough to suspect any person, even someone like Mrs. MacCann, who approached him while keeping one arm out of view. Her cigarette was also gone. “I thought someone might try and blame my boy for that fire,” she said. “I can’t stand it. Get away from this house. Curt had nothing to do with it.”

It was too late to unholster his own weapon, so Harrington took a step toward her, raised his hands halfway but did not move back. He glanced at the gun in her hand, an older service .38, no doubt her husband’s, and waited to see if she would cock the hammer with her thumb for emphasis. When she did he plunged his spread hand into the works so that the hammer jammed on the skin between his thumb and first knuckle. His adrenaline kept him from feeling the full pain of the striking metal. “I can’t lose another boy,” Mrs. MacCann cried, loosening her grip.

“I know,” he said, gently claiming the pistol.

The next afternoon Mrs. Harrington, our town librarian, told us the story of her husband’s dicey encounter with the MacCann woman as we sat around the Young Readers table. It was the most animated we’d ever seen her. We took note of the gun-jamming technique that had saved him, filed it away with the tales of true bravery we’d read in Boy’s Life. The fire in the town forest was the biggest thing that had ever happened to any of us, young or old, unless you counted the long-ago hurricane. But sitting at her reading table as she explained about her husband’s helping the fire investigation, I felt the story in my guts. We were pleased that Curt MacCann, an older boy to us, was an early suspect, and fascinated that gunplay had nearly broken out in our boring little town, even if between cops and a mom. But I also couldn’t wait to get out of the library with my latest Black Stallion book and my freedom.  We weren’t yet on the suspect list, but four of us boys had started the killer fire.  Sometimes I wish Harrington had caught us.

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NATHAN WARD is the author of a crime history called Dark Harbor: The War for the New York Waterfront (FSG/Picador), as well as The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett (Bloomsbury), which was nominated for an Edgar Award in 2016.

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Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Aug 21, 2017

Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , , , ,



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