If the streetlamp hadn’t been vandalised, he would have seen it much sooner. As it was the damage wasn’t evident until Simon had already crossed the road towards his shop. At first he just registered that something was odd, a change in the way that the light reflected from the big plate glass window. Once across the road though he was cursing under his breath as he took in the evidence of catastrophe. This was an old building, built before regulations demanded safety glass and so, instead of a crazed pane there was a huge hole in the centre and jagged shards hanging perilously from the wooden frame.
Simon, glanced around expecting a damaged car pulled up to the kerb. But, there was nothing. So, whoever had hit the frontage had sped away and left him with all the inconvenience and expense of the damage. “Bloody marvellous. Just bloody brilliant.” He kicked at the door.
As he pushed into the dark shop, glass screeched and scraped across the floor. The door jammed against the boards, glass grinding under the wood.
The front part of the room was covered in large splinters. He kicked them away with the side of his foot so that he could force the door closed again before turning to take stock. He had insurance and so it should all be okay but it was shocking and annoying. There didn’t seem to be any other damage, just the ruined window. He stepped across the space and turned on the light. There came a clatter from the storeroom at the rear and the unmistakable odour of petrol.
While he was still struggling to get his bearings, to take in everything that was happening he heard the roar of a car in the side road. He dashed towards the back of the building, to the big storage space and pushed open this door. A low wall of flame was spreading rapidly across the room. At this point it was licking along the dusty floor, burning on the surface of a pool of liquid. He peered into the flickering light, looking for a sack or a blanket to throw over the conflagration but the small pile of cloths was near the exit on the other side of the rapidly growing fire. Flames were licking and dancing along rivulets of liquid slithering down the cracks and faults in the concrete.
He was panicked and frightened, he wanted to run but the rooms upstairs were his first home. They had become precious as a place to hide while the furore of the court case and the backlash were causing turmoil in his life. He had to save his flat. It was his and never again would he allow something that was his to be taken away, not if he had to risk everything to keep it.
Heat grew rapidly as more flames licked at the skirting boards and ran over the boxes and packing materials he had stored, ready for recycling.
The opportunity to do something was getting away from him. He pulled his jacket up over his mouth and made a frantic dash for the rear door where the pile of old blankets were folded neatly in the corner. The hair on top of his head sizzled and he felt the flush of heat on exposed skin. But, once on the other side of the pool of roaring liquid he was able to grab up the cloths and throw them down across the floor stamping and pounding on them until all that was left were the last small echoes of what had threatened to be a major fire. He smothered the small vestiges of flames and when he was as sure as he could be that there were no lingering hot spots he leaned against the wall and gave himself over to the shock and surging adrenaline. His shoes and jeans were blackened and when he ran a hand through his hair a cascade of singed and stinking ends fell onto his shoulders.
Should he call the fire brigade, the police? He no longer thought he needed the first and didn’t want the second. But, mentally replaying the events of the last few minutes he was puzzled. His thoughts tumbled and spiraled. Any explanation that he came up with harked back to last year, to the gang of thugs whom he had crossed and bested and to the men he had hurt on the way. Was it possible that it was coming back to haunt him now. If so the thought was chilling, he had assumed that the worst of all that was over.
His phone vibrated and he let it go to voice mail. Not many people had his number and whoever it was could wait. Time enough for that later when he’d made sure his premises were safe and he’d calmed down.
He filled a big bucket with water and then pushed open the double doors into the yard. By the time he had finished sluicing and swilling, gallons of water had soaked the floor and skirtings and he threw yet more up against the doors. The thought of the fire re-starting while he was asleep upstairs terrified him. Eventually he climbed up to his living quarters and took a long shower and then pulled on a pair of soft trousers and T shirt.
There were planks in the yard outside and he went back down and took them into the shop to nail them over the broken window. Tomorrow he would make the calls and get someone to come and sort the mess out properly. It was only as he gathered up his tools and began to sweep the broken glass into a pile he saw the three bricks laying against the base of the counter. He lifted them, turning them back and forth. So, no car colliding with the frontage, this was as deliberate as the attempt to start a fire. If he hadn’t come back when he had the whole place could have gone up. The realisation turned his stomach and bile rose into his throat. He had to lean against the old wooden shelves to steady himself.
Though he tried to settle in the flat he was drawn back over and over to the rooms downstairs to check and double check the fire was indeed totally extinguished. The thought that he should probably call the police niggled at him constantly but he really didn’t want to go that route.
After a couple of hours sitting in the chair by the window he went to his little desk to log onto the insurance company site. He might as well use the sleepless hours to organise his claim. His phone battery was flat and as he plugged it into the charger it beeped reminding him there was a message waiting. He clicked through to the recording. It was short.
A low, breathless, staccato of words. “Keep your nose out of things that don’t concern you.”