Excerpt: Blaze

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Chapter One

The Flamemaster had been watching the building for weeks, studying her, learning all her secret quirks. Even in her youth she hadn’t been all that attractive, and despite the recent face-lift, the passing of years still showed. She reminded him of a dowager who’d fallen on hard times, then gotten an extreme makeover from a quack plastic surgeon. 

A couple approached his vehicle, the woman’s stiletto heels clattering on the crumbling cobblestone sidewalk.

The Flamemaster scrunched down in the driver’s seat so they wouldn’t see him. Not that he was in danger of being discovered; they were so blissfully oblivious to anything or anyone around them, they could have been strolling in the peaceful, moss-draped environs of Admiral’s Park on a Sunday morning, rather than risking this industrial waterfront neighborhood.

The man leaned down and murmured a soft something in the woman’s ear; she laughed silkily in response. They paused, staring into each other’s eyes, like some love-struck couple in a diamond commercial.

As their lips met and clung, The Flamemaster imagined a formally dressed couple in a gilded hotel room. The man opens a black velvet box, revealing an iceberg-size diamond glittering like ice on black satin. The woman instantly falls to her knees and attacks her companion’s zipper.

Two carats or more, the deep voice-over advises as violins soar. And she’ll damn well have to.

He chuckled at his little joke.

A purple cloud drifted over the sliver of moon, casting the couple in deep shadow. The only light was from the faint yellow flicker of old-fashioned gas lamps edging the pier. Music drifted from a  dinner cruise ship somewhere out on the fog-draped harbor, fading in and out on the soft March air.

The guy’s hands lifted her butt; she moaned and twined like a python around him. Just when The Flamemaster was looking forward to them doing it up against the brick wall, they came up for air.

The man tucked his shirt back in. She wiggled her dress, which had crawled nearly to her waist, back down to midthigh. They shared another laugh as they entered the centuries-old pink brick building.

The warehouse, abandoned for decades, had been on the brink of condemnation when some hotshot chef from New York City bought the building for a song and turned the top floor into a members-only harbor-view restaurant and dance club.

Tonight a throng of ultra-hip Friends clones with Gucci chips on their shoulders had packed into the loft on the warehouse’s eighth floor to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Guinness, overpriced shots of Jameson Gold, and lethal cocktails with names like the Dirty Mick, the Belfast Bomb, and the Blarney Stone Sour.

Paddy’s Pig might be the hottest nightspot in town, but all the money the Yankee had poured into the project hadn’t transformed the sow’s ear of a building into anything resembling a silk purse.

The trendy pink and green neon lights and the floor- to-ceiling glass windows that had replaced the eroding brick was like dressing a bag lady in a designer gown; it couldn’t change the fact that she was still as ugly as homemade sin.

He’d be doing the city a favor by getting rid of it.

Hell, the mayor should present him with a good citizen’s award. A medal for beautifying Somersett.

The Flamemaster flipped open his cell phone and keyed in 625. 

When he hit Send, the call triggered a remote-control device deep inside the building’s wine cellar. There was a burst of white light and a faint popping sound, like a lightbulb bursting.

The retro-eighties heavy metal band rocking the building drowned out the sound. A waiter ran in and pulled a bottle of champagne from its slot. With his station full, and more people jammed into the bar waiting for a table, he’d been on the run all evening. Which was why he didn’t notice the tiny orange flame flickering behind a row of fruit brandies.

The fledgling fire fed lazily, climbing up the wooden wine racks, twining around the studs, licking at the rafters.

Outside, observing from a public parking lot a safe block away, The Flamemaster’s pulse picked up a beat.

An orange glow flickered, changing to bluish white as the heat soared.

Bottles began to expand and break, like fireworks over the harbor during Buccaneer Days; missiles of heavy green glass slammed into pine studs that were weeping dark, flammable pitch.

The Flamemaster took his eyes off the building just long enough to glance down at the sweep hand on his watch. It wouldn’t be long now.

Expectation rippled up his spine.

The neon-lit walls shattered; deadly shards of window glass rained down like guillotine blades. Debris fell from the smoke-filled sky. A black lacquer table hit the sidewalk, sounding like a rifle retort before shattering into pieces; a trio of chairs followed, their metal frames twisted like pretzels.

Sirens wailed in the distance as a woman, her long hair on fire, her skirt blown up over her face, landed on the sidewalk with a deadly thud, bounced into the gutter, then lay still. Screams rent the night as others followed, tumbling through the gaping hole where the glass walls had once stood, legs pumping wildly, arms windmilling on the way down to the pavement.

A red ladder truck, followed by an engine, had just careened around the corner, emergency lights flashing, air horn blasting, when the explosion ripped through the block.

The Flamemaster’s vehicle rocked from side to side as a tidal wave-like force rolled beneath the tires. The night sky brightened, as if lit by a thousand suns. An instant later a dense cloud of acrid black smoke rolled down the street, engulfing everything, including the responding vehicles.

As the rigs’ Jake brakes squealed, The Flamemaster drove off in the opposite direction, away from the hell-like conflagration that had turned the warehouse into a pile of stone and twisted metal.

This had definitely gone better than last week’s rehearsal, which had been aborted when sprinklers drowned the flames as soon as the temperature hit 165 degrees. (Who’d have guessed a damn strip joint would’ve been built to code?)

Unfortunately, tonight the firefighters hadn’t even arrived at the scene, let alone set up an interior attack line, before the charges he’d so meticulously set throughout the building triggered.

He’d have to work on his timing.

Oh well. The Flamemaster shrugged. Practice makes perfect.

If it was true that the third time was the charm, his next fire would be perfect.