“There’s been another one on the South-side ….”
I couldn’t believe it. After pulling a double over the weekend, I was going to have to head back out on the field. Not that I’m lazy you understand. But when you work in the museum district you get used to a certain gratifying monotony in your job. Now someone was messing with my monotony in a major way.
“I’m on it.”
Nothing else needed be said. The Captain knows I’m the best Fire-fighter specialist he has in the whole division. That’s why this area had become prime real estate for museums, galleries, and the like. It’s a safe place. Nothing ever happens there. At least not until a couple of months ago. Now I was headed out to investigate the fourth such report in as many weeks.
The museum always stops me in my tracks when I see it. It is obscenely and beautifully grandiose. That every other over-stuffed adjective I can think of. A monument to its builders. As I stood there taking it in for the hundredth time all I could think was, “Why would anyone what to set a place like this on fire?”
In fact those were the first words out of the curator’s mouth when I found him. “Why would anyone want to set a place like this on fire? On the docks; sure. Over in the strip mall where all the Chevys and Fords are parked; Maybe. But here! Why here?”
I assured the curator that the rash of fires was an anomaly. A fluke. Mere coincidence. Even a Fire-fighter specialist rookie knew this kind of thing didn’t happen in the museum district more than once or twice in a generation. I ignored the curator’s observation that they had a couple of generations worth in four weeks.
“Show me where the fire started?”
He led me to a small room near the back of the building. All signs of the fire were gone now. I knew it would be that way. Museum curators are like that. Can’t stand anything out of order. Wouldn’t do for their image.
“Who has access to this room?” I asked.
“Whoever can stand the company,” he replied. “Until recently there were never more than two or three at any one time in here. But yesterday there were at least thirty.”
The curator plopped down in one of the folding chairs and put his head in his hands. “What a time for a thing like this! Two of our biggest patrons handed me letters of withdrawal last night. What am I going to do?”
I put a hand on the man’s shoulder and mustered up the appropriate measure of sympathy. He was on the edge. I knew if he didn’t get himself under control there was going to be more than a temporary problem in a back room. Once curators lost their grip, the whole thing could go up in flames. That wouldn’t do. No sir. After all there’s more than one museum in the district. Can’t let them all burn down because of one curator who lost his grip.
“Who’s been using this room?”
“Trouble makers, if you ask me.”
“All that bunch ever does is try to contact the original designer of this magnificent building. It’s crazy I tell you. Everyone knows he’s long gone. Oh sure, we all read the museum motto from time to time. But these people act like they actually expect to hear back from the guy.”
I held up my hand. Didn’t need to hear any more. “I saw this back a few years ago on the north-side. You’ve got to squash this thing right now. Right Now!”
Before leaving I gave him a handbook I wrote on the subject after the great fire on the north-side ten years ago. It laid out the basics. Identify the leaders. Give them a title. Stroke them a little. Organize the others in the group. Follow these simple guidelines and everything will get back to normal soon enough.
As I headed back toward the station, images of the north-side flooded my mind. Who would have thought it? Took my eyes off those Baptists for a few days and they nearly set the whole city on fire before we got it under control. Baptists, of all things! Took getting rid of their curator to set things right.
Not going to let that happen again. After all, I’m a fire-fighter specialist. It’s my job.
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