in my mouth.
She shrugged, stomped the gas, burned rubber in a U-turn, and we streaked west.
âDammit.â I locked the scanner onto Miamiâs fire frequency. âHear that? Fully involved, out of control.â I groped in my purse for a notebook. âYou got your camera gear?â
ââCourse, in the trunk.â The eight-cylinder engine whined as she swerved around a slow-moving jitney and floored it. She pouted. âThought you was dead set on gettinâ to bed early.â
âI was,â I said somberly, âbut now I need to get back over there.â
âGomez Watch Repair.â
Hoses snaked through the streets and alarms howled like wounded animals. Flames savaged the night sky until firefighters knocked down the blaze, too late for the shop or its contents. Crucial time had been lost initially because illegally parked cars blocked all the nearest fire hydrants. Stolen cars, I was willing to bet. Certain people didnât care about Andre Coneyâs long rap sheet or that he was a thief who probably preyed upon them as well. They wanted Gomez ruined, run out of their neighborhood with nothing to salvage. My Aunt Odalys says it best: Las calles estan duras, hija. The streets are hard, girl.
âIt wasnât enough to see him in jail,â I told Lottie. âThey had to destroy him. I bet the torch is a face in that crowd.â
She discreetly photographed the jeering, hootingspectators while I asked questions. None of the strangers enjoying the flames reflected in their eyes admitted to knowing anything. A fire captain said the presence of an accelerant was suspected and pronounced the blaze one of âsuspicious origin.â Surprise.
We returned to the News, parked under the building, and scrambled through a rear door into the deserted lobby and onto the elevator. We split up on the fifth floor, Lottie to process her film while I inserted the fire into a new top on my Gomez story for the final.
Later, at home, I took Bitsy out for a last look at the quarter moon sailing like a pirate schooner through a dark sea of night. Good things do happen on my beat, I thought, I just hadnât seen any for a long time. After we returned and I went to bed, Billy Boots purring beside me and Bitsy curled up at my feet, I prayed not to see the woman again.
But there she was in my dreams, among hundreds of terrified people fleeing a towering all-consuming tornado of debris and smoke from a collapsing tower. They ran for their lives, the hellish billowing blackness in pursuit. As always, since I first saw it live in my living room, I focused on one face in the crowd: a young woman in a blue sweater, her flowing brown hair pulled back. Despite the people streaming around her, she did not run. Instead, she walked, more and more slowly, until she finally stopped and turned to face the rapidly advancing darkness. âRun! Run!â I cried from my living room. But to my horror, as the surging humanity parted around her in flight, she slowly began to walk into the oncoming blackness.
I searched all the footage that followed but never saw her again. Why did she go back? Did she survive? Who was she?
My eyes ached and my sinuses felt scorched when I awoke. I blamed the dream on last nightâs fire scene, but it was something else, something real in the air. I pulled on shorts, a T-shirt, and sneakers, snatched up my Walkman, plugged in the earphones, and trotted the two blocks to the beach.
The morning tasted acrid. Smoke stung my nostrils and the horizon shimmered in a hazy blur. I didnât need news radio to know the Everglades was burning again. Wildfires were raging up and down the state, three hundred thousand acres blackened so far this year.
I jogged the boardwalk at a labored pace, gasping in the polluted air as my footsteps thudded on the weathered boards, the news of a surreal war washing over me. Sword-swinging soldiers