Opinions, Column

Stokes Arsonist Chronicles Vol. 2

Note: This is the second installment of a three-part fictional series. The characters and events portrayed in this story are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


FEBRUARY 9, 2015

“God damn Wi-Fi,” Nimitz growled. Joey noted that the Wi-Fi around campus was worse than usual, a phenomenon which, of all phenomena, had made Nimitz relatively motor-mouthed.

“I don’t know what’s slowin’ campus down more, the Wi-Fi or this dang snow … which is a LOT of snow!” Brent was hoping for a laugh from Joey. Joey took his flask out and drank some gin. Brent, who was driving, also had a long swig, then started the car. The wheels spun in the snow. Joey dreaded the thought of having to get out and push, but Nimitz got out instead. Nimitz liked pushing.

Joey had gone head first into the whole Student Investigative Liaison lark. The case, all disappearances and dead ends, was a source of eternal frustration, but it had produced a mess of what Joey called “incidentals,” investigative addenda about the Big Crackdown and the shadowy BC powers that be. It helped that he was 21 and could buy his own gin now. He kept well stocked on Bombay and lemonade. But it stunned him that Brent shared his taste.

The three of them stumbled, Joey most woozily of all, through the snow trenches down Commonwealth Ave. A puddle on the corner forced them to turn around. The snow trench was blocked by a group of commuters behind them, who were heavily encouraged by Nimitz to back up to the first shoveled-out break in the snow wall.

“So we haven’t heard anything from this Dean fellow in two weeks?” Nimitz shook his head as the three men entered the apartment building’s front door.

“I don’t know what you’re looking to dig up here, gentlemen,” Joey said, chuckling at the idea that Brent was hoping for a bedroom full of maps and tacked-up papers connected by multi-colored strings. They walked down the hall and immediately found this Dean fellow’s apartment, marked 3A.

“Him and the arsonist were cleaners together. Our intel says they’ve commiserated after the incident.” Joey shrugged, then squinted at Dean’s living room. Dean seemed long gone. The apartment had been empty for some time. The three men stood, pausing, heads tilted, as the music of Taylor Swift bled in through the wall from the apartment next door. There would be no evidence here.

“It’s all on the internet now.”

Hiking back to the police car, Brent made a crack about all the figures in this case going up in smoke. Brent. Joey’s older sister had chemistry lab with Brent not even three years ago. Brent had a last name and Joey had learned it once but no name ever fit a kid as much as Brent fit Brent. Nimitz didn’t have a first name. This much was certain.

Joey chuckled. “I put a lot of trust in you guys getting into the back of a police car. I feel like any time it strikes your fancy you decide I’m under arrest and I can’t get out. Heh.” No laughs. Joey felt like Brent and he felt small. Nimitz punched his index finger into his phone.

As the cruiser slip-slided through the slushy artery of lower campus, Joey noted that the whole place seemed dirty, not like real world dirty but this is BC we’re talking about. And there was the graffiti, popping up six times around lower but now brazenly on the wall of BCPD itself, always the same chilling suggestion made only slightly less chilling by its punning from a mispronunciation of the accused arsonist’s last name:

Kevin YOU.


FEBRUARY 23, 2015

Liz was a study in demure blondness. Joey sighed at knowing this dame looked no different from 2,000 other dames at this school. But when Joey mentioned Kieran and Dean she jumped with urgency and jogged him over to the parking garage.

“What do they have everyone working on here?” Joey asked.

“We’re writing an interface detailing information about off-campus residences in collaboration with city officials. Size, total residents, internet access, usage statistics.”

“You’re working for the Big Crackdown?”

“BC’s the biggest player in the Big Crackdown. They want to run every off campus apartment like a dorm, get everyone on their grid and monitor anything we do on the internet. They won’t abide you hiding online anymore.”

Joey wobbled, and clearly needed to think about this more. Liz had the answers to the unanswerables. “What does this have to do with the arson?”

“Joey they need crimes. Rules were made to be broken and that works both ways. The ‘No More Than Four’ rule, finding witnesses for the arson case, they just need an excuse to take the control they’ve always wanted.”

“I need to talk to the arsonist. Do you know what happened to him?”

“You’re asking the wrong questions. Either the arsonist was framed and he’s gone or it was a surface crime and he’s gone. Your arsonist doesn’t exist. Look for the deep crime.”

Joey winced at Liz’s sloganeering, but it occurred to him that this dame Liz had a kind of low-key edge about her, and if he squinted hard enough he could stop her from looking that same kind of attractive and treat her like a real deal femme fatale. As they walked back to Maloney he fidgeted with the belt on his trench coat. Did he still smell like gin?

“Liz, you wouldn’t know anything about the Kevin You graffiti, would you?”

“Hmmmmmm, I don’t know squat about that. It would take a cleaner’s knowledge of BCPD’s schedule and access to big ladders to pull off that kind of graffiti job over and over.”

Joey’s mind set itself dancing again. “Something’s going to happen,” he announced. “If people are up to something, I need to know.”

“Students are fed up. Things are going down. You won’t see a Facebook event though.” Liz had a wry smile. “Keep it in house,” and she went back to coding.


Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphics

February 22, 2015