Experts say serial arsonists hang around to watch their masterpieces of smoke and fire, the flames lapping at wood, bubbling, blistering vinyl, reducing paper to black flakes in seconds. They get a thrill, a rush. Gavin is no arsonist. He has no desire to admire flames rising against a darkening sky. In fact, fire kind of scares him. Striking that match is the first truly impulsive act he’s ever performed in his life. It is, dare he think, almost exciting.
On the train to New York that night, the sting of lighter fluid still in his nostrils, he makes a list of his every move during the day. He worries about the firefighters rushing in to save him, because Wendy-Wanda-Whitney would have told them he was inside. He imagines the news headlines, “Local Businessman Torches Home” or “Prominent Philadelphia Entrepreneur Presumed Dead.” Or more realistically, “Disgraced Philly CEO, Person of Interest in Arson Case.”
He likes the idea of being dead, or at least disappearing, becoming a completely different person, someone not tied to numbers, orders, the bottom line, someone who doesn’t have to battle a resentful and often antagonistic board of directors, someone who doesn’t have to fire half his staff because the cost of keeping his grandfather’s legacy afloat in a city, where expenses and taxes seem to go up every day, gives him headaches that blur his vision.
Someone who doesn’t have to deal with a psycho sister intent on ruining his life with her outrageous behavior. A sister who checked out. Bailed out. But who is never above sticking her hand out. Then she goes and sells “their” story to a local tabloid (yeah, the paper that claimed Elvis is buried behind a wall in the Edgar Allan Poe House). How the reporter found her, Gavin doesn’t know. Well, he’s supported her long enough. He can’t afford it anymore, financially or emotionally. The board was just looking for one more reason to oust him, and Rachel gave it to them.
Yeah, it’s been a helluva rough ten years. Going from grandpa’s figurehead to CEO, Gavin discovered he had a passion for winning, a slow-burning passion, but nevertheless a calculated, unrelenting desire for power. These days, he doesn’t know what he wants. He just knows he’s tired of fighting, tired of being the strong one, the responsible one. He’s too young to burn out, he thinks, yet he often finds himself singing his grandfather’s favorite Sinatra song, “That’s Life.” He hums it now in the cab from the train station, on his way back to the house in Philly after a weekend holed up in a crappy hotel in Hell’s Kitchen where he ate greasy, overcooked burgers at a filthy diner and a fat man with a live snake around his neck sat at the counter devouring apple pie. Second impulsive act of his life. He takes a small notebook and pen from a plastic Duane Reade bag, shoving aside the deodorant, disposable razor and sunglasses he’d bought after the fire, and starts making a list of his impulsive acts. He sings out loud. Belting, on pitch. “You’re ridin’ high in April, shot down in May.” He catches the driver’s eye in the rear view mirror, smiles and keeps singing then adds to his list: Sings out loud and doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks. “But if there’s nothin’ shakin’ come this here July, I’m gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die.” He slides the note up on the word “and,” just like Sinatra, holding it out, landing heavy on the word “die.”
He asks the cabbie to drop him off a block away from the house. Gavin hadn’t planned on returning. He has a bank account in Belize that his grandfather left him, and thought he would settle there for a few months, until he figured out his next step, but last night a terrible darkness came upon him. His head pounded and he felt as if he were suffocating. He needed to see for himself that his past was destroyed. Rachel’s past was obliterated. Her connection to their grandmother’s rosary, severed. If he couldn’t have peace, neither should she.
Before he arrives at his street, he smells it. Acrid. Dirty. The house where his grandfather taught him to keep the companies’ books, where his grandmother made blueberry pancakes on Sunday mornings, where he held Rachel’s arms behind her back to keep her from smashing the mirror at the sight of her own reflection, is a pile of charred, oily rubble. In the middle, stands a woman holding a small silver object. The sun shoots sparks off it. A crucifix. The woman seems to know he’s there and turns in his direction.
Rachel looks like hell.
To be continued in Part Four