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The Infernal Cause
Stewart Wilkes, a teardrop of grievance glistening on an eyelash, bundled himself by the bed of his child. His home, twenty years of memories intact, had no significant nostalgia, simply charred remains of what was. Even the bed he lay on by his ten year-old son showed noticeable evidence of arson.
‘How can our house be like this? We were only away for two hours.’ Stewart asked his son, unintentionally sounding vulnerable, which he hated.
Although his question was intended to be rhetorical, the tone of vulnerability in Stewart’s voice caused Graham to answer from behind him.
‘Maybe we did it.’ The child was young, but he had a knack for hindsight. Who was Stewart to say that it was someone else? He was guilty of leaving the lights on at home, leaving his keys in the door, all of those things. But burning his own house? That would be new.
He lifted himself from the bed, causing the wooden headboard to shudder as the bed adjusted to the loss of weight. Stewart’s index finger grew blander with ash as he stroked Graham’s bedside table. A single picture frame accompanied the groupings of ash on the table, containing a picture of only two people, Graham and himself.
A family photo, he thought. Graham, wearing a novelty Mickey Mouse headband, was on his father’s shoulders, lowering his head considerably to even have a chance of being in the photo. Fortunately, he was.
Belfast Chief Brigade Manager Robbie Clapton held a glass of iced water in his hand, contrasting from the humid heat of his uniform.
‘What time did the fire occur, exactly?’ He asked. The question wasn’t to anyone in general, more to anyone that listened. Searching for a response, Clapton held his eyes as stiff as his grip on the glass.
‘3.45,’ replied Porter, a Crew Manager within the service. ‘Although the cause isn’t yet known.’
‘Yes we do. It’s just a matter of connections in this case. It certainly wasn’t an act of rebellion by either family member, as I highly doubt ten year old boys rebel.’
Porter looked at the statements of both family members, scanning the scrawled details of their ordeal.
‘Who and why?’ She whispered to herself, constantly biting her lip in thought.
Stewart Wilkes, again in his son’s bed, cried a little more.
Again, I’m vulnerable. He thought to himself as tears gathered speed over his freckles.
He suddenly had an idea.
Janice, whose last name he didn’t know, who lived across the street, who fed his cat when it occasionally lost its way, may have entered the house to feed the cat who she was used to treating. Perhaps she was lonely.
Dave was Stewart’s friend. He would say best friend, but Dave doesn’t trust anyone. He is always far too suspicious of others to use such intimate terms. Dave and Stewart had fought before. Sure they had argued. Perhaps Dave finally snapped and burned his ‘friend’s’ house to show Stewart that he knew, and he was suspicious of him.
A whole black book of possible arsonists travelled through his head, plucking at nerves at starting brainwaves. He was going to call all of them. Regardless of the fact that half of these people hadn’t met Stewart in the flesh, they could be annoyed simply by the fact that he was there. Right in front of their noses.
In the murder mysteries he watched contently as a child, the murderer was always the friendly, retiring one. The butler, usually. His mother used to scream her verdict at the screen, half expecting Poirot to hear her and take notice. But Poirot never found out until the end. Stewart was going to find out then and there what happened to his house. The house he raised his child in.
Without his mother. He thought angrily, building on the anger he already held.
He was starting to grow aware that he was slipping into paranoia, but the phone was right in front of him, charred as it was. And he was planning on using it.
Porter reported to her boss later that day. Statements in her hand, bound with paperclips, she gave her verdict on the crime. Robbie Clapton quietly lowered his head in agreement.
Stewart, poising his hand on the phone dial for his next call, was interrupted by a call of his own.
‘Mr. Wilkes? Can you confirm that you didn’t leave on your gas as you left? ‘
Stewart didn’t have an answer to that.
He put down the phone, and wept at what he had done.