prompt: fire (I’ll bet you couldn’t guess that one, now could you? *wink*)
“There isn’t much to see,” Ryman commented as he lifted the tape, allowing Melinda to scramble underneath. “We’ve marked a few things, but I don’t think we’re going to find much more here.”
“More than what?” she asked. She pulled her camera out of its case and selected a lens and flash. “Where do you want me to start?”
Ryman led her across the scorched lawn, picking his way over hoses, around debris, and pushing past small knots of firefighters and police officers still looking over what was left of the home. Behind her, Melinda could hear the excited chatter of neighbors gathered on the other side of the crime tape. Before her, the wreckage still smoldered with a sickly odor.
“You don’t get sick easy, do you?” Ryman asked over his shoulder. He crossed the driveway to what had been the garage. “The fire started in here.”
“I won’t get sick,” Melinda said. She swallowed hard, hoping this was true. “Must have been a helluva fire if it burned out the whole house from here.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I don’t think the old guy wanted to leave anything behind.”
“Him,” Ryman answered. He gestured at a pile of blackened, sodden mess just in front of a burned out Cadillac.
The man was barely recognizable as human but the skull peered out from under some of the rubble, its eye sockets empty, the bone blackened by the fire. Melinda could distinguish a hand and a femur. All clothing and flesh was gone but a twisted bit of metal laying between the femur and the skull might have been a belt buckle.
“You okay?” Ryman asked. “It’s the only body found. He lived here alone. Get through this and there are just a couple other places at the other end of the house. His bedroom and desk and stuff.”
“You think he did this himself?” Melinda asked. It was hard to imagine.
“We’re pretty sure. He left a message on his son’s answering machine but the poor guy didn’t hear it until it was too late. There’s a firebox on his desk that’s supposed to have a letter with a full explanation. We’ll have a look once you’ve got the pictures.”
“What sort of bastard leaves a message like that on his son’s machine?” she asked as she snapped pictures.
“Maybe I can answer that once I’ve seen that letter,” Ryman replied.
“It’s a shitty way to go,” said Melina, staring down at the body. “It’s not even quick.”
“And yet we see arson cases all the time,” Ryman said. “I been investigating these for years and I still got no answer. “
“You must have a theory, though.”
Ryman stared at the blackened corpse and then looked back over his shoulder at the neighbors still grouped outside.
“I think it’s the horror of it,” he said. “I think there’s something so dramatic, so completely unforgiving about fire. It attracts them. They got guilt, they got something to hide. They can’t bury it because it’ll come back up someday. They can’t throw it out because we can track it down, even in a square mile of garbage. But fire, now that’s different.” He shook his head. “Fire makes it disappear. Most of it, anyway. Oh, his family can take some of this stuff and wash off the smoke and it’ll be okay. But most of it is gone. Burned away to nothing. A black smear on the concrete.”
He scuffed his foot at a charred bit of wood nearby, reducing it to a sooty smear that blended in with all the other piles of ash and dark messes on the garage floor.
“If you really want to get rid of something,” Ryman said, “all you really need is fire.”