Robert B. Parker's Slow Burn (Spenser, #44)
Kevin always loved fire. His earliest memories were of his mother taking him to blazes, watching men in helmets and heavy coats pull hoses into burning buildings. He loved the way she looked at those men with honor and respect, and maybe something more. Just the crackle of the scanner, a far-off bell ringing, smoke trailing up into the sky made his heart jackhammer. When he drove through the night in his old Crown Vic, he felt like he owned the freakin’ city.
He kept the scanner under the dashboard, a big antenna set on the trunk as he roamed the streets of Hyde Park, Roxbury, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Brookline, and up into Cambridge and Charlestown. All that spring and summer, Kevin liked to drive slow, windows down, listening, waiting, and sniffing the air. He’d work his deadbeat job during the day, sleeping through most of it, and then take on the city at night. He, Johnny, and Big Ray would meet up at Scandinavian Pastry in Southie, taking breaks off patrol to talk call boxes, famous fires, new equipment, and all the ways the current administration was fucking up a long, proud tradition.
“Cocoanut Grove,” Johnny said, powdered sugar on his mustache. “It could happen again. Payoffs, bribes, and all these damn foreigners in this town. You just wait. Some asshole’s gonna be changing a lightbulb and poof.”
“Nobody gives a crap,” Ray said. “I’ve been warning the fire guys for ten years. Their equipment has turned to shit. They just don’t get it. Mayor won’t approve the new budget. Not with a gun to his nuts.”
And he’d look up at them, in that little corner Formica-topped table and ask, why don’t they do something? Why don’t they take action and save this city?
Kevin thought about this long and hard. He and Johnny had talked about it a thousand times. And he’d finally agreed to Johnny’s master plan. Save the tradition. Keep Boston safe. Knock people in the side of the head and make ’em listen. The city needed firefighters—and a lot more of them. Guys ready to serve who were shut out. He met Johnny’s eyes across the table. Johnny nodded and said, “Burn it.”
“Burn what?” Ray said. “Hey, you gonna eat that maple glazed? I’ve only had two.”
Kevin didn’t say anything, just leaned back farther in the booth, arm stretched out wide behind Johnny. Short, squat Johnny cutting his eyes over at him and lifting an eyebrow. The scanner clucking off and on. Some bullshit Dumpster fire over by the T on Dot Ave. Probably a couple bums roasting a hot dog.
“We understand what’s wrong with the department,” Johnny said, wiping the sugar off his face. “It’s the only way. We got the know-how and the skills to make it work.”
Big Ray looked to each of them with wide, nutty eyes, waiting for someone to tell him what the hell was going on. The scanner caught again, sending the ladder truck and EMS back to the station. False alarm. Silence. Nothing. Fluorescent lights burning over the donut displays, cash register empty, unmanned. No one minding the store at two a.m.
“Burn it,” he said. “Johnny is right.”
“Burn what?” Big Ray said. “What the hell?”
“Boston, you fucking moron,” Johnny said. “We burn fucking Boston.”
The Harbor Health Club had returned to its roots.
Not only was boxing allowed, it was now encouraged by Henry Cimoli. For a waterfront gym that had weathered both urban renewal and Zumba, the time had come. Henry and I took a break from the boxing ring and watched a dozen or so young professionals, men and women, listen to a Cree Indian from Montana teach them how to deliver a left jab.
Henry had a welded cage built in the expanse of what had been the workout room, heavy bags swinging from the platform. Half the gym was now boxing, the other half free weights and CrossFit gear. Hawk and I were quite pleased. Not to mention Z, whom Henry had employed for the last two years and who had ushered in the new era.
“You didn’t have to do all of this for us.”
“I did it for Mr. Green,” he said, rubbing his thumb and two fingers together. “What makes the world go ’round.”
“What if aerobics come back in style?”
“I’ll bring in fucking monkeys on unicycles if it’ll keep this gym open,” he said. “If you hadn’t noticed, this building isn’t on skid row anymore.”
“I could tell by the yachts moored outside,” I said. “I pick up on subtle clues like that.”
We leaned against the ropes, like cowboys on a split-rail fence, watching Z help a fit young woman in a pink sports bra throw a left hook.
“To be young,” Henry said.
“‘The moments passed as at a play,’” I said.
“And I have the ex-wives to prove it,” Henry said, letting himself out of the ropes and down the short steps. He walked over to help Z instruct the lithe young woman. I admired his commitment.
I spent a half-hour on a treadmill, showered, and changed into my street clothes: Levi’s, black pocket T-shirt, and a pair of tan suede desert boots. As I was headed to the street, a rotund man in a gray sweatshirt whistled for me. He’d been running the dumbbell rack with biceps curls, his fat face flushed and sweaty.
Jack McGee wiped a towel over his neck and said, “Christ, Spenser. I been waiting for you all freakin’ morning.”