Noah’s Boy – Snippet 09
They heard the sirens as soon as they turned onto Fairfax Avenue, where the George sat. Definitely fire engine sirens. A scent of smoke came into the car’s air circulation.
Tom clenched his jaw and told himself that Goldport was a large city. Okay, not massively large, but large enough, particularly during the school when students from CUG swelled the numbers of residents to triple. Large enough to support several restaurants and a few dozen skyscrapers worth of office buildings. Large enough to have its own newspaper and three hotels. Large enough to have a symphony orchestra.
Large enough for the fire raging somewhere along Fairfax Avenue to be, in fact, anything but a raging inferno in his own diner. But Tom’s jaw clenched and his cheek muscle worked, and in his mind he knew very well where all that screaming of sirens was coming from. As he got closer and it became obvious they were going in the same direction as the sirens, he clenched his teeth even harder — so hard it hurt.
And when, within five blocks of the diner, it became obvious that the billowing clouds of smoke were in fact coming from about where the diner was, he let out his long-held breath managing to give every appearance of a wordless curse.
To Kyrie’s startled glance, he said, still through clenched teeth, “It was the damn fryer. I bet you Anthony forgot the timer again. His wife probably called and he stayed on the phone and… Let’s hope at least it didn’t kill anyone.”
He didn’t know if he felt gratified or even more scared when Kyrie didn’t try to convince him that it could be anything else at all, and not necessarily the George. He couldn’t decide if this lack of protest came from her thinking he was being ridiculous or from her silently agreeing with him. And since Kyrie was not the type of believe in disaster without proof, it made him even more afraid for the fryer.
As he got to the diner, he found he had trouble pulling in, around the back, the parking lot was so cluttered with fire engines. Tom wedged the car on the side of the building, where no official parking place existed, and jumped out, ready to ask the nearest firefighter if anyone had died, when he realized that the smoke came from behind him, and that the only thing wrong with the back door to the diner was that two employees and a lot of customers pressed against it, gawking out.
At his glare, one of the employees, Anthony, the day manager, looked like he’d suddenly remembered something important and ran in, and Tom, somewhat calmer, turned around to look at the fire.
The back parking lot of The George — it didn’t really have a front parking lot, except for a couple of spots on the street, reserved for take-out customers to dart in and out — was a square of asphalt bordered on the West by Pride Street, on the East by a narrow, dark alley that looked onto the backside of a bunch of warehouses and apartment houses. On the North side, there was a huge building. From what Tom had gathered, without ever spending much time studying the matter, it had once been a rooming house of early twenty century vintage. A few years ago it had become The Family Jewels Bed and Breakfast, confusingly named the same thing as the best hotel in town.
Though Tom had only had occasion to use the Bed and Breakfast for a stretch of a few days, and the owner, of course, rarely came to the George, the two establishments maintained the sort of friendly interaction of good neighbors, sharing snow removal expenses and parking lot lighting and other such that benefitted both.
The woman who owned the bed and breakfast, a motherly middle aged woman, stood in between two fire engines, wringing her hands. A bunch of firemen stood near the tower, talking on a cell phone.
Tom frowned at the tower. There was fire halfway up it, but the top seemed to be untouched, and on a dormer window, at the very top, there was a shadow that looked like someone looking out. “Is there someone up there?” he asked the owner of the Bed and Breakfast.
She turned around, and said, “Oh, it’s you, Tom. Yes, nice Asian girl. Ms. Ryu. Checked in this morning. I — Oh, damn it, I’m sure Elmer set this fire. He keeps saying people confuse us with his hotel, which is nonsense, but… Damn it.” She ran her hand back through her graying hair. “This is going to take forever to rebuild.”
He ran his eyes over the body of the building, where the fire was almost completely out, extinguished by high pressure water. The tower was proving more difficult. He wondered where the fire had started, but the alley was too narrow to admit the fire trucks parking there, and the water jet was hitting only the brick wall. Considering this, he said, “You have insurance.” It wasn’t a question.
“Of course. Whether it covers acts of dragons –”
“Nonsense, isn’t it, but whoever called in this fire said they saw two dragons flying away North and flaming the tower.” She gave a nervous giggle. “At least they were right about the fire, even if completely drunk.” She twisted her hands together. “The problem is the time it will take to rebuild will wipe me out anyway.”
But Tom was thinking of that girl on the tower. “Why don’t the firefighters climb that tower and bring her out?” he asked
“The ladder won’t reach, and she won’t jump. Not that I blame her.”
Tom didn’t either. The tower was six stories high, sticking up above the neighborhood. The rooms there were more expensive because of the view.
A group of firefighters came back, stained with soot and looking like they were ready to drop. “We can’t go around,” they said. “Some of the floor on the way to the tower is unstable, and it looks like the tower stairs are gone, anyway.”
Tom started edging away. The thing was that he could save the woman. He didn’t want to do what he would have to get her, but on the other hand he couldn’t stand the thought of her burning up in there. He edged behind the group of firefighters on the phone, saying, “Miss, you don’t understand, if we send to Denver for a tall enough ladder, you’ll be dead long before we –”
He slipped into the alley, and after looking around to make sure there were no windows overlooking his spot, and that no one was paying any attention here, stripped with the speed born of habit, folded his clothes and hid them behind a dumpster.
Then he willed the shift upon him, coughing and writhing and spasming, as pain like a million daggers pushed into his bone and muscles as they changed shape.
His face elongated and his arms, from which a pair of wings grew as his body became long, serpentine and familiar only to those who were familiar with the carved prows of Viking ships.
The dragon took to the sky, retaining enough of the human mind to fly behind the tower, to where no one was likely to see him land.