The One That Got Away

(Author’s note: Just a very short one this week.  There almost wasn’t one at all.  Life…sort of got in the way.)

I stand in front of the burning house, watching black smoke waft upwards until it finally dissipates into the afternoon sky.  The structure is disappearing more and more with every lick of flame.  I know that smell – heat-based destruction, matter being obliterated in a slow burn.  It’s a smell I’ll never forget.  Can never forget.  Watson stands next to me, close enough his shoulder brushes mine.  He reaches for my hand; a brief, clandestine touch while everyone is busy looking elsewhere.  He’s the only one here who knows I’m not seeing the fire in front of me.  I’m seeing a different one altogether.

“Is this the house?” I ask Mr. Hatherly, standing a few steps ahead of us.  He wears a crestfallen expression, a look of abandoned hope as he watches the fire consume everything in its path.

“Yes.  I recognize the gravel driveway, there.  And those,” he gestures to a row of bushes not far from the destruction, “are the roses I hid in after jumping from that window.”

“If it makes you feel better at all, I’m fairly certain you’re responsible for the blaze.  The lamp destroyed during your first brush with death was likely the ignition source.”

Watson bumps my hand.  “I doubt he’s feeling much relief for that, Holmes.”

“I suppose.”

Bradstreet stands several feet off, talking to the local constabulary.  He keeps casting furtive glances back at Watson.  Like he’s waiting for retaliation; like he’s waiting for a chance to take another swing.  He only looks at me when he absolutely has to, and then he tends to look no further than my feet.  I’m fine with his lack of acknowledgement for now.  I’m fine as well that the crowd that’s gathered to watch the house burn stays back.

“Keep an eye out, Mr. Hatherly, and let us know if you spy any of your compatriots from last night,” I say, trying to give him something useful to focus his anger on.

“Do you really think they’re still here?”

“Anything is possible,” I say.  I look at Watson and shake my head.  In all honesty, they’re miles off, having left not long after Hatherly escaped.  In their place, I wouldn’t have stayed around.

Hatherly busies himself with scanning the crowd.  My eyes turn away from the fire as it rages and erases all evidence of the crimes committed within it.  I watch the crowd instead, searching the faces, not for Hatherly’s ghosts, but for my own.  For that featureless face in the dark that I always associate with fire.   “I wonder,” I say, not really to Watson, though he stands close enough to hear.

“If you’ll ever find them?”

I shake my head.  “Him.”

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