73. I Hate That Smell

Roscoe parked his squad car in the middle of the street with the lights on.

First thing, he collared the cement truck driver as he staggered away from the wreck. A couple quick moves and Roscoe had him in cuffs. He opened the rear door of his car, gave him a shove inside and slammed the door. Then Roscoe sauntered over to where I stood.

“Jesus, what a mess,” he said.

“Leo’s inside the car.”

“I know. I hate that smell.”

“Funny. It was a barbecue, you’d…”

“It is and it isn’t.”

“You plan to do anything?”

“Like what?”

“You’re the cop.”

“Get within twenty five feet of that kind of fire and the gold melts out of your molars,” Roscoe said.

The trees were in full flame now, like candles. “That hero crap is for the movies. Give it a minute, the hose jockeys will be here. You hear that?”

Fire truck sirens wailed somewhere toward Lexington.

“Anyway, Leo’s dead. I talked to Duke. He asked me to stop by.”

“You know?”

“He figured it would be best. Somebody on the team to keep an eye on Jen.”

“On the team?”

Roscoe shrugged. “Duke says there’ll be so much money you won’t miss a couple percent.”

“How many percent?”

“Let’s talk about it when everything isn’t on fire.”

Jen stood back from the blaze, screaming, sobbing. The cook from the coffee shop grabbed her by the shoulders to comfort her.

“My husband!” she cried. “He’s… I’m going to…” She started toward the car but let the cook pull her back.

“Best I look like I’m doing the job,” Roscoe said.

He strolled toward Jen. I followed him.

Dozens of people lined the sidewalk now, mesmerized by the flames.

More cops arrived.

The first firefighters pulled up. They looked like giants in their gear.

“What’s with the vehicles?” one of them shouted at Roscoe.

“Truck’s empty,” he said. “Dead guy in the Jag.”

They laid some hose, gave Leo’s car a spray. Steam rose into the flaming trees. After they blasted the cement truck and hosed the trees the street went dark again, except for the emergency lights.

An ambulance showed up.

“Come with me, Jen,” Roscoe said.

“It’s Leo, Leo is…”

“Duke filled me in. You can give it a rest.”

Jen daubed at her eyes with the back of both hands. Her mascara smeared. She looked awful, she looked perfect.

“You’re doing the report?” Jen asked.

“It’s all taken care of.”

“He knows, Jen,” I said. “He’s part of the team.”

“Everybody gets a piece of the pie. Everybody’s happy,” Roscoe said. “Generosity. Cheaper than the alternatives almost all the time.”

The cops moved in with portable lights and trained them on Leo’s Jag. The fire was out but the car was still smoking.

Leo was crumpled against the driver’s side window, like a fish pushing its face up to the aquarium glass. His clothes had burned off. Same for his hair and eyelids. His eyes stared out at us.

“Can we get out of here?” Jen asked.

Tomorrow: Sometimes you just can’t sleep

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