Friendly Fires

May 26, 2000, 8 pm

An hour or so later, Sara's car pulled into the Diner's parking lot. The Diner had one of those old fashion signs, declaring it to be Sam's Diner in blazing neon. The Diner itself was a solidly built building of grey stone, large windows showed the interior with its high backed light red booths and the occasional free-standing table. It was the unofficial diner of the city's journalist population.

Sara pushed the door open and nodded at the young man behind the counter. Tommy Light was almost a permanent fixture of the Diner. A student at the University of New London, Tommy was well liked by all the Diner's patrons. And valued for his humour, and unbelievable memory as much as his discretion. Tonight, Tommy had tied his hair back in a tail and sat with a thumb marking a book on Pirates of the Caribbean.

"Sara." He grinned at her. "Usual?"

"But of course. Add an extra-large chocolate milkshake. I'm going to be up late and I'm going to need the energy." Sara returned the grin. "Studying hard, I see. What class are you taking now?"

"Actually I am doing some research for a play," Tommy quickly and efficiently whipped up the ordered shake and called back her usual late night order.

"I'm supposed to be meeting a Matt Bollec here. Can you tell me where he's sitting?"

Tommy's eyebrow climbed, "He's over there with Sam Carr."

He pointed to a booth in which only half the booth was exposed to the window. Samantha Carr was an athletic woman of about 5'8, short, dirty blonde hair and dark blue eyes. She wore her usual, jeans and blouse, multi-pocket vest combination. She and Sara had been something of rivals over the last two years. And she was indeed talking to Matt Bollec, her fingers flying over her laptop every once in a while.

She glanced up with a nod as Sara walked over. "Mclintock. This is Matt Bollec." Matt Bollec was a short man with no discernible neck. His dirty blonde hair stood out to one side and he ran a hand through it again as he scrambled to his feet to shake Sara's hand. His eyes slid down her body, and he licked his lips quickly. His hand, when she gripped it, was cold and slightly damp.

"Miss Mclintock, I was just telling your associate here what the preliminary findings on the fires where. Won't you sit down? Can I get you anything?"

"No thank you, Mister Bollec. I've already ordered. Thanks for asking, though," replied Sara as she slid into the seat next to Carr.

Sam gave Sara a quick knowing glance as she made room for her. Bollec sat down with a trace of disappointment.

"Associate, eh?" She whispered only loud enough for Samantha to hear. Sara glanced at the screen of the laptop before looking at Bolloc again.

Sam gave a shrug and turned her attention back to Bollec. The screen held the heading, "Friendship Fires", two locations, dates, times when they occurred, a short blurb with 'caller' in bold print before it, and a cryptic notation at the bottom.

"It was good of you to get back to me so quickly. I really appreciate it." Sara took her notepad and pencil from her purse. "Would you mind starting again from the top? Have you been able to determine the possible cause of the fires?"

"Well," Bollec cleared his throat and leaned foreword. Almost as one, the two women leaned slightly back, "as I was telling Sam, Sara. The attributes of both fires point toward gasoline, some areas have the residue. So it is almost certainly arson. Especially since all the Centers use electricity not gas. And its always a tip from a male caller not the fire alarm system or security system."

Sam nodded. "Tell us about the caller again."

"Well, male, young and fairly nervous. We have recordings and the police tell us its the same voice pattern," Bollec looked at his watch and winced. "Well, I have to get going. Remember, I was never here."

With that he rose to his feet and insisted on shaking hands. Sam bent over the laptop with pretended interest until he went away.

"If he was so worried about not being seen as the source, he never should have picked the diner," Sam muttered in disgust, closing the laptop as she turned to Sara. "If you will excuse me I have a sudden desire for a shower, but I will settle for washing my hands."

"I'll watch your stuff." Sara stood up to let Sam out, fighting the urge to wipe her hands on her pants. Sara quickly scanned the room for an empty booth.

As Sara started to rise, Tommy appeared with a bottle of Lysol and a rag. He gave her a lopsided grin as he vigorously wiped down the booth.

Sara sat back down and rummaged through her purse for a wet nap and thoroughly cleaned her hands, glad she had remembered to throw a handful into her bag. The last time she had used the soap the diner had in the washrooms her hands broke out in a rash that lasted for almost a week. She balled up the wipe, shoved it back into its wrapper and put it on the table.

Sara picked up her notepad and pencil again and began to make notes about what Bollec had said, and why he insisted he remain anonymous when he came to such an obvious press hangout. She also wrote down the times, dates and locations she could remember seeing on Sam's laptop, with a note to double-check them.

"Can you tell me anything about the fire in Hamilton? After what happened last night at the gallery, neither Josh nor I were in any condition to be listening to the news. I was up all night, trying to figure out who or why someone would have destroyed the art work and vandalize the building, and didn't get to bed until after I got back from the Ucluelet fire. Bollec's phone call woke me up." Sara said to Sam when she returned to the table.

Sam looked at her sharply and arched an eyebrow, "Asleep huh? And as for the Hamilton fire, there wasn't much to say about it. Gasoline fire, set early in the morning. No casualties. Burned completely to the ground."

She reached out and opened her laptop. "Let's see. Neither fire alarm nor security alarm went off. Just the phone call to warn the fighters. The gallery wasn't the only one to be vandalized. In Hamilton the same night, two shops that carried exclusively Native items were vandalized. In one 'Wagonburner' was spray painted" she gives Sara a significant look.

"The other which was owned by a native had 'Skin' spray painted. I haven't been able to find any reference to the term, beside redskin. What do you think?"

"I did some research that didn't turn up too much other than the fact that 'Wagonburner' was a term given to Natives in the area, or to settlers who were thought to have gone native. I think we may have the beginnings of something really big," Sara paused. "And potentially extremely dangerous. Mann told me that if they hadn't gotten to the Ucluelet fire when they did, the whole block would have gone up." Sara wrote down the things Sam told her.

"Have you heard of any hate groups recently that have targeted Natives? I haven't found anything yet. These things have all got to be linked. It's too much of a coincidence."

"That's the conclusion I've come to as well." Sam frowned as Tommy put down Sara's double cheeseburger loaded, fries with cheese sauce and a Diet Coke. He turned and placed a salad and a diet Pepsi in front of Sam. Then he sauntered back to his book.

"It's been quiet though. Even the Native Liberation Association hasn't stirred anything up for a while. That is not going to last if this keeps up." She took a few bites of her salad, a thoughtful look on her face.

"Why don't we meet here tomorrow afternoon? It will give us time to check our sources."

"Good idea," Sara replied, popping a couple of French fries into her mouth. "Say threeish? Oh, I wanted to congratulate you on that shot of Diamond and Sentry apprehending Tusk. I saw it as I was heading out, and Josh told me what had happened. Great angle. I heard it happened at the Tavern in Midland Park. I've been there a couple of times and was trying to figure out where you were standing."

Sam smiled, "I can't give away all my secrets. Besides, you have gotten a few good pics in your time. How about that one you pulled of The Mole in Vancouver last year. Only the second picture of him in existence, you had to be almost standing right beside him for that one. But that's what makes the two of us the best, being in the right place at the right time. It's a gift."

She then popped a disk out of her vest's many pockets and popped it into her laptop. A few seconds later, with an intense mien, she handed it Sara, "I have a feeling that I may need help on this one, that it is bigger than who gets the best shot. I have learned to trust such feelings."

Suddenly she lightened, though Sara noticed a brief flash of… hurt? Sara frowned inwardly wondering if she had seen it correctly.

"Well you best get back to your, umm, sleep." The last word is laced with irony, and she winks as she walks out. "Throw it on my tab, Tommy."

Sara sat alone in the diner, gazing thoughtfully at the disk she flipped in her fingers. What the hell is going on? Sara thought. I don't think I've ever seen Sam so concerned about anything before. Shaking her head, she pulled her daytimer out of her purse, placed the disk inside then returned the daytimer. Sara polished off the last of her burger and fries, slurped the last of her drinks and stood. She slung her bag over her shoulder and walked over to Tommy.

"So, what play are you going to be in? Got yourself a hot leading lady?" Sara teased.

"Well," he grinned sheepishly, "we haven't decided yet. We are still researching. I am leaning toward a classical swashbuckler tale but Deb wants to do an opera and Dave wants to do a black comedy. I am trying to convince them we can do all three with the pirates. I'll let you know. By the way, tell Mr. Blackburn that we were sorry to hear about the gallery. If he needs some free help, some of the guys in the arts department are willing to volunteer."

"I'll be sure to let him know. There's been a lot of damage to the place, and the entire gallery is going to have to be repainted. Not a single thing was left intact. Not any of the art, not the shelving, not the cases. Nothing. It was just awful," Sara shook her head.

"But yeah, I'll tell him what you said. I'm sure he'll be more than grateful."

"How much do I owe, Tommy?" Sara asked digging into her purse.

Tommy typed a few numbers into the computer and without looking answered her, "23.75, tab included."

Sara paid up and drove to the local 7-11 to pick up peanut butter, a can of whipping cream, a bag of Oreos, a container of Cookie Dough Dynamo Haagen Daas ice cream (for when she's working at the computer later that night), the late editions of the New London newspapers, and two two-litre bottles of Diet Coke and a bottle of Coke Classic for Josh. Everything she needed for a night's pleasure, followed by business.

The headlines read, 'Duke's Bridge Hold up foiled by Crime Fighters.' The picture was of a man in blue with a circle on his chest and a thunderbolt, two women, one in flowing clothing and the other in a skin tight suit helping the police put two gentlemen, one wearing evening wear and the other sumo wrestling gear into the back to a police van. Hmm, Sara thought as she parked the car, I know the guy in the tux, Top Hat, a stage magician gone bad. But the others…

She opened the door to her apartment. The stereo was playing the soft rock station at a fairly good level and the only light on was the living room. Walking inside the first thing she noticed was the wooden ladder that usually hooked onto the ceiling was down and the hatch that led to the roof was open. Sara grinned. It was another feature that had sold them the place. Not only did the place have space and hardwood floors, but the walls and floors were thick to cater to the dancers that mostly rented here. But the best feature, beside that window niche, was they had half a roof. With sides high enough that all they had to worry about was the occasional police helicopter. It was one of the first places they had christened.

Sara went quietly into her office and fished her daytimer and notepad out of her purse. She placed both of them in the drawer of her desk and locked it. She then dropped her purse on the chair and went back out into the living room and in to the kitchen. She put the ice cream in the freezer then turned to look at her reflection in the glass of the convection oven mounted in the wall.

Sara ran her fingers quickly through her hair, then undid the top button of her shirt. With a sexy smile on her lips, she climbed the ladder to the roof.

A few feet from the hatch, Josh lounged on a blanket. Two candles burned nearby, Tina Turner's 'Typical Male' wafted up through the hatch. He wore the shorts and a muscle shirt, a covered plate lay on the blanket next to him. He did not appear to notice Sara, it could be the fact that he was talking on the cell phone.

Hanging up, he jumped a foot when he saw her. "For the love of all Gods past and present, Sara, make some noise next time."

Leaning over he blew out the candles and gave her a lopsided grin. "You have messages from every newspaper in this town. Seems that they all know that you covered the fire this morning and since you were the only photographer on the scene, they all want the pic. Lydon offered $100, and the Chronicle offered $150, double if you sell only to them. They will wait as long as 12:30. That gives you an hour and a half."

He began gathering the blanket up, "I'm going to bed, I have to meet my contractor in the morning."

He kissed her as he went by, "Wake me when you are done, luv you."

"Will do," Sara replied with a smile, returning his kiss. "I spoke with Tommy at the diner. He asked me to tell you that guys from the art department are really sorry about what happened, and they've offered their help for free to get the gallery back into shape."

"That's great, honey, I will give them a call tomorrow. You remembered the peanut butter, right?"

"But of course. I also picked up a few other essentials. Don't worry, I'll put them away." Sara watched Josh climb down the ladder and sighed. What a guy, she thought. And he's all mine. A goofy grin covered her face as she followed him down. Sara went to the kitchen and put the rest of the groceries away, then went into her darkroom. She pulled one of the large smocks over her head to protect her clothes and began work to develop the film.

Sara developed the negatives and printed a couple of the more spectacular shots, then called the Chronicle to arrange for them to pick up the photo. She then tidied up darkroom, took off the smock, and wrote a note to herself in big letters to go buy chemicals and taped it to the inside of the front door.

Sara washed her hands and headed off toward the bedroom, but decided to take a quick look at what Sam had put on the disk. Reviewing it, she realized that it was a copy of the file Sam had for the story. Sara pressed a couple of buttons and set the computer to work, pulling information about the owners of the other shops that were vandalized as well as the director and assistant director of the Friendship Centres. Sara also jotted down a note to remind her to see if she can find a way to hear the tape of the phone call. She also added another search to pull up any and all crimes involving ethnic groups, prioritized with Natives first, and sorted by date.

Sara stood in the doorway to their bedroom, watching Josh sleep. A lump formed in her throat. I am so lucky, she thought, a loving smile forming on her lips. She quietly took off her shoes and put them next to the door. Sara then tiptoed over to the bed and proceeded to wake Josh with a kiss.

Part 4 contains some 'adult' content. Those wishing to skip such content can proceed immediately to Part 5.