Authors: Mike Sherer
!! The! smell! of! gas! hung! on! the! porch! of! the! ramshackle!
menace.! I! backed! away! cautiously,! nose! full! of! the! rotten6egg!
odorant! in! the! gas.! Finding! a! spot! where! polluted! air! left! off!
and! fresh! air! began! was! tough.! I! tucked! the! paper! I’d! been!
holding! under! one! arm! to! dial! 96161,! told! the! operator! about!
“What! difference! does! it! make?”! With! four! more! stops! to!
make! and! a! waiting! bed! after! that,! the! thought! of! hanging!
around! to! answer! questions! didn’t! thrill! me.! Besides,! for! all! I!
knew! Caller! ID! had! put! my! name! on6screen! in! front! of! her!
“Yeah,! I’m! pretty! sure.! That’s! where! the! smell’s! coming!
Odds! were! pretty! good! someone! was! home.! No! one! had!
stopped! newspaper! delivery.! Unless! people! planned! on! being!
gone! only! a! day! or! two,! they! usually! put! a! vacation! hold! on!
“Sir,! I’m! reporting! this! to! dispatch! now.! They’ll! have! the!
finally! got! a! live! person! on! the! line.! He! took! me! through! the!
same! rigmarole! without! much! enthusiasm,! his! voice! flat! and!
dawn! light,! debating! what! to! do! next.! The! house! stared! back,!
the! mesh! tops! of! my! athletic! shoes,! spurring! me! to! action.! I!
the! porch! and! pounded! on! the! front! door.! No! answer.! I!
beer! belly! pushed! a! cotton! undershirt! out! between! the! open!
appeared! several! shades! off6white.! Scuffed! dirty! slippers!
covered! his! toes,! but! his! bare! ankles! were! mapped! with! blue!
veins.! Long,! greasy! gray! hair! hung! in! ropes! to! his! shoulders.!
Several! days’! growth! of! beard! in! matching! gray! covered! his!
“Smell! what?”! He! took! a! step! toward! me,! stuck! his! head!
“Jesus,! mister,! you! weren’t! shittin’! me,! were! you?”! He!
“I! called! 96161! and! the! gas! company.! Fire! department!
the! city’s! grid! of! canyons! between! houses! and! buildings.!
Absently,! he! wrapped! the! robe! over! his! belly! and! cinched! it!
tight.! Dazed,! he! shuffled! down! the! steps! onto! the! walk.! I!
He! glanced! at! me.! “Yeah.! Phil! Donato.! That’s! me.! How’d!
He! shook! his! head,! matted! locks! barely! budging.! “I! live!
SFD! engine! and! a! squad! vehicle! pulled! onto! the! block! with!
lights! flashing.! The! engine’s! crew! jumped! down! and! busied!
“Mr.! Donato,”! I! said.! “He! says! there’s! no! one! else! in! the!
Hinckley! leaned! toward! him.! “It’s! all! right,! sir.! Gas!
There! was! no! response.! The! lieutenant! shrugged! and!
nosed! in! to! the! fire! engine! and! parked.! As! the! driver! got! out,!
one! of! the! firemen! yelled! over! the! low! rumble! of! the! engine,!
I! turned! to! see! Donato! partway! up! the! walk,! already! a!
He! didn’t! stop.! As! soon! as! he! spotted! me! moving! toward!
my! looped! arm! suddenly! held! air,! not! his! shoulders.! The!
abrupt! lack! of! resistance! sent! me! over! the! edge! of! the! porch!
arms! churning! like! a! wind! turbine! in! a! steady! breeze.! As! the!
! and! ball! of! orange! flame! that! blew! out! the! front!
windows.! Shards! of! glass! rained! down! as! a! blast! of! hot! air!
dirt,! dazed! and! blinded,! the! sudden! shock! turning! the! whole!
different! to! him! than! it! had! on! the! other! side! of! the! fence! a!
lunch! in! a! diner! near! the! station! and! wandered! around! town!
train! arrived! in! Centralia! two! minutes! behind! schedule.! After!
disembarking,! he! walked! a! mile! through! town! to! the! house!
The! next! day,! he! met! with! his! parole! officer,! applied! for!
house.! Neighbors! looked! out! their! windows! and! offered!
in! the! place.! They! watched,! nodding! appreciatively,! as! he!
scraggly! bushes! covering! the! windows.! They! beamed! on! the!
tried! to! remember! how! long! she’d! called! strange! hotels! and!
At! least! it! wasn’t! raining.! Seattle! had! maintained! its! dreary!
over! the! tops! of! the! buildings! to! the! east,! and! stars! glowed!
faintly! in! the! dark! sky! overhead! promising! another! cloudless!
She! stifled! a! yawn,! circadian! rhythm! thrown! off! by! the!
had! to! do.! She! hadn’t! been! sleeping! well.! Good,! old6fashioned!
the! sound! of! passing! sirens! fade! away! somewhere! far! behind!
grade! as! she! navigated! the! dark! city! streets! to! her! next! task.!
who! in! their! right! mind! would! give! up! nearly! everything! in!
pursuit! of! answers! to! something! that! happened! twenty! years!
was! she! still! convinced! he! wasn’t! the! only! person! who! had!
been! involved?! Because! others,! like! her! contact,! believed! the!
obsession! again.! And! now! it! had! cost! her! her! marriage! and!