“That’s how fires get started.” I thought out loud. No one responded.
The candle was on its side, the wick being eaten up by a tenacious little blot of fire. Still melting. Its wax bleeding matte red trails on the table’s glossy oak. I backed up a step, but bent in low. My nose felt the heat from the whole mess. Apple pie. A dull chemical cinnamon streak through it was coating my nose hair. No fingerprints on the tabletop. I stood up, turning around. Ran my finger and thumb down my nose, wiping off the waxy grease I could feel cooling into my pores.
No light was coming into the room, since the drapes were covering up the windows. They’d been pried open. They were asking for it, since they were unlocked. The front door was wide open. Nothing too surprising there either. No signs of a struggle beyond the ordinary ones of a man and woman trying their damnedest to cohabitate and failing. Coffee mugs left out on a desk piled high with papers. Box of cereal getting stale on the kitchen counter. Pillow and blanket on the couch, wrinkles of recent use being highlighted by that deadly candle.
I wanted to clean the place, but that’s not what my job was. I’d looked for clues. I’d done my footwork. Trailed the man to and from work. To and from home, too. And the stops in between. Driving past him at night, watching him turn into an apartment complex in my rearview mirror. Doubling back with my lights off to write down the number he walked to. Showed the photos to his wife the next day. Never felt so bad to get paid. But she had another job, and I always had another bill to take care of.
I watched the apple pie puddle spread itself across the table in globs. This was America, now. The woman had gotten her jewelry and paperwork from the safe upstairs the night before. She’d given me a copy of the man’s car keys, which made getting his car even easier than getting in through the window. It was in the driveway, parked at a steep angle. The universal sign of a shitty driver, or an angry one.
She’d be calling the police now. She’d tell them he was violent. He was supposed to be staying away for a few days. Cooling off. He came in through the window while she was asleep. It was a miracle she got away. The neighborhood would be lit up in red and blue in five minutes. The house would be lit up in fire in three.
I dragged my sleeve across my forehead. The table was crackling along nicely. The candle had begun pouring itself down onto the unconscious man below it. Knife in his hand. Cocaine and booze in his blood. Dirty stuff. But she’d rather deal with insurance claims than divorce paperwork. Better payoff, for both of us.