“Mr. Bardolet seemed really worried about this fire,” my mother told me. “He didn’t sound like himself.”

She didn’t seem like herself either. Instead of telling me about food that was available or asking me to get her shoes or perform some other task for her, she was confiding in me. Because I was in the newspaper, I was someone “in the know,” apparently. Suddenly, I was being treated like an adult.

It was a fire in a city-owned warehouse, where they kept old vehicles and industrial equipment. Many vehicles were lost in the blaze. In addition, one homeless man who had been sleeping in one of the buses in the warehouse had been killed. She had typed the report from one of her insurance company’s agents, who had dictated it into his dictaphone.

“He said when he went to the scene he smelled gasoline,” mom said. “He used the words ‘suspicious origin.’”

I had not heard this about the fire before. When Burns, the editor, had written about the event, it was said to have been an electrical fire. Some bit of curiosity rose inside me like a flame, the beginning of a fire. It is the curiosity that drives all reporters.

“Did he use the word ‘arson’?” I said.

“No, no…I probably shouldn’t be telling you about this,” she said. “Why don’t you eat something? You’re too thin.”

I had written one story for the main part of the newspaper, a report about a local elementary school closing. Perhaps, I thought, I could write an investigative piece about this fire, and it would help me get a job as a reporter, either at this paper or another.

When I told Burns over the phone he didn’t seem all that interested. I learned later not to take this feigned indifference too seriously. Sometimes when people seem like they aren’t really interested, they’re really intrigued. “What was this insurance guy’s name?” he asked casually. I told him. So things were set in motion, without any deep thought on my part, other than my own ambition.

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