When you are young, everything seems like a game—at first. How bad can the consequences be, when your parents are always there to bail you out, either literally or figuratively?

I sat with Burns in his office. He looked over the annual report. “His credentials are quite good,” he said. “He’s been an insurance investigator since 1967.”

“He has some awards on his wall,” I added.

He nodded. “Let’s try to find out what they are. The question is, what happened to his report?”

The city had not released the report. It only released a brief one-paragraph summary stating an investigation was ongoing and the loss of life was “regrettable.”

“Does your mother have a copy of the report?” he asked me over the clacking of typewriters and the rumbling of the big presses with the word GOSS on them.

I didn’t bat an eye. “I don’t know,” I said. “I can ask.”

“At least if she can tell us how long it was, how many pages. Even that would be of interest.”

On the way home, all I could think of was the fact that he had used the word “Let’s.” It felt like I was a co-conspirator in a great adult adventure.

Mom was more upset than usual when she came home from work. I knew I would not have to ask her what was going on. It would come out of her soon enough. “Mr. Bardolet was so cranky today,” she said as she spooned the mashed potatoes into a big bowl. I scowled; I could see the big lumps in them. “He just seemed mean.”

“Something’s bothering him. It doesn’t have anything to do with you,” said my sister. She had begun to work part-time at the same insurance company. “It’ll be all right.” She was always trying to smooth things over, no matter what the problem.

“You want me to waste him?” said my brother. Everything that came out of his mouth had a sense of menace and threatened violence. “Waste” was being used in some movie of the time and was the current catchphrase. We all looked at him for a second and went on eating.

“Maybe it has something to do with that report about the fire,” I ventured, maneuvering my spoon around the lumps in the potatoes. “The city never did anything with it. Maybe that’s what’s bugging him.”

“I should have never said anything about it,” said Mom.

“That was a pretty long report, though,” I said. “Do you remember how long it was?”

“Eighteen pages, it was a long one,” she said.

“Maybe you should stop asking about it,” said my brother, glaring at me.

“Yeah, Greg, Mom doesn’t want to talk about it, and besides, all the reports are confidential.”

“It’s not confidential if the report is for the city. Everything having to do with the city is a public matter.” I had heard Burns say this once. I knew I wasn’t going to get any farther with this. But I got the bit of information I needed. And that was what caused the trouble.

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