His just released novel Three Hours Past Midnight is a corker too. Reading it I couldn't help but wish Michael Mann had used it for the basis of a one-crazy-night movie (rather than ever having made Collateral). If you dig the genre of professional criminals just doing their job and having to improvise when it all goes to hell, this one is right up your alley. (Kindle available now - paperback soon).
I asked Tony for a CriMemoir piece and he sent this.
September 7th, 1987, was Labor Day – I could smell charcoal from cookouts as I drove to work – and was warm and breezy. I remember my lieutenant having difficulty lighting a cigarette as some of us stood in front of the station and talked while it got dark.
According to the Fire Marshal’s report, one woman, still unhappy with her neighbor, set fire to the polyester curtains on the enclosed front porch windows. The fire quickly ran the main stairway, cutting off the resident’s primary route of escape, involving the dwelling throughout, and extending to the neighboring homes.
That night I responded with the first-in ladder company. As we approached, we saw the fronts of two of these massive dwellings engulfed in flame. The fire in the front extended upward from the first floor windows to beyond the main roofline – over fifty feet. I had two years on the job and while I’d been to many fires, I’d never seen anything like this. I couldn’t fathom how the fire had so quickly advanced – it was as though someone had doused the buildings with gasoline. This was a busy intersection during a holiday weekend; there were people on the sidewalks and cars were still traveling past, the drivers gawking. I found the contrast between the completely abnormal and something asmundane as auto traffic surreal.
Then I saw people jumping. They were coming out of the side windows from the second and third floors. I heard a man hit the ground.
My memories of those next few minutes are confused – the sights and sounds of companies stretching line and raising ladders, firemen yelling to be heard over the din of screaming civilians and sirens as more companies arrived, and the blackness and heat inside the burning building are all less than clear to me now, thirty years later – but I remember how it felt. I was frightened, but oddly, also elated, in a way that went beyond the easy explanation of adrenaline.
A few years ago, I went with some civilian friends to hear a band at a club, a few doors away from the site of a different but similar fire in another part of the city. I pointed to the empty lot and began to tell the others about it but realized I was failing – I was giving them descriptions of what I’d seen and what had happened but my friends couldn’t glean any significance from the story – none had ever had this sort of experience. I faltered, a bit embarrassed, and gave up.
There was a small piece of good luck: within seconds of our arrival, a friend was pulling line and heard a plop behind him in the street. A woman on the third floor had panicked and thrown her eighteen-month old son out a window. The child was released from the hospital the next morning, unscathed.
Three Hours Past Midnight as well as the novella and story collection Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia Cruelties from Crime Wave Press. Follow him on Twitter @dinnertimedave
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