Today's Reading

The man turned quickly, crouching. Shaw noted that he didn't reach for his belt or inside pocket. This might have been because he didn't want to drop the gas bomb—or because he wasn't armed. Or because he was a pro and knew exactly where his gun was and how many seconds it would take to draw and aim and fire.

Narrow eyes, set in a narrow face, looked Shaw over for guns and then for less weaponly threats. He took in the black jeans, black Ecco shoes, gray-striped shirt and the jacket. Short-cut blond hair lying close to his head. Rodent would have thought "cop," yet the moment for a badge to appear and an official voice to ask for ID or some such had come and gone. He had concluded that Shaw was civilian. And not one to be taken lightly. Shaw was about one- eighty, just shy of six feet, and broad, with strappy muscle. A small scar on cheek, a larger one on neck. He didn't run as a hobby but he rock-climbed and had been a champion wrestler in college. He was in scrapping shape. His eyes held Rodent's, as if tethered.

"Hey there." A tenor voice, taut like a stretched fence wire.

Midwest, maybe from Minnesota.

Shaw glanced down at the bottle.

"Could be pee, not gas, don'tcha know." The man's smile was as tight as the timbre of his voice. And it was a lie.

Wondering if this'd turn into a fight. Last thing Shaw wanted. He hadn't hit anybody for a long time. Didn't like it. Liked getting hit even less.

"What's that about?" Shaw nodded at the bottle in the man's hand.

"Who are you?"

"A tourist."

"Tourist." The man debated, eyes rising and falling. "I live up the street. There's some rats in an abandoned lot next to me. I was going to burn them out."

"California? The driest June in ten years?" Shaw had made that up but who'd know?

Not that it mattered. There was no lot and there were no rats, though the fact that the man had brought it up suggested he might have burned rats alive in the past. This was where dislike joined caution.

Never let an animal suffer...

Then Shaw was looking over the man's shoulder—toward the spot he'd been headed for. A vacant lot, true, though it was next to an old commercial building. Not the imaginary vacant lot next to the man's imaginary home.

The man's eyes narrowed further, reacting to the bleat of the approaching police car.

"Really?" Rodent grimaced, meaning: You 'had'to call it in? He muttered something else too.

Shaw said, "Set it down. Now."

The man didn't. He calmly lit the gasoline-soaked rag, which churned with fire, and like a pitcher aiming for a strike, eyed Shaw keenly and flung the bomb his way.


Molotov cocktails don't blow up—there's not enough oxygen inside a sealed bottle. The burning rag fuse ignites the spreading gas when the glass shatters.

Which this one did, efficiently and with modest spectacle. A silent fireball rose about four feet in the air.

Shaw dodged the risk of singe and Carole ran, screaming, to her cabin. Shaw debated pursuit, but the crescent of grass on the shoulder was burning crisply and getting slowly closer to tall shrubs. He vaulted the chain-link, sprinted to his RV and retrieved one of the extinguishers. He returned, pulled the pin and blasted a whoosh of white chemical on the fire, taming it.

"Oh my God. Are you okay, Mr. Shaw?" Carole was plodding up, carrying an extinguisher of her own, a smaller, one-hand canister.

Hers wasn't really necessary, yet she too pulled the grenade pin and let fly, because, of course, it's always fun. Especially when the blaze is nearly out.

After a minute or two, Shaw bent down and, with his palm, touched every square inch of the scorch, as he'd learned years ago.

Never leave a campfire without patting the ash.

A pointless glance after Rodent. He'd vanished.

A patrol car braked to a stop. Oakland PD. A large black officer, with a glistening, shaved head, climbed out, holding a fire extinguisher of his own. Of the three, his was the smallest. He surveyed the embers and the char and replaced the red tank under his front passenger seat.

Officer L. Addison, according to the name badge, turned to Shaw.

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