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"Where you going?" she said.

"Fire. This place on fire."

"Right," she said. "Do people live upstairs?"

"Sure. Leave me be."

He strained against her left arm and just as he broke loose, Ruby reached into the right pocket of her blue chenille bathrobe and pulled out a small snub-nosed .38 caliber revolver. She put it against his head, between his eyes.

"Upstairs and wake them up."


Ruby shrugged. "Do that or die here. Whatever makes you happy." She cocked the gun.

The young man gulped. "Sheeeit," he repeated. Ruby pressed the gun against his forehead, and he turned and ran up the steps, through the flames, shouting at the top of his voice, 'Tire! Fire! Firel"

Ruby glanced upward and saw flames at the top of the steps. The fire had been set, she realized. It was not one fire, but a string of individual fires set in different places. But who would want to torch this building, except for nutty kids?

No point wondering. She looked around. People were beginning to stream out of the apartments, and she had the fleeting feeling that she was at the circus watching two dozen people get out of one Volkswagen. They marched out of the apartments by handfuls, two and two, four and four, rubbing sleep from their eyes, their tiredness slowing their steps.


Ruby listened for a moment to the continuing bellow of "Fire" on the fifth floor. Then she pushed her way through the stream of kids going downstairs and hopped down to the third floor, where she pounded on more doors and roused more families.

She worked her way down through the building until she was out on the sidewalk. She was glad to see her car had been moved.

Down the street, Ruby could hear the whoops of fire engines. Flames were now licking out through the windows on all five floors of the tenement.

Aunt Lettie ran to her and said, "Oh, girl, I thought you was caught."

"I'm all right," Ruby said. The fire engines were only a block away. "Is everybody out?"

Her aunt looked around at the crowd clustered on the sidewalk. "I think," she said. "Lemme see."~ She looked again, pointing her finger, ticking off people. "I don't see the Garigles."

Ruby fingered a golden medal around her neck. "Where they live?" she asked.

"Top right, in the front," her aunt said. The fire engines drew nearer. Ruby ran off. Her aunt's voice echoed after her. "Girl, don't go back in there."

The Garigles came out. Ruby didn't. They told Aunt Lettie that they had not seen her niece.

The firemen could not save the building and, ten minutes after they arrived, the roof went, collapsing down into the building like a surrendering soufflé.

The occupants of the house had been pushed back across the street, where they were being interviewed by bored policemen.


When she saw the roof go, Aunt Lettie covered her face with her hands. "Oh, God," she cried. "Oh, my poor Ruby. Oh, child." The Reverend Horatius Q. Witherspool, dressed in an Italian suit of nubby gray silk, put his arm around her in consolation. "It'll be all right, Mrs. Jackson," he said. Even as he spoke, he looked around at the other tenants of the building, as if counting.

An hour later, the walls tumbled in. Firemen working from the middle of the street and the buildings on each side pumped thousands of tons of water into the apartment building. They were not able to enter the ruin for another two hours. They poked around the rubble, but it wasn't until daylight that a rookie fireman found the body. He was rooting around in what had once been the basement. Accompanying him was a photographer from the Newark Post-Observer, which had recently been accused of insensitivity to the black community and had therefore posted a standing assignment to get photos of substantial housing fires in the black neighborhoods. It had taken the editorial board two weeks to decide what kind of fires they should take pictures of. Were they insensitive if they ignored fires with fatalities—as if black corpses had no news value? Or were they insensitive if they published fires with fatalities—as if blacks were only newsworthy when dead? The editor-in-chief made the decision: no pictures of fatal fires, unless three or more people were killed at once.

This was a fire without apparent fatalities, so the young photographer was in the basement with the rookie fireman, looking for an interesting picture. The photographer tripped over something that skit-


tered away from him. It was long and about as wide around as a baseball bat. It was dark brown and charred. The photographer bent over to look more closely.

Then he threw up.

It was an arm.

The fireman called for help, and they removed the rubble from over the human remnants.

The photographer told everybody who would listen, "I tripped over his arm. Over there. That's his arm."

"It's not his arm," one fireman said.

"It is. It's his arm. I tripped over it," the photographer said.

"It's not a his. It's an its. Until we identify the body, it ain't a him or a her, it's an its."

When they dug down to the body, there was no way to tell if it had been a man or a woman, so total was the destruction of flesh by fire.

The photographer was in a quandary. Now there was a body found. One dead made this fire no picture for the Newark Post-Observer. But if he went back to his office without a picture and later they found two more bodies in the rubble, that would make it a three-fatality fire and that was a picture and he wpuld be chewed out for not getting one.

He was saved from a decision by the fireman who turned over the body. Something under it glittered. It was a golden medal—a narrow trapezoid with a slash mark angling through it

The photographer took a picture of the medal. No more bodies were found in the fire, but the mystery of the golden medal intrigued the city editor and he ran the picture on page one. No one,


police or civilian, had interviewed Lettie Jackson. The corpse was unidentified.

Remo awoke with ths sun shining brightly in his fourth-floor window overlooking the park. He went to the window. He could see the bench where he had spent most of the night sitting and thinking. The trash basket next to the bench was still filled, and he could see a glimpse of the yellow shoes still jammed into the basket. The sight made him feel wann all over. Nothing like a glimpse of beauty to begin a day.

Even though he wasn't hungry and generally ató very little, Remo called room service and ordered a half-dozen scrambled eggs, two rashers of bacon, home fries, toast, and a large pot of coffee. As an afterthought, he ordered a pitcher of bottled water and a bowl of rice, unflavored. And a newspaper.

Was that what normal people had for breakfast? Why not? He had thought about it a lot during the night, and there was no reason he was not a normal person. So, some of his childhood memories had turned sour and a lot of his life had been spent working for a government agency he wasn't too fond of, but he didn't need to be an assassin as Chiun needed to be an assassin. Remo could be a lot of things. He avoided trying to name any of those things.

He had showered by the time the food arrived on a big rolling tray with the newspaper neatly folded alongside his plate. He tipped the bellboy ten dollars, looked longingly at the eggs and bacon and coffee, then put the rice onto his plate and began to chew it tenaciously into a liquid before swallow-


ing it. He opened the newspaper and was startled by a photograph on page one.

It was a photo of a golden medal, and the medal was the symbol of Sinanju—a trapezoid intersected at an angle by a long slash mark.

Quickly, he read the story about a fire gutting a tenement building in the Central Ward. The body that had been found had been identified as that of an unknown woman; the medal was found lying underneath her. The fire was arson, firemen said, because separate fires had begun at four different locations in the building.