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The Firebug
by [?]

The marshal paused as if to check off the strange facts in his mind as he went along.

“The next day another puzzling fire occurred. It was at the Quadrangle Cloak and Suit Co., on Fifth Avenue. There had been some trouble, I believe, with the employees, and the company had discharged a number of them. Several of the leaders have been arrested, but I can’t say we have anything against any of them. Still, Max Bloom, the manager of this company, insists that the fire was set for revenge, and indeed it looks as much like a fire for revenge as the Jones-Green fire does” – here he lowered his voice confidentially – “for the purpose of collecting insurance.

“Then came the fire in the Slawson Building, a new loft-building that had been erected just off Fourth Avenue. Other than the fact that the Stacey interests put up the money for financing this building there seemed to be no reason for that fire at all. The building was reputed to be earning a good return on the investment, and I was at a loss to account for the fire. I have made no arrests for it – just set it down as the work of a pure pyromaniac, a man who burns buildings for fun, a man with an inordinate desire to hear the fire-engines screech through the streets and perhaps get a chance to show a little heroism in ‘rescuing’ tenants. However, the adjuster for the insurance company, Lazard, and the adjuster for the insured, Hartstein, have reached an agreement, and I believe the insurance is to be paid.”

“But,” interposed Kennedy, “I see no evidence of organised arson so far.”

“Wait,” replied the fire marshal. “That was only the beginning, you understand. A little later came a fire that looked quite like an attempt to mask a robbery by burning the building afterward. That was in a silk-house near Spring Street. But after a controversy the adjusters have reached an agreement on that case. I mention these fires because they show practically all the types of work of the various kinds of firebug – insurance, revenge, robbery, and plain insanity. But since the Spring Street fire, the character of the fires has been more uniform. They have all been in business places, or nearly all.”

Here the fire marshal launched forth into a catalogue of fires of suspected incendiary origin, at least eight in all. I took them down hastily, intending to use the list some time in a box head with an article in the Star. When he had finished his list I hastily counted up the number of killed. There were six, two of them firemen, and four employees. The money loss ranged into the millions.

McCormick passed his hand over his forehead to brush off the perspiration. “I guess this thing has got on my nerves,” he muttered hoarsely. ” Everywhere I go they talk about nothing else. If I drop into the restaurant for lunch, my waiter talks of it. If I meet a newspaper man, he talks of it. My barber talks of it – everybody. Sometimes I dream of it; other times I lie awake thinking about it. I tell you, gentlemen, I’ve sweated blood over this problem.”

“But,” insisted Kennedy, “I still can’t see why you link all these fires as due to one firebug. I admit there is an epidemic of fires. But what makes you so positive that it is all the work of one man?”

“I was coming to that. For one thing, he isn’t like the usual firebug at all. Ordinarily they start their fires with excelsior and petroleum, or they smear the wood with paraffin or they use gasoline, benzine, or something of that sort. This fellow apparently scorns such crude methods. I can’t say how he starts his fires, but in every case I have mentioned we have found the remains of a wire. It has something to do with electricity – but what, I don’t know. That’s one reason why I think these fires are all connected. Here’s another.”