Irritating his mother wasn’t specifically Thomas’ favorite hobby. She did,
however, seem to excel at providing him with opportunities to do so. He didn’t have to
try very hard. His very existence was an obvious irritant to her. It wasn’t because of who
he was – Thomas knew perfectly well it was all about what he wasn’t.
He wasn’t everything his older brother Benjamin had been; quick and clever and
charming and talkative. The entire Baldwin family – especially his mother, Eugenia
Baldwin, aspiring family matriarch and his most verbal critic – admitted that Thomas was
the much more handsome of the two. Then everyone shrugged. Pretty is as pretty does.
Thomas had to agree on that point. He gladly would have traded his bright blue
eyes and much-admired dark hair for the ability to know what to say to people.
He stood at the entrance to the ballroom in his parents’ house, surrounded by
giggling girls all wishing him a happy birthday with their dance cards not-so-subtly
dangling from their wrists. Trying to smile, he offered his hand to accept the little pencils
and sign the blasted things.
There was grunting, and the sound of wood groaning, and then a wet thump as
they lifted and threw something. Regina could tell that there was a little more room
behind her shoulder blades. There was more grunting and dragging and thumping. Then
she heard them both groan.
“What’s going on back there? Have I been cut off at the waist?” she asked. Not
being able to see what was wrong, or the progress they were having, was making her
“The next layer is completely wedged in. We can’t do this without tools,” Isaac
Both men hurried away from her, making her worry for their safety. She had also
found their company reassuring. What if neither one of them was able to find her again?
That’s when she saw the flickering orange glow in the distance. “No.”
Yes. It didn’t seem possible – but in the midst of water floating below, and
pouring from above, something had caught on fire.
Regina started listing in her head all the accelerants that might be contained in a
single drygoods store: tar, pitch, turpentine, kerosene. How many homes used all of
them? How many gas lines were ruptured all over the city? How many wood stoves were
knocked into them? There was no way this heap would NOT be set on fire.
And here she was, stuck, in the middle of it. No doubt about it, she was about to
die in the same town in which she was born. It was a shame, really. She had such high