Verse 26: BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE continued
By 5:43, both the fire and the felon responsible for starting it were under control. At six, the Fire Marshall declared the emergency over and told the crews to gather their equipment and depart. The investigation, he told a somber Gloria, would probably take another day to finalize, but should be pro forma. There was no doubt in his mind as to the cause and origin. If the burnt out truck standing in the middle of the room was not prima facie evidence, the statements taken from the eyewitnesses provided ample corroboration.
"Your people kept their heads together, clearing the structure before the fire could spread," the Marshall told her. "According to the paramedics, the worst injury was a sprained ankle. No one got burned. No one got trampled. It could have been worse." He gave the building a long appraising look. The entire side of the tavern facing the street had collapsed, taking a section of roof with it. "It could have been a lot worse."
"Can I see?" she asked.
"I don't think that's a good idea, Ms. Robinette," he replied.
He considered, then relented. "The rear of the structure is still more or less intact. You should be able to get a good idea of the extent of the damage from there. But I'm coming with you."
"So am I," Lex added.
The Marshall regarded him. "And your interest, Mr. Machallo? I don't take kindly to fire buffs and looky-loos."
"Gloria's well-being," the Minstrel replied.
The Marshall nodded. "All right, but stay behind me."
The trio entered through the service door and Gloria gasped at the sight of what had been, less than an hour before, a thriving business full of people. Everything beyond the office was a ruin. The pool tables, the jukebox, the booths and chairs, the bar itself – all were broken or charred. The vintage posters that had lined the walls were mere scraps of blackened paper. Roof timbers had fallen onto the totally demolished truck, smashing its roof and cargo bed. Broken glass and bricks lay everywhere. The portrait of Rita Hayworth, miraculously barely singed, seemed to glower in the sunlight that came in through the missing section of the ceiling.
"Oh, no," Gloria moaned. "Daddy's beautiful bar." She turned away, buried her face in Lex's chest, and broke down. Her body shook as she sobbed inconsolably. Lex led her away from the scene of Buzz's revenge.
As they stepped into the daylight, an impeccably coifed woman in a dark blue suit shoved a microphone at them.
"Roberta Halliwell, In the Know News," she identified herself. "We're going out live. Miss Robinette, can you tell me your reaction to these tragic events?"