Grigori was waiting. He was watching for the sign. A small timed device had been set twenty minutes earlier in a packed shredder bin brimming with threads of paper. There was a strange delight in the waiting. Adrenaline pumped through his heart at the thought of being caught. Even more flowed at the thought of getting away with it. He was so excited when the first flames flicked at the window his delight soiled the front of his boxers.
Duke and his team were out the firehouse doors with in seconds of the klaxon call dressing in the truck on the way. This was the third run of the evening for the team, the first for a fire.
On arrival they could see the flames of the twenty story historic building were working their way through the second floor. A complex ballet of pulling hoses from the truck, hooking them to hydrants, and lining up in teams of three to hold the five inch lines danced before Grigori.
The sound of breaking glass from the fifth floor was barely heard over all the commotion. Duke saw the janitor who threw the chair breaking the window waving a rag. With a call in the square black walkie-talkie on his shoulder Duke had the main engine drop its legs to the street and begin to extend the ladder. A wrenching mechanical whirr followed by a loud thud stopped the ladder cold. Duke knew that noise. Tagging the two fastest men on his team, Duke led them to the side door and up the five flights of stairs.
When Grigori saw the three men go in from his distant perch he decided to follow in an open door no one had found yet.
Smoke flowed like the gray clouds under the command of a cruel March wind at the ten foot high ceiling covered in pressed tin. “We only have a few minutes,” Duke said loudly over the respirators. The three man team quickly made way down the hall to the corner office. Duke was first, tested the door for heat, and busted it open with his axe. They found the janitor nearly ready to jump. The two team members ran to him, pulled him back and hustled him down the hall with a spare mask.
Duke wanted to check the floor while there was time. He made his way down another corridor seeing the reams of paper stacked high next to cabinets filled with files. In a building this old, sprinkler systems avoiding updates since the 70’s with bribes to the local inspector, Duke knew this was one fire they could not beat.
He turned to make is way back to the century old stairwell. A flash from above he saw his life go past him – Laura, with her blond hair dancing just above her shoulders that morning, corralling the twins to the minivan in their costumes for the school harvest pageant, one a ninja, the other a brick he could break.
The chirping safety device on his belt brought him back. In the moments that passed he realized that the fire had jumped a floor somewhere and he was now pinned under some debris. He still had air, the mask did not crack, his helmet blocked a direct hit, but his leg was still pinned. Looking up the corridor he saw a dark image, with a long coat or cape, and horns.
“I’m dead,” He muttered thinking this might be hell, "and the devil came to greet me."
Grigori stepped forward and stooped over Duke. “Mr. Fireman, you look like you need help.”
“Yes, please, my leg is pinned.” Duke tried to talk loud enough.
Amused by this situation Grigori asked “What do you have to live for Mr. Fireman?”
“What? Help me.” Duke said even louder.
“What do you have to live for? Why should I let you live?” Grigori toyed with Duke like a cat would a baby bird.