"It's a wreck," Maggee said leaning forward in his seat.
The squad car advanced on the wreck, the tangle of patrol car and station wagon.
"What and the hell happened?" Evans asked.
"You can see it," Maggee said with a flat gesture. "Station wagon cut right through him, right through the intersection, there."
"Well god damn," Evans said. They stopped the car.
"Ed, called for an ambulance," Maggess said getting out. There was a woman sitting on the road, a blanket around her shoulders, blood dripping over her face. A man stood beside her.
"Are you all right?" Maggee asked. "Is she all right?"
The man looked at Maggee and stuttered. "I don't know what happened, she just came out of no where. And she got out of the car okay. We called an ambulance. Yeah well one guy did and then he went to check on the other fella."
"No, the fella who wrecked his truck," he said pointing up the road.
Maggee followed the finger to the back end of the truck sticking out from the liquor store.
"There's an ambulance on the way," Maggee said. "We've been looking for that truck all night," he said running back to the car.
The alarm rang, loud and shrill. "Holy hell!" Pepper said, looking into the store. A display of gallon jugs of margarita mix were scattered on the floor, cardboard boxes of discount gin, pieces of a counter and register, coins, bills, glass and wires. The truck had stalled in Pepper's sudden breaking. He turned the key in the ignition, shifted the car to neutral and turned the key again. The engine let out a high-pitched cough, he released the key. He turned it again, the same cough. Pepper made a frustrated scream and punched the steering wheel, the truck's horn blew.
He climbed down from the truck and looked back at the accident. He saw a second set of lights flashing, the squad rolling around the wreck and towards the store. "Oh no way!" he said backing away.
Pepper climbed over the broken glass and metal of the store front into the debris. He looked around the building frantically, ran halfway down an aisle of gin and back to the front of the store. He pulled at drawers behind the still standing register, tape, scissors, paperclips, a supply catalog, take-out menus, a lighter, thumb tacks, markers, receipt tape. He took the lighter and put it in his pocket.
Evans stopped the car in front of the shop. "How are we going to handle this, Sheriff?"
"Well, let's see," Maggee said. He looked into the store, squinting. The lights in the shop were off, though the building was partially lit by the headlights of the truck. "You see him in there, Ed?"
Evans looked. "I don't see him, Sheriff."
"Okay well let's see if he won't just come out of there, then."
Maggee turned a dial on the radio and put the receiver to his mouth. "Come on out of there," he said through the loud speaker. "Nice and slow just come out." He turned the dial again. "We're going to need immediate backup to 1412 Columbus Avenue. Man has driven a stolen delivery truck into the front of a liquor store. Possibly armed."
"We going in?" Evans asked.
"I'm fine waiting, Ed."
Pepper crawled along the floor of the shop, moving towards the back. He leaned against a cardboard cutout of a viking hoisting a bottle of mead. A blue light flickered on the ceiling, Pepper watched it, nervously rubbing his fingers in his pocket. He pinched at some loose coins, turned the lighter in his fingers.
"You're coming out or we're coming in with pistols," a voice came over the loudspeaker.
"Goddang," Pepper said, flicking the lighter rapidly. He looked down at the flame, flicking the button still. "Oh, man," he said leaning forward. He scooted toward a shelf, took a bottle of Bourbon Supreme and twisted off the cap. Then taking his sleeve in his mouth tore a piece of fabric from the shirt. He stuffed it into the end of the bottle and lit the lighter at its edge. The cloth took the flame, he picked the bottle up, took a few steps towards the front of the building and hurled it into the parking lot.
"Eat on that, suckers!" he screamed.
The bottle shattered on the asphalt several yards in front of the squad car.
"What in the hell is he doing?" Evans said staring at the bottle. "That rag's on fire."
"Whiskey won't catch," Maggee said.
Another bottle flew into the parking lot, breaking closer to the building than the first.
"This guy's lost it," Evans said.
Pepper tore another piece from his shirt. "Let's see how you like this," he said. There was a bottle of everclear on the floor in front of him. He laid the strip of cloth on the ground and poured the alcohol over it. He took the wet cloth and pushed it into the open mouth of the bottle. He struck his lighter at the end of the cloth, the flame took quickly. The puddle of alcohol on the floor caught fire, Pepper moved the bottle with his foot, making a startled whoop. The leg of his pants took the flame, he began kicking rapidly. He bent down and picked up the lit bottle, ran back to the front of the shop and threw it through the window with everything he had.
The bottle exploded into flames just in front of the squad car.
"Holy shit!" Evans said. The deputy and sheriff scrambled from the car, running towards the road.
"Oh, Christ!" Maggee said. The flame had grown, it billowed under the front end of the car. They ran into the street, across the median and to the other side of the street. They faced the building, their burning car. There was a dull boom as the car exploded, it seemed to leap a few feet into the air as a mass of yellow flame blew out like a cloud of dust.
"My lord!" Evans said, staring. The fire engulfed the car, burning violently.
A figure emerged from the building. From across the street the officers could see his fiery leg.
"Help!" he screamed. "Help!" Pepper ran around the parking lot in little circles, waving his arms. He collapsed to the ground and began rolling around. The fire wrapped around his leg, he yelped as he flopped on the concrete, smothering the flame.
The room was small, a window along one wall, green paint flaking from the others. Maggee stood, pacing the floor. Pepper was sitting behind a large table, his hands cuffed in his lap. Maggee sighed, dabbing sweat from his forehead.
"And where's that money, now, Mr. Gray," Maggee said.
"You can call me Pepper."
"Is that what your friends call you?"
"I'm not your friend," he said spitting into a trash can. "Where's the money?"
"That guy took it, the one whose truck I took."
"He has the money?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"You just had it with you?"
"In my wallet."
"In your wallet?"
"How much did he give you?"
"How much money did he give you?"
"Four hundred dollars."
Maggee stared in disbelief. "Four hundred dollars?"
"That's what I said. I couldn't believe it either."
Maggee rubbed the back of his neck.
"Four hundred dollars for sabotage. A murder."
"The car flipped into oncoming traffic!"
"Listen, I didn't mean nothing by that. It was the car, the car just flipped over, I didn't kill anybody! The car did!"
"And you sabotaged the car, causing the accident. This is first degree murder!"
"Oh, man," Pepper said rocking in his seat. "Oh, goddamn."
There was a knock, Maggee opened the door. Evans poked his head in and glanced at Pepper, whispering to the sheriff. Maggee nodded.
"Do you smoke?"
"Well I'll leave this anyhow." Maggee reached into his pocket, he set a crumpled cigarette and a worn matchbook on the table. He left the room, the door clicked behind him.
Pepper bit his lip, still swaying back and forth in the chair. "Oh, mang," he said. He looked down at the cigarette. He opened the matchbook, there was a single match attached to the cardboard. His wrists were heavy in the cuffs, he took the cigarette in his fingers and raised it to his mouth. He tore the match from the package, flipped it and struck the strip. It refused to light. He struck it again, and again, the scent of sulfur filled his nose. He snapped the match over the book once more, it lit and immediately burned out.