Arson on a Dark and Non-Stormy But Bitterly Cold Night

The investigation of criminal cases is often a time-consuming process that involves numerous hours of leg work, interviewing potential witnesses and/or suspects, evidence collection and, well, you know the drill. It’s intensive. However, there are also the cases that practically solve themselves with little or no investigative skills needed.

For example …

It was a dark and non-stormy, but bitterly cold night.

I was on call and, as my luck goes, my pager sounded off, beeping and buzzing on the nightstand next to my head. Hoping it was an informant I could ignore until morning, I reached for the device and saw the number for dispatch on the tiny screen.

My next wish was for it to be something I could handle by phone. After dialing the number, a perky female voice answered and told me that I was needed at a structure fire, one that a patrol sergeant had reason to believe was arson. Great. Just great, I thought. Not only was it 3 a.m. and as cold outside as a well digger’s hind parts, but the freakin’ case was an arson, and I absolutely despised working arson cases. They’re dirty and stinky and I despised getting dirty and stinky, especially at 3 a.m. when the outside temperature is hovering at one notch below “Brrr and Shiver.” Give me a good old murder to solve, any day. At least there was a good chance the body would’ve been indoors.

I rolled out of bed, apprehensively, and slipped on some clothes I wouldn’t mind tossing in the garbage a few hours later, and headed outside where the frigid air slapped my cheeks and launched an instant assault on my eyes nose, ears, and lungs. Even my unmarked Crown Vic seemed pissed off and protested by withholding heat for at least ten very long minutes.

I arrived at the scene, an agricultural-based business, where fire crews were still hard at it, spraying water at yellowish-orange flames that reached heights well above nearby trees and telephone poles. As horrific as all fires are, the heat from this one was not at all offensive. My toes were cold, cold, cold.

The patrol sergeant who’d requested my assistance waved me over to where he was engaged in an arm and hand-waving, finger-pointing conversation with the fire chief and a couple of shivering bystanders.

The Evidence

On my way, I saw something on the ground that reflected the brilliant colors of the dancing flames. You’d never guess, in a million years, what it was, so I’ll tell you (yes, crooks are often as dumb as a rock).

The reflective object was a driver’s license. So I picked it up, told the sergeant and fire chief that I was pretty sure I knew who’d started the fire and that I’d give them a call in a little while. I turned around and walked back to my car. I’d been at the fire scene all of two minutes.

It wasn’t that I was some sort of super-detective, or anything close. Not at all. You see, the drivers license I’d found belonged to a man who’d served time in prison for setting a couple of previous fires. I drove to the man’s house where I promptly told him I had solid evidence that placed him at the scene. Then I bluntly asked if he’d set the fire.

He first patted his pants pockets as if feeling for something that “should’ve” been there (a driver’s license), and then slowly looked down at his muddy shoes and nodded his head (a classic sign that a confession is about to spill from the lips).

I told him he’d need to do better than that. He looked up until his gaze met mine, and said, “Yeah, it was me. I set it.”

On the way to book the arsonist I called the patrol sergeant to tell him that I had the firebug in custody. It was not quite two hours after I’d received the page from the dispatcher. All without getting dirty, or stinky.

By the way, my car still refused to put forth any heat on the ride home. My toes were still cold.