bright brass. People watched silent staring at the upper windows where shadows moved and occasional light flickered. A thin pillar of flame began to flare above the house like a romancandle.
"The airshaft," whispered a man in Thatcher's ear. A gust of wind filled the street with smoke and a smell of burning rags. Thatcher felt suddenly sick. When the smoke cleared he saw people hanging in a kicking cluster, hanging by their hands from a windowledge. The other side firemen were helping women down a ladder. The flame in the center of the house flared brighter. Something black had dropped from a window and lay on the pavement shrieking. The policemen were shoving the crowd back to the ends of the block. New fire engines were arriving.
"Theyve got five alarms in," a man said. "What do you think of that? Everyone of 'em on the two top floors was trapped. It's an incendiary done it. Some goddam firebug."
A young man sat huddled on the curb beside the gas lamp. Thatcher found himself standing over him pushed by the crowd from behind.
"He's an Italian."
"His wife's in that buildin."
"Cops wont let him get by." "His wife's in a family way. He cant talk English to ask the cops."
The man wore blue suspenders tied up with a piece of string in back. His back was heaving and now and then he left out a string of groaning words nobody understood. Thatcher was working his way out of the crowd. At the corner a man was looking into the fire alarm box. As Thatcher brushed past him he caught a smell of coaloil from the man's clothes. The man looked up into his face with a smile. He had tallowy sagging cheeks and bright popeyes. Thatcher's hands and feet went suddenly cold. The firebug. The papers say they hang round like that to watch it. He walked home fast, ran up the stairs, and locked the room door behind him. The room was quiet and empty. He'd forgotten that Susie wouldnt be there waiting for him. He