Friday, December 27, 2013

Appearing in issue #52, December 30, 2013

Title:  The big burn
By Author: Shannon Fay

Tag line:   A case of arson or an accident? The fire was suspicious…and so were the detectives!
Police characters:  Detectives Ryan Brownell and Sonja Nager.

The gist:   A diner, the Big Burger, burned to the ground.  The next day detectives were going over crime scene photos and the financial records of the establishment.  The restaurant wasn’t making money and was heavily insured.  All three of the diner’s owners would make a profit from the insurance company.  The three owners were put in separate interview rooms and questioned.  Meryl, the manager, looked upset and said the diner was her life and the insurance money wouldn’t fill the void.  When asked where she was between 10:30 and 11:00 PM the night before (the diner closed at 9:00 and forensics figured the onset of the fire to be between 10:30 and 11:00 but the fire was not called in until midnight) Meryl said she was visiting a friend in Bedford.  
Next in was Jerry, who was wearing sunglasses even though it was just dawn.  He claimed he was at his daughter’s house babysitting.  He agreed the diner was a financial sinkhole and wasn’t all that upset that it was gone. 

Next up was Bruce, Meryl’s cousin.  The diner had been in Bruce’s family since the 1940s.  He looked devastated.  When asked if he had an alibi, he said he was at a poker game which went well past 11:00. 
At that point forensics reported that the cause of the fire was a chemical device set to a timer.

Det. Nager knew who did it.
Crime scene:   Big Burger restaurant.

Clues:   Only the arsonist knew what time the fire started.
Suspects:   The three owners.

Red herrings:  I suppose the sunglasses…but I can’t figure out why.
Solution: Bruce hadn’t been asked where he was at a certain time, just if he had an alibi, yet he made a point to say he was out well past 11:00.

My two cents:    Now I know for sure why my arson story got rejected a few months ago…they already had one in the works.  Mine was in a candy store.  ((sigh))  Sometimes it’s just poor timing.
So…let’s see…my main comment would be that the police don’t go around interviewing people for alibis until they establish a crime has been committed.  If the forensic people had come in and said it was a leaky gas stove, the police just wasted their morning for nothing. 

The ‘forensic team’ was on this, but in reality it would have been the arson squad. If it happened in a small town where the police department didn’t have an arson squad, the fire investigator from the county would come down and handle it. 
There were no fire alarms in the building which is standard code for public buildings everywhere in the country and most certainly in a restaurant that handles grease.  The alarms would have gone off well before midnight.  Perhaps they were tinkered with?  Just a thought.

At least the suspects were interviewed separately.


Tamara said...

Those are good points, Jody. I, for one, would like to see your rejected arson story.

Tamara said...

It's saying there are no comments; yet, my comment is right above. Anyway, Jody, the Making Sense post was good also; I think the absence of response is due to Christmas.

Chris said...

I assumed Jerry's dark glasses were there to make us think he might've been burned or had his sight damaged when torching the diner, so I saw that as a reasonable red herring. I'm sure you're right about different departments handling different investigations, Jody, but without that inside knowledge it didn't occur to me to see that as a flaw. And I imagine people would need to be questioned in a case of possible arson, even before it's confirmed. Because fire is so destructive it can take a long time for forensics teams to come up with a firm cause. If the police left it until then to start questioning people, the trail would have gone cold (isn't that what they say?!)

All in all, I saw it as a nicely plotted story in the context of all the usual constraints.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Ladies, yes, I'm sure the holidays had something to do with the numbers. I've got half the 'hits' I normally do.

I'll post my arson reject next week.

As far as questioning people for a 'possible' arson, the cops have way too many real cases to work on to open up a 'maybe' file. Now with that said, I suppose if it was a small town and the police weren't all that busy, then yeah, they might start poking around before they really knew what they had. I would have given the detectives in the story the arson report first, but as you said, Chris, really, the public doesn't know the difference anyway.

The story worked well. It was the same old clue that we always use...the perp gave out info he/she shouldn't have known. I think I used the same technique in my story. We've got to figure out something better...

Tamara said...

Sometime soon I'll send my rejection in which I forgot to include a sentence that would have revealed the clue. I have written the same story with a different clue subject -- both flowers -- so I'll see how that fares first.

Tamara said...

When I said I'd send it, I meant to say put it up for scrutiny on this blog.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@Tamara...glad to have it. Send it along when you're ready.