2nd City

The Night of the Fire

THE CHICAGO WORKING Chapter 2

Tycho Swords is alone in his bedroom, on ecstasy, watching a watch swing back and forth. Suddenly it slams to a stop and he hears someone pounding on his door. He runs to the living room, sparing a glance at Elsa, who’s adjusting her shirt, before throwing open the door. Across the hall he can see Ethan standing up, outlined in the flames bursting from Ellsworth’s apartment. Don had been knocking on the door, but even now he’s bolted. Joyce follows into the hall, holding a cell phone, talking to 911. Ethan, still rather drunk and just shocked out of sleepwalking by a slap from Don, walks into his window before realizing he needs to exit his apartment via his door like a person.
Outside, Elsa and Joyce watch from the porch as Ethan, in a fit of alcohol-fueled heroic athleticism, manages to jump up to the fire escape ladder and pull it down. He’s not great at climbing it, though, and falls over. Don, who had seen figures moving in the burning apartment before he knocked on Tycho’s door, scales the ladder, wraps a shirt around his fist, and hits the window. He hand bounces off of the glass. As Ethan pulls himself up, Don kicks out the window and a blast of fire erupts, knocking both down and setting them alight. Don jumps into the house. Ethan crawls through the window, slicing open his forearm.
Tycho, like a reasonable person, goes through the front door and takes the stairs. He finds the front door to Ellsworth’s apartment unlocked, which is a tad odd.
Once all three are inside, they spread out a bit, trying to stay low, but still getting blistered by the heat and choked by the smoke. Ethan finds some thick, unusual material on the floor and shoves it in his pocket.
Nobody finds Ellsworth.
Don realizes that, oh shit, he’s on fire, and stops, drops, and rolls.
Tycho sees Ethan’s shirt is on fire and he grabs a rug to beat the flames out. He sees Ethan’s bleeding, but before he can help arms appear out of the darkness, wrap around him, and pull him through the smoke. He struggles briefly before realizing he’s being pulled out by a fireman.
Outside, at the ambulance, their burns being bandaged and oxygen being forced down their lungs, Don and Tycho wait while Joyce and Elsa berate them for their idiocy.
Ethan doesn’t come out.
Until the firemen drag him out, bloody and burned.
He mumbles to himself about Ellsworth as he’s loaded into the back of the ambulance.
Tycho notices a figure in baggy sweats near the mouth of an alley across the street. When it notices his attention, it bolts, and Tycho takes off after him. He chases the figure through lawns, over furniture and fences, Elsa trailing behind. Tycho rounds a corner and gets hit full in the face with cold water, freaking for a sec before he realizes it’s a sprinkler. He sees the figure duck into an alley and, recognizing it as a prime spot for an ambush, grabs a trashcan lid to use as a shield. He rounds the corner widely, looks into the depths of the alley… and sees nothing.
He walks in, pokes along, and finds a set of sweat pants and hoodie. He picks them up and finds them filled with some kind of chalky material.
Elsa catches up, and they rifle through the pockets, finding only a ticket with three digits on it: 4 9 9.
They return to the house to find that the ambulance has left. Joyce got left behind, and the three gather some overnight essentials and get a cab to the hospital.
The next morning, Dan and Ethan are released, but not before all of them get questioned by one of Evanston’s two detectives, who makes it clear that they should in no way hamper or involve themselves in the investigation, a reasonable concern, given Ethan’s interest in seeing Ellsworth’s killer come to justice. (Ethan’s sure it was Richard, who was nowhere to be found, and who he has taken to referring to as “Dick,” with great scorn.)
The group returns to the site where Tycho ran down the running man and they dig through the material, realizing it’s plaster. Ethan notes that he found a lot of loose plaster inside Ellsworth’s apartment the night of the fire. In the sober light of day, the paper Tycho found also makes a lot more sense: it’s a price tag, the kind you might get from a thrift store, for $4.99. They argue a lot about how much to tell the police, eventually deciding to keep the clothes and ticket for themselves, but to tell the police about the chase and the location of the pile of plaster.
That night, the last night before finals, the undergraduates of Northwestern howl out their windows in a tradition known as Primal Scream.
A few weeks pass, and things go more or less back to normal. Don works. Ethan and Tycho use their wounds and the fire to get extensions on their work, and eventually they both manage to pass their courses. Ethan even graduates, which only comes as a slight surprise. When talking to his advisor about Ellsworth, Ethan learns that Ellsworth was once part of a minor scandal in Chicago architecture – apparently he and a friend at Holabird and Root had a falling out over the direction they thought architecture in the city should go. Ellsworth represented the old guard of classic Chicago style, his associate was a modernist. They went their separate ways, founded competing firms, and neither had any success to speak of. Ethan, remembering that Ellsworth often expressed regrets over a friendship that had soured a long time ago, decided that he needed to figure out who this second person was.
Meanwhile, Ethan and Tycho pursue the one lead they have: the ticket. Eventually they track it to a Bucktown thrift store. The pair go to the store and speak to one of the unhelpful cashiers. Ethan makes a dramatic appeal to her, though, and she cracks, admitting that a rather bland man with blonde hair came in and bought three sets of sweats. It struck her as strange, because none of the clothing matched, and it didn’t really seem to fit him. Or his bow-tie and jacket metrosexual style.
They thank her (and give her some cash) then leave. On the train platform on their way home, they see a billboard displaying a blandly smiling blond man in a bow tie and blazer. The company it was advertising? Burgess and Associates Real Estate Agency.

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