Framed

There it was: the perfect opportunity. A suburban house with more draperies than he ever thought possible—without being overdone. Clean and orderly, with six two-gallon gasoline containers lined up along the front, just out of the view of meddlesome passerby. And a longing to see it all go up in flames and burn to the ground.

Gasoline was thrown upon the immaculate outer walls, covering the entire perimeter of the "perfect" house.

The arsonist was not a bad person, but Mrs. Peters, the owner of the house, had been driving him over the edge throughout the past few months. The temptation he had been suppressing for almost all of his life swelled up inside him and defeated what he had agonizingly tried to suppress. He had longed for so long to burn something of importance, and watch the licking flames and mesmerizing colors consume something big, receiving a sense of power in knowing he had triggered such a spectacular experience.

While circling the building, he had spotted an open window, which he returned to now. Entranced, he lit a match, and touched it against the cotton curtain. When the drape caught, he ran, thankful for the cover of night.

Luckily for Mrs. Peters, she was not home until after the fire had destroyed her house. Oddly enough, no one had noticed the event until after it had happened; the neighborhood was always completely asleep by curfew. Mrs. Peters was the first to notify the police.

"Sure is something, Mrs. Peters' house being burned down last night, isn't it, Kenny?" said a casual man, John, attempting to start a conversation with his dazed coworker.

"Yeah, that's something." Kenny's voice was just above a whisper. He hadn't been able to get the TV images of the remains of his boss' house out of his head.

"You sure do look pale, is everything alright?" Kenny's friend asked.

"I'm okay," was the automatic response.

"I know this might sound bad, but I'm almost glad the devil has no house," John started keenly. Seeing that Kenny had no intention of rebuking him for his words, he continued, "You know, with all the hell she's been putting everyone through here at work." A pause. "And what she did to your father," he added, wondering if he should have said it. Kenny continued to sit motionlessly on his chair.

Kenny did not know whether or not he should feel bad about his reaction to the news. Sure, he felt sorry for her; she had lost everything she owned. But he couldn't help letting a sense of satisfaction nudge his mind as he thought about his prim, orderly boss left in the distress and discomfort she had put everyone at work through. And he was convinced she deserved it; she had framed his father for something terrible, and got him put in jail for life.

John had left while Kenny was thinking, but came back in now. "Kenny, the police want to talk to you. They're interviewing everyone here, just in case the fire was intentional. You know how Mrs. Peters is—no one can think of a way it was an accident."

Mrs. Peters could have sworn she saw a man enter her hotel room when she went to use the bathroom. It's all in her head, she had told herself. Recent events had surely caused her to hallucinate. There was no man in her room, now, unless he was hiding.

No, don't think like that! Mrs. Peters told her self mentally while pouring herself a glass of water from the picture on the bedside table. Look at yourself—you're acting as if someone was out to kill you. She got into bed, and was asleep after only several minutes—a major feat given her paranoid mental state and current situation.

The man Mrs. Peters had tried to dismiss from her mind as a figment of her troubled imagination was listening intently to her breathing patterns. Deciding at last that she had fallen asleep, he crawled out from under her bed, and produced a piece of cellophane from his back pocket. A slight hesitation on the man's part, and Mrs. Peters' face was smothered with plastic. A couple of minutes later, she was among the deceased.

Kenny's head swam. Mrs. Peters is dead. Murdered. It's a well-known fact that he hated the woman, and now the police are back to questioning him. They think it's him, and he knows it. On top of being unaccounted for on both the night of the fire and that of the murder, his actions had changed significantly: he was tense and jumpy; he wouldn't talk as much as he used to; he looked ill. He was almost sure he knew who had been responsible for the fire—and the murder. But no one, not even the police, knew that.

They all thought it was he who had been terrorizing Mrs. Peters, and he couldn't live with the blame. However, he couldn't turn in his friend. Kenny didn't know what to do, or where to turn.

"Hello?"

"John? This is Sam Beckett, from work. I have some bad news." He paused. "Kenny's dead. He shot himself. The police think he was Mrs. Peters' murderer, and the stress came to be too much for him."

The news had John in complete shock. The phone fell to the floor as his hand went limp. Kenny…dead? It was almost impossible to believe. Mrs. Peters had framed Kenny's father for something of this nature, and now Kenny was being blamed for murder. Both had been innocent men, and neither came out alive.

Kenny's funeral was as much as John could bear. A cyanide pill after it, he had just two things on his mind: a sense of deep regret, and the need to make up for what he had done. He was responsible for the deaths of two people, and now he'd be responsible for one more: his own.