Quinton - New York City - (December - 2003)
The world of mirrors is where he could still find his true self. His favorite was his deceased mother's antique mirror, when she died; he made the mirror his own. It was a three paneled adjustable mirror that sits on a dressing table, once popular during the thirties and forties, but now considered out of fashion. Whenever Quinton Walker wanted to remember who he was before, he would place the good side of his face against the glass, and adjust the mirror so that he appeared whole again. In his mirror world, he could shut the other side out and forget that he had ever been anyone else. His right hand was badly scarred too, but he wore a glove around the clock so it easy to forget his disfigurement. Within his mirror world, he conducted extensive conversations with himself as he studied his perfect jaw line, his high cheekbones and light bronze complexion. He moved his head from side to side, always careful to keep the ugly one out of sight.
Quinton had once been an extremely good looking man, what some might even call strikingly handsome. He came from a wealthy family and had been denied nothing as a child growing up in the wealthiest section of upper Manhattan, where he still lived today. Money bought him freedom and the ability to do anything he wanted with his life but instead, all he wanted to do was burn everything in sight. The world was an evil place; his mother often warned him even as a small child; Quinton took every word she said to heart. She gave him everything he asked for, except for love; his mother simply didn’t know how. He laughed into his mirror when he thought of his mother; he had taken care of that problem a long time ago. It was so easy for a child to commit murder; for Quinton it had been nothing more than a game. He believed inflicting pain and suffering was what he was born for. Some were driven to politics and public service, some accepted work for which they were ill-suited and spent their lives in quiet misery. For him, the choice was easy; Quinton was driven to a career of evil and his weapon of choice was fire. Killing his mother with fire had been a piece of cake and because he was so young, no one guessed he had been responsible. He played the role of an inconsolable child to perfection and after spending the next ten years living with a great aunt; he claimed his prize, an estate worth over three million dollars and a beautiful brownstone on 81st and Third Avenue.
Quinton pushed his seat back and reluctantly removed his face from the mirror to reveal the half man he was. He never stopped hoping his looks would be restored, but apparently, it wouldn’t be today. The left side of his face was perfection and the right side was a freak show mask he could not remove. The pain of his injuries had vanished long ago but ever since his injury, Quinton had been living a half-life. He had set many fires in his lifetime and because he was a very clever sort of criminal, he’d never been caught. Wealth had many privileges and one of these was being invisible to law enforcement, provided one kept a low profile. The fire that claimed his handsome face, Quinton had set just for fun one day; the spontaneity of his actions had been his downfall. He realized this fact too late, when he suddenly became trapped in the blaze and nearly died. When he was found badly burned and permanently disfigured, Quinton was viewed as a hapless victim and suspicion was never cast in his direction.
It was early December in the heart of New York City, a busy time with crowded sidewalks and brilliant storefront windows that beckoned shoppers with sparkling lights and high-end merchandise. The holiday season was in full swing and streets were packed with all walks of life. Quinton wore his cashmere overcoat as he walked up 51st Street with his hands in his pockets. He wore a hooded sweater under his coat so his scarred face was less noticeable. He always wore oversized sunglasses and kept his hair rather long to further hide his disfigurement. No one looked at him directly anyway; being around a freak made most people uncomfortable.
He headed toward Rockefeller Center where he planned to further study his next target, the eighty-five foot Norway spruce that had just been lit the night before to officially welcome the holiday season. As an adolescent, Quinton had set small trees on fire in Central Park after dark because they were easy to control and he loved watching them burn. He still had a few details to iron out because there was such tight security surrounding the area. Since 911, things had been much harder for someone like him, but he was a cocky son of bitch and never let anything deter him from his plan once his mind was made up. He hated Christmas and everything it stood for. The commercialism is what bothered him most and as a result, Quinton had destroyed more than one flat screen TV for no other reason than cheesy holiday advertising. He was worse than Scrooge and the thought made him smile; being a “grinch” was something he aspired to. He was careful not to show this side of himself to others of course, but inside he had a heart of stone.
As far as Quinton knew, no one had ever attempted arson at Rockefeller Center and he wanted to be the first. In his mind he could picture the majestic tree going up in flames, and could almost feel the glorious heat of a roaring fire. With any luck, his fire might even take out a few tourists and that thought excited him because he hated tourists most of all.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the young woman said as she bumped his arm. He turned to see who it was and she smiled up at him. She was rather petite with a cropped hairstyle and dark eyes. She was not pretty really, but her youthful face was smooth and blemish free.
“That’s ok,” he muttered as he continued on. The woman followed him closely for two blocks before he finally turned on her. “What do you want?” he demanded.
“I’m sorry, I’m going to see the new Christmas tree and it looks like you’re headed there too. I always get confused when I come into the city, do you mind if I walk with you?” she asked.
"What makes you think that's where I'm going?" he asked tersely.
"Isn’t everyone?" she replied as though it were the only destination in Manhattan.
“Why me…why would you want to walk with me anywhere?” he asked bitterly as she struggled to keep up with him.
“Because you have an interesting face, I guess,” she replied.
“An ugly one, you mean.”
“That’s not what I see.”
“Suit yourself, then,” he replied. She moved alongside him as they negotiated the heavy pedestrian traffic and headed over toward Fifth Avenue.
“My name is Zoey,” she offered but got no response.
They reached Rockefeller Center and she stopped for a moment just to take in the magnificence of the beautiful Christmas tree. She took out her camera and snapped a few shots, while Quinton stood next to her studying the tree too, but for very different reasons.
“Why are you still here talking to me…Zoey,” he asked sounding more bitter than he meant to. Women never gave him the time of day, even the dowdy ones.
“Because I love this time of year, I love New York and well…you look like a rather interesting character.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, I can see you’ve been hurt…which is why I find you interesting. There are beautiful faces everywhere you look in New York but personally, I believe there are things much more important.”
“I guess, you’re right…I suppose you want all the sorted details now so you can tell me how sorry you are,” he replied.
“Nope, I’m don't.” she answered studying his face. “I’ll settle for your name.”
“Nice name. Want to get some hot chocolate?” she asked.
“No, how about a beer over there,” he pointed to an Irish pub on the corner and she nodded. Quinton had never met anyone so persistent. Could this woman really find him attractive?
They settled into a tight booth and he ordered two lagers, not bothering to ask her what she wanted. She took a sip of her beer wiping the foam off her upper lip with the back of her hand. Quinton thought this gesture made her very desirable and as he studied her, he realized that she was pretty after all.
They talked for over an hour about so many things and without realizing it, Quinton revealed more about himself than he expected to. Of course, he was careful to keep his darkest secret from her but otherwise, he made himself an open book. As they talked, the woman's voice began to soothe him as they sat together in the crowded pub.
Zoey talked about her love of photography which she explained was one of the reasons she had come to see the huge Christmas tree. She’d lived in Brooklyn most of her life only coming into the city on occasion. Her dream was to be a professional photographer she explained, as she patted her camera bag with affection. They finished their third round and moved outside where traffic had gotten even worse.
“If you want to have coffee sometime, send me a text okay?” Zoey offered as she handed him a slip of paper with her cell number.
Quinton snatched the piece of paper from her and slipped it into his pocket; they went their separate ways into the crisp December night. He thought about her for an hour or so and then went back to making his plans for his special surprise the following night. Imagine the surprise tourists would see when the giant Christmas tree exploded before their eyes. The New York Post would have a field day! Just the thought of it made Quinton excited and he thought to himself, this is better than sex!
The mirror called to Quinton as soon as he reached his front door; he had no other choice but to answer. He placed the scarred side of himself against the mirror this time and drank in his beautiful wickedness and the face it belonged to. This is who I really am he thought, and no photographer from Brooklyn is going to tell me any different. He moved his body so his good side came back into view. Quinton began to consider it might be possible someone could love him, and it made him want to talk to Zoey again. He pulled away from the mirror because it no longer gave him what he needed. On a whim, Quinton decided to text his new friend about dinner somewhere in SoHo this weekend. He pulled out his IPhone and sent a quick text to Zoey, determined not to be disappointed if she didn’t respond. Quinton was used to people being repulsed by his appearance and this wouldn’t be the first time however; he had a distinct feeling that this girl was different.
He grabbed a quick sandwich and then went down to the basement locking the door behind him. He worked for several hours concocting just the right cocktail of undetectable accelerants; finally satisfied with the finished product he went to bed but couldn’t sleep because all he could think about was Zoey and her creamy white skin. How he wished he could touch her milky softness with his unscarred hand.
The next morning was clear and dry so conditions couldn’t be more perfect for the skilled arsonist. Placing the device at the right location would be a cinch; during the early morning hours security around Rockefeller Center was almost non-existent. Dressed as a jogger, Quinton was able to get close enough to get the job done without detection. All he had to do was wait until 5:00PM tonight when the tree was lit and then, KABOOM, the giant tree would be incinerated in minutes without a trace of how the fire started.
The day passed very slowly and although Quinton checked his phone every half hour or so, he heard nothing from Zoey. As the day wore on, he became more and more angry and finally accepted that this woman was full of shit and had no intention of seeing him again. He should have known better than to think he even had a chance with her. The sun started to sink low and the shadows grew longer as the sky darkened and Quinton heard the 4:00PM hour chime. He stayed safely in Time Square as he waited for his “special show” so he wouldn’t be too close to the area at the time the fire started. He looked at his phone every few minutes…4:15, 4:20, 4:25 and then finally, 4:30PM. Only a half hour to go he thought, once again angry at the world for being rejected again. At 4:35PM his phone dinged and there was the text he’d been waiting for.
“Went back up to Rockefeller Center to get more pics of the tree, want to meet for drinks after?” her text asked. After Quinton read it again the color drained from his face.
He panicked as he realized she would be right in the line of fire. He texted back, “Don’t go now, meet me at the pub instead…PLEASE,” he wrote in caps.
There was no response. Quinton was a man now trapped between a rock and a hard place. With only twenty-five minutes to go, it would be close to impossible to get there in time to save her, but for once in his life he decided to put someone before himself and was determined to keep Zoey from harm. He ran to the subway station on the corner and bounded down the stairs. He reached the platform where the smell of popcorn and old urine assaulted his senses, but he didn’t care about anything except getting uptown as fast as possible. Finally on an uptown train, he held onto the nearest pole with sweaty hands as the D train finally pulled into the 50th Street Station. Quinton exited the train and hit the concrete steps taking them two at a time, his heart pounding in his ears. His hood was pulled back by the wind revealing his ugliness, but tonight being vulnerable didn’t matter to him. He had to get to the tree before she did, he thought as panic began to set in.
He reached the plaza as dusk approached turning the skyline from a deep blue to shades of purple and slate gray. The tree had not yet been lit so there was still time to save her. Zoey told him she would be here taking photos and of course, that meant she would be very close to the tree when the fire started. He looked at his phone again to see if there was another message, but there was nothing. His eyes searched frantically for Zoey, but in a crowd of this magnitude it would be impossible to find her.
In the distance the bells of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral started to chime and he realized the 5:00PM hour had arrived. Helpless to do anything, he kept a distance as the lights of the tree flipped on and of course, his handiwork caused the tree to explode into flames as planned while the church bells continued to ring. The crowd went crazy as all hell broke loose. Suddenly, Quinton realized he did not want to be this evil thing anymore. He tore through the crowd pushing people out of his way as he tried to reach the tree and still he could not find Zoey anywhere. The heat of the flames made his scars ache as he rushed past the crowd into the ball of flames that had only minutes ago been a beautiful symbol of the holiday season. He screamed Zoey’s name over and over as he fought the losing battle; flames began to sear his flesh and black smoke filled his lungs until at last he finally collapsed from exhaustion. Quinton Walker died as he had lived; killed by the one and only thing he had ever loved.
Sirens and car alarms were going off everywhere from midtown all the way up to the Bronx. Traffic was at a standstill almost everywhere within a four block radius of Rockefeller Center as people scrambled to safety; others stayed to watch the horror unfold, snapping pictures of the crime scene. Fireman and police alike worked side by side to extinguish the blazing fire while others handled crowd control. There was even talk of terrorists, as K-9 units were brought in to determine if there were other hidden explosives just waiting to ignite.
Zoey Cooper crawled from the wreckage, dragging her body away from the smoke and dwindling flames, as a police officer stepped forward to help her up.
“Agent Cooper, are you okay?” Police Sergeant Jim Wagner asked with genuine concern.
She shook him off as she brushed the soot off her clothes, “I’m fine…our trap worked like a charm, Sergeant. That son of a bitch won’t be setting any more fires…that’s for sure!”
“Were we supposed to just let him burn up like that?” Sergeant Wagner asked as he watched the fire crew extinguish the last of the flames.
“Only way for an arsonist to die, Sergeant,” she replied without emotion.
For one brief moment Agent Cooper almost felt sorry for Quinton Walker, but then it passed and she was instantly on to her next assignment.