“That crazy son of a bitch is gonna run straight into the library,” Cassidy said.
I looked up at the building, the large red brick structure where I had spent the majority of my life. I stared at it and thought about all the times wind or rain or man had thrown itself against the building. The hurricanes and tornadoes that whipped at the brick and mortar. The time Judge Oldman’s son crashed his car into the front steps.
I remembered playing fireman on the south side of the building when I was ten. My best friend Elliot and I would start a small fire and then put it out, complete with G. I. Joes trapped under burning logs, unable to lift the weight even though they possessed a kung fu grip. This time, though, the fire caught the dry brush that the city groundman always missed and began billowing white smoke. Elliot and I stomped and stomped, but we could not put the fire out. The small patch of grass had burned and left a black smudge on the concrete of the building.
Now, Billy McCraw came toward us in his brother’s giant pickup with a couple hundred gallons of gasoline strapped to the back, sloshing out from all sides.
Natalie sat beside him in the truck, arms flailing and beating at the small man’s chest. Bill had let go of her hair and had both hands on the wheel. She pulled at his arm and he pushed her away. I saw her head hit the passenger side door and dip below the dashboard.
With her out of range, at least less so for my marksmanship, I unloaded the revolver into the window. The gun roared in my hands, but I held it tight with both hands like my daddy had taught me. I held it tight and squeezed the trigger, emptying all six shots toward the windsheild and Billy McCraw.
Cassidy did the same with the shotgun.
The windsheild of the pickup became a white spiderweb of cracks as the bullets tore through it. I could no longer see Billy after the fourth shot, but continued to shoot.
The pickup kept coming.
“What do you want to do?” she asked.
I grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the library, away from the police car and the site of the soon to be accident. We ran into the street and turned to watch.
The black pickup rammed the police car in the front at an angle. Cassidy had parked the cruiser expecting Billy to drive from the north down Main Street, but Billy had came around our side. All he had to do was angle the attack to push the smaller car out of the way and the pickup was climbing the front steps of the library and crashing into the front doors.
The fire started. I heard myself scream Natalie’s name as I ran toward the building.
The truck’s cab sat inside the library, the bulk of the gasoline outside the building. I saw movement through the back window of the cab, maybe a door opening, but nothing more.
Everything slowed to a crawl as the gasoline in the barrels ignited and exploded. A fireball engulfed the front of the building and arched up, like a hand clawing from a grave. The force knocked me off my feet, put me back on my ass for the hundredth time that day. The crackling of my hair reached my ears as it was singed in the heat. The world was on fire.
Hands under my arms. Two or more men were pulling me back from the blaze. I fought them off, waved the empty revolver at them.
Cassidy grabbed me by the arm and pulled me close to her. I held her tight to me. We shook and sobbed together.
“Who the hell is that?” I heard.
I turned, my arms still tight around Cassidy. Three figures walked from around the side of the library. The black smoke of the gasoline cleared for a bit and I watched as the crowd greeted Max, Natalie and Jessee, our IT guy.
Cassidy let go of me and raced to hug Natalie. The two of them held each other.
I shook Max’s hand. He explained how when the pickup arrived he ran around back. Jessie had let him in, hearing the shouts. When the pickup rammed through the doors, Natalie climbed out just before Billy had blown the charges rigged to the gas.
Fire trucks and ambulances arrived within a minute. The fire spread to the front of the building, into the walls, and engulfed the second story. I watched as the fiction stacks collapsed onto the circulation desk and crushed it in a burning hell.
In an attempt to gain access to the building, the firemen pulled the truck free of the building. EMTs pulled Billy’s body from the wreckage, and by some miracle he was alive. Burned to hell and back, but alive.
They took us all to the hospital, Billy in one ambulance and Cassidy, Natalie and I in another.
I watched the library burn out the back window the ambulance as we rode. The black cloud of library books burning stretched so far and so high that I could see it from the hospital miles away. Cassidy kept a hand in mine as we rode, no one looking at each other.
The Banned Library burned to the ground and I was not there to see it. My world had been destroyed.