The screech of the siren didn't reach him at first. Exhausted from a hard day's work, Gabriel Raines slept soundly. But as the shrill cry drew closer and the flashing red lights lit the walls inside his bedroom, something registered in the depths of his mind and he stirred.
Gabe blinked awake, eyes instantly alert as had become his habit during his years as a marine. He'd been out of the corps for years but some things just didn't change.
The wail of the siren grew louder on the street below the window of his downtown Dallas condominium, then the fire truck shot past and the sounds began to dim as the vehicle drove farther away. With a weary sigh, Gabe turned to look at the red neon numbers on his alarm clock. Three-thirty.
Running a hand over his face, he lay back against the pillow, hoping like hell he'd be able to get back to sleep.
He might have if his cell phone hadn't started ringing.
The siren's wail had stopped. The fire truck had reached its destination, which meant the fire was nearby, and the sound of a second engine was beginning to fill the night. Gabe reached toward the nightstand and picked up his cell phone, flipped it open and pressed it against his ear.
"Whoever this is," he grumbled, "this had better be important."
"There's a fire at the Dallas Towers." The voice of his foreman, Sam McBride, floated over the line. "Looks like all our hard work is going up in smoke."
Adrenaline jolted through him. Gabe swung his long legs to the side of the bed. "Are you sure it's the Towers?"
"I was on my way home, about a block away when I heard the first fire truck. I saw it turn toward the Towers and decided to see what was going on."
Already off the mattress, Gabe pressed the phone more tightly against his ear. "You see what part of the structure is involved?"
"I could see flames in the lobby."
"Son of a bitch." They were almost finished with the major renovation they were doing on the Tower's soaring marble lobby. Almost.
He took a breath to steady himself as he walked toward his closet. "If you were just heading home, you must have had a pretty hot date."
"I didn't spend the night if that tells you anything."
Like Gabe, Sam was a bachelor and both of them lived downtown. An area that formerly consisted of run-down buildings was being revitalized, turned into a chic little district of shops and boutiques. Gabe had built the condos Sam lived in, as well as the Las Posas development that housed his own unit.
"I'm getting dressed. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
Gabe closed the phone. He should have known things were going too well. In his experience, every time life went a little too smoothly, bad news lurked around the corner.
Naked, he crossed to the oak dresser against the far wall, jerked open his underwear drawer and pulled out briefs and a pair of socks. Dragging on a pair of jeans and a Dallas Cowboys T-shirt, he ignored the row of Western boots sitting on the closet floor and shoved his size-thirteen feet into the heavy leather boots he wore when he was working.
Gabe left the condo and a few minutes later, he was pulling his big white GMC extended cab pickup over to the curb just a little ways down the block from the Towers. Smoke and flame billowed out through the open glass doors leading into the lobby, but the fire boys were at work inside and had three powerful jets of water hitting the building from different angles. With any luck, the blaze would be brought under control before it burned into the offices on the floors above.
The bad news was, the lobby would have to be completely rebuilt.Son of a bitch.
"At least the building was insured." Sam McBride strode toward him, almost as tall as Gabe's six-foot-two-inch frame, but instead of having Gabe's dark hair, blue eyes and muscular build, Sam was blond and lanky. On top of being a damned good employee, he was Gabe's best friend.
"Well, I guess that's something. It'll sure put us behind schedule, though. I was hoping to finish up here, split the crew up, use the guys to finish our other projects."
"Not gonna happen," Sam said.
Gabe looked up to see one of the firemen walking toward them in full battle gear: fire protection suit, helmet, goggles, high rubber boots.
"Be better if you stepped back a little," the fireman said, "kept out of the way."
"I'm Gabriel Raines. My company's been rebuilding the lobby. A lot of my equipment is still in there."
"Sorry to hear that, Mr. Raines. Most everything in the lobby's completely gone. It was a hot, fast fire. We're lucky we were able to get a handle on it so quickly."
Gabe blew out a breath. "I hope nobody was hurt."
"Not that we know of."
"How'd it start?"
"Too soon to tell. If the lobby was under construction, there was probably a lot of flammable material around. Paint thinner, drop cloths, stuff that really gets a fire going."
"We're really careful to seal everything up at the end of the day, pick up whatever we've been using."
"Like I said, it's too soon to tell. Our investigators will be taking a look at everything, including the security tapes."
Gabe shook his head. "Afraid that won't help. The old cameras are down. New ones aren't up yet."
"How many people knew that?"
"Not many. Replacing the old cameras was kind of a last-minute management decision. Only a few people knew they weren't up and working."
The fireman nodded and headed back toward the fire, pausing for a moment to speak to a second man in a blue uniform, late forties, salt-and-pepper hair. Gabe realized the man had been moving through the crowd that had gathered to watch the blaze, asking onlookers questions. Now he approached Gabe and Sam.
"I'm Captain Daily with the arson investigation squad," he said. "You're Raines?"
"I understand your company's been working on the lobby reconstruction."
"Actually, we were damned near done."
"We've never met but I know who you are. You helped my dad once, Jim Daily? He needed a permit to add a room to his dry-cleaning shop. The building was old and the city was giving him a hard time about it. You put in a good word for him and the permit came through. I appreciate that."
"I liked your dad. I was sorry to hear he passed away."
"He was a good man." Daily straightened, returning to the business at hand. He looked over at the destruction in the lobby of the Towers. "I'll need to ask you a couple of questions."
"No problem. This is my foreman, Sam McBride."
Daily gave Sam a nod and returned his attention to Gabe. "What time did you get here?"
"About twenty minutes ago. We both live in the area. Sam was heading home from a date. He followed the fire trucks and gave me a call."
"You see anyone going in or out of the building?"
"You guys were already here by the time I arrived," Gabe said. "I didn't see anyone else go in or out."
Daily turned to Sam. "How about you?"
Sam glanced over to the crews mopping up the scene. "The first truck was just pulling up. I saw the flames in the lobby and called Gabe. I watched you guys working until he got here. It wasn't long before a crowd started to gather. But no, I didn't see anyone coming or going."
The captain nodded. "The fireman you were talking to
that's Mike Dougherty. He says the cameras are down."
"Didn't seem like a big deal. No one was going in and out of the lobby during the remodeling."
"I'm going to need a list of the people who knew."
"Thanks. We'll be in touch if we have any more questions." Daily started back toward the men working the fire and disappeared among the throng of spectators.
Gabe and Sam stood watching as the fire crews worked. Eventually, the smoke began to thin and one of the water hoses was turned off.
"Anything you can think of we could have done to cause this thing?" Gabe asked.
"I was here at the end of the day. We left the place clean as a whistle." Sam shook his head. "We were so damned close to finished."
"Shit happens," Gabe said.
"At least the fire didn't get too out of control and it doesn't look like anyone got hurt. I'll call Fred Parsons, see what he wants us to do." Parsons managed the building. He had hired Raines Construction to do the remodel. The owner was eager to get the lobby finished and the building running smoothly again. Gabe was sure Parsons would want him to get his crew back on the job as soon as possible.
"I'll talk to Rich Simmons, too," Gabe said. Simmons worked for American Insurance. "We'll need to file a claim." But even if they did, there was a fairly high deductible. Nothing was ever cheap.
Sam slapped him on the back. "Come on. It's damn near dawn. Neither of us is going to get any more sleep. Let's go get some breakfast."
They might as well. The horizon had begun to turn a pale purple-gray. Gabe's crew started work at seven and though this job was down for a while, there was still work to be done on several other projects they had going in the area.
"You're thinking Mrs. Olson's?" Gabe asked. Mrs. Olson's Cafe down the block had the best breakfast in the downtown area and the place opened early.
"Yeah. I could really use a cup of coffee."
Gabe checked his heavy stainless-steel wristwatch. "It's after five. Should be open by now."
They both climbed into Gabe's pickup. The company name, Raines Construction, printed on the door in bold black letters, flashed in the early dawn light. He fired up the big, gas-guzzling V-8 he had vowed to replace with a more economical vehicle on his next purchase and pulled off down the street.
His stomach growled. A big plate of bacon and eggs was beginning to sound damned good. Might take his mind off having to rebuild the damnable lobby of the Towers.
Gabe spent the morning working away on his favorite project, the reconstruction of an old theater he owned on a street in Deep Ellum. The brick building had once been a local cinema, back in the days when they were extravagantly decorated and elegant. The ceiling was hand-painted in bright colors with lots of gold leaf. At least it was back in its heyday. The doors leading into the seating area were guarded by huge gilt Egyptian statues.
Wasn't much of anything left when Gabe had first started. The red velvet seats were completely destroyed, turned into rust and mold by a hole in the roof that had let in years of rain. But the structure itself was still sound, the brick walls sturdy, once he'd had them reinforced.
He'd bought the place for a song, and a barrel of determination. He wanted to see the Egyptian restored and put back into use. He had already made deals with several local theater groups and the Deep Ellum Arts Festival folks. He had no doubt, once the elegant interior was restored, the theater would again be in great demand.
Besides, he had a personal love for the past that had started when he was a kid growing up in Wyoming. Wind Canyon was a true Western town and though he and his two brothers had been raised in a dumpy, run-down house near a set of abandoned narrow-gauge railroad tracks, the wooden boardwalks, long bar saloons and surrounding ranches had instilled in him a love of the West.
All three Raines boys had left Wind Canyon as soon as they had graduated high school, but a few years back his older brother, Jackson, had returned. He'd made a boatload of money in the oil business, bought himself twelve thousand acres of prime cattle land and renamed the old homestead Raintree Ranch.
Gabe had left Wind Canyon to join the marines. After a four-year stint, he had moved to Dallas and started working in the construction business. With Jackson's help, he bought his first fixer-upper house, remodeled and sold it. He'd liked the work and the money he made and began doing a second one.
The real estate market was hot and Gabe was a hard worker. He made enough money to start his own company and the business had been growing ever since. Along with that, at Jackson's advice, he'd invested some of his hard-earned dollars in Wildcat Oil, where his brother had worked as a geologist, and that had made money, too.
He been smart enough to see the recession coming and made changes that kept him from going broke like so many in the construction business had. There were a lot of opportunities, tax credits and incentives, he'd discovered, for doing downtown renovation and area redevelopment. So for the last couple of years he'd shifted his focus to that type of restoration and found he liked that work even more. Liked seeing a near-dead place come back to life, liked what it did for the people who lived in the area.
Gabe went to work with the nail gun, securing the floor of the stage. He didn't do a lot of his own carpentry these days, but if he wasn't too busy with meetings or solving problems at different job sites, he often lent a hand, doing what had gotten him started in the business in the first place.
The buzz of a nearby saw went silent and Gabe looked up to see two uniformed policemen sauntering down the aisle in his direction. Setting the nail gun aside, he rose to his feet, jumped off the stage, and strode up the aisle to intercept them.
"You Gabriel Raines?" the first patrolman asked, Gonzales, his name plate said.
"That's me. What can I do for you?"
"The fire at the Towers was definitely arson. We've got a suspect in custody. We'd like you to come down and take a look, see if you might have seen him in the area last night."Arson.
He'd been hoping it was just some kind of electrical problem. "Sure thing, I can do that."
Officer Gonzales, with the hard-edged features of a seasoned policeman, and Delaney, the baby-faced cub of the pair, walked him back up the aisle.
"You can come with us or drive down on your own if you prefer," Gonzales said as they stepped into the warm, humid early September air.
Gabe eyed the white-and-blue patrol car and shook his head. "I'll meet you there." In his younger years, he had ridden in the backseat of a police car more than once.