Kathleen’s car was parked on the side street, just beyond the alley. The trunk was open, and Tiffany was lifting a gasoline can out of it. The dogs, who were inside the backyard fence, were making enough noise to wake the entire neighborhood.
As we watched, Tiffany unscrewed the top of the can and began to dribble its contents along the fence and the back door of the garage. As she did so, she kept wiping at her face with her coat sleeve. If she managed to set the fence on fire, it would quickly spread to the garage, and then to the house via the kitchen. It was all hundred-year-old wood.
“We’ve got to stop her before she lights that,” Jodi whispered to me.
“Go find the boys,” I whispered back. “I’ll stay here and watch her.”
“Okay.” She disappeared into the shadows.
I stayed put until I saw Tiffany slosh what looked like the entire contents of the can onto the garage door and put it down. As she drew what looked like a butane lighter out of her coat pocket, I knew there was no more time. “No!” I yelled and ran toward her as fast as I could in snow boots.
She turned to look at me as I rapidly closed the gap between us. “You can’t stop me,” she said. “I’ll burn you as soon as look at you.” She pointed the lighter at me and lit it just as I crashed into her, knocking her flat. The butane lighter went flying, no longer a threat. But my coat sleeve was burning. I knew that if she managed to push me into the gasoline she’d spilled, it would ignite, and so would I.
That’s what she was trying to do, all right¾use me as a lighter. She grabbed my coat and tried to pull me into the spilled gasoline. I pulled in the opposite direction. Grabbing her by the hair with my burning arm, I managed to set it on fire. She screamed and let go of me long enough for me to tear off my coat and fling it over her head. With her vision obscured, she couldn’t see where she was going when I pushed her into the fence on the opposite side of the alley. She fell to her knees, and I flung myself on top of her and hollered for Kevin, who, last I saw, was supposed to be heading into the garage from the kitchen.
Kevin opened the garage door just as Hal, Elliott, and Jodi came barreling around the corner into the alley to find me struggling to stay on top of Tiffany as she bucked like a bronco to throw me off. “Help me,” I yelled. “I can’t hold her much longer.”
Both Hal and Elliott grabbed Tiffany and hauled her to her feet. While Kevin assisted his father, Hal pulled a cable tie out of his pocket and neatly secured her hands behind her. “Fiona’s calling the cops,” he said.
Jodi picked up my coat and was about to pick up the butane lighter when I hollered, “Stop! Leave it for the cops!”
That’s when I saw the dark stains Tiffany had left in the snow, and I got my first good look at her face. Her nose was bleeding.
“What the hell do we do with her now?” Elliott asked. “I don’t want to take her in the house with the kids there, but it’s freezing out here.”
“The police should be here any minute,” Hal said, and at that moment Tiffany bent forward and threw up. Blood. I could smell it. Hot and coppery.
“Ugh. That does it,” Elliott said. “Definitely not in the house.”