MUCH OBLIGED by Stephen D. Rogers

The rancid smell of smoke stung my eyes as I navigated piles of debris, searching for something that pointed at whoever killed my brother.

Bobby was no fire bug. He hadn’t torched the empty warehouse for kicks and found himself trapped. Someone else lit the match. But who?

The cops didn’t care. They figured Bobby had finally gotten his and good riddance. The Fire Marshall wasn’t any more interested, especially since the owner had allowed his insurance to lapse.

Which left me to discover the truth.

I stepped over a fallen beam, sliding in ash.

As the oldest brother, I’d always felt protective of Andy and Bobby, bailing them out of trouble again and again. If this time it was too late save to Bobby, at least I could avenge him.

I coughed, spat out flem that was dark from soot.

According to what I’d read before coming here, the warehouse had been empty for seventeen months. Until then, a costume jewelry company had pumped out trinkets to an ever-diminishing market.

What could Bobby and his partner expect to find here? Maybe the jewelry company accidently left a case of junk bracelets and plastic earrings behind. That and a twenty dollar bill would get Bobby twenty dollars’s worth of cigarettes.

Seeing the spot where Bobby had been found, I stopped, rubbed my nose.

Right there, that’s where he spent the last minutes of his life.

My eyes stinging, I turned away from the site of Bobby’s last breath to examine the stolen car that had been used as accelerant. Torching an empty warehouse wasn’t the easiest act in the world. By the very nature of being empty, there was little left to burn.

A stolen car had been driven into a deserted warehouse. That much was definite. Everything else was supposition.

I kicked a still smoldering block of wood.

So maybe this place wasn’t the target. Maybe Bobby and a partner hit somewhere else, came here to split the loot, and the other guy got greedy.

The only problem with that theory was that I hadn’t heard about any unsolved robberies and I would have if Bobby was involved. He wasn’t exactly careful.

If it wasn’t a job that did him in, maybe it was fun.  Bobby never paid much attention to wedding rings and perhaps some woman’s husband had a problem with that.

Andy had been no help at all when I talked to him, too busy drinking and busting up furniture to think straight.  But then he wasn’t the oldest brother. That would be me.

Perhaps Bobby had been lured here by someone with a past grievance. But if there was a somebody who held such a grudge, why would Bobby agree to meet in an abandoned warehouse? Why would he steal a car on the way?

I spun in a slow circle, my head already spinning.

Perhaps the killer stole the car and brought Bobby to the warehouse.

Why not drive the car elsewhere first? Setting the fire here drew attention to the murder. The killer must have known that the longer the body laid undiscovered, the colder the trail became.

So maybe Bobby did steal the car, just for fun. He still did that when he was drunk. Him and Andy.

I was the responsible older brother but Andy and Bobby never lost touch with the simple joys of juvenile delinquency. Andy and Bobby.

The weight of the warehouse on my shoulders, I went to Andy’s and kicked down the door.

He looked up at me. “It was a mistake.”

“A mistake.” My stomach turned and I could taste ash from the fire on my tongue.

“We were just goofing around. You know. Then Bobby slipped and fell wrong.”

I held up a hand. “Don’t.” One brother was dead and the other responsible. I couldn’t be there for both of them.

At the police station, I knew enough of the truth to convincingly confess to the accident, the panic, the attempt to hide my mistake with the fire.

I was arrested, convicted, sentenced.

Andy never even thanked me.

Stephen D. Rogers is the author of SHOT TO DEATH and more than 800 shorter works.  His website,,  includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.

Copyright © 2018 Stephen D. Rogers. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.