The Arson People

By Katie Jean Shinkle

Civil Coping Mechanisms
May 2015


5542 Faith Street

Salty wants to rob the next house before Elsie Davis burns it. "Can I be in on a new house with you? I know you are still doing that shit. It's all in the paper and on the news. Don't lie about it, let me in on it, Els—"

He trails off and Elsie says "Fine," says "Yes," says "Don't tell the police anything if they ever ask you, promise," and they pinky swear on it, kiss the ends of their hands, wave them like wings, flap, flap. "Promise," Elsie says, "and you better fucking keep it."

Later, they are outside of 5542 Faith Street and it is a quiet, A-frame, three-bedroom house with huge rooms and ceilings, a garage. They go to this address because Salty says, "There is money in this house, this is the house, there is money here."

"How do you know?" Elsie knows better than to question, Salty wouldn't be so specific if he wasn't confident.

"I know because this dude is the main contractor where I am working right now. He brags about the amount of cash in his place, I heard him the other day like a dickweed. You stay here."

Elsie stays crouched down like always, but she sits on the ground with her legs crossed because she knows she isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

She wonders why Salty didn't care or wasn't concerned with the fact that she might tell on him, nevermind Salty telling on her. He wasn't even thinking about what if something on his end went wrong, as if nothing ever goes wrong for him, as if his execution is flawless.

She sees the lights in the house go on in the upstairs, she hopes the police aren't called.

She has no idea how much or how little time passes before a dark-figured Salty darts through the front door, across the lawn, grabs her up off the ground by the shirt, then by her hand and runs: and they run and run and run.


19900 Roseline Court

Salty and Elsie Davis are now sitting in the living room in a house of someone she does not know. Salty is dinking around on an iPad, he is checking his social media websites because he can, he says. Salty explains loudly after a few whiskeys he ransacked the house over on Faith Street, stole all this mother fucker's money and the iPad, which he proudly holds above his head. He says he had to tie the old people up and then there were kids in their bedrooms and the lady was begging saying that there were kids in the other room and she did not want the kids to see them like this and then the dude talked too much, Salty said, so he hit him with a vase, just broke a goddamn vase over this old dude's head and the lady screamed and he threatened to hit her too if she didn't tell him where their safe was and so that was that and here they are.

Some of the friends love this story and some of them do not love this story. One girl talks outside about how the gratuitous violence was unnecessary and how Salty always brings trouble and Elsie Davis only hears this because she is standing near the window in the kitchen nearest the back porch. She watches the June bugs fly into the flood light on the opposite corner of the porch, feels sick to her stomach, goes into the bathroom and dumps the packets of matches down the toilet, flushes it.

There is a knock on the door. One of the various blonde shaggy haired boys answers and then shuts it. Says, "Yo, it's a negotiator from the cop shop." All eyes on Salty.


"Whatta they want?" says Salty.

"They want you," the blonde boy says. "Where is Carl?"

Carl is the owner of the house. Carl is 6'11" with a sizable black beard and enormous black curly hair with tiny, tiny square framed glasses. He speaks softly and with a slight lisp. He is wearing overalls and nothing else and quietly crosses the living room, disappears out the front door.

When Carl comes back into the house, he tells everyone to go into the basement, including Salty. He grabs his gun and says, "Now this is a hostage situation, no one can leave and no one can come. Stop using your phones immediately." And, in two strides, he goes over the Salty and swats the iPad from his hands.

"They are here because of you. Stop with the iPad, it's how they tracked you in the first place, I have warrants so no one is leaving, go downstairs," and Carl steps on the iPad, breaks its screen in a clean crack down the middle.


It is true, the police tracked Salty and Elsie Davis to Carl's house through the use of the stolen iPad.

Everyone is stuck in the basement. Salty increasingly becomes more sober. He starts pacing. Tanya and Bower, Salty and Carl's friends, have a baby at Bower's mom's and Tanya is getting upset Bower's mom will know something is up because they are not going to be there on time to pick up their baby and now Tanya is scared. No one has been scared yet but now Tanya is and it is upsetting. She is so upset Bower finally decides to go talk to Carl.

Carl allows Tanya and Bower to leave and this is a sign of good faith from Salty and Carl to the negotiator and the police. Salty goes upstairs with Tanya and Bower and comes back with another gun. There are now two loaded guns in plain view. Everyone else has to stay, including Elsie Davis. She doesn't speak to anyone and no one speaks to her. In fact, no one speaks to anyone else, everyone stares at the floor or closes their eyes or watches Salty pace and become increasingly more erratic.

Carl comes downstairs once Tanya and Bower have left and pleads with Salty to come clean, give himself up. It will be revealed later Carl and Salty already robbed 5542 Faith Street a week beforehand and had gotten away with it, or so it seemed at the time, but now that Salty was greedy the cops have more evidence and know for almost certain it was Carl and Salty the first time, which of course it is. We don't know this yet, we in the basement, but we watch as Carl tries to convince Salty of coming clean.

Salty keeps repeating the same thing over and over "I can't go back to jail, man, I can't go back to jail, man, I can't go back to jail, man, I can't go back to jail." Not many people in the basement know Salty had just gotten out of a nine month stint in jail for violent assault, armed robbery, intent to kill. His parents hired the best lawyers on that side of the state, got him out of a third felony by pleading his insanity, he did a three month stay in a psychiatric hospital and jail time. After, his parents washed their hands of him, told him next time he goes to prison forever.

Carl talks Salty into going upstairs with him and he does.

The next thing anyone hears is what sounds and feels like a gunshot.


The police yell at everyone to put their hands in the air, usher them out of the basement, through the garage, and into the street where it is full-on daylight.

They search everyone and take their names down.

They search Elsie Davis, find nothing but her state ID and a pack of Juicy Fruit, she is so happy she flushed those matchbooks. One of the cops asks her if she is OK, makes a joke about having a rough night, winks at her, sends her on her way.

The cop, also, before sending her on her way, asks her questions about who she knew at the party, what she knew about the robbery, but she denies everything, said she went with a friend and the friend ditched her, which was partially true. She said she knew no one, not even Carl, was hoping to get a ride home from someone she overheard lived in her neighborhood down the way.


For two days straight, Elsie Davis doesn't leave her bed, tells her grandmother she has a fever, she needs a break. She is trying to avoid everything because she doesn't want to see the mug shots of Carl with no beard or hair and Salty with a multi-colored mohawk, which is on any screen she sees. Salty killed himself instead of going back to jail, Carl took the blame for everything—all of the break-ins, all of the robberies. The people on Faith Street recognized him as the other person who came with Salty the first time. The old man claims he recognized Salty immediately, too, whose legal name is not Salty, not that Elsie Davis ever thought it was.