The red gate led to the burial plot of the Duquesne family. It was a pretty gate surrounded by honeysuckle vines and buzzing bees. Dappled sunlight took away what could have been a threatening presence and infused the scene with a sense of tranquility. People inside were truly resting in peace. I unlatched the gate and stepped inside to pay my respects to someone I felt privileged to have known.
Malcolm Duquesne and I joined the peace corps while we were in college. Every summer break found us digging wells in third world countries or vaccinating children against malaria and other diseases. We shared food around campfires, told tall tales and got drunk when the opportunity arose. After graduation I went into corporate law and Malcolm became a fireman, following his family’s tradition. A college education wasn’t required for the job but his degree in computer science led to him making extra money developing apps for gaming. When stuck in boring meetings about some company suing another for copyright infringement, I often wished I’d followed his lead. He was on the front line saving lives and making a difference while I worked hard at protecting my pension plan, hoping not to be downsized.
When caught, the arsonist who caused Malcolm’s death stated that it was the greatest blaze he’d ever ignited. He showed no remorse for the loss of life and millions of dollars-worth of property damage. He smiled at the cameras as the police loaded him into a van and vowed that he would do it again as soon as he was released. Evidently, he considered himself a crusader, at war with an oil cartel my company happened to represent. Local news agencies broadcast footage of the fire for hours before the smoke and toxic fumes forced everyone to evacuate the immediate area. Night fell and all they could show from a distance was a glowing mass along with hundreds of flashing lights from emergency response vehicles. Once again, Malcolm was at the forefront, sweating, laboring, desperately trying to make a difference.
Dawn revealed massive destruction. Soot covered haggard faces reflected the agony of retrieving bodies incinerated by searing heat while ambitious newscasters lobbied for exclusivity, unmindful of anything but ratings. Another day, another tragedy, another opportunity to move up the ladder. Meanwhile, Malcolm was missing. When last seen, he was valiantly trying to rescue a dog nursing a litter of puppies in a storage shed. His captain had advised him that it was too dangerous, but Malcolm’s sense of duty and humanism propelled him into the maelstrom without concern for his own well-being. His body was found the next day with his coat draped over the mama and five dead puppies.
All the medals in the world can’t bring him back or truly commemorate his bravery. I’ll always remember his laughter when we rode into the jungle on the back of a flatbed truck wondering what we were doing there. Being by his grave brought back a flood of memories that will be etched in my mind till the day I die. All I could do was sit quietly on a stone bench and sip from my flask while tears rolled down my face. As the sky began to darken and evening chill caused me to shiver, I rose and slowly walked back to the red gate. I knew I would come again.