I Didn’t Start the Fire

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

It was hot, that’s the one thing they get right on television and in the movies.  In a hostage situation, it’s hot and everyone’s uncomfortable.  Sweat trickled down her back, strange that she’d notice that.  Her pants were already soaked through the crotch from when her bladder had let go.  Her blouse, formerly off white, was stained with blood, not her own.  Yet.  A corner of her mind, the corner that needed something else to focus onto keep from screaming, zeroed in on the bead of sweat.  It had started at the base of her neck and was now finishing its journey between her shoulder blades and under her bra strap.  She was about to die.

 Rosenbergs, H-Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I”, and “The Catcher in the Rye”
Eisenhower, vaccine, England’s got a new queen 
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye”

Chad had gone first, not by choice, but because he couldn’t get past the impossibility of the whole situation.  After all, who the hell takes hostages and forces them to sing Karaoke?  But there they were, sitting in the vault and then one by one standing up and attempting to sing for the amusement of a madman.  Three had tried thus far, four if you count Chad, and three people now lay on the floor bleeding unto cheap carpet.  She was the forth, the first to volunteer.  After all, why wait to be selected and get shot.  Besides she knew this song, even if she hated it. 

“We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it”

The bead of sweat was now traversing the small of her back approaching her skirt.  It was one more trickle joining the stream that seemed to be flowing along the base of her spine.  She lost track of the bead is it further soaked her panties.  Without that bead, her mind scrambled for another distraction.  Anything was better than the scene around her.  She noticed how dry her throat was and how her voice was beginning to sound horse.  She wondered briefly if she would have been better off waiting.

Josef Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc
Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, dacron
Dien Bien Phu and “Rock Around the Clock”

Her voice cracked a little but she carried on.  What choice did she have?  She hated this damn song.  She though briefly of the guy she dated when it first came out back in ’89.  She was a freshman in high school, not confident in herself, awed and intimidated by his attention.  He was a senior, a lacrosse player, who for some inexplicable reason loved this song.  He was an oaf but lacking confidence, she gave in to whatever he wanted.  They had sex as often as he could arrange it, but it was never something she enjoyed doing.  She thought it was expected of her.  At that age, that’s why she did everything. 

With her parent’s encouragement, she went to a Field Hockey camp in another state that summer.   She never found out if they knew how desperately she wanted to get away from her boyfriend, a no-future asshole who wouldn’t be attending college the following fall.  She never told them how deeply grateful she was for that opportunity.

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, “Peter Pan”, Elvis Presley, Disneyland
Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Khrushchev
Princess Grace, “Peyton Place”, trouble in the Suez

Looking at the lyrics, she could still see him in her peripheral vision.  The man who was going to kill her was taller than average, maybe 6’ 1” or 2” and in good shape.  She first met him six months ago, when she joined the bank out of college.  She had found him charming at first.  She was young and on her own for the first time.  He was in his late thirties, and had the confidence of someone who thought they had it all figured out. 

He had “taken her under his wing”, showing her the ropes eating lunch with her a couple of times a week just to check in.  She didn’t think too much of it, he was mentoring a few other young associates and he was just as friendly to the men as the women.  She regarded their conversations as “friendly, professional”.  She had felt guilty when she started blowing off their lunch meetings after a few months but he didn’t seem to take it personally. 

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

It was 6 weeks ago that she learned what was really going on.  He was suspended from work for what was officially labeled “misconduct”.  In this case, the misconduct involved an expense account, an intern and a hotel room.  Turns out he mentored so many young employees in order to find those young ladies who might be looking for an experienced older man for more than just professional reasons. 

His wife never knew.  One day she thinks she’s in a normal, happy marriage, the next day police were taking her husband out of the house in handcuffs.  His marriage fell apart in record time after that.  At work, auditors began scrutinizing all the accounts he had control over.  What they found was more than 7 years of skillfully disguised fraud, skimming of off expense accounts and even some customer accounts.  They also found a dozen pair of panties, liberated from his prior conquests, in a locked file cabinet drawer. 

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”
Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide

She was now more than half-way through and trying very hard not to think about that.  She dated a guy in college who talked her into rock-climbing with him once and she thought of his advice.  “Don’t look up and don’t look down.  Focus on exactly where you are and you’ll do fine”. 

She later found out from a girlfriend, who dated him afterwards, that he took all the girls he dated rock-climbing.  He had a thing for getting it on after a good climb, like an extra-sweaty version of the mile high club.  It might have worked on her too, if a nasty sunburn hadn’t intervened.

Buddy Holly, “Ben-Hur”, space monkey, Mafia
hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no go
U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, “Psycho”, Belgians in the Congo

Jim’s hand, the one holding the gun started to shake a little, as if trying to get her attention and distract her.  So she blocked it out, just like she was blocking out the growing pain in her throat.  “Would I be in this position if I’d just slept with him?”  The thought flickered through her mind and was quickly dismissed.  No distractions now, she was getting close. 

The truth was she’d have been in a worse position if she’d slept with him.  Catherine, the intern Jim was seeing when he was caught, would be found later that day, raped and beaten to death, in her apartment.  Jim had been staying in a hotel room after posting bail.  In that room, the police had already found a note implicating every woman he had cheated with on the frauds he committed while he was with them.  Each will face an embarrassing role in the ongoing investigation.  Two will eventually be indicted.

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

“Good God this is a long song.”  She thought.  She could ignore the blood stains on her blouse and she could ignore the damage her previously full bladder had done to her pants but her dry throat was starting to become a problem.  “Finish the song without fucking up, and you’ll live, all of you will live.  Fuck up and you’ll die.”  That’s what they’d been told at the start of this insanity and that’s what she was going to do regardless of her dry throat.

They were there late on a Thursday.  Most of the staff had already left.  She was still there tying up loose ends so she could enjoy a day off on Friday.  The internal auditors were there, still going through everything in Jim’s desk and some of the vault staff were just finishing inventory when they heard a noise like fireworks outside the vault room door.  A minute later, Jim walked in the room.  Aaron, the vault manager, noticed him first.  “Jim, what the hell are you doing here?”  Aaron and Jim had been good friends before everything had gone to hell and many were surprised when he didn’t fall under suspicion once the investigation got started.  Jim’s answer was to pull out a gun and shoot Aaron twice in the chest.  He then walked up to the auditors and shot the lead auditor, several times. 

After that they were all herded into the vault and handed sheets of paper.

Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land” 
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs Invasion 
“Lawrence of Arabia”, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson
Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex 
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say”

Chad worked for Aaron.  He was standing in the vault when Aaron was shot and remained standing in the same spot, mouth open, eyes wide with shock, when everyone was hauled into the room.  Jim threw sheets of paper on the floor and told everyone to pick one up.  They contained the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire”, the lyrics which she was now singing. 
Chad had remained standing as if turned to stone so Jim just stuffed a sheet into his hand, pressed play on the tape recorder he brought with him and said “Sing!”  “But, but” turned out to be
Chad’s last words before Jim shot him in the face.

Two more followed, Lisa and Kenneth.  Lisa was an attractive, divorced mother of two.  She was a 5’ 5” brunette in her mid thirties and had made it to the first chorus before stumbling over her lines.   Jim shot her in the chest and she fell to the floor with a look of horror on her face.  Kenneth, a thin black man in his mid twenties, had always had a crush on Lisa.  He didn’t make it through the first line. 

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

She was close now.  She focused on the words in front of her.  Only seeing the line she was reading and not the white space that marked the bottom of the page and the end of the song.  She couldn’t see Jim’s face, which was now going white. She couldn’t see the seven other people, still alive in the vault and suddenly thinking that maybe they weren’t going to die after all.  “Don’t look up and don’t look down, focus on where you are.”  If she ever saw mountain climber dude again she was going to fuck his brains out.

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon, back again 

“Lucy stop!”  Jim screamed putting his gun directly into her face

Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock 

“Damnit stop!

Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline 

“I’m going to shoot you in the face you bitch!”

Ayatollolah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan
“Wheel of Fortune” , Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide

“You finish this song and you’re DEAD!”

Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, Crack, Bernie Goetz 

“I’m going to kill YOU, your FAMILY

Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law


Rock and Roller Cola Wars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on…  

She looked up at Jim, who was silent.  He kept opening his mouth as if to say something but no words emerged.  He was staring right through her, the expression on his face wavering, shock, fear, hatred, anger, back to fear.  It occurred to her that there was no way Jim would have planned on someone actually finishing the song.  She didn’t believe it herself.  The whole situation was unreal.  She did the only thing that made sense.  She stepped around Jim and walked out of the vault.  She was halfway through the next room when police burst in shouting “Freeze”.  She froze and heard a single gunshot in the room behind her.


  1. I Love This Song !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    After “El Canto del Loco” hahaha

  2. Es la canción original en la que se basó coca cola para las del mundial del 2006, tan originales que en todos los paises era la misma, solo cambiaba el nombre del País. =|

  3. I’m sorry I’m getting hung up on the word basó, is that a conjugation of basar – to base upon? It’s been a long time since I’ve tried my hand at Spanish. I don’t understand the Coca Cola reference either. Did they do some kind of worldwide commercial based on this song? God I hope not.

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