During the first one, I was pacing around my backyard, trying to come up with that week's column. I smelled smoke. I heard the insistent wail of firetrucks coming from all directions.
A few minutes later, the streets and the social networks were alive with the news.
For the second one, I got the direct approach. An editor called and said, "Big fire on Bartlett Street. Get your butt down there." I went down in my wife's car. I wished I had my motorcycle; it would have been easier to navigate the throngs.
For the third one, I was asleep, wound like pupa in the blankets. Corey was on her way out. She woke me up (allowed only in matters such as fire, big news and armed intruders) and said: "Another big fire downtown. At least two buildings down."
I twitched a little and said: "Guh. Wow. Baloney sandwich pencil shavings."
Which is the height of intellectual conversation for me when it's before noon.
Downtown Lewiston is cooking. Like clockwork, you might say, because things had been quiet for too long. Three massive fires and not one of them seems to be a simple, unfortunate mishap.
One is a tragedy. Two, a coincidence. Three? Pick your term. Conspiracy? Crime wave? Madness?
In downtown Lewiston, when it's quiet too long, it's like silencing of the drums in the jungle. It's ominous, the false calm of a storm when the eye passes over. You just know it can't stay peaceful too long. Downtown Lewiston is like a firecracker with wicks hidden everywhere. They wind through the narrow tenement staircases, slash through the alleys, coil like demented snakes in the abandoned buildings that sag on every block.
Lewiston is a mini-Yellowstone with that great caldera bubbling beneath. Every once in a while, the pressure becomes too great and you hear that deadly hiss. You know what's to come. For the next week or so, home invasions. Bloody bar fights. Fires that drop buildings like houses made of blackened cards.
This latest spree of fire reminds me of the mid-'90s when we all heard that hiss. Back then, it was a poisoned network of teenagers on a course of violence. They slashed the throat of a cab driver and left him for dead. They stormed into the homes of old people and tied them to chairs. They beat each other into and out of gangs and set off to terrorize the villagers. One by one or two by two, they were marched into court, smiling for the cameras like they were celebrities and this was their red carpet.
Back then, the fire or violence was metaphorical. This time, it's for real, but damn if it doesn't feel the same. It feels like an organized mind, corrupt and unrepentant, bent on instilling terror and chaos across the village.
Back then, it took an army of police, drug agents and gang experts to bring things under control. This time, new heroes will emerge. The firefighters who rush into the heart of that madness to save the rest of us from burning. The indefatigable fire investigator Paul Ouellette, who seems like a fictional character out of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle. The plainclothes studs of Operation Hot Spots, a group of undercover agents with a name that now seems clairvoyant. Police Chief Micheal Bussiere, who looks a little more pissed off with each new news conference he calls.
The Red Cross, The Salvation Army, the YWCA and hundreds of ordinary people writing checks to help the victims. So many people and so many agencies, Billy Joel could write a song about them.
Who will bring an end to this latest wave of insanity? Them? Us? A force greater than ourselves?
Who knows? One way or another, the bongos will go quiet and the jungle will be silent for a spell. The cycle always repeats itself, as regular as a heartbeat. Lewiston is Lewiston, with alternating waves of calm and chaos, like a binge drinker.
I sometimes wish I could draw way back and look at the city over the past century on a kind of map. If you could see the hills of violence and valleys of calm, I bet the bigger pattern would look as regular as an EKG. Lewiston, an organism all its own and one that sometimes gets angry.
And now I'm out of metaphors. If you ever want to learn more about the nature of downtown Lewiston, read Stephen King's depiction of a little city called Derry. In Derry, things get ugly and then go quiet. Get ugly, go quiet, like the ticking of a clock in hell.
Sound familiar? Sure does. All that's missing in Lewiston is a kid-eating clown that lives in the sewer. We don't have one of those, I'm pretty sure.
Not yet, anyway.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer who like to mix his metaphors with hyperbole. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.