An Alarming Affair, Chapter 1: Tanya

After someone pulls the fire alarm, one student is determined to figure out who did it and why.


Illustrated by Rachel Lee.

By Jessica Fiorella, Voices Editor

It was a cool February night outside of a first-year residence hall. It was the sort of night in early spring where the air is charged with the anticipation of a coming summer. Warm-ish, but not without a bite. Even here, between Second and Third Avenue, you could feel the breeze off of the East River crawl up your neck and wrap itself around your shoulders like a skinned fox around the neck of a mob wife. Students were bent around the block in a massive line, some standing barefoot on the concrete in pajamas, others half-ready for a night at one of the bars down the street. 

At approximately 10:15 p.m. that night, the fire alarm had gone off and students were herded out of the residence hall, mumbling to each other about what an inconvenience it was for the building to have picked now of all times for a fire drill. As the minutes passed, however, it became evident that this was not, in fact, a drill. 

I didn’t need to see the fire department filing into the dorm to know this. In fact, I knew something that they didn’t, too. Yes, this wasn’t a drill, but this so-called fire wasn’t as it seemed either. A fire is never just a fire. A fire could be a singular comfort on a cold night, or it could be the catastrophe that restarts an entire ecosystem. This fire was a diversion, a distraction, a cover-up and most of all, an illusion. There was no fire. Someone had pulled the fire alarm, and I knew who it was. 

Well, almost. I had narrowed it down to three key suspects, all of whom lived on my floor, and all of whom arrived in the stairwell far quicker than was plausible for the nonchalant student. No, I crossed paths with them in the stairwell mere seconds after the first siren sounded, so soon after that familiar screeching began that it seemed only possible that one of them pulled the alarm themselves. 

I was determined to bring whoever it was to justice. After all, I was among the hundreds of students displaced by the culprit of this alarming affair. I knew that we would be allowed inside once public safety determined what I was already certain of — the fact that this fire was no fire at all. Alarms are not just pulled without some sort of ulterior motive. 

The first on my list of possible culprits was none other than Tanya, RA of the North Tower, fourth floor. Tanya started out as the sort of RA who minded her own business, which was something that a lot of us appreciated. She didn’t ask questions or knock on doors, and when she did, you’d usually get an opportunity to quiet down and hide any contraband before she came back around. 

Then, as the year wore on, something changed. She was more volatile. She would threaten students with write-ups for just about everything. Roommate agreements were sent back if there was mention of even the most responsible use of substances. It was as if someone had gotten to her — perhaps too much had gone unchecked for too long. Parties all but vanished from the floor. Until tonight, that is. 

“Tanya, would you mind if I asked you a few questions?” 

She looked caught off guard for a moment before gathering herself quickly into a state of calm. 

“Uh, sure,” she said. “What about?”

Tanya allowed me to lead her away from the line of students outside of the building to a more private spot for interrogation, under the branches of an ornamental tree. The branches were speckled with buds waiting to burst forth and bask in the sunlight, as I was sure that the truth soon would. 

“I’m just trying to get a clearer picture of the events that transpired tonight.” 

“Oh, of course,” she replied. “So, basically, if this were a fire drill I would have had to sweep the floors and check–”

“Oh, I don’t mean the fire drill. I mean the party in 408.” 

“A party?”

“Come on, Tanya, don’t play dumb with me. I live in 410. That party was shaking my bed frame, and it was barely past 10.” 

She swallowed. 

“Okay, yeah, there was a party. What about it?”

I pulled a small legal pad from the pocket of my trench coat. I never went anywhere without it. 

“Tonight, at 10:15, you ran for the stairwell well before any students in their rooms would have been able to react to the fire alarm. Now, how could that be?”

“Uh, I was near the stairwell.”

Hmm. Yes. That did seem plausible. Or at least, it would have, had I not witnessed an earlier slip-up. 

“What does that have to do with the party?” she prodded. 

“I saw you try to stop it.”

Tanya’s cheeks lit up red. Red — like her hands? 

“I’m going to be honest with you. I know that someone pulled the fire alarm on our floor, and I know you know it, too. But the difference between you and me? I’m investigating, and you’re not, which leads me to believe that you either pulled it, or know who did,” I told her. “So, why don’t you tell me what you got up to tonight?”

“Why should I?”

“Because, if you don’t, I’m just going to bring my suspicions to public security and they’ll check the cameras, and we’ll find out what actually happened on the fourth floor.”

This really got her attention.

“Fine.” She exhaled. “I’ll tell you.”

It went like this. It was just 9:30, not yet quiet hours, when the party in 408 began to really kick off. It was the perfect storm of a pregame gone too far and guests arriving, bizarrely, on time. It  got rowdy far sooner than anyone could have expected. And, among those not anticipating a crowd at this hour was Tanya, who, being able to hear the music from her bedroom at the other end of the hall, saw an opportunity to pop in early and shut things down quietly. 

“I’ve been under a lot of pressure from the resident hall directors to be stricter,” she confessed. “I just know that Angela on the sixth floor told them I was letting kids do drugs or whatever. She’s a puritanical maniac.”

She continued with her story. 

“I went and knocked on the door and the host opened it. I’d literally never seen so many people in a common room in my life. It was wall-to-wall heads. Ironically, probably a huge fire hazard.” 

I raised an eyebrow. 

“I didn’t pull the fire alarm!” she assured me frantically. “But I’ll admit, I was overwhelmed. I knew I was way too outnumbered to actually stop this. No one was going to cooperate. I didn’t want to get back up, because this was the sort of thing I was supposed to be able to handle on my own. So, I just gave them a noise warning and went back to my room to make a plan. And then the alarm went off.”

“I thought you said you were by the stairwell,” I reminded her, suspicious. 

“I was. I had just made it back to my room when I heard…something.”

“What sort of something?”

“Something… R-rated.”

I feigned shock. But, of course, I had heard it too. 

“As soon as I went back outside to investigate, the alarm went off, and that’s when I saw Ned and Darcy — you know them from the floor meetings, right?” She went on. “They were both standing there in the hallway, looking as if I’d just caught them in the middle of something. All clothes were on, of course. It was clear they weren’t the cause of whatever the hell I was hearing. But there was no time to interrogate them — the alarm was going off, and I could’ve sworn I smelled smoke. So that’s when we ran for the stairwell. If I were you, I’d try talking to them.”

I scribbled down a few final notes. Overwhelmed by the party. Fire hazard. Explicit audio? I considered what I heard and decided that Tanya’s story seemed plausible, at least for now. But why had she not followed up with Ned and Darcy once they had evacuated the building? Was she being truthful about not having seen one of them pull the alarm? What motive would she have had for covering for them? 

There was one final thought that I decided to keep to myself. Halfway down the stairs, Tanya had allowed herself to fall behind, getting lost in the crowd of students evacuating the building. Sure, she could have been helping herd students out, or perhaps allowing a friend to catch up, but I had heard something distinct. Something like the exclamations of annoyance and bewilderment that might occur when someone was walking against traffic in a crowded stairwell. She had gone back upstairs. Why? I clicked my tongue and tucked my legal pad back into my coat pocket. 

“Thank you, Tanya, I think we’re done here.”

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