Jack Collier: Private Eye
A Jack Collier Story
By Brett N. Lashuay
Chapter Eighteen: Out on the Ledge.
Chapter Eighteen: Out on the Ledge.
I started out the window and took a look at the young girl shivering and crying in the wind. Years ago, someone begged me to save their little girl who had done something similar. She hadn’t jumped so much as leaned forward and landed head first onto a ’99 Buick LeSabre. I didn’t see a Buick below me, but I wasn’t really concerned about that part of history repeating so much as the falling part.
Cindy stood naked on the ledge, tears running down her face. The ledge seemed to be about half an inch wide, but we were both able to stand on it. Her blood shot eyes turned to me, the tears caught the light as she shifted and they seemed to glisten as if for a camera. There was just me and her up here though; here we were alone. I looked behind me at the three guys watching, which is nice. It’s good to have witnesses at a time like this. They certainly shouldn’t have tried to come out and help me. Naked girls are something for straight men to deal with after all. I wouldn’t want them to touch her and realize how nice girls are or anything.
“Save the life of my child,” those words rattled through my head again, from all those years ago. “What’s becoming of the children?”
“Hi Cindy,” I said as I put my back against the wall and smiled at her the best I could.
“Please,” was all she could manage at the moment.
“Come on,” I said working my way out onto the ledge. “Come back in.”
“You know,” she said, tears pouring down her face. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I said, “just don’t go.”
“All my walls are crumbling down,” she said looking down at the assembled crowd. “Can’t you see my walls are crumbling? I’ve got no defenses left.”
“I think I see that,” I said. “Why don’t you work your way back toward me?”
“You should try to take a shot,” She said, free associating now. “You could be my man and you could protect me.”
Those words rang nasty bells in my head, but as she was naked and on a ledge she probably wasn’t going to pull a gun and shoot me.
“You’re too young for this,” my hand plastered to the brick work, only ten inches away from her fingers.
“I’m thinking of jumping,” she was down to stating the obvious, which is always a problem. “I’m so tired.”
“Well, you must be tired of something,” I said, as a gust of wind took my hat and sent it somewhere far away. “Come on, give me your hand.”
“I can’t go back,” she said.
“Look,” I said, “come with me. This doesn’t have to happen.”
“What?” she asked.
“Give me your hand,” I said reaching out my right hand, as my left hand touched the flag hanging by its pole. “Please.”
“I just can’t do this anymore.”
“I know,” I said. “But it won’t stay like this, it will change. I promise you, improvements are coming.”
“You don’t understand. How do you know anything?”
“Kiddo,” I managed to touch her fingertips, and decided not to risk grabbing her just yet. “I’ve been up on ledges before.”
“You talk lots of girls down?” she asked.
I wondered if I should mention that the last time I tried to talk a girl down she went down the wrong way. That didn’t seem to be helpful or hopeful though, so I decided not to mention it. Instead I decided on the other tactic in my arsenal.
“I talked myself down a few times,” I told her. “And I didn’t stand someplace where people would see me, or help me. You knew someone would come out here, you wanted someone to give you a good reason not to fall. I promise you, it won’t be all rainbows and ice cream, but there are ways to improve the situation. You don’t have to always feel like this.”
“You’re not so smart,” she sobbed and she leaned her weight forward. “Everyone thinks they know, but they don’t.”
“But I know that it’s not about me,” I said, trying not to babble. “I know it’s not about them down there either. This is about you. It’s got to be about you.”
“It’s always so hard,” she said.
“It won’t be instant, and it’ll never be perfect,” I told her. “Gotta fight it everyday, but it does get easier with the right tools.”
“I’m trapped,” she sobbed again.
“We can help untrap you.” I said. “Whatever it is, I will help you.”
“Why bother?” she asked, tears running down her face. “Why are you even trying?”
What do you say to that? Do you explain you’re trying to make up for the one that got away? Do you tell her that you’ve had enough of people dying on you and now you’ve decided that you’ve got to do something for a real live talking person if you can? I could have told her about Christmas, about Columbia, about Debbie and Karen and Alice, but what would that have done? Nope, had to go for the simpler answer.
“Gotta try,” I said, inching toward her. “I’m a small business owner. Am I gonna let someone go in this economy? You might have a husband that you think is cheating on you someday. Can’t let potential clients drop off buildings.” That made her laugh and she looked at me, which was good.
And then she fell.
I’ll never know if she meant to or if the wind caught her, or if she leaned her weight too far, or if she wanted to fall. Her left hand reached out though like she wanted me to get her. I wasn’t so ready to let go though, I wasn’t going to let this happen again. I pushed my luck, I reached for her hand. My right hand wrapped around her left wrist and her weight dragged us both down. My left hand snapped closed hard on the
Fuck, that was scary. Knock pointing my own gun at me? That was nothing. A minor irritation. Church and Opus coming at me that night, pssht! I’ll point out that ended with Opus loosing an eye and Church giving up his wife, so they ain’t scary. Even Chester Cat coming to get me at the rolled remains of my car was nothing. Dangling over the edge of the world, with nothing stopping my descent but a flag attached to a pole that was never meant to take the weight? Now we’re talking scary. The only reason this isn’t in more horror movies is that people wouldn’t even bother rushing from the theater screaming, they’d just shit their pants right in the seats.
“Save the life of my child,” That is what her desperate mother had asked of me, right before she fell into that Buick.
There were screams, there were gasps, there was terror, and I’m sure the people below me had a reaction too. Our momentum caused us to swing around, to spin gently over the hundred or so foot drop that would have caused us to meld into one broken mass of blood and shattered limbs. I felt my right shoulder try to separate from the bones it had always known and my left hand reported that a faux satin flag was not the best thing to grip as slipping was a likely result.
There wasn’t much I could do though, I sort of figured I was pretty much fucked. I swung a leg out, catching the ledge, but all I could do was change the angle that I’d eventually fall from. I could have just let go of her, put my other hand on the flag and pulled myself up. But I’d told her it would be okay, and I resent the universe fucking up anyone I take in my charge. If Jack the Cat was watching, I hoped he’d be pulling for me. Jacks have to stick together. I felt a surge of rage as the flag shuddered under our combined weight.
It was time for a policy statement.
“I’m not going to take it,” I said through my teeth. “Nope, not gonna take it.”
If I was weak, this little girl died. Couldn’t be weak then, weakness was not an option. I do hope you’re listening fingers! Don’t let the seam of the flag out of your grasp, because that sort of weakness will not be tolerated. If the gods themselves showed up to impede my progress at that moment, I would have kicked their sorry asses.
“I’m not going to take it anymore,” I snarled.
I had had enough of this shit. I was right, free and going to fight. You’ll see. I was getting angry, and that was probably a good thing. I was not weak, and she wasn’t heavy. I girded my loins and pulled the one hundred and three pound girl up with my one hand, which is nothing for a tough guy like me. Tough guys don’t feel pain, they don’t feel fear, they don’t get old and they never die.
This was not hard, I barely felt it. She was light and I was floating. This wasn’t like trying to lift a four-ton boulder or anything. Easy as pie, piece of cake, nothing a tough guy like me couldn’t handle. I certainly couldn’t feel my rotator cuff popping or anything like that. She was small, tiny, insignificant to the weight of the world. A breeze might have lifted her, so a shitty little private dick like me could. I pulled her up, placing her left hand on Old Glory’s stripes.
“Grab the flag!” I shouted, feeling it shudder under our weight again.
There were firefighters at the window, which was an amazing ten inches away. So very, very far. Light years are shorter than 10 inches when you’re dangling from a flag. If one of them was on a line though, and had he jumped, he might just save us. Of course, if he jumped and he missed, we’d all be road pizza.
Her fingers wrapped around Old Glory and I put my hand on her back to push her as she caught her feet on the ledge. One of them grabbed her ankles, one of them held out his hands. I shoved, and the firefighter got a face full of small, naked breast to the face. His arms wrapped around her and they got stabilized just as the fucking flag poll gave up on me.
I am going to say this now. My life is not trite, not jaded, nor is it boring or confiscated. If this is the best the forces of darkness have to offer, then their best just won’t do. My fingers crawled up the flag, reaching for that field of blue and stars when I heard the squeal of screws and stone giving up on me. Fucking masonry, this is why I never trust a mason, despite the fact that my grandfather was one.
I grabbed at the flag with both hands and started to pull myself up as the pole broke free and open space opened its arms to accept me. Open space had quite solid arms, which wrapped around me as I smacked into a metal bar behind me. The flag pole smacked against my face on its way down, and I’d kept just enough presence of mind to hold onto the flag and not let the whole thing tumble down. Who knew if my legs were wrapped in cords or if people below were in the way? Can’t drop the flag, can’t let the flag touch the ground. Every good Eagle Scout knows that. I was never even a cub scout, but I knew some things that Eagle Scouts know. I was a Brownie though, which is where I learned about the flag. It’s a long story, remind me to get drunk sometime so I can tell you all about it.
Fingers, arms and hands grabbed at my jacket, my arms, someone wrapped around my waist.
“I’ve got you,” Someone said into my left ear.
“But who’s got you?” I asked as I dangled with the flag pole in my hands.
“Heard that one a few times,” he said, and I couldn’t help but giggle.
“Well they can’t all be gems now can they?” I giggled as the ground came closer, but at a reasonable speed. “Sometimes you’ve got to give the expected answer.”
“Sure,” he said while the street came closer and the flag pole touched earth. I gathered the flag up in my hands, can’t let the flag touch the ground.
It then occurred to me that someone was going to try and arrest or at least commit my ward to an institution, and I wanted to know why that phone call had caused her to do what she’d done. I let the flag drop and started to run into the building, because a symbol is nothing compared to a person.