100 Themes Challenge, Minot Edition: #12
THEME: 12. "Dead Wrong"
STORYLINE: D Is For Damien storyline, Minot spinoff series, pre-Magic City or Magic City (unwritten novel)
RATING: R (adult language, violence)
WORD COUNT: 2700+ words
SUMMARY: Here we are again with Det. Justin Reichert of the NYPD; for more of him so far in the 100 Themes Challenge, please see Scene 3, "Making History," and 7, "Eternity." Here we are even further along in Reichert's time spent in NYC; firstly you met him on the morning of September 11th, 2001, then probably several months later in physical rehabilitation, and now it's about two years after, and he's finally been allowed back on duty away from a desk. Reichert's been itching to be out and about when a call comes about some kind of potential suicide jumper, and he and several others end up going to check it out. Due to Reichert's firsthand experience on 9/11 (or alternately, as his fellow officers attempt to make it seem, due to his experience talking a man out of his gun in a thwarted bank robbery the day before 9/11--the reason Reich had the next day off), his coworkers think maybe he'll be able to handle this guy better than they could. Reichert isn't sure if he agrees, but makes the attempt anyway. You've probably already guessed the outcome, since Reichert's fellow officers end up being Dead Wrong.
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"Suspect looks unarmed. Over."
The knot of police officers huddled in the dim stairwell peered up at each other over the radio and frowned. There was a slight pause before one of them lifted it to his mouth.
"What d'you want us to do? Over."
An even longer pause. Then a crackle. "Looks like a jumper," the voice said now. "Repeat. Unarmed. Fire department's coming along, but I doubt they'll do him any good if he jumps." A shorter pause. "Any of you can talk him down? Over."
Everybody turned without any pause at all to look at Reichert.
Reichert blinked a few times, eyes widening. "What--?" he blurted out; his voice echoed in the otherwise empty stairwell and he fought down a grimace. "What?" he whispered this time, and looked at each of the other cops in turn. They were all dressed in full-body armor, face shields, gloves, boots...just playing it safe, after somebody had called in an "indeterminate threat to an office building." That could've meant a lunatic with a full arsenal at his disposal, which they'd prepared for, or it could mean...a lone jumper just standing on the roof, no weapons, no real threat, no anything. And now here they all were, crowded on the stairs near an emergency exit, and all of them were staring at Reichert.
He gave them a vaguely foul look for good measure. One of them lifted a shoulder somewhat meekly.
"Just...thought maybe you'd be best for this."
"Best--?" Reichert hated how his voice hissed out between his teeth. "What the fuck am I supposed to know about jumpers?"
"Not jumpers!" the other police officer whispered hastily; in the dim light it was hard to tell but it looked as if he flushed. "Not--not specifically--"
"You're good with people, that's all," another of them filled in, and the others nodded quickly, as if, if they didn't placate him, he'd start spewing fire and tearing cinderblocks out of the walls.
"That bank job a couple years back, remember?" the first one added, sounding inspired. "You're not even a hostage negotiator but look how good you did. Well..." He lifted his heavily outfitted arms. "Maybe work the old charm again...?"
"The bank job a couple years ago," Reichert echoed him, receiving a nod. Reichert's eyes narrowed. "That's what you're thinking of, huh? Right," he said, when the other cop flushed again, and turned to the top of the stairwell. "That's exactly what you're thinking of."
He heard an annoyed whisper when he started clomping up the steps, but it was quickly shushed. The blood was roaring in his ears. Was it irrational to feel so pissed off over something so small? The bank job in '01, he thought, his own inner voice mimicking the other officer's. Yeah, you know all about jumpers from the bank job in '01. The nice bank job on September 10th, 2001.
He reached the door to the roof and hesitated, glancing back down to the last landing. The other officers still waited and watched; when they saw him staring, a couple rose to their feet and started to tentatively climb the steps, but he turned away and grasped the metal bar before they could join him. He half-expected it to burn him, and had to fight down a flinch; he pushed on it and the door opened easily, admitting him onto the roof.
He peered about, but the guy wasn't in sight from here. Craned his neck to look around the corner of the exit. There he was, way over to the left. Just standing on the ledge of the roof, staring out over Manhattan. Reichert dry-swallowed a few times before gathering the courage to creep away from the exit, keeping one hand on the door to prevent it from slamming shut; he felt it give a little bit and glanced back to see one of the other officers holding it open. He waved to keep them back, then resumed making his slow and arduous way in the jumper's direction.
He decided not to try hiding himself, since he hadn't exactly been covert to start with. Still, the guy didn't even seem to realize he was there. Reichert swallowed again and slowed his step to a crawl, then halted halfway toward him. "H...hey there," he called out quietly, but way up here, his voice carried, and he saw the way the stranger tensed up abruptly, and felt his heart crowd into his throat. But the man merely cast him a quick glance, then turned away again. He spread his arms a little for balance.
"Keep back, please."
"Just wanna talk, that's all. Take a look." Reichert held up his gun, but the man didn't look back. He set it down on the concrete, making sure it clinked so the other man could hear it. "Putting down my gun," he said. "Don't wanna shoot you."
"Please go away," the jumper said, but his voice sounded just vaguely annoyed or exasperated, not upset in the least.
"Can't do that," Reichert said. "Not while you're standing there. Think you can come down for a minute?"
"I'm afraid I can't."
I'm afraid I can't? Reichert frowned; the guy didn't talk like any suicidal jumper he'd ever heard of before. Then again, how many suicidal jumpers had he ever known? He'd never known any jumpers, period, before... "Can you tell me your name, at least? Or why you're up here?" When that earned no response, he said, "My name's Justin. Justin Reichert. NYPD. Just wanna talk."
"Reichert--?" The man lifted his head a little and looked to the side, but not back at him. He frowned. For the second time Reichert could see his eyes and noticed now that they seemed slightly glazed. An addict, perhaps? "Det. Reichert?" he added.
Reichert blinked, then nodded. "Yeah...Det. Reichert."
"Oh." The man seemed to relax, just slightly. "You're that detective."
A memory flickered into Reichert's brain. His first job dealing with somebody again, as soon as he'd finally recovered enough and was back at work. He'd been stuck dealing with files. Paperwork. Maddening. Not what he'd envisioned his job to be like when he'd joined the force. Not at all. Yet they wouldn't let him out to do real work. So when a lady came to report being mugged and everybody was just too busy to deal with something so trivial he'd jumped at it. Was he sure, his captain wanted to know?--hell yeah he was sure, so what if it was a simple mugging, at least it wasn't paperwork. He could sit at a desk and interview victims. Anything was better than being cooped up in a file room all day, inhaling dust. So, he sat down at his desk, and gestured for this little old lady to sit down opposite him, and he booted up his computer to type up a report, and let her know his name so she would know who was handling her case, and her eyes had grown and she'd said--
"Oh...you're that detective!"
He hadn't understood at first. Until the look on her face had made it plain. That Detective. In caps, the "That" italicized. That Detective. First Miracle Survivor, then Hero Cop, now he was simply That Detective. As soon as understanding struck, he'd had to fight not to grimace, had to swallow his annoyance, had to feign a smile and get up to fetch some paper to put in the printer for her report.
"Yes ma'am...that detective."
He'd hated how he couldn't hide his limp as he made his way to the printer. She'd seen that as well. He hadn't stopped grinding his teeth as he'd loaded the machine. He couldn't wait to get away from that desk.
And now, far far away from that desk, back out in the open, way up on a rooftop with some total stranger, here it was again, like some bad joke that insisted on following him everywhere. That Detective.
He swallowed the lump of anger that had surged up into his throat, and let out a breath.
"Yeah...that detective." He paused, then decided that if ever there was a time to play this card, it was now. "So you've heard of me. So you know who I am. Think you can step down and talk with me for a bit?"
"I'm sorry, I can't do that." The jumper--or whatever he was--lifted his head and looked up at the sky. "Isn't it beautiful?"
"Huh...?" Reichert peered up but saw only the dull orangish glow of low cloud cover. "What?"
"The sky. Or at least, it should be. Stars. Have you ever seen the stars?"
"Yeah...on a visit to the mountains once."
"No, no." The jumper lowered his head and clenched his fists, sounding a bit peeved. "Have you really seen the stars. Here, in the city?"
Reichert fought down the instinct to huff in amusement. "As much as I hate to say it...that's a little bit difficult, here."
"Exactly. You never see the stars here."
"Well. Power outages. You see the stars in power outages, right? The sky's real beautiful, then, right?"
"Yeah...power outages." The mildly annoyed tone again. "I don't think it was intended people should see the stars only when there's a power outage," he added. "There's too many people. Too many lights in too many buildings here."
Reichert chewed on the inside of his cheek, biting down the briefest flare of alarm at the phrase too many buildings; he waved behind himself, certain the other officers would be tempted to scurry out onto the roof and send the guy flying. "I don't know about that," he said.
"Don't you?" The man glanced back at him; his eyes were glassy, dreamy, not angry at all, and Reichert racked his brain trying to think of what sort of drug might cause a reaction like this. "You of all people would know," he said, not a hint of malice in his voice, and turned away once more. Another look skyward. "It's a shame when there are so many people together in one place yet it's like their eyes are always shut, isn't it? They don't really see, do they? Or rather, they just can't see, even if they wanted to, but chances are great they don't even know what they're missing, because it never even occurs to them to think there could be something they're missing."
Now he felt fairly certain he knew why the guy had spooked everyone in the office building so easily, with crazy talk like that. No wonder they'd been sent up in all this gear. He surreptitiously glanced around, seeking weapons, bombs, anything, but saw nothing. "I'm sure they're smarter than you think," he said, trying to think of some way to keep him engaged in conversation as he edged closer. "Hell, even little kids know about stars, little kids who've never seen a real star in their life."
"And that's the sadness of this whole thing, isn't it? Shouldn't everybody get the chance to see a star? Please stop coming closer," he said, and Reichert halted several yards away.
"Yeah, they should," Reichert agreed. "It's a shame, really. I agree with you on that. But there isn't much we can do, is there? Standing up there like that isn't helping anybody, is it?"
"I suppose not, but all else has failed also."
"Please tell me about yourself a little? Did you have a bad day at work, or something with your marriage, or anything--? Please talk to me?"
"It's nothing like that, Detective. Believe me. Nothing so trivial. Haven't we all had a bad day at work or a bad marriage or a bad something?"
"Yeah, we have. Sure we have. Hell, I had one incredibly bad day." He made a face, not quite able to believe he'd brought that up in such a way, but decided to go with it, since nothing else seemed to be working. The guy had caught on that he was That Detective. Maybe keep working that angle. "But you know about that already. I'm betting it was a really bad day for you too, right? Is that why you're up here?"
"It couldn't possibly have been any worse for me than it was for you, Detective. Don't downplay your part. You did what you could."
"I know that. But we're talking about you now, okay? Please, just let me know what's going on. I can handle it. Lay it on me, everything you've got. I'm listening."
"I don't need anybody to listen to me. I'm fine. The real question is, is everybody else fine?"
"Some of us are and some of us aren't." He found himself talking faster now, just spitting out any words that came to mind, however inane they sounded to him. "How everybody's doing is subjective, right--?"
"I suppose so. You're pretty perceptive. I don't think I have to feel sorry for you, since I think maybe you do get it..." another sideways look "...even if you're not sure what it is you're getting, just yet." He looked skyward again. "But maybe soon," he murmured, Reichert straining his ears to hear. "Soon I think maybe everybody will understand."
"Please talk to me?" A begging note entered Reichert's voice and he held out his hand though he was yards away.
"The time for talking's past. It never did much good. Some things you just have to experience for yourself to understand. I'm experiencing it...I think maybe you will...maybe, if they're lucky, everyone will." He turned his head and gave a small, dreamy-looking smile that made Reichert hesitate, then start stepping toward him, hating the twinge of pain in his left leg. He kept his arm outstretched, swallowing the lump of fear forming in his throat.
"Sure. Everybody'll be lucky, someday. Including you. I want to hear more about this, you seem to know what you're talking about. Could you tell me, maybe? Since you think I might understand? Do you think you might come down for a minute and talk to me, first?"
"I think you'll understand it all soon," the man said softly, and his smile, eyes glassy and faraway, grew, just slightly. Reichert could have almost grasped his wrist now, if he'd wanted; he halted when the man swayed just a little, but then he steadied himself and his eyes seemed to focus on Reichert's. They softened.
"Don't blame yourself, Detective," he murmured.
"I don't," Reichert lied.
The man just gave his head a small, regretful shake. "You couldn't've stopped it. You did what you could."
Then, silent as a sheet blowing away on a breeze, he fell.
"No!" Reichert screamed, swinging at him wildly; his gloved hand just missed the man's ankle as he went heels over head and then vanished from sight over the edge of the building. A clatter of voices and noises came from the roof entry. Without thinking Reichert hurled himself forward so his upper body sprawled out over the chasm, arms outstretched as if to embrace the city; he almost expected to see the man flying, floating away, he'd sounded so certain of whatever he'd been talking about, hadn't sounded depressed or suicidal at all, maybe there really was something Reichert wasn't getting. Instead, he reached the edge just in time to hear the horrible, familiar thud of flesh against asphalt, in time to see just what the sound looked like. The building ledge knocked the breath from his lungs in a noisy whoosh and a chorus of faint screams and cries of dismay arose from the street below. Red and blue lights flashed in his eyes and he was just able to make out the red bulk of a fire engine below before hands grabbed at his shoulders and the back of his vest and hauled him away from the ledge, back safely onto the roof. Immediately his spot was taken by the others who'd rushed out of the stairwell; they peered over the edge, faces pale, their breath catching in their throats.
"I thought for sure," one of them murmured in disbelief. "I thought for sure you'd talk him down."
Reichert couldn't respond; his own breath was still catching, his ribs ached, and his voice seemed to have vanished. One of the others kept a hand on his arm so he wouldn't collapse; he stared at the ledge, which had been occupied so recently, at the imaginary void left by a living breathing speaking person who didn't exist as such anymore.
He thought numbly, So did I.