9-1-1 – what’s your emergency?”
“Hello? Is this 9-1-1?”
“Yes, ma’am, this is 9-1-1. What is your emergency?”
“Well, it’s not my emergency, but I think it might be somethin’ serious.”
“Okay – you called to report somethin’ going on – somethin’ you’re lookin’ at?”
“Fine; tell me what you’re lookin’ at that’s so serious.”
“It’s a man.”
“You’re lookin’ at a man; and why is that a problem, ma’am?”
“He’s standin’ on the fifth floor ledge of a building; the United Publishing Building on Lexington and 28th.”
“On Christmas Eve and in this foul weather? Where are you, ma’am?”
“I’m on the sidewalk across the street.”
“Are you sure this person is on the ledge outside the building and not standin’ inside with the window open? Maybe he’s just tryin’ to get a little fresh air.”
“No, I’m pretty sure he’s on the outside. For one thing, I don’t think the windows on the building open. Plus, he just dropped something off the ledge. I guess he wanted to see how long it took to get to the sidewalk.”
“And you say it’s the fifth floor, ma’am?”
“Yes; I counted up five stories, and that’s where he’s sittin’.”
“If you counted up five stories, that would be the sixth floor, ma’am. And I thought you said he was standin’?”
“He was standin’. Now he’s sittin’. He has his feet resting on a flagpole; I guess to steady himself and keep from fallin’. And he’s holdin’ somethin’; a briefcase I think; or maybe a large folder of some kind. I can’t really tell from down here.”
“Okay; let me make sure I’ve got this right. A man is sittin’ on the sixth-floor ledge of the United Publishing Building with his feet on a flagpole, and holdin’ somethin’ – a briefcase or large folder. Is that right?”
“Is there anything else, some other detail before I call the NYPD?”
“No, I think that’s it.”
“Good; I’m contactin’ the NYPD now, but please stay on the line, okay? I’d like to keep in touch with you until the P.I.T. team arrives and takes control of the situation.”
“The what team, ma’am?”
“The Psychological Intervention Team.”
“Oh; okay. It’s pretty nasty out here, but I’ll hang around a few more minutes. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Sergeant Mack hung up his phone and walked quickly to the Captain’s office down the hall.
“Captain Terrence, we just got a call from 9-1-1. It seems there’s a man sittin’ on the sixth-floor ledge of the United Publishing Building on Lexington and 28th.”
“Aw shit, Sarge. It’s Christmas Eve. Why can’t these nut jobs pick a non-holiday night to pull this crap? Daytime would even be better. I was just gettin’ ready to shut ‘er down and head home. Do you know how many Christmas Eves I’ve spent with my family over the last 10 years? None! Somethin’ always seems to come up to ruin it for me.”
“Sorry sir; whaddya wanna do?”
“Who’s on call tonight from P.I.T.?”
“O’Malley? Shit. Wouldn’t you know it; the last time O’Malley went on a ledge call the guy ended up jumpin’. The Chief took so much flak from the press he was gonna put him back on foot patrol. He finally backed off after I reminded him O’Malley was the only member of the team who didn’t suffer from astraphobia.”
“Yeah; I remember that one. It looked like O’Malley had the guy saved. Tommy Snyder was inside the building as a backup and said O’Malley had talked to the guy about Ireland till he was blue in the face.”
Captain Terrence leaned forward in his chair and began twirling his letter opener.
“I still can’t believe what happened next. Being the guy was from Ireland, O’Malley had him talked off the ledge to share a couple of brews at Reilly’s Pub around the corner. But he couldn’t just leave it alone, could he?”
“Damn fool,” said the Sergeant.
“He had to go and start hummin’ Danny Boy before he got the guy inside the building.”
“Yeah,” said the Captain.
“The guy got all choked up again; started sobbin’ and talkin’ about how much he missed his home in Dublin. Then he launched himself off the ledge like an Acapulco cliff diver.”
“Only there wasn’t much water on Fifth Avenue that night,” said the Sergeant.
“Only a couple of puddles from the heavy rain that afternoon. What was it he said just before he leaped, Captain?”
“He said, ‘You’ve got a lovely tenor voice, Officer O’Malley. You sing like me cousin Mickey back home. Here’s hopin’ I’ll be seein’ him up yonder and we can drink Guinness and sing till the cows come home.”
“Let’s hope this poor bastard’s not Irish, Sarge. Give O’Malley a call and get his ass movin’, will you? Remind him to take a blanket along; it’ll be pretty cold up there. And notify the hook and ladder company around the corner, too. They might as well get set up in case they’re needed.”
“Yes, sir,” said the Sergeant.
“And should I alert the Council of Churches, Captain? They might wanna send whoever’s on call to the scene — just in case.”
“Sure, what the hell; if I’ve gotta work, let’s get everybody involved. I heard that savin’ a soul on Christmas Eve earns you bonus points. Lord knows we could all use a few of those.”
Officer Ryan O’Malley finally located the window broken out by the jumper on the sixth floor of the United Publishing Building. He climbed gingerly through the jagged edges onto the three-foot-wide ledge that encircled the building. Shuffling one foot at a time — side to side — he finally made it to the front of the building. Through the swirling snow he made out the figure of a man sitting on the ledge about five feet ahead of him. His feet were resting on a large flagpole bolted securely just below the ledge, and he was clutching a briefcase while staring down at the street below. The wind was occasionally gusting, so O’Malley got a good grip on some of the brickwork protruding from the exterior casing of the windows. There was a blanket draped over his shoulder.
“If you wanted an audience, you sure picked the wrong night to jump off a building, mister; it’s Christmas Eve. All the spectators are home wrappin’ gifts and puttin’ lights and tinsel on their trees. I brought a blanket if you want it; you must be freezin’.”
Shivering and clinging tightly to a briefcase, the middle-aged man eyed the policeman warily.
“I’m cold alright, but so what if I freeze to death; does it really matter? I wasn’t lookin’ for an audience, and I didn’t know one night was better than another to jump off a building. I guess I missed that article in the Times.”
“It wasn’t in the newspaper, it’s posted on the bulletin board back at the precinct. Tonight was supposed to be a quiet one, what with this bein’ Christmas Eve. You sure pissed off the Captain. This would have been his first Christmas Eve at home with his family in 10 years.”
A smirk appeared on the jumper’s face.
“What a pity; I’ll send him a condolence card. At least the man has a home and a family.”
“He may not after tonight,” said O’Malley.
“His wife’s been threatenin’ to leave him for some time. What with no regular hours, on call any time of the day and night, and hardly ever home, this may just push her over the edge — if you know what I mean.”
“That’s really cute, Officer. Do you people sit around and think up these lines, or just ad lib ’em as you go along? I thought you came up here to talk me out of jumpin’?”
“Not necessarily. Mostly, I came up to get your name and address in case you weren’t carrying any ID; makes it a lot easier to contact your next of kin.”
“That’s very funny, cause I don’t have any next of kin. And the only person I even care about is on the beach down in Jamaica with my so-called best friend.”
“Really? Jamaica, huh. Well, at least she’s got sense enough to get away to some place warm. You should have offered to take her there yourself. Maybe that’s all she really wanted — to get away to some place warm. Did you ever ask her?”
“No, but it wouldn’t have made any difference. This has been comin’ on ever since the Fourth of July picnic. I watched it happen right before my eyes. It just kept gettin’ worse and worse, but I was too weak to stop it. She promised me a happy ending, but I can see that’s not gonna happen. I’ve got no one to blame but myself, though; I lost control and let her take over.”
“Lost control? You sound like you’ve given up on her. You know how fickle women can be. Maybe she’ll have a really crappy time with this guy and realize what a big mistake she’s made. You seem like a nice fellow. Who knows, she may be back in town tomorrow beggin’ for your forgiveness.”
“That’s one possible ending, but not very likely. I don’t see it that way. My thinkin’ was she’d stay with him only as long as he kept payin’ for everything, then she’d come back to me. I didn’t plan on this guy havin’ so much money; it looks like they’ll be down there a long, long, time.”
“So, she’s a gold digger, huh. They’re the worst. You can never figure that kind out. It’s you until it’s him. Then it’s him until the next one with more money comes along. Women like that are so fickle.”
“Fickle isn’t the word I used. I called her indecisive. She can’t decide if she’s in love with the man or the money. She always seems to want both until she’s forced to choose. I can’t decide which it is, insecurity or infatuation.”
“What are you a psychologist or somethin’? It sounds like you’ve been psychoanalyzin’ this girl for some time, Mister…?”
“Johnson, Eugene Johnson. And, no I’m not a psychologist; I’m a writer.”
“A writer? Well, that explains a lot. Writers spend a lot of time at their desks, alone, isolated, caught up in their own little world. Maybe you just need to spend more time with this girl; you know, get away from the writing and take her out to dinner, or dancin’, or maybe a movie once in a while. She’s probably just lonely for some company. Have you ever thought of that?”
“Sonia lonely? Don’t make me laugh. I spend every night with Sonia. I sleep with her, dream about her, buy her expensive gifts, take her to nice places. No, I don’t see how I could possibly spend more time with Sonia. She’s on every page and in every chapter I write.”
“Wait a minute. Let me see if I understand this, Eugene. You’re tellin’ me you’re up here on a ledge — freezin’ your ass off on Christmas Eve — and plannin’ to jump six stories over a character in a book you’re writing?”
“Laugh if you want to, Mister…?”
“O’Malley, Ryan O’Malley. And I wasn’t laughin’ at you, Eugene. I was just tryin’ to understand where you’re comin’ from. Believe me I can sympathize with what you’re goin’ though. I remember the time I had a serious blockage in my own writing. My characters ran away with my stories, and I thought I would never get it back. I hadn’t thought of jumpin’ off a building, but I did damn near kill myself with cheap booze.”
“You gotta be kiddin’; you’re Ryan O’Malley — the famous New York mystery writer? I’ve read your cat burglar books, all seven of them. They’re brilliant. I can’t believe you ever had writer’s block — that’s impossible.”
“Oh no; nothin’s impossible, Eugene. Well, I take that back. Puttin’ you back together again if you jump tonight would be impossible. But, savin’ your book is still doable as long as you’re alive.”
“Savin’ my book is impossible. I have 23 rejection letters that say so. It’s hopeless. They all say the same thing; a boring beginning; a weak middle; dull characters; improbable dialogue; a really sucky ending. I’m at my wits end. I don’t know what else to do. I figure there’s no point goin’ on. I’m takin’ the manuscript with me when I jump.”
“Is that what’s in your briefcase, your manuscript?”
“Yeah, it’s all here; notes, journals, rejection letters, hundreds of pages of garbage. None of it deserves to live.”
“I’d love to read it, Eugene, really. I have a very good agent, and if I can help you rework some of the parts, I bet we could get him to pitch it to my publisher. It’s worth a try. You can always jump off a building later if it doesn’t work out.”
The jumper turned and looked at the Officer for the first time.
“I know you don’t really mean that; you’re just doin’ your job, tryin’ to save another whacko from messin’ up the city street. Nobody can fix this piece of crap, not even a good writer like you. I had no idea Ryan O’Malley was a city cop.”
“I haven’t always been a writer. That was somethin’ I took up after I became a policeman. The pension’s too good to give up, so I write in my spare time. I got lucky with the cat burglar series. But if it could happen to me, it could happen to you, too.”
The jumper stared intently at Officer O’Malley. His shivering had increased noticeably and his face was beginning to turn a pale blue. O’Malley waited anxiously while the man sat suspended in a trance-like state. Not wanting to make any sudden move, the Officer stood silent. His mind was racing to find just the right words to persuade this distraught man to come down off the ledge. Time was working against him, and O’Malley knew the next few minutes were critical. Eugene Johnson suddenly came back from wherever his brain had taken him. He refocused on Officer O’Malley standing a few feet away with a skeptical look.
“Look pal, I find it hard to believe you’re the real writer; you psycho cops are pretty slick. Why would you risk your life doin’ a job like this after all the money you’ve made? I’m a nobody, a loser, and my novel is terrible. At least that’s what 23 editors have told me. I’m takin’ it down with me when I jump.”
Shifting his position slightly, the jumper said:
“If you really did write all those books, what was the name of cat number three stolen from Mayor Bloomberg, and when was he stolen?”
Pausing for a moment to make sure he got it right, the officer said:
“Let’s see; that would be Jupiter, the Balinese cat. He was held for $50,000 ransom after bein’ stolen on Halloween night.”
“Okay; what about cat number six, Thorax. Who was his owner and what was his favorite food?”
“Did you like him? He’s my favorite,” said O’Malley.
“He’s a Norwegian Forest cat like my own. He was a heavy growler and loved Purina’s chicken and liver. Trump offered a $100,000 reward for his safe return.”
“Okay, okay; so let’s say you really are Ryan O’Malley the writer; why would you waste your time tryin’ to help a wannabe like me? It doesn’t make sense.”
“For starters, Eugene, if you jump you’ll give the writin’ business a bad name; you wouldn’t want that on your conscience would you? Second, you realize that those same publishers who rejected your manuscript would now wanna publish your book posthumously and cash in on your story. Could you die happy thinkin’ about all the money you made those guys by jumpin’? And last, I bet you have a couple of books in you. Most beginners write so-so books on their first try. But eventually you’ll write a really good one and become famous. It can happen.”
The jumper was now shivering uncontrollably and swaying from side to side as he peered over the side of the ledge. The temperature had dropped another 10 degrees, and the snow was falling even heavier. Officer O’Malley could see he was running out of time; the man could go into hypothermia and fall from his perch any minute. Taking several tentative steps, the policeman held out the blanket, which the jumper took and wrapped around his shoulders. O’Malley watched helplessly, afraid to grab him, and fearful he might lose consciousness.
“Look, how ’ boutyou let me read your novel and share it with my writers’ group. You could read a few excerpts at our next meeting and get some really good feedback — whadda ya say?”
The jumper relaxed his shoulders slightly, and, for the first time, revealed a look of hope and a will to live.
“You really are good at this, aren’t you, Mr. Writer-Policeman Ryan O’Malley; writin’ and savin’ people’s lives. I still don’t understand why you would want to help a loser like me, but I’m tellin’ you right now, if this doesn’t work out, I’ll be back up here. Only the next time I really will do it. I don’t think I can take another rejection letter.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, O’Malley waved to the firemen on the ground to alert them. “It’s a deal. And from the sound of your story, I’d say the chances of you getting’ another rejection letter are slim to none.”
Using his police radio, the Officer asked the fire company to send up their extension ladder and get the two men off the ledge as quickly as possible. Once safely on the ground, the E.M.T. crew put the men in an ambulance and sped off to the nearest hospital. They were followed closely by Rabbi Cohen from the Council of Churches.
A little later that night, Captain Terrence and Officer O’Malley were sitting at the large table in the precinct conference room. O’Malley drank another cup of hot black coffee as Terrence completed his report of the evening’s incident.
“So, where’s this wanna-be writer now, O’Malley?”
“He’s at Bellevue, sir; wrapped in blankets and under sedation. My guess is he’s gonna be there for some time; he needs a lot of therapy.”
“And what about that briefcase he had with him; what was in it?”
“About a half a ream of blank paper and 23 rejection letters he wrote to himself. Seems he never did actually write anything; he just kept playin’ his story over and over in his head. Then he would write himself a rejection letter, criticizin’ everything; the characters, the dialogue, the settings, even the title. He finally drove himself crazy. Poor devil has the desire to write, but he’s sadly lackin’ in self-confidence. I did read a couple of those rejection letters; they weren’t half bad.”
“It’s amazing he actually believed you were Ryan O’Malley, the famous author. That was some sales job you did up there.”
“Thank you, sir. Yeah; that was the scariest part. He was right on the edge of freezin’ to death or fallin’ and I knew I was runnin’ out of time. Fortunately, I’ve done a little writin’ myself; nothin’ good, mind you; just enough to pick up some of the jargon and sound convincing. Also, I had read all the books in the cat burglar series. After the author’s first book made the Times Best Seller List, people startin’ askin’ if I was the writer, what with me havin’ the same name and all. So, I decided to read the book. Fortunately for Mr. Johnson, I liked it so much I read all the others as they came out. Once he was convinced I really was the famous writer, he accepted that I might be able to help him and agreed to come down.”
Captain Terrence finished his writing, closed the folder, and looked at the Officer sitting across the table with a new respect. Checking his wristwatch, he said:
“Go home, O’Malley; it’s late and you put in one hell of a night’s work. And look, it’s still Christmas Eve; we finally get to spend on with our families.”
Officer O’Malley pushed back his chair and turned to leave the room.
“Not me, sir; I’m divorced, remember? My ex has the kids until after New Years. I think I’ll settle in with some Irish coffee and a good mystery novel. I might even read book one in that cat burglar series again, ‘The Blue Eyed Screamer’; that one was a real cliff hanger.”
About the author: Harry Foster retired as an Allstate Insurance agent in 2000 and spent most of his early retirement traveling, horseback riding, and skiing with his wife, as well as playing and teaching pool and billiards. He tried writing as a more cerebral outlet and found it to be both challenging and enjoyable.
Foster submitted three short stories that were published in the U.S. 1 Summer Fiction issue, beginning with the one above, printed on July 28, 2010. Foster died on July 16, 2015, at the age of 76, from injuries suffered in a car accident
in Hopewell, not far from his home in Ewing.