*This chapter contains strong language and absolutely no blood.
3. On the Far Edge
“I don’t see why we have to do it this way. Why can’t you go out and talk to him?” Casellas asked, automatically accepting the earpiece I handed him and twisting it into his right ear.
I tapped the receiver and he jumped slightly. “You’re going out there because this guy is wearing one of those ridiculous path-blocker hats. That means he doesn’t like paths and he’s already seen me down here in my negotiator vest.” And I don’t like heights, I added to myself. I turned the kid by his shoulder to face the stairs. “You get up there and I’ll do my best to feed you things to talk him down. In the meantime, if you feel any urge to climb back off the ledge, that’s just me suggesting it to our new friend, ok? You stay out there with him.” I gave him a light push that sent him off toward the stairs.
What the hell kind of assignment is this? he thought as he jogged quickly upwards.
The kind that a damn cop should be dealing with. I let myself think while I put my headset on. I could hear Casellas panting in my ear. “Now don’t go running up to him, go slow once you get to the roof.”
I took off my vest and set it in the passenger seat of the cruiser. The rest of the cops were busy setting up the air bag. Only Detective Upton was paying me any attention.
“You going to head up there behind him?” he asked, watching me with his arms folded over his chest. Better make sure the jumper doesn't see you.
I glanced back at him. Upton was going in the middle and his mustache was turning gray, he looked like just the kind of guy who sat around headquarters eating doughnuts and bitching about Fed ride-a-longs. But there wasn’t any of that angry condescension coming from him. He meant for me to be careful. I put my hand over my mike to block it. “I’ll duck out back, I just need to get a little closer to project,” I found myself explaining.
He nodded and watched me go up the stairs. There ought to be more paths in regular service. The government gets them all nowadays.
Feeling absurdly pleased that the old cop liked me, I went quietly up the stairs. “Hey, Casellas, are you in range yet?” I asked, feeling for him and the jumper somewhere above me.
Shit, give a guy some warning. “Almost there, when should I let him see me?”
The kid was ducked behind some sort of air vent, shivering because the metal was cold through his jacket. He was staring so hard at the back of the jumper’s head that I could almost see the whole scene myself. Fuck it’s cold. What if he sees me and just jumps? How the hell is that going to look? Who even goes up here in the winter?
“Hold where you are for a second. Keep your eye on him.” So I can see what’s going on, I added to myself, careful not to project. I didn't want Casellas to know I was reading him too. It would only make him more nervous.
I got up to the edge of the roof and picked a spot where I could see the two of them on the far side. The kid looked sweaty and red, ducked behind the air vent. Our jumper was looking out at the crowd gathering at ground level.
Fucking vultures. That’s what they are. I bet half of them are from this building or the one across the way. They probably called their friends and said, hey, let’s see this guy splat himself during lunch. It shouldn’t take an hour. Then they can go get their sushi and bottled water and count calories and tell everyone how they saw this tragedy today. I should land on one of them, that’d make it fucking tragic. I bet they couldn’t laugh that off.
“Ok, I want you to get up slowly and make your way to the ledge, don’t move towards his end yet, just get out there. When he sees you, you tell him your name and that you want to talk,” I said quietly into my mike. This guy was angry but he wanted to preach. If we could get him talking long enough I’d be able to get him down.
Casellas stood up very slowly with his hands held slightly out to the sides. He hesitated coming around the vent. “Are we sure this guy doesn’t have a gun?” he whispered into the mike on his collar. Shouldn’t I have my weapon?
“I’m sure. And we want to save him, not shoot him, ok? Just come slowly around the vent and keep your hands out of your pockets,” I prodded him a little with the urge to walk.
He edged out slowly. I bet he doesn’t really know if the guy has a gun. How can he even tell if the guy isn’t thinking about it?
Look at them down there, drinking lattes and waiting for the show. I should let them set up that damn inflatable thing and then jump off the other side. That’s what I should do. That would show them. They think they can control people. Like people don’t have the right to decide their own life and death? He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and his attention snapped toward Casellas. What the hell? “Who the hell are you? I told them, no god-damned mind readers or I’ll fucking jump!”
“Tell him who you are,” I prompted when Casellas froze at the edge of the ledge.
He shivered again. Why in the hell won’t my leg stop shaking? “I’m not a path man, I’m just a cop. I want to talk to you.”
Would they bring more than one? I saw that other one on the ground; they said he was the negotiator. “Do I look like I fucking want to talk? You stay away from me,” he shouted, waving his hand to ward Casellas off.
“You climb over now, nice and slow. Tell him it’s your job, you have to come up.” I fed the words into the kid’s ear, trying to concentrate on the jumper’s reaction.
“Yeah, ok,” Casellas whispered, swinging his leg over the lip so his foot touched the ledge. “I don’t want to be here anymore than you want me here, but I can’t go either, it’s my job.” I wonder whose job it’ll be to scrape us both of the sidewalk.
Job, everyone’s fucking job, they pay him so he goes and does whatever they say. He’d probably jump if they paid him enough. Forty years and he won’t even get a pension, they won’t even give him that much and he’ll probably get shot before he ever sees retirement anyway. “So what? Your job is to take away people’s rights, right? You’re going to come out here and try to stop me using my will.” What the hell can he say to that? Christ, has he even hit puberty?
I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing into the mike. Casellas looked like a kid to everyone. “He wants you to talk. Keep edging out there, not too fast, but steady.”
Fucking right, like I’m going to run along this thing? “But what am I supposed to say?” he mumbled into his collar.
“Anything, well, no, scratch that. Tell him what you think your job is,” I said, feeling the Casellas’s slick fear as he edged his way along the ledge.
“My job is to keep people from hurting themselves. That’s all I’m trying to do.” There was a sick swoop in his stomach as he looked over the edge. Shit it’s high up here, what is this, twelve floors, fifteen?
“Do you really think that or are you up here because you have to pay your bills?” Look at him, he’s scared shitless and he just keeps going along like they’ve got him on strings.
“Ok, keep talking, the more nervous you are about the height the better. It’ll make him see you as less of a threat.” And feel sorry for you. That might work. “Just try and keep him talking,” I said, hoping that Casellas could keep it going for a few minutes. I wouldn’t be able to give him much of my attention while I was projecting.
Like I have to pretend to be afraid of standing out here in the wind on a six inch ledge. You’d have to be fucking crazy to be out here. “That’s what cops do, right? Protect people.”
I could hear Casellas in my ear and the buzz of surface thoughts on the jumper’s mind like bad reception.
Who are you protecting now? Me? “I don’t need your protection. I’m choosing to do this.”
A job like this was more like diving than digging. Swimming the mind. What the jumper was saying, what Casellas was saying back, was the water’s surface. Just underneath, where the light still filtered down, were fewer words and more amorphous worry and guilt. And a woman’s voice saying very slowly and clearly, “Thank you for not doing it in our bed.” Over and over in the same measured tone.
“People can’t do anything they want. I mean, you can’t take this back man, this is it. Final mistake you know?”
“But it’s my mistake, right? So what are you doing up here? Protecting the idiots on the ground from getting flattened?”
Further down there was less light and no words. This was where a path would have a block, something unpleasant or distracting to keep anyone from digging deeper. But like most fives the jumper didn’t block. Instead his memories and ideas floated in and out of the darkness like phosphorescent sea creatures. I could feel them brushing my awareness, a snatch of song, the gut dropping sensation of missing a step downstairs, the sharp smell of fresh coffee. I had my eyes squinted in concentration, if I wanted this to work I had to focus deeper. Down at the bottom. I let out a long breath, sinking, sinking, past even more vague things in the dark, small tight fear, cringing embarrassment, shaking relief.
“Man I’m up here because I don’t want to see anybody die.”
Down. Down. Down. To the bottom where body sense and thought were a hazy blur. Feel his weight shifted onto the left foot, the slipperiness of both feet in sweaty socks. The creak of one hip as he leans back into the side of the building. The smoothness of the painted concrete edge under his palms. The edge is hard against the backs of his legs, cold through his khakis. His neck is tight turning to look at the kid. Eyes cold against the insides of the lids when he blinks. Mouth dry, thirsty, tasting bitter with old coffee. Lips stretch to speak.
“People die kid, every day people die. From stuff they’ve done to themselves. Are you going to run around pulling cigarettes out of people’s mouths and slapping drinks out of their hands?”
Slowly, slowly, shift that weight back. Right hand moving casually over the concrete edge, back toward the roof. Feel safer, lean into that barrier, lean toward the roof, eyes on the kid, not looking down.
“No, but I’m going to stop people from killing people. I mean who says a smoker is trying to kill themselves? Or kill anybody else? Shit it’s windy up here.”
“If you lean on the edge like this it’s not so bad. And don’t look down.”
Leaning is good, sitting is better. Bend the knees, just a little, bend past that creak, show the kid it’s safe, just settle your weight back, back and down. That’s more solid, good, hip feels looser already. Sitting is good. Sitting but facing the kid, he’s afraid to be up here, give him all of your attention. Turn at the waist, slow, one hand on the smooth ledge side, one hand on the rough roof side.
“No kidding. Heights aren’t exactly my thing.”
“So why’d they send you?”
A little more turn, reassuring turn, casual, deliberate, leg up and over the edge. Feel the concrete slide under the seat of the pants, cold but steadier, straddling the concrete edge. Show the kid how to be steady up here, how not to be afraid.
“Because you didn’t want the path. I’m partnered with him today, that makes me the next best thing I guess.”
Settle into it, good strong position, feet firm, hands free to gesture, make points, make the point. Show the kid. Lean into him, forceful, make him see it. Make him see how he doesn’t get it.
“That’s my whole damn point though. You wouldn’t be up here if it was up to you. But you do it anyway, you let them take your will from you.”
I came back up with disorienting speed, leaning heavily into the air vent until I felt I was in my own skin. There wasn’t much more I could do. “Pull him in,” I whispered hurriedly into the mike.
“I don’t think it’s exactly like that. I mean, I have will, I do things but sometimes you know, orders are orders. Are the cops supposed say, hey I don’t really want to get shot at today, maybe I won’t try to stop that armed robber?” Casellas was still talking. What does he want me to do? I kept the guy talking, how much longer?
“That’s putting your life in danger for property,” the jumper returned fiercely, leaning toward Casellas.
The kid was shaking his head, straddling the edge just like the jumper. This guy is nuts. “No, what about the people getting held up? They could get shot.”
“Casellas, fucking grab him and haul him back onto the roof while you still can,” I said clearly into the mike.
They have this kid so brainwashed. “But how often is it actually saving lives? How much of your job is handing out tickets and putting yourself in danger to protect things?”
Now? Shit man, now! Casellas shouted in his mind, lunging at the jumper and pulling them both over onto the flat tar roof.
“Don’t let him get back up,” I called and projected as I ran forward to help.
The jumper was struggling, trying to fend Casellas off but here the kid knew what he was doing, he pinned the guy to the ground with a knee on his back and had his cuffs in his hands before I’d gotten half way across the roof.
“Good job,” I panted, helping him haul the jumper to his feet.
Casellas was nodding to himself, his face pale. “Yeah.” What if he’d fought and we’d both gone over? He was looking back over his shoulder at the edge of the roof.
“Where the hell did you come from?” the jumper demanded, eyes wide. There wasn’t anyone else up here.
I picked up the tin lined hat that had rolled away when Casellas tackled him. “Sir, we’re going to take you down now.” I brushed some of the dirt off the brim and set it back on his head. “Wouldn’t want to forget your hat.” I gave his shoulder a little push and led them both toward the stairwell.
Casellas was still on the ledge in his mind, replaying that sharp feeling in his stomach when he lunged at the jumper and pulled them both over. He was rebuilding the danger to such a fever pitch that I was having a little trouble focusing on what the jumper was ranting about.
“You can’t arrest me. I haven’t done anything illegal.” Maybe he was waiting at the door for the kid to try and grab for me. Is that how they do it now? Talk until they think they can get you?
“You’re not actually under arrest, sir. You’re in protective custody,” I told him, holding the door open so we could start down the stairs. It was too narrow for all of us to walk side by side so I took the jumper’s elbow and Casellas followed behind. His mind was still focusing on that dizzying falling sensation, his feet were finding the stairs but he wasn’t really on them.
“If I’m not under arrest then you can’t take me anywhere,” the jumper said, getting shrill. I could throw myself down the stairs, I could do that. It couldn’t be worse than jumping, right? And they’re behind me, nothing to stop me.
I tightened my hand around his upper arm and shunted him closer to the wall. “Just try it. I’ll flatten you to this wall and get the paramedics up here to strap you to a backboard. I’ll have them carry your ass down these stairs before I’ll let you throw yourself down them,” I told him, leaning into him with my superior weight.
They were both paying attention now.
He was going to throw himself down there? What the hell is wrong with this guy? “Do you need me to grab the other side?” Casellas asked, regaining some of his equilibrium.
“Just keep a hand on him from behind.” I said, not looking away from the jumper who was staring hard at my face. “You’re not going to try any of that anyway, are you?”
The metal interior of his hat was pressing hard against the back of his skull and it jabbed painfully when he shook his head. His panic was rising in his mind like a huge bubble. He can read me, holy god he can read me. I knew these fucking hats didn’t work. Oh god, they don’t work. He’s going to know everything.
“Keep your mind on walking, all right? I don’t really care why you were going to do it,” I said roughly, trying to sound as callous as possible. I even shook him before I pulled him away from the wall and propelled him down the next few steps. The last thing I needed was a trip through his suicidal tendencies while we were still two flights from the elevator.
His surprise and his panic almost cancelled each other out so that he moved forward down to the next landing before he could focus again. This is all some fucking joke to him. He can see it all and now he’s mocking me. Anger replaced anything else, but that was ok. Angry he didn’t want to fling himself down twelve flights of stairs. Fucking paths in everything, in everyone’s minds, feeding the government, feeding control. That’s where free will really breaks down isn’t it? As soon as someone else is in your head reading out everything, cataloguing, putting it out there.
All the way down the stairs. Spewing paranoid crap as loud as he could think it.
Making lists, judging, deciding what people can do, and we pay taxes to let them do it. We actually pay to get spied on, to get channeled and funneled and directed by someone else. We pay for it and we pay them, we even pay to train them to get in our heads. Those damn schools, turning out government mind readers every year.
He didn't stop ranting in the elevator. Casellas was watching him with a slightly wary expression and only held his arm loosely, like crazy might be catching. Man, look at his face, it looks like he’s really pissed off we didn’t let him fall down the stairs. What a fucking nut.
And who’s to say that it’s really only four percent of the population? How do we really know how many of them there are? The government doesn’t want us to know, they want us in the dark so we don’t know we’re being read, sell them some fucking metal hats and tell them it’ll block the paths. There’s probably no way to block it but then people would be on guard, this way they think they’re safe from it, they think they can be in their heads alone and think what they want to think.
I breathed a sigh of relief when the elevator opened and the paramedics swarmed us. I stepped off to the side and watched Casellas cuff the jumper to the gurney the paramedics insisted on.
What a nut. Now that he was on the ground floor and the jumper wasn’t talking Casellas was sure of himself again. This was a day he could go home to his wife and tell her he saved someone.
He was feeling so expansive after his uplifting experience that he actually spoke on the ride back to the station. “How do you do that man? I mean he had no idea you were getting him off that ledge. He just did it, sat right down.”
I shrugged. Casellas had never asked anything about what I did and this was our sixth ride together. He really is feeling better. “You just have to get in there and make it seem like his idea. That’s why I needed you to distract him, it never works without a distraction.”
He nodded smiling once he was sure I couldn’t do it to him. “So, you must’ve done this hundreds of times, just convince a guy to get off a bridge or put down a gun.” Man, if we had a couple more paths on staff… he thought with some awe at the possibilities as we pulled into the precinct lot.
Right, that's exactly how it works. What are they teaching these guys? “Actually, I’m an interrogator. This was my first jumper,” I admitted, getting out of the car and trudging up the steps. I could feel the kid’s surprise behind me and steeled myself for an outraged tirade about putting him in danger. I was so busy reading behind me that I opened the door into a group of people standing just inside. “Oh, sorry,” I said into the serious face of Senator Gates.
The look of annoyance and bone-deep dislike was there and gone so fast that I could have imagined it. “Carl, just the man I was hoping to find. Do you have a minute to walk with me? I was beginning to think you weren’t coming in. “Captain, can Agent Childers and I use your office for a few minutes?” he asked, turning to the Captain.
The Captain did a fair job of covering his surprise. Probably better than I was doing. Like he doesn’t already run the damn place? “Not a problem, Senator. Good work on that jumper today, Carl.” We can take care of this work ourselves. Does Gates think we sit around here all day with our thumbs up our asses? He nodded to me and shunted the detectives that had been standing with them down the hall.
“Yes, I heard you got called out on a jumper today. Good solid work you and your team are doing here with the police.” That damn staff path better be upstairs. Still this is better than outside. He was steering us down the hall, past the empty secretary’s desk, into the Captain’s office.
I knew Gates and I knew he wasn’t here to talk about the success of his program. I couldn’t help contradicting him. “Actually we’re doing shit work out here. Most of us, including me, haven’t seen field time in years. That jumper today? Pure luck that I got him off the roof before he took a dive and took that rookie with him,” I said, following him into the office.
He shut the door behind him and went around the Captain’s desk standing with his hands flat on the blotter. “You have to talk to Donald about the training issues,” he said absently. Are we alone here? Are there any ears out? he asked, fixing me with a firm stare.
I blinked and frowned, opening myself up to the area around us. Other than some chatter from the cops and crooks, nothing. I couldn’t even read Diane in her office upstairs. No special attention on us, I projected, not sure what level of security he wanted now.
He nodded and sat down. “Have a seat, Carl.” He waited until I sat to continue. “I’m about to ask you something off the record.” He paused again giving me the serious but concerned look that won him the last election. Under that his mind was like glass, no chatter, just slight tension and a clearly worded thought. I need you to look into something for me. Quietly.
My eyebrows went up. There are limits to what I can do. “Maybe you’d better let me hear it first, off the record,” I said slowly, thinking of what Lynn would say if she knew I was doing something risky. I knew my caution wouldn’t bother Gates; he didn’t like agents who didn’t show sense.
“Fair enough. I want you to look into a few things for me. Things my office might not be able to get at.” I’ve heard a few strange things, but it’s nothing my people will be able to confirm. I have a few files I’d like you to look at, but in the meantime, I’d like you to do a little background work. Anything unusual about where Miles Breaker’s using his resources, money, staff, any of it, could be important. There was an excitement to him, the way he was sitting forward, the way he was thinking, that made me nervous. Gates didn’t get excited.
He has to be pretty deep into something if your people can’t get to it. Any idea what this something might be? I prodded. The Senator wasn’t the kind who would bring me in on a vague hunch. Especially not about his opponent in the upcoming election.
He sat back slightly, the excitement leaving him. His face was serious again. “No idea.” Not any idea I’d care to talk about here.
Which meant he had it from someone so far over my head that he wasn’t going to tell me in the middle of a police station. And there was no point in asking again. That much I remembered from when I worked for him. I’ll look into it, I offered cautiously.
He nodded and stood up. “Good. I appreciate it.” He offered his hand and I shook it. His palm was wet. Call my office tomorrow and we’ll set up a time to go over those files. I might have a chance to see about getting another unit assigned to these ride-a-longs.
I watched him move through the outer office back into the hall. I wiped my hand on the side of my pants. What’s that little favor going to cost me?previous