Well now, it's time to ease into the weekend with a little story to take your mind off your troubles, because next week...well, we'll see what next week brings: don't want to spoli the surprise. Instead, enjoy this surprise and have a wonderful weekend!
Howard looked down at the people below him, their upturned faces showing their impatience for him to do the deed, instead of merely standing threateningly on the ledge. The breeze, which was just a breeze when on the ground, felt like an Arctic gale up here. He was surprised, in spite of his cynical regard of human nature, at how quickly the crowd had grown. He heard a window open and turned his head; a head popped out.
‘Stay where you are!’ he said.
‘We don’t want to hurt you!’ It was a guy in a suit, probably a psychologist.
‘Look, I’m not interested in talking to anyone. Just leave me alone!’
‘Please, sir, you don’t want to jump, really you don’t; it’s not going to solve anything!’ The psychologist barely had his head out of the window, but still managed to project his voice without overly raising it.
‘Yes, it will,' he said, 'It will prevent me going to jail. And if it succeeds in that, it’s worth it.’ He looked down again. He was not terribly high up, but high enough that the fall would certainly kill him.
‘Why would you go to jail?’
‘That’s my business.’
Another head popped out, this time one with a police cap on. ‘No, it’s not. The minute you came up here, you made it ours!’
‘Sergeant, please! All you can do here is cause further confusion and harm. I’m the psychologist, leave it to me!’ The policeman withdrew his head and Howard looked down again, feeling more and more frightened.
‘Sir, can you at least tell us your name?’ The psychologist again.
‘It’s Howard Lange.’ Brian! What the hell was he doing here?!
‘Brian?’ Another head popped out of the window.
‘Howard, what do you think you’re doing?’
‘Brian? What are you doing here?’
Brian gave a heavy sigh, ‘Howard, don’t answer my question with one of your own.’
‘I’m going to jump, Brian. I can’t live with the shame. That’s what I’m doing.’ He looked down again before continuing. ‘I’d rather die than go to jail, Brian, I’d rather die.’
He looked up again, ‘But you haven’t answered my question; why are you here? You of all people! You should be happy to see me die.’
Brian looked puzzled, ‘Why should I want you dead?’
‘You laid charges of embezzlement against me; if I were dead, you’d at least get your revenge.’
‘Stop being so bloody melodramatic, Howard!’ Brian was getting angry now, and the psychologist was trying to shush him. He pushed the man’s arm off and leaned further out of the window. ‘Howard, come back inside and we’ll talk.’
Howard looked at him askance. ‘There’s nothing to talk about. I’m not prepared to go to jail.’ He looked back down and edged further away from the window. That it had come to this; unbelievable! It was not as if any one had suffered as a result of what he’d done. No one had lost his job, no one had lost money; all that had happened was that he’d made more money than the rest of them.
‘Howard, you don’t even know that you’ll go to jail. Why don’t you come back inside and we’ll talk.’ He was pleading now.
‘How did you know I was up here?’
‘Howard, you’re diagonally opposite our offices,’ he said tiredly. ‘Even with my poor eyesight, I could recognize you.’
‘Yes, Howard, oh.’ He rolled his eyes theatrically, ‘Will you please come inside.’
‘No, Brian, I’m not coming inside. And I’m not going to jail, either.’ He looked down again, ‘I’d rather die than go to jail.’
‘Howard, I’m coming out there to talk to you; don’t do anything foolish, okay?’ Brian put his leg out of the window as he spoke and Howard moved away from him.
‘Stay where you are!’ he screamed.
Brian stopped, half-in and half-out the window. ‘Howard,’ he said soothingly, ‘I’m not going to do anything, I just want to talk to you.’
‘Please, sir, be careful!’ The psychologist said beseechingly.
‘Oh, shut up!’ he said, irritably, ‘I didn’t see you doing miracles before I arrived!’
‘Sir, we only got here a minute or two before you!’ he said, indignantly.
‘Never mind!’ he growled, then turned back to him, ‘Sorry, it’s not your fault, but this man is my business partner and he’s been embezzling me for years and, when I found out and pressed charges against him, he disappeared. Now I find him here.’
‘I see,’ said the psychologist, ‘Okay, see what you can do.’
‘Thank you, doctor.’ He put his head out of the window again, ‘Howard, I’m coming out, please don’t do anything foolish.’ He clambered through the window and out onto the narrow ledge. He sidled up to Howard, who looked at him in some trepidation.
‘Relax, Howard, relax, I just want to talk to you.’
‘I can’t see how it’s going to help, I really don’t. I’m not going to jail.’
‘What about your family, Howard. What about Jen? What about the kids? Is it worth throwing away your life and the future happiness of your family?’ Brian was speaking in gentle, pleading tones. ‘Please come inside where we can talk; I feel really uncomfortable out here.’
‘No, Brian, you go back inside. My family’s future happiness had already been ruined by the fact that I’m going to jail. They’ll never find out what I’ve done if I jump.’ He sighed again, ‘Go back inside, Brian.’
‘Howard, I have a suggestion.’
‘Yes, Brian.’ Total resignation.
‘If you promise to take early retirement, I promise I’ll drop charges. How does that sound?’ He cocked an eyebrow enquiringly.
‘Drop all charges?’ Howard asked in disbelief. ‘But you wanted me punished!’
‘I still do, but if this is what you’re prepared to do to avoid jail, I think you’ve been punished enough.’ He gestured with his head, ‘Come on, let’s go inside.’
‘Brian, can I take your word on this? This isn’t just a ploy to get me off the ledge?’
Brian sighed, ‘No, Howard, it’s not a ploy. Come on, let’s go.’
Howard punched the air in front of him and said a silent, but savage, ‘yes!’
Brian turned, ‘Did you say something?’
‘No, I’m still thinking.’
‘For God’s sake, what’s there to think about?’ Brian said in exasperation.
‘No, you’re right,’ Howard said, ‘let’s go inside.’ He raised his voice; ‘Did you guys hear what he said?’
The psychologist stuck his head out of the window, ‘Yes, I heard.’
‘Okay, we’re coming in.’ Brian started sidling along the ledge toward the window and Howard, a smile splitting his face, followed. He took one last look down at the crowd; his gamble had paid off: Brian was far too soft.
He turned back towards the window and put his right foot forward and felt it slip. Oh, shit. He scrabbled to regain his footing and lost his balance, ‘Brian!’ he screamed, ‘He-e-e-l-p!’ and plummeted to the pavement below.
Brian stopped and looked after his plummeting body, seeing it fall to the pavement and lie in the crumpled, undignified pose that death brings, then checked the ledge to see that no trace remained of the potato skin he’d dropped on the ledge.
He climbed back inside, his face a picture of grief. ‘I’m so sorry, sir!’ said the psychologist, ‘So very, very sorry!’