by Charles C. Cole
Three stories up, on a narrow concrete ledge, two determined men converged, arms outstretched for balance, fingertips lightly rubbing against the outside of the vacant warehouse. They seemed to be completely unaware of each other’s approach. They sidestepped carefully, occasionally closing their eyes, concentrating, preparing for the big, life-changing moment, on their terms. Then their fingers touched.
Jasper reacted to the intrusion first. “What?! You’re kidding me! Really?! Where the hell did you come from? You’re not talking me out of it, I’m telling you right now.”
Mudd also refused to back down. “Two’s a crowd, pal. Go cry to your wife. I’ve been planning this for days. Find yourself another ledge to jump off.”
Jasper snapped. “Nobody tells me what to do, not at work, not at home, and not on this freaking ledge!”
“You want money? I’ll give you money! I don’t need it any more. Just leave me alone!”
“Hey, jerkweed, this here’s the very ledge my cousin Joey jumped off a year ago this week. So, you know what: go screw yourself! This is sacred ground. This beautiful concrete walkway to nowhere has been officially claimed by me and my family.”
Mudd softened. “Joey Trebattino? You knew Joey?”
“Yeah, but only on account of my mother and his mother being sisters their whole lives,” said Jasper dryly. “Hell, he was like a big brother to me before we moved to Jersey. You knew Joey?”
“Sure,” said Mudd, sighing. “Everybody knew Joey. He was a good guy. Made some bad decisions, though. Wrong girl. Wrong friends.” He shook his head at the jumbled memories. “Me and Joey played ball together for Teddy’s Tavern. This one time we were playing against this biker bar, Mulligan’s on 34th. They were ahead by three, in part because of a bad call. He was at first and I was on third and—”
“Blah blah blah,” Jasper taunted, impatient. “I’m glad you knew Joey and all, but I got business to attend to, personal business, so if you could just take your sentimental self back to where you came from, I’d appreciate a few moments alone, to explain ahead of time to the Big Guy why I gotta do what I gotta do before... you know.” He mimed a swan dive.
Mudd was offended. “Look at you: all serious. Like he gives a damn about a lowlife like you. From your lips to God’s rear.”
“Hey, show some respect!” Jasper snarled.
“You’re right. You’re right,” Mudd agreed, shocked by his own intensity. “Okay, I’ll go. Why not? I got other options. Tons. I won’t stop you. I don’t believe in making decisions for other people. That’s me. We’re all adults, you know, and we gotta take responsibility for our actions.” He started the long sidestep back the way he had come.
“Yes, we do,” Jasper agreed softly, watching. “Here I come, Joey. Make it fast, pal. This is gonna suck.”
Mudd paused. “Listen, about that... If you see Joey, tell him it was me driving the car that night he hit the wino. He was already passed out. I changed places with him before the police showed. It’s been bugging the hell out of me, so tell him I’m really sorry. Really sorry.”
“Now you’re messing with me.”
“Dude, just pass the message along. All right?”
“That’s crazy crap,” said Jasper. “And a small world to boot. You’re not just trying to make me feel better? Because I’ve been pretty ticked at him for being so freaking stupid.”
“I swear to God, that’s what happened. Not my shining moment, to be perfectly honest. Hence my little suicidal dance-off today, which you’ve won.”
“You were in the car?” asked Jasper.
“You did that?”
“I said so, didn’t I?”
“Then screw yourself!” Jasper cursed. “You like to watch other people get hurt for your entertainment, is that it? I’ll do you one better, Mister I’m-So-Sorry-For-Myself. I’ll take you to him.” Jasper grabbed Mudd’s hand, clamping on.
“Let go!” snapped Mudd, struggling to pull away. “This is crazy! You’re gonna pull me off!”
“I thought that was the general idea.”
“For you, maybe, but I’ve changed my mind.”
“Too late for that,” said Jasper.
“I gotta work in the morning; there’s no one to cover for me.”
“You should have thought of that before,” said Jasper.
“Seriously, show me how it’s done, flyboy, but I’m gonna sit this one out.”
“Afraid of a little heavenly judgment?” Jaspered jeered.
“Maybe,” Mudd allowed. “Fine, I just don’t think I’d like being dead. What’s it to you? I can’t go through with it. Period. I really can’t. Now let go of me! I don’t want to die!”
“No? Me either. But that’s because I’m a cop, dirtbag, and I’ve got paperwork on my desk that goes right up to my chinny-chin-chin, not to mention a city to protect from people like you.” Jasper handcuffed Mudd. “So why don’t we go down to the station where you can spill your guts out in a slightly more proactive fashion?”
“A cop? No way Joey had a cop for a cousin.”
“Idiot, I’m not Joey’s cousin.”
“Then why are you here? Did somebody tip you off? How’d you know I’d be here?”
“Teddy called,” Jasper explained. “For the record, bartenders make the best snitches; people are always confusing them with priests. Lucky for us, not so lucky for you.”
“Teddy!” snapped Mudd. “That ungrateful bastard! I spent so much money in his dive over the years that I probably paid for his kid’s orthodontics. And this is the thanks I get.”
“Come along, dickhead, and watch your step. The last guy wasn’t quite so lucky.” Jasper pulled away, tugging on the handcuffs.
“Wait! Give me a minute.” Mudd glanced down and winced. “Sorry, Joey,” he said. “I panicked. I didn’t know things would go down that way. I didn’t know you’d take it so hard.”
“Save some crocodile tears for the D.A.,” said Jasper.
Copyright © 2014 by Charles C. Cole