This story is by Gillian Webster and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
“Hey, Fraser. Dinner’s over. We’re up!”
Alison dropped her coffee cup into the trashcan and grabbed her jacket. “What we got?” she asked, tailing her partner out of the squad room, down a flight to the lobby.
“Guy with a gun on the rooftop bar at the Ludlow on West Street. Customers scattered. Someone called 911. Now he’s out on the terrace threatening to jump.”
When Detectives Fraser and Heller arrived at the hotel, the Jumper Response Vehicle was already on scene. Guys in EMS uniform were inflating a giant airbag in front of a crowd of looky-loos.
“Who’ve we got up top?” Heller asked the EMS Sergeant.
“Officers Cole and Martinez were first on scene. They’re upstairs with the manager. Suspect’s contained on the roof for now.”
All three looked up. Six stories above them a festive string of lights swung on the breeze.
“He picked a pretty spot,” Detective Fraser said, turning to look at a pinked up sky as the sun prepared to set over the Hudson.
Upstairs, the bar looked like a war zone. Glasses littered the tables, jackets, purses, even a couple of shoes were left behind in the stampede. The barman watched from a corner while one of the uniforms spoke to the lone figure on the ledge.
“What do we know about our guy?” Heller asked Officer Martinez.
“Not much. Says his name is Joe. Hasn’t asked for anything except to be left alone.”
Alison watched the man pace. “He really wanted to do this, he’d have eaten his gun already, or jumped off a bridge. But he came up here and had a drink in a bar full of people.”
“What’re you saying?”
“I’m saying this guy’s not done living.”
“How can you be sure?” Martinez asked.
“Can’t. I’m choosing to believe he came for the view.” She turned to her partner. “Let’s get him back to his family in one piece. I’ll talk. You grab.”
Alison made her way outside, dismissing Officer Cole. It was a pretty spot: comfortable furniture for lounging, nice planting, and strings of colored lights ringing the rooftop, making it look like a set for a wedding.
“Don’t come any closer!” the man yelled.
His expression was strained, his movements amped by restless energy.
Alison raised her hands. “Just coming close enough so we can talk. I’m Ally,” she said. “What’s your name?”
Corp. Joseph Gordon was a soldier, a veteran of the Iraq war, she learned.
“Joe, I really want us to talk. First, I need you to put the gun down. Can you do that?” Warily, he sized Alison up. “No tricks. Promise. Just put it on the ledge.”
Relieved, she said, “Good, Joe. Now how ‘bout you tell me what’s bothering you?”
Joe shrugged. “My life…means nothin’. I went from hero when I deployed to zero back home,” he said. “People tell us we matter. They thank us for our service. But that’s such bullshit! When we need their help…man, they’re gone.”
His head dropped. Alison didn’t want him to look down. “I’m right here, Joe. Look at me.”
Joe looked at her. “I almost died for my country…now my country won’t even give me a job. How’s that fair?”
“It’s not. People like us, we give a lot and it’s hard right now. But there’s more life around the corner.”
He seemed not to hear her. “Did you know I met the President?”
He pulled his jacket aside and Alison shifted her hand to her holster. But inside, pinned to his shirt, was a pale blue ribbon decorated with thirteen tiny white stars, hung with a five-pointed bronze star: The Medal of Honor.
Alison whistled. “That is somethin’.” She meant every word.
“President Obama pinned it to my chest himself. That was a good day. Maybe my best day.”
“There’ll be more good days, Joe.”
“Not for me. My wife…she’s tired of the night terrors and the mood swings. Says I scare the kids. Hell, I know I’m no fun to be around. Can’t tell you the last time I laughed.”
“Everything you’re feeling is temporary. Fixable.”
“Who’s gonna fix me? I went to Iraq someone’s husband. But you either come back in a bag or you’re this angry shadow who jumps when their kid slams the door. That’s no way to live.”
“And you’re so damn tired. Am I right, Joe?”
Joe barely nodded his head, as if to do so would take too much energy.
“How about you sit? Then you and me, we can talk.”
He swayed. “Ain’t getting down from here.”
Alison quashed her panic. “Just five minutes. Please, Joe?”
“You a shrink or somethin’?”
“A negotiator. But before I had this job, I was a soldier like you.”
Joe’s head rose.
Alison nodded. “82nd Airborne. I was a combat medic. Served one tour in Afghanistan.”
She had him hooked. That spark of interest said there was still life outside himself – it gave her hope.
“Why’d you leave?”
“Irish roots…” She gestured to a ponytail of coppery curls and a face full of freckles. “Desert sun played havoc with my complexion. So, you think you can give a fellow soldier five minutes of your time, Corporal?”
“Dunno what difference it’ll make.”
“You might be surprised. Five minutes then maybe we talk some more. Before you know it that feeling in your gut right now…that hopelessness, that anger? Joe, that’s gonna ease. I promise. And Joe, look at me.”
“You will laugh again.”
When it came, The Grab, as the Jumper Squad called it, was more of a hug and drop.
“I didn’t know you served,” Heller said to his partner as they watched Joe climb into an ambulance.
“I didn’t. My brother did.”
“Didn’t know you had a brother.”
“He died in Afghanistan training local police.”
“Jeez, Ally, I had no—”
“Don’t like to talk about it. But this guy…” She shook her head. “No way we were losing another one. Not in our own backyard.”