“Don't come near me!” John bellowed at the policeman, the wind almost whipping his words away as he leaned over the precipice. “I'm going to jump!”
He'd watched this bit countless times in films. He expected the policeman to freeze, maybe to back away a bit, to raise his hands and speak soothingly. What he didn't expect was the policeman to shrug and say, “Go on then.”
John blinked. “Sorry, what?”
The policeman gave him a long look, as if he suspected John was a bit touched in the head. “I said,” he repeated, “go on then. Do it if you're going to.”
John paused. The world swam beneath him, glittering with lights. He was so high up. “Aren't you meant to be talking me out of this?”
“Meh.” The policeman leaned on the side of the railing – the right side, not the side that John was currently hanging off – and pulled out a cigarette. “I've been in this business a long time, son. It gets repetitive.” He lit the cigarette with a flash of his lighter.
John hesitated. “If this is some sort of ploy to get me to come back over there, it's not going to work.”
“No ploy,” said the policeman. “I'm not playing any mind tricks. I can't be bothered, frankly.”
John felt a stab of irritation. This was his moment, people were meant to be worrying about him! What the hell was this guy playing at, not worrying about him?
“Then why are you here?” he snapped.
The policeman took a drag of his cigarette. “Got a bunch of supervisors downstairs. Promotion's practically in the bag. Had to at least make a show of trying to convince you.”
“Right,” said John. He stared down at the ground – it was very far away. Very, very far away. Really, very, extremely far away. “So you don't really care what I do?”
“If you jump, you jump,” said the policeman. “Nothing I can do about it. I tried my hardest to bring you back, but some people just can't be saved. I've got it all worked out. I'll come back down, face drawn, eyes sorrowful. My voice will tremble a bit. Brother officers will slap me on the back, tell me they're sorry. My superiors will feel sympathy for me, and that sympathy will lead to a promotion. It'll be great.”
John paused again. It made sense and all, but it still didn't feel quite fair. He'd spent all that effort climbing up the building and hanging off a railing until someone noticed and called the cops, and now it was all going to be for nothing. “Look,” he put in haltingly, “I know you don't care and all, but could you just … go through the motions?”
“Why?” asked the policeman. “If you're going to go, you're going –”
“No, look,” John interrupted. “This is my moment. I'm not going to have you fucking it up, okay? So just … do what I say.”
The policeman sighed. He flicked the cigarette away. “I suppose I've got some time to waste. All right.” He took in a deep breath. “So … why're you doing it?”
John stared down at the lights below until they start to blur before his eyes. This was more like it. “She left me,” he moaned. “I loved her and she left me.”
“Oh, for fuck's sake,” the policeman muttered.
John blinked. “What? What's wrong with that?”
“It's so clichéd!” the policeman protested. “Could you not have thought up something better than that?”
“Er,” said John. “Like what?”
“Well, I don't know!” snapped the policeman. “I'm not you! There's got to be something more interesting that you've done! Doomed love affair is just so … well it's so corny, frankly. Think up something else.”
“Oh.” John considered his life carefully for a while. “Well, there was that guy I killed.”
The policeman hesitated. “Pardon?”
“I killed a man,” John elaborated. “It was a while back, I'd almost forgotten about it. He tried to steal my wallet so I just sort of … beat him to death and chucked his body in skip. Would that be a reason for suicide?”
“Er,” said the policeman, off kilter for the first time in their conversation. “Well … yeah, most people would feel guilty about that.”
“Oh, right,” replied John, cottoning on. “And the guilt would lead them to kill themselves, yeah?”
“Uh,” said the policeman. “Yeah.”
“Cool, we'll go with that then,” said John. He returned his attention to the precarious drop below. “My life's not worth living,” he moaned as convincingly as he could. “I'm up so high but I feel so low! I can't go on, not after I killed … what's-his-name ...”
“Right,” said the policeman. He tried to pull himself together. “Uh, well, that was a … pretty bad thing to do. But maybe you should try to make amends for your actions in another way?”
“Like what?” John asked. He swayed as dangerously as he could without actually letting go of the railing.
“Oh, you know. By going to prison,” the policeman suggested.
“Sounds a bit boring,” John commented, getting into the swing of things. “I mean, going to prison is a lot of effort, and the ground is right there ...”
“Yeah,” the policeman muttered. “But … prison ...”
John snapped out of his performance. “You know, you're a bit shit at this,” he complained. “Here I am hanging off the side of a building and all you can say is 'Well, if you come back over here, you can go to prison!' I mean, seriously? Is that what you say to people? Who in their right mind would give you a promotion?”
The policeman drew himself up, offended. “I happen to have an excellent success rate, thanks.”
“Really,” said John, unconvinced.
“Really,” the policeman confirmed. “After all, you don't want to kill yourself now, do you?”
John paused. He stared down at the ground. “Oh,” he said.
“Quite,” said the policeman.
“Well, no, I don't,” John replied. “But only because you're not doing this properly.”
“Exactly,” said the policeman. “That's what most people want. They want you to do it properly – all the drama and sympathy and shit. If you don't give them that, most of them come back from the edge in pure irritation.” He hesitated. “Of course some of them don't. Some of them don't want to be saved at all, and some others need the softly-softly approach. Which I can't provide. So they just … jump. And maybe they wouldn't have jumped if I'd been a bit nicer, pandered to their needs a bit, but maybe they would have. Not really my fault, is it?”
“Uh,” said John. “Well, yes, actually, it is.”
The policeman shrugged. “So long as I get the promotion, I don't really care.”
John considered his situation. It was cold and windy and his fingers were cramping on the railing. He thought longingly of a nice hot bath and a good book. “All right,” he decided. “I'm coming back over.”
He turned and moved to climb over the railing, but as he started to do so, the policeman's hand landed heavily on his chest. “Hang on a sec,” he said.
John froze. “What?”
“Well,” said the policeman. “If you come downstairs, what's the first thing you're going to say to my supervisors? You're going to tell them how awful I am, right?”
“Well, yeah,” said John. “You're pretty psycho, you know.”
The policeman surveyed him for a long moment. “The thing is,” he said apologetically, “I really need that promotion. I've got three kids to feed, you know. And you are a murderer. Some people would say you deserve to die.”
“Uh,” John said. “Yeah, but –”
“Sorry,” said the policeman, and pushed him backwards.
It didn't take long in the end. Not long at all.
The policeman turned his face to the wind for a bit, the freezing breeze spiking tears into his eyes. Then he set his shoulders low, put on his most defeated expression, and made his slow way back downstairs.
(c) Jennifer Rickard, 2014
Jennifer Rickard lives in London, and is a freelance content writer by day and a more interesting writer by night. Her first novel was written aged six and was a tale of epic adventure starring her guinea-pigs. She still writes epic adventures but with less guinea-pig.
Kim Scopes is an actress and puppeteer who trained at East 15. Recent credits include Boris and Sergei's Astonishing Freakatorium and CBBC's Strange Hill High. She has also performed Shakespeare at the New Wolsey, Ipswich, taught puppetry in Peru and performed at Glastonbury.