“Potential suicide, Golden Gate Bridge. Officer needs assistance.”
Sergeant Harris studied the figure in his rear view mirror. Dark clothing, black raincoat, raised hood. It was a miracle Harris had seen him through the thrashing rain. But this wasn’t the first time he’d come across someone loitering conspicuously at that particular spot. In his ten years on the beat there’d been a dozen suicides there; he’d attended two of them himself.
The first one had jumped - a middle-aged woman driven to despair after ten years in an abusive relationship. Harris had never really gotten over her death. He could still remember the feel of her dress as it slipped through his fingers. Helpless, he’d watched her fall - silent, graceful - into the roiling waters below.
He’d made a promise to himself that day - he would never let it happen again. Thankfully, the one which followed, a young man, had been pulled back from the brink. Afterwards, Harris had asked him why he’d chosen to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. The man replied, “I just liked the view from there.”
Harris supposed that was all it was. If he ever decided to end it all, he would probably go to the same spot for the very same reason. The view of the Bay was glorious from there, and what better view to have at the end . . .
The figure in the hooded raincoat, oblivious to Harris’s patrol car parked only a dozen yards away, stepped onto the lower bar of the railing.
“Just hurry with the back-up,” Harris barked, slamming the inter-com back into its cradle. He studied the figure for a moment, feeling the twin spokes of fear and adrenalin in his gut. After glancing round, he pulled a small silver flask from his pocket and raised it to his lips. If any of his colleagues saw him on the sauce again he’d be canned for certain, which would be a tragedy after he’d managed to convince everyone that he’d beaten his addiction.
He took a healthy swallow and slipped it back into his trouser pocket, before climbing out of the car into the rain-washed night. Cautiously, he approached the wavering figure.
“Hello there!” he hollered.
The figure didn’t turn.
“You okay, sir?”
Still no response.
Harris shuffled closer. He could just glimpse the man’s profile - nose, lips, bearded chin - peeking from the hood. The guy looked rough. A tramp, maybe. As Harris took another step closer, he smelled the wreak of booze.
“Would you step down from there, buddy?” Harris asked in a calm, level tone. “Can you hear me, pal?”
The words were so faint, Harris wasn’t sure if he’d imagined them.
The figure turned slightly towards him so that Harris saw one rheumy, bloodshot eye staring back at him.
“Stop me,” the old man said.
“Stop you? Buddy, that’s what I want to do.” Harris took this as a plea for intervention and stepped forward-
But something - some force - was stopping him. He pressed forward again, but felt a definite resistance. It wasn’t the wind. This was like some invisible barrier surrounding the hooded figure.
“Stop me!” Louder this time, almost a command.
“I - I can’t,” Harris admitted. “I want to, but-”
The figure pointed a bony, accusing finger at Harris. “You can stop this!”
Harris tried to focus on the hooded figure, but it was as if his vision was slipping between two different images of the same man - one looking down into the water, the other turned slightly towards him.
“You can stop this!” the figure said once more, before it turned, both images melting into one again. The old man raised himself up on the railing, his upper body shaking with the effort.
“No! Don’t!” Harris screamed. He threw himself forward with all his strength, hit the wall of pressure and then-
The next thing he knew he was lying on his back in the traffic lane, rain running down the back of his uniform, blinding headlights bearing down on him. He was so stunned he didn’t even think to scramble out of the way. Luckily, the vehicle slowed and pulled up in front of him. The flashing blue lights filled him with relief.
“Harris, you okay?”
It was Sergeant Dawson, one of his oldest friends on the force. He rushed over and helped him to his feet.
“The old guy!” Harris said breathlessly. “He jumped!”
“What old guy?” Dawson said, scanning the length of the bridge.
“Didn’t you see him?” Harris asked.
“I only saw you, man,” Dawson said. “You stumbled and fell in the road.”
Dawson’s friendly expression suddenly turned sour. He leaned close and sniffed Harris’s breath. “You been drinking, man?”
Before Harris could answer, Dawson reached down and picked something up from the gutter. It was Harris’s silver flask.
“Jesus, man,” Dawson said, slapping the flask against Harris’s chest. “You told me you’d kicked the habit.” He shook his head. “It’ll be the death of you, Harris.”
Harris froze, his shame momentarily forgotten.
“What did you say?”
“You heard.” Dawson walked back to his patrol car. “Give it up, man,” he said, before driving away.
Harris stood awhile in the pouring rain, staring down at the sleek surface of the flask.
You can stop this.
Had he imagined the whole thing? Was that figure not really there at all tonight? Or was it a glimpse of something that had not yet come to pass? He remembered the profile of that haunted figure, and saw a likeness now that sent a terrible shiver through him.
You can stop this.
“Yeah,” Harris said to himself, “I can.” And with one mighty throw, he tossed the flask over the railing and into the dark waters below.
(First published in From the Asylum. Copyright 2011 Lee Moan)