Inside an empty office on the top floor of the museum, I opened a window and stuck my head out. A cool breeze hit my face. I looked down. Two fire trucks pulled up. The firemen poured out, all hustling and bustling. From this vantage point, they looked like ants.
I turned my head right and looked at Bryant. He was shuddering. There was a chill in the air, his coat was flimsy and the pajamas he wore underneath weren’t helping much.
“Hey,” I said. “Buddy.”
Bryant recoiled in terror when he realized I was there. He flattened his back against the stone wall of the building, his feet holding a precarious grip on the ledge. “Who are you? Don’t come any closer!”
“Yeah, no worries,” I said. “I’d rather stay in here where it’s nice and warm than freeze my ass out there if it’s all the same.”
The jumper nodded. “OK then.”
Bryant and I were quiet for a time. He was petrified, refusing to look down. Me? All I could do was look down but then again, my body was secure.
“You a cop?” Bryant asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Well, for at least another week or two.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Bryant asked.
“Let’s just say my boss doesn’t like the cut of my jib,” I said. “Well, deep down, I’m not entirely sure he feels that way. But he’s got bosses who don’t like me and they’ve got bosses who don’t like me and you know how the game is played. Everyone’s gotta do what they gotta do.”
“It’s a dog fuck dog world out there,” Bryant said.
“Yeah,” I said as I pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “And we’re all just trying to not be the last bitch poodle.”
I puffed on the cig. “Damn, I wish Rosie was up here. That would have been a good line to pull down my shades on.”
“Huh?” Bryant asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “You smoke?”
“Not usually,” Bryant said. “Up until recently, my body was a temple but now? Yeah, sure, why not?”
I nodded. I pulled another cigarette out of the pack, lit it, then ever so carefully, reached my arm out the window. Suddenly, I thought better of that move and pulled my arm back.
“Not for nothing, Kevin,” I said. “But this is a little trust building exercise. You grab my arm and try to pull me out there and throw me out this building and I’ll take you down with me.”
“I won’t,” Bryant said. “Honestly, I’m starting to consider the possibility that this whole thing might have been ill-advised.”
I reached my arm out. Bryant reached down and grabbed the smoke without taking his eyes off the world ahead of him.
“You think?” I asked as I pulled my arm back.
“Yeah,” Bryant said. “I’m sorry. I just needed someone to pay attention. I need those straws, man.”
“I know,” I said.
“I don’t think you do,” Bryant said. “Someone introduces something into your life that you need, that you gotta have and then one day, boom, it’s all gone. Shit, if I could find that cop who destroyed Wisenheimer’s, I’d give him a piece of my mind.”
I sighed. “I heard he’s a good fellow.”
“No,” Bryant said. “On the news, they’re saying he drove a bulldozer through the joint then started juggling lit sticks of dynamite around while soccer moms and little babies were watching.”
“You can’t trust what you see on the news anymore, pal,” I said. “Haven’t you heard of the term, ‘fake news?’”
“Fake news?” Bryant asked. “No. All journalists are wise, seasoned professionals and the fruit of their labors is unassailable. Why, to even think of criticizing them is to assault the freedom of speech.”
“Whatever,” I said. “I’m sure that cop had his reasons.”
“Yeah,” Bryant said. “Well, he fucked up my life. I need those Wisenheimer straws and I can’t get them. I tracked down some of the employees who worked there. They didn’t have any. They threatened to kick me in the nuts if I ever contact them again. I contacted some customers. They didn’t have any either. They too threatened to kick me in the nuts if I ever contacted them again.”
I puffed on my cigarette.
“I called the corporate office,” Bryant said. “They said they couldn’t help me and that if I called again, they’d send a lawyer to kick me in the nuts.”
“I’m beginning to sense a pattern here,” I said.
“Yeah,” Bryant replied. “That the world’s happy to have you as long as you don’t cause trouble but oh boy, have one little problem and everyone will just gang up on you and threaten your nuts with bodily harm.”
“Something like that,” I said.
Bryant took a drag on his cigarette. “Aww, listen to me. Going on and on like my problems are everyone else’s fault. I admit it. It’s crazy. Straws. What a silly thing to be addicted to.”
“It’s not that silly,” I said.
Bryant ignored my comment. “I tried to stop. I tried to stay away. But all I could think about, morning, noon and night was straws, straws and more straws.”
“Kevin,” I said. “You and your fellow addicts, of which I’m sure there are more out there, are blameless in this. You didn’t sign up to…”
“My wife can tie a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue,” Bryant said. “And my girlfriend can fit an entire cucumber up her…”
“OK,” I said. “No one likes a braggart.”
“True,” Bryant replied.
“Plus,” I said. “I’m sure that lifestyle isn’t easy. Having to keep those broads from finding out about each other.”
“Not at all,” Bryant said. “Amber and Brandy are best of friends.”
“You’re shitting me,” I said.
“I shit you not,” Bryant said. “They hang out all the time. We have three ways every Sunday, go on vacations as a threesome. They send each other Christmas cards.”
I laughed. “Damn it, Kevin.”
“I’m so jealous I’m liable to throw you off this ledge myself,” I said.
“There,” I said. “A sign you don’t want to die. Now, will you please come inside and bring this foolish spectacle to a conclusion?”
“No,” Bryant said. “It’s all over.”
“What’s over?” I asked. “Nothing is over.”
“I’m all washed up,” Bryant said. “I got nothing.”
“You’re richer than a sultan!” I said.
“All smoke and mirrors,” Bryant said. “There’s no such thing a free pussy, man.”
“Tell me about it,” I said. “I field so many calls from my ex-wives’ army of crooked lawyers that I’d hire a secretary to answer them if I could afford one.”
“Every man dreams of scoring that primo snatch-o-la,” Bryant said. “But you got any idea what you gotta do to keep it?”
“I can imagine,” I said.
“Trips,” Bryant said. “Private jets. The best hotels. Gifts. Clothes. Diamonds. Jewelry. They expect you to take care of their every little need. Hire servants to follow them around and clean up after them. And these broads? They don’t know anything about the value of money. They ask you for something and they expect you to pull it out of your ass like a magician. Brandy wanted a pet puma, for Christ’s sake. Do you know how much it costs to take care of a puma?”
“A lot?” I asked.
“The vet bills alone are staggering,” Bryant said. “And the titty enlargening surgeries? Don’t even get me started.”
“Yes,” Bryant said.
“I prefer big naturals,” I said.
“Oh,” Bryant said. “I got a guy in Guadalajara. Off the books. Black market stuff. Not exactly approved by the American Medical Association, if you catch my drift. I don’t know how he does it but he can make a titty feel like it’s the pillow that God himself would just to rest his head on.”
“That sounds amazing,” I said.
“Yeah,” Bryant said. “But expensive. I’ve been living life large on credit for as long as I can remember. Now that my income’s gone, it will all go bust. I’ll be crushed under a mountain of dead. They’ll take my houses, my cars. I’ll have to file for bankruptcy. The babes will leave and I’ll be all alone.”
“Now, now,” I said. “Don’t get all down in the dumps, yet, buster. You never know. If your women love you enough, they might just stick around and…”
Bryant and I cracked up together.
“Oh, who am I kidding?” I asked.
Bryant laughed. “Thanks. I needed that.”
“Kevin,” I said. “None of this was your fault. Now, I’m not going to bog you down in the details, but you need to trust me. You are an unwitting pawn in a vast, underground conspiracy, one that, until recently, involved adding trace amounts of highly addictive cocaine to straws that were being dealt under the table at Wisenheimers.”
“Wait,” Bryant said. “Coke?”
“Yes,” I said. “As part of an illegal experiment to study the effects of cocaine laced straws on humans. It’s all part of a conspiracy to force mankind to suck on straws until the end of time.”
“You’re telling me I’m a coke-head?” Bryant asked.
“Looks that way,” I said.
Bryant cheered. “Yes!”
“I’ve never seen someone so happy to find out they’re hooked on the Columbian snot powder,” I said.
“This is great,” Bryant said. “Every rich asshole in a fifty-mile radius is hooked on one drug or another! It’s a right of passage. It’s to be expected. Hell, if anything, you’re considered a weirdo if you’re rich and you don’t get hooked on something. When everyone thought I was offering to suck dick for straws, they thought I was insane, but now that I can tell everyone it was the coke inside the straws that I was after all along, I can get my life back! My boss and my women will welcome me back with open arms, I’ll do a couple weeks in rehab and…”
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s great. Hey, listen man, if you could hold off on the celebration until after you’ve come inside…”
Bryant composed himself. “Right.”
We both went silent.
“Hey, man?” Bryant asked.
“How do I get down from here?” Bryant asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Bryant pushed his back against the wall so hard it was as if he was trying to push himself through the building. “I can’t move, man! I’m too scared!”
“Oh, come on!” I looked below. The firefighters had pulled out a giant piece of plastic that was large, pink, and deflated.
I pressed the call button on my radio. “Hey, Jeffries, what’s going on down there? Over.”
My radio squawked. “We’re putting up an inflatable device that will, we hope, break your fall if, God forbid, a fall happens. Over.”
I pressed my button. “You think it will? Over.”
“I don’t know,” Jeffries said. “If I had to bet, probably not, but it’s a department rule that in a situation like this, there has to be one. Over.”
I scoffed. “Well, thank the department for me. Over.”
Squawk. “I don’t think the department cares about you per se, Smasher. It’s just an insurance thing. The department’s policy and you know, factoring in the actuarial tables and so forth, it’s just cheaper to inflate the damn thing. It’s complicated. Don’t ask me to explain it. Over.”
I saw one firefighter hook up an air compressor to a hose attached to the pink piece of plastic. Like a marshmallow, it grew and grew.
“Friend,” I said. “I’m going to need you to develop some steel in your shorts. Think about how you’re going to rebuild your life, how cooler your chicks will think you are when they find out you’re a coke-head.”
“Man,” Bryant said. “They’ll think I’m so cool. I bet they’d even let me get a second sidepiece.”
“That’s the spirit,” I said. “Now, very slowly, and very carefully, without taking your foot off the ledge, start inching your way toward me.”
Bryant closed his eyes and shook his head. “No, no, no, man. I can’t!”
“Kevin,” I said. “Your new life awaits you through this window. Come on, now!”
The addict shrieked like a little girl. “I can’t do it!
“Damn it,” I said.
“Maybe if I had one of those straws,” Bryant said. “They made me feel brave, you know?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Like I could do anything,” Bryant said. “Like I was invincible. Say, you don’t happen to have one of those straws on you, do you?”
“Not on me, no,” I said.
“You sure?” Bryant said. “I might be willing to suck your…”
“That’s not happening,” I said.
My radio squawked. “Smasher,” Jeffries said. “What’s happening? Over.”
I pressed my button. “He’s pussying out. Over.”
“I’m not pussying out!” Bryant shouted. “I just need a straw! You hear that, people?! Get me a straw and you can drop your pants, make full use of my soft lips and supple mouth and when you’re done, feel free to leave my face looking like a frozen yogurt truck exploded in my general vicinity! I don’t care! Just get me a straw!”
Squawk. “Smasher. It’s Rosie. Maybe I should just go back to the station and get him one of Humberto’s straws. Over.”
Bryant perked up. “What’s that now?”
I thought about my partner’s proposition. “No. I’m not going to help the Illumistrawti turn people into straw addicts. That’s letting the Strawman win. Over.”
“The Strawman?” Bryant asked. “Who’s the Strawman? Does he enjoy a good pickle smooch, because I’ll do it, man. I swear. I will smooch every peen from here to Philly and back again if it will get me a straw.”
“Has that offer even worked on anyone yet?” I asked.
“Not as such, no,” Bryant answered. “But you know how it is. You get what you put out into the world and I’ve been putting out plenty off offers to gargle sausage for straws, so sooner or later…”
“Enough,” I said. “I’m coming out there.”
“Don’t you dare!” Bryant shouted. “If you do, I’ll…I’ll…”
“Jump?” I asked. “Give me a break, cupcake. If you had the guts to throw yourself off a building, you would have done it by now.”
I crawled out onto the ledge. I inched my way towards Kevin. I reached out my hand.
Bryant shook his head. “No. I can’t.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked. “Stay out here for the rest of your life?”
“If I have to.”
I pressed the button on my radio. “Jeffries! Is that thing up yet? Over.”
“It’s up,” Jeffries said. “Over.”
I looked down. The height messed with my sense of balance, but I kept it together. The sight I saw filled me with rage – the plastic had been inflated to form a pink bouncy house. Scrawled across the top in purple letters were the words, “Princess Paulina’s Bouncy Castle.” It had bouncy spires, bouncy minarets, the works.
Button press. “Are you shitting me?!”
Squawk. “No,” Jeffries said. “Sorry. Best we could do on short notice. It seems stable enough. It should hold. Probably. Over.”
Button press. “Probably?”
“I don’t know, Smasher,” Jeffries said. “I don’t think this novelty inflatable children’s party attraction has been tested to see if it can take a body after a ten-story drop. Over.”
“Oh,” I said to myself. “Fuck me.”
“Man!” Bryan shouted. “Am I getting a straw or what?”
“To hell with this,” I said. I pulled out my cuffs. I cuffed one side around my wrist. I grabbed the idiot’s wrist and cuffed it.
“What are you doing?” Bryant asked.
“You’re a big man, Kevin?” I asked.
“Not at all!” Bryant said.
“You want to die?” I asked.
“Not anymore!” Bryant shouted. “If we’re being honest, I didn’t want to before. I just wanted someone to pay attention to me.”
“Well,” I said as I looked out to all the news cameras pointed our way, as well as all the cell phones being operated by bystanders. “You’re going to get your wish, dickhead. Everyone’s going to know your name now.”
“No!” Bryant said. “Wait!”
“Three,” I said.
“Two,” I said.
“You coming in?” I asked.
“Just give me a minute!”
“Sorry. You’re all out of time. One!”