She was frozen in place, on the outside of the railing. One hand grasped the structure behind her, the other clutched a small purse. She was gripping it close to her side, like a football. Her breath puffed out against the cold night air. Her red cloth coat looked too thin for this weather. But she fit neatly on the cement ledge, her heels tight against the balustrade, her toes protruding slightly over the void. Black pumps. A nice match to the red coat. A ponytail, held together by a black ribbon. A desperate chic chick.
"That's a long drop," he said needlessly, "Gonna be a thrill. Kinda like a bungee jump without the happy ending. From this height the water is going to feel like a brick wall. You're gonna break something, you know? Maybe you should dive, like head first, make sure you do it right. Water's gonna be cold, too."
"Leave me alone," she snapped, turning her head to look at him.
"Don't get mad at me. I ain't making you jump. I just stopped to watch."
He smiled t her, "It's a free bridge. You can jump. I can watch."
She turned back into her impersonation of a statue.
"Can I ask you a question?"
She didn't turn her head this time, "I don't want to talk about it."
"That wasn't my question."
She spoke into the dark space in front of her. "What's your question?"
"If you're gonna jump, do you need your purse?"
She looked down at her purse as if surprised she still had it. It was slim and elongated, black to match her shoes and hair ribbon. "I-I didn't realize I was still holding it," she said softly.
"You got any money in it? Credit cards?"
She game him an angry glare. "I'm jumping off the bridge and you're trying to mug me?"
He was offended. "I am not trying to mug you, for chrissakes. I'm panhandling. The second you step off this bridge, you no longer need your purse. I could use any money you got in there. You're just going to get it all wet and probably ruin it. And if you have a couple of credit cards, I can use them tonight and maybe tomorrow morning before anyone realizes they're missing. It's not like you're gonna worry about paying the bills."
"Go to hell."
"You may make it there before I do."
"I'll make you a deal. If you have a cell phone or any ID in your purse, I'll call whoever you want and tell them you took the plunge."
She inched away from him, gripping the purse tighter. "If you are that hard up for money, maybe you should be jumping, instead of me."
"I'm hard up, lady, not stupid. Plus I'm afraid of heights and I hate cold water."
She sighed. "If I give you money, will you go away and leave me alone?"
"What the hell are you hanging on to the purse for? You think you need an ID to get into heaven? Somebody's gonna card you at gates? How about this for a deal, you give me the purse and I'll give you a push? Then you don't have to stand here all night freezing your ass off."
She scooted further away from him, taking short, dragging steps, being careful not to trip and fall off the ledge. She then bet over to place the purse carefully on the ledge between them and said, "Come and get it if you want it."
He blinked in surprise. "Y-You want me to call someone for you? After you jump, I mean?
"Do what you damn please."
He started over the railing but had second thoughts. It was too scary on the over side. Instead, he walked to where purse was and bent over to reach out for it. But it was too far. So he crawled on the top of the railing, balancing on his belly, his legs in the air, to reach forward. He was surprised to feel her hands on his collar and the back of his belt, yanking him out over the railing.
He scrabbled for a hand hold with one hand and grabbed out for her with the other but she was too fast and too strong. He tumbled over and over, for a long time, before hitting the hard, cold water.
The woman bent over to pick up her purse, saying, "Annoying bastard!" She hiked up her coat and her skirt to awkwardly crawl back to the inside of the railing, saying, "At least he made me feel better!"
Jerome McFadden received 2nd place in the June 2011 Bullet Awards as one of the top crime stories to appear on the web, for his story "Convenience Store" that appeared in FFO that month. That tempted him to keep on writing.