Thursday, May 19, 2011

looking down

"Come over here, tell me what you see," she said, clutching at the railing and staring down into the void on the other side. Wind pulled at her dress, a wind that made Hiroki uneasy even standing firmly a dozen feet away from the rail.

"I'd ... really rather not."

"I don't pay you to say that you'd rather not," she said. "Now get over here and do what you're told."

Hiroki inched his way over to the railing she was standing against, the wind pulling heavily at his coat. This high up it was cold and gusting, dangerous to even be out on the roof much less against the edge like she was, a metal railing waist-high all that was keeping her from plummeting dozens of stories to the street below.

Hiroki came over to the edge and clung to the rail like a drowning man. He did dumb things as a matter of course, but this was stupid and pointless, and the carelessness with which she took everything made him uneasy.

He looked down, as instructed, and watched as the maw of the city opened up before him. From up here it seemed to go on for miles, the canyon between the buildings an endless row of mirrored windows like obsidian teeth, the street below pulsing with a heartbeat of its own. He felt dizzy just looking at it, silently adjusting his fee upward in his head as he cursed himself for following along with every whim his clients had.

"So, what do you think?"

"I think that I already told you I don't like heights, and this is more than a little high. So ... why don't you tell me why you pulled me all the way up here before I black out and fall to my death."

The woman at his side just smiled, shaking her head. "No reason, really. I like being up here, just to talk and think. I clear my head. I find it relaxing."

Hiroki looked away, staring up at the sky, the low wisps of cloud that looked like skid marks across the orange sky of a fast-approaching night. "So tell me what you see when you look down there."

She was leaning, arms folded, on the railing. The wind and the height seemed to not bother her in the slightest as she peered down at the city below, composing her thoughts. Hiroki felt ill just looking at her heedless of the precipice.

"From up here everyone is the same," she said. "Rich, poor, old, young, they're all just ants moving across the street. I could reach out my finger," she said, her thumb extended in front of her face, "and suddenly dozens of them are gone. Effortless. It makes all of them seem unimportant. A wave of my hand and I could brush them all away."

Hiroki looked over at her, now leaning over the rail with a hand extended, slowly blotting out sections of the street. He felt like he should intervene, pull her back before she slipped. Instead he turned away from the edge and pulled a pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket. "Want one?"

She made a face and waved him off. He shrugged and tapped out a cigarette and lit it, taking a long draw and blowing smoke up at the retreating sun. "You know, some people might say-"

"Some people?" She did look over at him now with a small, lopsided smile.

"Yeah, nosier people than me, of course," Hiroki said. "But some people might say that you come up here and pretend to crush all the people because you feel powerless in your normal day-to-day life."

She laughed, a surprisingly loud sound even in all the wind. Hiroki smiled behind his cigarette and took another long drag.

"You're a silly man," she said as she moved from the railing to turn to face him. "You know, I didn't hire you to step out of line and talk about me to my face. Especially lies."

"I was just thinking aloud," Hiroki answered, not looking at her still. The sun was at one side and he knew that he was nothing more than a shadow in front of her. He liked to imagine how that looked, a trench coat and a cigarette against the haze of the city sunset. "I wouldn't presume to try to put my employer in such a neat little box."

"Good," she said. "Remember who signs your paychecks."

"For now," Hiroki said, now turning towards her with an open smile.

"Yeah, well, when its over you can call me whatever you want. For now, you're going to stand up here when I ask and act as much a gentleman as you can muster about it."

"Yes ma'am," Hiroki said, flicking ash down over the edge of the building. "So where were we?"

"Rubbing people off of the world without a thought."

"Yes," Hiroki said. "You know that's not my job, right?"

"Of course I know," the woman said. "I'm not an idiot. You think I couldn't find people who could do that if that's what I needed?"

"I'm sure you could find whoever you set your mind to," Hiroki said, hands in his pockets, edging as far away from the railing as he dared.

"Which is why I hired you."

"To find someone?"

She nodded. "The person that's trying to blot me out. Me! Of all the people they could have gone after, they go after the one that isn't powerless."

"Powerless until you track them down," Hiroki offered with a faint shrug.

She glared at him. "Well that's why I hired you, gumshoe. You find them, I'll take care of them. Maybe I'll bring them up here and show them how nice the city can look. Especially at night, when nobody's noticing."

"You should be more careful," Hiroki said. "Lots of people are afraid of heights. Especially when its this high. Your next guest might not be so appreciative of your hospitality."

She smiled and stepped away from the railing, taking a hold of Hiroki's arm and pulling him towards the stairs that led down from the roof. "Silly man, what do you think I'm counting on?"

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