“Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The woman stood on the edge of the building, looking down at the vast city below. The great expanse of towering skyscrapers and asphalt streets could be seen far into the distance. This was her home; she had been raised here and this view never failed to take her breath away. She let out a sigh of relief as she edged closer to the end of the roof. With the railing pressing into her stomach, she looked down.
It was a straight shot thirty stories down to the ground floor
. The wind gusted up, blowing her black dress tight against her skin while the excess flapped in the breeze. She took a few steps backwards and sat on the ground with her legs crossed. Taking off her red high heels one at a time, she held one up and examined it.
He loves red, she thought, teasing a red earring with her free hand. Putting the shoe down, she opened up her purse and checked her face with a small mirror. Her lips were full, pouty and covered in bright red lipstick. She tried to fix her hair, but the wind was too strong and she finally gave up. A part of her felt she looked like a whore, but that was what he liked. She wanted to look good for him because it wouldn’t be long now before he showed up.
As she examined herself in the mirror, her phone went off. It buzzed and buzzed, vibrating until she finally picked it up. Julia Webb it read. Opening up the flip phone, she said “Hey baby”, speaking up over the loud gusts of wind.
“Oh, no, I’m downtown,” she said, looking in the mirror again with the phone nestled against her shoulder. “I probably won’t be home until later tonight.”
“No! I promised you I wouldn’t do that anymore, remember?” she said, inspecting her teeth.
In the distance, she saw something come up over the top of a tall building. A speck against the falling sun, she saw him soaring through the sky. He flew over the city, heading towards her, just like he always did when on patrol. She had his schedule down pat, and this was where she always waited for him.
“Um, my date is coming sweetie. I need to let you go,” she said. “I love you too,” and hung up the phone.
She slipped the shoes back on and stood up next the edge. She placed the phone in her purse, took out some lipstick, and tucked the purse beneath her arm. After applying the lipstick, she smiled and waited until she could see the red of his costume. He was close now.
Taking a deep breath, she crawled over the railing and leapt from the building. Her body fell so fast that she couldn’t hear anything. The wind around her was roaring as she plummeted down towards the concrete below. Her breathing stopped as her heart pounded in her chest. This was always her favorite part. That moment just before he caught her. She knew he would scoop her up and they could make love on the roof top, just like they had that time, so many years ago.
And just like she imagined, he caught her. She felt the quick dip of his body as he compensated for her velocity. When she did this the first time, he explained how she would die if he just caught her. Such a gentleman, always looking out for others. He was a true hero.
“Oh, Alpha! I knew you would catch me!” she said, throwing her arms around his neck.
“Lillian, we talked about this,” he said, in the stern voice. “You have repeatedly put your life in danger for this ridiculous stunt. You know what the doctors said if you did it again.”
Her face sank. “But...I love you. I can’t be without you!” she said.
“I’m sorry, but I think it’s in your best interest if you spend some time with the doctors at Bellview. You’re sick, and you need help!”
“But…who’s going to take care of my girl... our girl?” she asked, almost in tears.
“I know someone at the child services office,” he said. “I’ll make sure she gets placed somewhere safe until you are better.”
“No! No!” she said, pulling her arms away from his neck. She began pounding on his chest instead. “You can’t do this to me! I love you!”
No matter how hard she fought and screamed, he didn’t divert his path. She saw the hospital come into view, and stopped fighting. Instead, she cried. Thick mascara ran down her face, chasing the unabated tears that outlined the red of her lips in black.
Officer Reedy stood in front of the mirror fixing his tie. He pulled the dark navy cloth into a knot at his throat and smiled. He looked at himself for a moment longer. His dark brown eyes examined the short curly black hair on his head for mistakes. There were none. His pulled on the collar of his blue uniform with pride and turned to look at his wife. She was the color of semi-sweet dark chocolate, and he gave her tight, curvaceous body a once over before biting his lip. She cracked a large smile, then threw a pillow at him.
“You’ve had plenty of time for all of that,” she said.
“Doesn’t mean I can’t still drool,” he said, drawing her into his arms. He kissed her neck and she started to giggle. With both hands, she tried to push him away, but he held fast and sucked on her neck with loud slurping noises. She broke off into hysterical laughter before trying to hit him on the chest. He stopped and pulled away with a big grin on his face.
“I’m not gonna fuck you,” she said, with a sly smile. “This is your first day back in weeks, you don’t need to be late.”
“Fine,” he said, “but your ass had better be ready to go when I get home.”
“Oh, you best believe my baby is going to get some,” she said, putting both arms around his neck to keep him from pulling any farther away. “I love you, sweetheart.”
“I love you too, baby,” he replied, staring deep into her brown eyes.
The tires of the ambulance shrieked over the deafening siren as the driver made a hard left at the intersection. A small canal in the center of the street opened as the vehicles in front of them parted. John, the driver bore down on the horn, making their presence known to any who couldn't see them. Patrick sat in the passenger seat with one foot up on the dash and both hands holding onto something.
"You think it was terrorists?" Patrick asked.
"How the fuck am I supposed to know?" John replied before laying on the horn again. "Get outta the fucking way!"
"You know, I never thought we'd have a terrorist attack," Patrick said. "I mean, not with him around, you know?"
"Just shut up with the terrorist shit," John said. "We don't know what it is, or why. All we know is that there's been an explosion. Just because something blows up, it don't mean it’s terrorists."
"You know he saved me once..." Patrick said.
"Ya, you told me. Whoopty do," John replied, before yanking the steering wheel to the left.
The ambulance jerked hard, bumping over a curb. John rode with two tires on the sidewalk for almost a block before pulling back into traffic. Just as they passed under a green light, two cop cars joined them. John flashed one of the officers a nod and punched it.
"We're getting close," he told Patrick.
"GPS says less than one minute,” Patrick replied. "We should be able to...Jesus."
A tall black column of smoke poured into the sky, rising up from a behind a building. They slowed down and drove through a police barricade. A black cop with white gloves waved them in while doing his best to divert traffic from the scene.
"Goddamn rubberneckers," Patrick said.
"Tell me about it," John replied. "You think having your boss standing over your shoulder is bad, these fucks all have camera phones and internet access."
As they came around the corner, both their eyes went wide. A massive pillar of orange flame erupted from the middle of a large crater, scorching the air above. The street and part of a service station had sank almost ten feet into the ground. The asphalt around the flames melting, turning into a black tar.
Bodies were scattered around the broken asphalt. Most were intact, but the remains of some were strewn about, leaving solid red chunks staining the cracked blacktop. Injured people ran frantically about, confused and disoriented while the understaffed police tried their best to corral them away from the disaster.
"Let's go," John said, parking the ambulance.
He opened his door and hopped out. He grabbed his equipment and rushed over to the nearest person he could find. It was a young girl, stumbling around like she was lost. He shined his pen light in her eyes, to judge her pupils. They were unresponsive. He turned back to find Patrick, but he was still in the passenger seat, stunned by the carnage before them.
John ran back to his door, which still hung open and said, "Don't crack up on me now! I need you!"
"Right," Patrick muttered. "Right, right, right!"
His white knuckled hand clenched the door handle, but he still didn't open it. Instead, he watched that little girl, looking around for her mother as blood ran down the side of her face.
"Ok!" he said, and shot into action. Before he realized what he was doing, Patrick already had his things and was examining a woman who had deep burns on her face and neck.
"We’re going to need some help here!" Patrick said.
"It's already been radioed in!" John replied.
The woman in front of Patrick snapped out of her stupor, and went livid as he tried to bandage her up. She fought and kicked at him as he tried his best to hold her down. She cried out, and stretched out her arms.
"My baby girl!" she screamed.
It was then that he saw what she was freaking out about. A small girl, lying in the crater was looking up at them, crying out. Her dark matted hair clung to her horrified face as soot discolored her skin. She was within feet of the powerful blaze and no one could get to her.
The ruptured gas line hiccupped, sending a rolling fire ball over the little girl’s head. She screamed out in fear and reached for her impotent mother. The woman started to rush in when John grabbed her.
“No!" he screamed, fighting her. The black soot on her face has joined with the tears, making dirty streaks on her face.
The roaring flame sputtered and stopped, leaving everyone lost in the wake of silence. The panic and fear it had caused was so much that its absence seemed to confuse everyone further until the woman broke free and ran to her terrified child. As her arms went around the girl’s neck, everyone sprung back from their doe eyed stupor. John and Patrick rushed towards her with a blanket and took her from her mother’s arms. They carted her off towards the ambulance with the relieved mother following behind. At that moment more ambulances showed up, and the place was filled with firemen and EMT’s, all rushing off to do their jobs.
"We got the gas off," said a city worker, tilting his yellow hard hat to wipe his sweaty brow. He was a round man with thin arms and legs. His deep eyes rested beneath two bushy eyebrows and his upper lip was hidden by a thick brown mustache.
"Good work!" John said, administering aid to the young girl.
"We’re extremely lucky this pipe didn't fly out of the ground. I've seen a giant one whip around. Took out half a block," he said.
"Ok sweetheart," John said, cleaning a few cuts as she breathed through an oxygen mask. "We’re gonna have to take you to the hospital for further examination, but we are going to have to take a few others with us, OK?"
The girl nodded and he patted her on the head. Turning away from her, he got a clear view of the destruction around. The bubbling tar to mix with the blood, sizzling at popping. He wiped his brow and turned back to the girl who was now pulling on his lapels.
"It's ok sweetheart,” he said with a faint smile. “I've gotta go help some of the other people real quick and we'll be off, OK?"
Once again she nodded, and he got up. Just as he was getting ready to walk away, a shadow passed overhead. He looked up, and saw the silhouette of a man in the sky.
"Great," John said, rolling his eyes.
"Holy shit," Patrick said over Johns shoulder. "It’s him!"
"Yep, just in time for the news cameras," John said.
"Don't be such a cynic," Patrick said as the man touched down with ease.
Alpha Male surveyed the area, turning in a complete circle as he examined the destruction. He was adorned in his typical skin tight costume of red and white. A gaudy outfit to most, but it had become iconic over the years. The somber look of the hero's tightened lips annoyed John.
"What happened here?" Alpha Male asked, just as the camera crew for channel five showed up.
"And you called me a cynic," John said, getting back to work.
"Cut ‘em some slack," Patrick said.
"He can't be everywhere all the time," Patrick replied.
"He doesn't seem to miss many movie premieres and press conferences," John said, eye balling the stout man as he talked with the police. "Come on, let's get back to work. He can handle the camera crews on his own.”
"So tell me, what exactly happened here?" Alpha asked officer Reedy.
"We aren't sure exactly," Reedy said.
Reedy was a black man with a hairless face. He had a muscular build, but was thin when compared to Alpha. He kept his uniform neat, folded and pressed, and his hat didn't have a speck of dust on it.