An impatient driver laid on his horn. A chorus of angry horns followed as if to shout: w-t-f, you honk’n at me? In the half-light of a frigid January evening, Josh laughed, squinted through the smoke curling up from his Marlboro cigarette. A stiff breeze lifted his Brooks Brothers tie skyward before settling it back down into the espresso cup he’d grabbed from the thirty-seventh-floor kitchenette.
Shit. And a cigarette burn. Josh threw the Marlboro down, ground it out with a spit-shined Italian leather loafer, then rubbed the wet end of his coffee-stained tie dry. He’d have to stop this dirty habit before it ruined all his ties. Or his relationship with Jenny. He sighed, checked his watch, and thought he ought to text her. No way he’d make it home in time for their eight p.m. dinner. Still, Josh needed this break from the relentless glow of his computer monitor.
Across the shadowed patio rooftops, the topiaries in their ceramic pots looked like little gnomes, or miniature monsters. He rubbed his eyes. He was seeing things. His gaze shifted to the shimmering skyline and all the energy that fueled a city that never slept. Instead of Jenny, it would be an evening of fixed income securities and interest rate derivatives. Jenny, who smelled of Ivory soap and powdered perfume. Who had such impossible curves.
He shivered—wondering if it came from the cold or from desire. That same shiver that would usually prompt the question: someone walking over your grave? Not his grave though—maybe those old guys in the office cafeteria who ate those greasy cheeseburgers for lunch—death, a ridiculous thought for him—the youngest Columbia graduate ever to make it this high up the ladder in IT Analytics. No plans for death. Not for him. He better quit the cigarettes, though.
Across the service alley and in the window of the neighboring office building, Josh spied the same dark-haired woman he always saw working in the dark. He knew the drill: she’d tap a company pen at her desk, sit there for several minutes, then swivel around and rise up from her chair with a company coffee cup. She’d seem melancholy in the fatigued way she’d pull herself over to the window. She was pretty, yet nothing like Jenny whose beauty could light up a room. But almost. The woman’s computer monitor flicked off. He’d always wondered what she thought about, standing there in the dark.
Anyway, his plans for tonight would have to wait. But at least he would see Jenny later, wake her gently as she slept—a light touch on a bare arm. And her skin was soft and firm—elastic in the way he liked. Strong, but still soft— like the silk sheets on his bed in his studio apartment, or the flannel sheets in the attic bedroom of her mother’s rambling beach cottage in the Hamptons. He shivered again, and this time it was from desire—thinking about her sweet giggle, how she’d raise a finger to her naturally plump lips, and say, “Shush, someone will hear.” Minutes later, though, her wide-eyed gaze would be closed in ecstasy. She’d press a lily-white arm hard against the shimmying headboard to quiet it. And everything would turn to fire. Yes, heat and tangled soft sheets were definitely much better thoughts than of an angry stepfather who Josh owed big-time for landing him this job—who seemed to like him … now. He patted his pocket. The engagement ring would have to wait. Maybe this weekend when there was more time. The analytics report was due tomorrow by seven a.m.
Focused on thoughts of Julie, Josh missed the creak of the steel door opening behind him. His tepid black coffee in its recyclable paper cup had slipped from his fingers, and he was watching the lukewarm liquid splash onto the black tar of the rooftop like a Rorschach inkblot. Jenny, an elementary teacher in the Hamptons, had claimed that the Rorschach inkblot was ineffective in the study of children’s thought patterns. But Josh’s older brother, David, was a master at Rorschach inkblots. Josh shivered again—sorry for his mom who was still struggling with David’s temper. Ah, he had two great girls—Jenny and his mom, and he loved them both.
Despite the cold, there came an overpowering scent of strong cologne. But before he recognized the sound of stiff sleeves stretching fabric, Josh smelled the expensive aftershave. And then came this low, menacing grunt and he felt himself pitch, a loose-limb stumble towards the edge of the building—gangly and awkward like in a comedy routine on SNL—but this wasn’t funny at all. All the questions now racing in his head were braking hard to slow motion, and he recognized the terrifying sounds of his own screams—the cooling rush of wind.
An elderly couple walking their golden lab had discovered Josh on his back in the service alley. They dialed 911 on their cell phone. The police unit investigating Josh’s death had called him Brooks Brother initially. Brooks Brother had left his wallet in his cubicle alongside his work badge. Next to his badge they found a suicide note signed by Joshua.
The lead police officer closed his eyes at that photograph of the kid with the beaming smile and removed his hat. Who wouldn’t smile for an employee badge at one of the largest commercial banks in Manhattan? Wonder what demons that kid had hidden in his closet? Work pressure? Maybe it was as simple as that.