THE WOMAN SCREAMED for the first three seconds. Three seconds took her down only fourteen stories she still had twenty-four to go. She fainted. Her arms and legs stopped flailing, her body went limp.
The few pedestrians on Maiden Lane, forced by circumstance to brave the baking mid afternoon sidewalk on the hottest first day of summer in New York City history, all froze at the sound, like grown-up children playing a game of Statues.
The bicycle messenger, a recent veteran of two tours of duty in Afghanistan, was busy chaining his vehicle to the no parking sign. When he heard the scream, he dove clear across the sidewalk, landing behind a large concrete planter.
Wind resistance on the woman's skirt, combined with the relative effects of gravity upon the denser mass of her head, spun her so that when she struck the roof of the idling Town Car at more than one hundred miles per hour, she hit headfirstlike a bullet. Her heart, unaware that the woman was now legally dead, continued to pump for another few seconds, spewing streams and geysers of blood out of various wounds and orifices.
Despite some doubts, the investigating team from NYPD found no reason not to treat the situation as a straightforward successful suicidethereby both clearing a case and, with the same stroke of the pen, keeping the murder rate down below the previous year's, a measure of great importance to the mayor's Office of Tourism.
No one paid much attention to the shaky veteran who told anyone who would listen, "When you want to die, you don't scream like that."
I WAS THE FIRST alumnus from my MBA class to make managing director. I was also the first, as far as I know, to go to prison.
They make you skip breakfast the day they release you. It's not the final indignity, and far from the worst, but it's such a small thing, so petty, so unnecessary, that it just hammers home one last time, as though you needed another reminder, that in prison you are nothing. Nothing.
I followed the guards down a short corridor, through a final electrically controlled gate, and into a small room with a metal door, two molded plastic chairs, and a three-inch-thick plexiglass window on the far wall. Through the window I could see my father in the next room, showing his ID and signing his name with a pen that was chained to a clipboard. They probably had to throw the whole thing away whenever they ran out of ink.
He saw me staring at him and gave a short wave. He had been to visit only a month before, but he looked years oldergrayer, paler, shorter. I imagined there were more pleasant things to do on a late-summer morning than pick up your only son from prison. My sentence had ended at midnight; that's the way they do it. For two years, time had been marked by lights on, meals, lights off, with random violence the only relief from boredom. The guardspolite, almost respectful for the first timehad arrived a few minutes early. It didn't matterI hadn't slept.
"Good luck, Jason." My cellmate was awake as well. He had another four months to go on a two-year stint. He was a car wash owner turned tax protester, who had believed some Internet nonsense about income taxes being unconstitutional. So for a pissy hundred grand or so, he had become a guest of the state, learning the hard realities behind constitutional law.
"Take care, Myron. Give me a call sometime."
I doubted he would. Neither of us would want to remember where we had met.
There were a few murmured good-byes from the darkened cells as the two guards walked me off the block. Otisville harbored a more congenial, less confrontational clientele than Ray Brook, where I had served the first eighteen months of my sentence. At Otisville, it was possible to play a game of cards that did not lead to getting jumped in the yard the next day. I hadn't exactly made friends there, just acknowledged fellow travelers.
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