Sergeant Vincent Paulo couldn't see the man who had climbed to the very top of the William Powell Bridge. Paulo couldn't even see the damn bridge. He heard the desperation in the man's voice, however, and he knew this one was a jumper. After seven years as a crisis negotiator with the City of Miami Police Department, there were some things you just knew, even if you were blind.
Especially if you were blind.
"Falcon," he called out for the umpteenth time, his voice amplified by a police megaphone. "This is Vincent Paulo you're talking to. We can work this out, all right?"
The man was atop a lamppost—as high in the sky as he could possibly get—looking down from his roost. The views of Miami had to be spectacular from up there. Paulo, however, could only imagine the blue-green waters of the bay, the high-rise condominiums along the waterfront like so many dominoes ready to topple in a colossal chain reaction. Cruise ships, perhaps, were headed slowly out to sea, trails of white smoke puffing against a sky so blue that no cloud dared to disturb it. Traffic, they told him, was backed up for miles in each direction, west toward the mainland and east toward the island of Key Biscayne. There were squad cars, a SWAT van, teams of police officers, police boats in the bay, and a legion of media vans and reporters swarming the bridge. Paulo could hear the helicopters whirring all around, as local news broadcasted the entire episode live into South Florida living rooms.
All this, for one of Miami's homeless. He called himself Falcon, and the name was a perfect fit. He was straddling the lamppost, his legs intertwined with the metalwork so that he could stand erect without holding on to anything. He was a life-size imitation of an old-fashioned hood ornament, without the chrome finish—chin up, chest out, his body extended out over the water, arms outstretched like the wings of a bird. Like a falcon. Paulo had a uniformed officer at his side to describe the situation to him, but she was hardly needed. It wasn't the first time Paulo had been called upon to stop one of Miami's homeless from hurting himself. It wasn't even his first encounter with Falcon. Twice in the past eighteen months, Falcon had climbed atop a bridge and assumed the same falcon-like pose. Each time, Paulo had talked him down. But this time was different.
It was Vince's first assignment since losing his eyesight.
And for the first time, he was absolutely convinced that this one was going to jump.
"Falcon, just come down and talk. It's the best way for everyone."
"No more bullshit!" he shouted. "I want to talk to the mayor's daughter. Get her here in fifteen minutes, or I'm doing a face plant onto the old bridge."
The Powell Bridge is like a big arc over Biscayne Bay. Cyclists call it "Miami Mountain," though as suicides go, it is no match for the Golden Gate in San Francisco or the George Washington in New York. The crest is only seventy-eight feet above mean tide. Even with the added thirty vertical feet of the lamppost, it was debatable whether Falcon's plunge into the bay would be fatal. The old causeway runs parallel to the new bridge, however, and it is still used as a fishing pier. A hundred-foot swan dive onto solid concrete wouldn't be pretty—especially on live television.
"You ready to punt yet, Paulo?" The voice came from over Vince's left shoulder, and he recognized the speaker as Juan Chavez, SWAT team coordinator.
Vince cut off his megaphone. "Let's talk to the chief."
The walk back to the police van was clear of obstacles, and Vince had memorized the way. His long white walking stick was almost unnecessary. He and Chavez entered the van through the side door and sat across from one another in the rear captains' chairs. An officer outside the van slid the door closed as Chavez dialed headquarters on an encrypted telephone. The call went directly to Miami's chief of police, who was watching the standoff on television. Her first words weren't exactly the vote of confidence Vince needed.
"It's been over two hours now, Paulo. I'm not seeing much progress."
"It took me almost twice that long to talk him down from the Golden Glades flyover last winter."
"I understand that," said the chief. "I guess what I'm asking is, are you comfortable doing this?"
"Now that I'm blind, you mean?"
"Don't get me wrong. I'm glad you decided to stay with the force and teach at the academy. I called you back into the field because you have a history with this guy, but the last thing I want to do is to put you in a situation that you don't think you can handle."
"I can handle it fine, Chief."
"Great, but time is a factor. I shouldn't have to remind you that no one in Miami keeps gloves in the glove compartment. If this sucker doesn't climb down soon, one of those stranded motorists is going to reach for his revolver and take him out for us."
"I say we move in now," said Chavez.
Vince said, "Don't you think a three-oh-eight-caliber, custom-built thunderstick is a bit of overkill against a homeless guy perched on a lamppost?"
"No one's talking about a sniper shot. I just want to move our team closer into position, make them more visible. We need to send a message that our patience is wearing thin."
"If he thinks SWAT is coming up there after him, he'll jump."
"The same tactic worked just fine the last time."
"This time is different."
"How do you know?"
"I can tell."
"What, going blind made you psychic?"
That made Vince blink, but dark sunglasses hid plenty of pain. "Shove it, Chavez."
"All right, fellas, knock it off," said the chief.
"I'm serious," said Chavez. "This isn't the first time we've had to deal with a homeless guy threatening to hurt himself. Nine times out of ten, they just want a little attention. I'd like to know what makes Paulo think this is the real deal." "That seems like a fair question," said the chief.
"All right," said Vince. "For one, it may be his third time up on a bridge, but it's the first time that Falcon has made a specific demand. And it's a fairly rational one at that. It's not as if he wants us to make the bubble people stop stealing his thoughts. Just as important, he's set a time limit. A short one—fifteen minutes. You factor in the stress in his voice, and you've got a man on the edge."
"Wait a minute," said Chavez. "Because he shows some signs of clear-headed thinking, that makes him more of a danger to himself?"
"In some ways, yes. The only way Falcon climbs down from that lamppost is if he gives up on his demand to talk to the mayor's daughter. Because he still shows some signs of rational thought, he will very likely feel overwhelming humiliation when the television world sees him fail. If we send the SWAT team up that pole before he's ready to accept his public failure, you might as well push him off the bridge yourself."
"How about soaking him with a fire hose?" said the chief. "Or maybe a stun gun."
"There again, we're on live television," said Vince. "You knock him off that lamppost and we'll have two dozen personal-injury lawyers handing him business cards before he hits the ground."
There was silence, each officer thinking it through. Finally, the chief said, "I suppose we could promise to give him what he wants."
"You mean let him talk to the mayor's daughter?" said Vince.
"No, I said promise it. That's his only demand, right?"
"Bad move," said Vince. "A negotiator never promises anything he can't deliver. Or that he has no intention of delivering."
"For once I agree with Paulo," said Chavez. "But I think—"
Vince waited for him to finish, but Chavez seemed to have lost his train of thought. "You think what?" said Vince.
"I think it doesn't matter what we think. The mayor's daughter is here." "What?"
"I can see her through the windshield right now."
Vince picked up the sound of approaching footsteps outside the van. The side door slid open, and he could feel her presence. "Hello, Vince," she said.