It was my lunch break. I was eating my turkey on rye on the roof of the Jefferson Bank Building in downtown Spartanburg just like I had every day for the last fifteen years. That sandwich needed the South Carolina humidity and roofing-tar smell or it just didn’t taste right.
I’d never seen another soul up there, so I almost choked when I heard footsteps. A young man in grey suit with sharp creases cut across my field of vision. The new guy in compliance. Rick. He was walking along the ledge, looking purposefully down at the sidewalk twelve stories away after every few steps. A white canvas laundry bag hung from his right hand.
“Excuse me,” he said without turning to look at me. “Could you hold this for me?”
Then, before I could finish chewing or grunt out a reply, he closed the distance with me in a few quick strides, fished the end of a black nylon rope out of his bag, and shoved it into my free hand. In surprise, I made a defensive gesture with my sandwich-hand, but he leapt away from me and darted for the ledge before I had a chance to do anything more than wave my turkey and rye at the empty air and squeak out a little gasp of protest.
The length of rope shrugged off the laundry bag as it uncoiled and as Rick leapt over the edge I saw that one end was looped around his waist. A jolt of shock and panic hit me as my gaze snapped down to the black rope lying limply against my left palm.
My fingers clamped down on the rope and I cringed with my whole body. I didn’t even think to drop my sandwich or get another hand on the rope before it snapped taught with a sound like a whip. I heard a muffled “oof” from over the ledge and the section of roof beneath my feet whined like a tree in the wind. The rope end in my left hand vibrated with tension.
The metal access door right behind me clanged open and my boss stepped out puffing and red-faced.
“Mike,” he said to my back, “you’re not going to believe this. The new kid in compliance just tried to get you fired. Says you’re a cyborg, that you’ve been hiding in plain sight all these years. I told him I’d be filing false accusation charges on your behalf and that his career…”
He trailed off as he walked up beside me. I took another bite of my sandwich and we both stood in silence looking down at the rope in my hand. A few stories below us, I heard Rick groan.
“Sir,” I said swallowing, “could you do me a favor?”
He met my eyes, but I couldn’t read his expression.
“Would you mind holding this for me,” I asked.
He never responded.