New York City
He had been patrolling in the area and arrived at the subway station less than a minute after the call had come through. He parked the squad car and pushed his way through the throngs of people milling around the entrance to the station. Hurrying down the stairs to the platform, he reached the area cordoned off with yellow tape. Two younger officers recognized him immediately and, without question, lifted the tape, allowing him to duck under. His colleagues still treated him like a detective even though it had been nearly 5 years since he had been implicated in evidence tampering in a high-profile case and busted down the ranks to uniformed beat cop.
“What have we got?” he asked.
“It’s like we thought. It’s a twister. She looks like she’s in her early-mid twenties.”
“Shit,” he sighed, scratching the back of his neck. “Never dealt with one of these. Has anyone talked to her? Does she know?”
“Harris is with her now but we haven’t questioned her or told her. We decided to wait for you.”
“Okay, I’ll take it from here. How much time?”
“ASAP. We got to get the trains moving again. It’s rush hour. The air bags are already in place.”
He walked over to where the young woman was pinned between the train and the platform at the waist. Relieving Harris, he knelt in front her. She blinked up at him rapidly, clearly in shock and disoriented.
“What’s your name?” he asked softly.
“I… I’m Shelby,” she said.
“That’s a pretty name. My name’s Tim. Can you tell me what happened, Shelby?”
“I was… I was waiting for the train… when it came in… the guy next to me… he… he… pushed me… I tripped… I don’t remember… now I’m here. Can you get me out of here? I need to get out of here,” she pleaded.
“I want you to listen to me very carefully,” he said slowly and calmly as she gazed up into his dark brown eyes under the lip of his cap, the small wrinkles around them creases of pained kindness. “When the train hit you it spun you around. It… It kind of twisted your body around as you fell into the gap. Your feet are now pointed in the opposite direction.”
“Oh, my God,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “I don’t feel anything. What’s going to happen to me?”
“They have put in air bags to push the train away from the platform when I give the signal. When that happens, your legs will spin back into place,” he explained, taking a deep breath, as her lips began to tremble. “Then I’m going to pull you out…”
“And then?” she asked, sniffling.
“Then you will go into shock. A few seconds later you will lose consciousness and, in less than thirty seconds, you will be dead,” he said, hanging his head and taking her shaking hands in his.
“When are you going to give the signal?” she whimpered.
“I have to do it very soon. The system is down and they have to get the trains moving again. Listen Shelby, do you think you could describe for me this guy who pushed you?”
She seemed to momentarily forget her horrifying situation and began giving a detailed description of her assailant. When she was almost done, she abruptly stopped and asked: “shouldn’t you be writing this down”?
“I used to be a detective”, he said, smiling wanly and tapping his temple with his forefinger. “I’ve got a pretty good memory.”
“How old are you?” she asked, startling him with the unexpected question.
“I… I’m 55 but, Shelby, I’m not here to talk to you about me. We don’t have much time. Is there anyone you’d like to call? Family? Friends? Anyone?”
“My parents are dead and my friends are drug addicts. I just want you to talk to me. How come you’re not a detective anymore?”
“I helped plant evidence on a sadistic serial killer we’d been tracking for months so that we had enough to bring him in. The case was thrown out and he killed 3 more young girls before we caught up to him again. They’ve offered me my shield back twice over the past 5 years but I’ll never go back.”
“I can tell you’re a good man, Tim. I can see it in your face.”
“Tell that to my ex-wife,” he said, laughing weakly.
“You are. I can tell. Do you have kids?”
“No. I was never around enough to be any kind of father. Wasn’t much of a husband either, I guess.”
“I have a baby boy,” she said, gripping his hands harder and starting to cry. “I abandoned him this morning. I don’t have any money. I just… I just couldn’t take care of him by myself.”
“Shhhh”, he whispered, putting a finger to her lips and brushing her curly brown hair out of her ocean-blue eyes. “It’s okay”.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up into his boss’s pale face. “Tim, we’ve got to move this train,” he said, turning and slowly walking away.
“Shelby, I have to give the signal now. Be brave and hold my hands tight.”
“Wait, just one sec! I… I… Nobody pushed me… I pretended to trip… I… I jumped.”
“I know,” he said. “But my report will say that you accidentally tripped and fell. No one will question it.”
“I knew you were a good man. I -”
Without warning, he gave the signal to his team and the air bags began to fill. The train groaned on the rails, moving slowly away from the platform. She screamed as her legs agonizingly spun back into place. “On three, Shelby!” he shouted. “One…two… three!”
He heaved her up onto the platform and leaned over her. As the blood rapidly drained from her face, she reached up and touched his cheek. “Please, Tim. Find my baby. Please find my baby.”
He kissed her lightly on the lips and said “I’ll try”.
“That was a nice kiss,” she murmured as she slipped into unconsciousness.
10 years later
“Yes,” said Tim.
“Can we go see Mom. It’s been awhile.”
They packed up their things into the car and headed east out of Queens towards the cemetery. The sunlight glittered through the morning mist across Long Island Sound as the ferries went back and forth like ghost ships.