A Deadly Influence Page 1

A Deadly Influence (Abby Mullen Thrillers #1)

Mike Omer


The bedraggled man sat huddled on a rickety scaffold, staring at the thousands of lights glittering in the dark night. He wore baggy jeans and a faded corduroy jacket that seemed too thin for the chilly wind. Abby peered at him through the bare, unfinished window, trying to judge if he was about to jump.

“He’s been out there for the past fifty minutes,” the patrolman said behind her. “Doesn’t answer when we call out to him. Won’t even look in our direction.”

Abby nodded distractedly, never taking her eyes off the man. He shifted uncomfortably and kept glancing down. He was building up his determination; she was certain of it. She didn’t have a lot of time.

She took a step back and looked around her, assessing the situation. The space they stood in was still under construction, the beams bare, the windows paneless, rubble and building materials everywhere. The floor was scattered with food wrappers, and a couple of stubs and an empty cigarette box were tossed by her feet. Her colleague Will Vereen was talking on his shoulder mic, and farther away, two Emergency Service Unit guys stood waiting in case she decided they had to make a grab for the jumper outside.

It was windy up there on the fifty-second floor of the unfinished skyscraper. To talk to the man from the window, she’d have to shout. Her voice tended to be shrill when she shouted, hardly the reassuring tone of a calm negotiator.

She glanced at Will, wondering if he should be the primary negotiator this time. He had a deeper voice and could shout louder. But she had a hunch that the man outside might think of Will as threatening. She was better in this instance.

“Do you need the bullhorn, Lieutenant?” The officer held up a blue bullhorn.

She shook her head. “If I shout at him through that, he’ll jump just to make it stop. I’m stepping out.”

One of the ESU guys helped her latch the rope to her rappelling harness. Then, swallowing hard, she stepped out of the window and into the void.

Once she was outside, the wind was much worse, buffeting her body relentlessly. She grabbed the scaffolding pole, her heart beating wildly, and tried to ignore the creaking and groaning of the metal frame. The rappelling harness felt almost like a joke now, a flimsy strap that would never hold her weight if she lost her balance. A wave of dizziness shot through her, bile in her mouth.

She forced the fear away, focusing on the man who sat at the far end of the scaffolding, dangling his legs over the abyss. She took a step closer. He glanced at her, unblinking, his lips trembling. His cheek was scratched twice, two angry red lines, jagged and raw. Another step. She was three yards away from him.

“Don’t come any closer! I’ll jump!” His voice was hoarse, desperate.

She raised one hand slowly, palm facing outward. “Okay. I’m staying here.”

“I swear I’ll do it!” He leaned forward.

Abby carefully sat down on the ledge of the scaffold. “See? I’m right here. I just want to talk.”

He turned away, facing the New York skyline, his thin hair fluttering in the wind. Coughing, he patted his pockets, then hawked and spat.

“I’m Abby Mullen,” she said, keeping her voice calm and carefree. As if they were two strangers who had randomly bumped into each other while taking a stroll on the scaffolding, hundreds of feet above the street.

He ignored her, lost somewhere in his own mind.

“What’s your name?” she asked after a few seconds.

No response.

She waited, letting the time stretch. She was comfortable with waiting. Her arrival had interrupted the man’s focus, and he now seemed to be frozen in indecision. Whatever determination he’d mustered before had dissipated.

It was cold. Abby had her long coat on, a sweater underneath, and a woolen hat. But she’d left her scarf and gloves back in her car. She had one hand shoved in her pocket, but she gripped the freezing scaffolding with the other, and wasn’t about to let go. Her nose and ears already felt like icicles.

The words I’m cold hovered on her lips. It was basic human interaction. If you were cold, you mentioned it, because it was something to say and it was a way to create a connection, to start a conversation. But even such a simple comment hid a trap within. Because I’m cold was about her. And the worst thing she could do right now was make it seem like she wanted to talk about herself.

“It’s cold,” she said instead. “You’re probably freezing.”

His eyes stayed fixed on the horizon.

“It seems like you’re in a lot of pain,” she said. “What happened?”

His jaw clenched as if the question prodded his thoughts. But he also shifted slightly away from the edge, turning so that he could see her from the corner of his eye. Abby waited, hoping he’d talk again. She needed something, anything, to get him inside. She knew Will was frantically trying to find out this guy’s name and the reason that had driven him to go up fifty-two floors and step out a window.

Finally she said, “Do you want to get inside and tell me what happened?”

She didn’t expect him to agree. She wanted him to say no. It would be a start. And it would give him a sense that he controlled the situation. If he said no, they’d be in a much better place. But instead, he ignored her, his eyes vacant. He patted his pockets again, his motions erratic, clumsy. The movement of a drunk.