NIGHT BEAT

"Hi, this is Randy Stone. I cover the night beat for the Chicago Star. I can usually be found wandering the streets of Chicago at night time seeing a world that most don't know exists. Inspiration for my newspaper column is readily just around the corner in The Windy City. Stories start in many different ways. This one began at a hospital and ended up in the morgue."

"Well folks, as usual I had been walking the streets of Chicago on the look out for that story. The stories can be human interest but often the involve some sort of crime. Night time is the cloak that the criminal fraternity like to cover themselves in. It really is a different world when it is dark and the moon is the only light in the sky. Sometimes the stars dot the sky twinkling specks of light that have come from millions of miles away The people who live in the day and sleep at the night are probably not aware of the world that exists while they are safely tucked up in bed. I made my way down 7th Avenue and turned the corner on to Michigan Boulevard. The City Hospital was ahead of me now. Outside I noticed a man who appeared to be in distress."

The man was stood outside the main doors. The hospital looked a gloomy place in the dark of the night. The neon sign shone brightly in a red glow with the words City Hospital. The red cat a slight haze of the man stood on the sidewalk. His face looked drawn and tired. He had the expression of someone with not just the whole world on his shoulders but the entire universe. His age was about 45, he was dressed smartly with neat short black hair. Randy Stone was about ten feet away from him, the man gazed forward and began to attempt to cross the road to the other side.

"Hey mister." Randy yelled.

The man had stepped off the kerb and almost been mown down by a garbage truck. Randy Stone had run, grabbed the man and pulled him to the side. The two men were sprawled on the floor.

"You can thank me you know." Randy said. "I only saved your life."

"You may expect gratitude but I wont give it to you." the man mumbled back.

"Did you not see the garbage truck?" Randy asked.

"Of course I saw it, why do you think I stepped out? You should have left me alone." the man replied in a sorrowful tone.

"What do you mean you saw it? You did that on purpose?" Stone enquired with concern.

"Just leave me alone." the man snapped.

"I offered to help the man to his feet but he refused my hand. I declined his refusal and in a flash hauled him to his feet. This guy obviously had some sort of problem and the newspaper reporter in me, as well as just plain old human kindness made me want to see what the trouble was. I helped him to sit on the low wall and placed myself next to him"

"Listen, my name is Stone, I work for the Chicago Star. Maybe I can help you."

"A reporter huh, you might mean well but nobody can help me." the man said dejectedly.

"Have you had some bad news from the hospital?" Randy enquired.

The man stared into space. He turned his head, his eyes looked vacant. Soul destroyed was the look now on his face.

"What's it to you anyway?

"I don't know unless you tell me. It is not every day a guy walks in front of a garbage truck and nearly gets run over." Stone replied. "What's your name?"

"Jon Burton. If you really want to know, okay then I will tell you. When I have done you can leave me alone." the man said his voice carried an air of resignation.

"Just try me, I am a good listener." Randy spoke calmly.

"In no particular order my mother is in there terminally ill, I lost my job recently, my wife has left me and the landlord is kicking my out of my home tomorrow as I am way behind on the rent."

"If you ask a question and one that is searching you sometimes are not prepared for the answer. This man had given me a list of misfortune. Little wonder he had tried to kill himself. He had just unloaded his burden on to me. He had missed out suicidal from his list but I was not going to mention it and add to his woes."

"So now you know you can leave me alone." the man said.

"I would do but I don't think you are in any state to be left alone." Randy replied.

"Alone? My wife has left me, my two sons were killed in the war, how more alone do you think that is?" the man retorted glumly.

"I do understand what you are saying. I know how hard it is to lose people who are close. Thing is you would be surprised at the ability to recover and pick up the pieces." Randy continued.

The man asked Randy if he had a cigarette. He did and gave him one. He passed his matches to him and the man lit his cigarette. In turn Randy struck a match and lit his own.

"With what the man had told me it was plain that he was having a rough time. I of course had no idea what the mans story was when I grabbed him and saved him from being squashed by that garbage truck. I know he was sore at me for rescuing him. Thing is now what do I do. Like some kind of divine intervention I was now embroiled with this guy. I felt compelled to try and help him out. Would I succeed? I had no idea but I had to at least give it a shot."

"How about we grab a drink from the diner down the street?" Randy suggested.

Jon Burton threw his cigarette butt on to the floor and said okay. Randy walked kerb side in an attempt to keep Burton from trying to jump in front of any other traffic. At this time of night traffic was almost non-existent. The man entered the diner first and Randy followed close behind him. A couple of taxi drivers were drinking coffee and eating a greasy omelette sat in a booth to the left of the door. The d├ęcor was as you would expect from a late night diner. Some of the tables had their chairs placed upside down on them. A young worker was mopping a section of the floor. The two headed to the counter and were greeted by a burly looking man aged about 50 with a bald head and army tattoos on both arms. He looked like the kind of guy who could stop trouble if it started. Randy knew that he also made the best coffee in the district and despite appearances was actually a decent chef.

"Good to see you Randy." the burly man spoke.

"Same to you Frank." Randy replied

"Who's your friend, he don't like too happy?"

"This is Jon Burton, he is having a tough time, maybe one of your coffees will perk him up." Randy replied.

The burly man busied himself with the coffee machine as Randy and Jon Burton sat upon stools at the counter. Randy turned and nodded at one of the taxi drivers he recognised as Burt Willis from Chi Town Cab Co.

"Is there a rest room in here?" Burton asked.

"Sure is buddy. Over there just on the right next to the public telephone." the burly man pointed in the direction.

Jon Burton got off the stool and headed in the direction indicated. Randy reached and touched his arm and asked if he would be okay. Burton nodded confirmation and continued on into the mens rest room.

Inside the City Hospital Doctor Perrera had been called into the patients room by Nurse Franks. The lady in the bed was terminally ill and it looked the end was in sight. Mrs Edith Burton was slipping away. She was heavily sedated and so would feel no pain. The disease that had caused her long term illness was going to win the battle. The doctor stood over the ailing woman and checked the tubes that were connected to her nose and mouth.

"I think she is gone doctor." Nurse Franks said.

"Yes nurse, can you get Doctor Honeyford so we can register the time of death and also notify the coroner." Doctor Perrera instructed.

"Of course doctor." Nurse Franks replied making her way out of the room.

Nurse Franks located Doctor Honeyford in one of the corridors and informed him that Doctor Perrera needed his assistance. She then walked to the reception area of the hospital to try and contact Jon Burton to give him the bad news and ask him to make his way to the hospital as soon as possible. Thumbing the records cards she found his number and dialled the operator.

"Hello operator." a voice spoke.

"Can you put me through to 63458 please." Nurse Franks asked.

"Of course, hold the line please." the operator responded.

After a few moments the operator came back on the line. "I'm sorry caller there is no reply."

Nurse Franks asked if the operator could try again later explaining that she was trying to reach Jon Burton and that he needed to get the City Hospital as soon as he can and that it was urgent. The operator confirmed that she would attempt further to contact him.

Randy Stone had been explaining to Hank Dowson about how he had encountered Jon Burton outside the City Hospital and that he had nearly got himself run over by a garbage truck. He also mentioned that Burton was at a low ebb due to a series of misfortunes.

"So you trying to get that sainthood or what Randy?" Dowson joked.

"You know me Hank." Randy replied. "I'm a sucker for helping people and getting mixed up in capers. Gives me something to write about anyway."

"He has been a while in the rest room aint he?" Dowson said looking up at the clock on the wall.

"Say, he has, I'd better go and check on him." Randy replied.

Randy walked quickly to the rest room and pushed the green door open calling Burton's name as he entered. There was no reply. Randy saw the two stalls were empty. In fact apart from himself, the rest room was empty. The window however was open and a trash can was below it that obviously had been used as a means to help get out of the window. Jon Burton was gone.

"I was real mad with myself. If he was serious about doing himself in then he would have the cunning to get away from me. I banged my fist on one of the stall doors. It made a loud thump. Why had I allowed him to give me the slip? I thought he would simply use the rest room and return for his coffee. Making an escape through the window was not something I had not bargained for. He would have a few minutes head start. I was not sure where he would go, I didn't know where he lived. Running out of the rest room I yelled at Hank Dowson that my companion had exited through the window and bolted outside. I checked the street outside, it was deserted. Dashing round the back alley brought me nothing apart from two cats fighting over some scraps of food from the trash cans at the rear of the diner. Returning to the front of the diner I spotted a cop on his own night beat."

"Officer." Randy shouted running over to him.

The police man recognised him. "Mr Stone, what is all the hollering for?"

Randy paused for breath and asked if he had seen a smartly dressed male, mid forties with dark hair. The officer told him he had not seen anyone of that description in the last ten minutes or so. Randy explained to Officer Reader the brief story of his encounter with Jon Burton. While the officer was sympathetic there was not a lot he could do, after all Jon Burton had broken no laws. Randy thought he was not just a danger to himself but also to another seeing as he was willing to step out into moving traffic.

"I'm sorry Randy but if this guy wants to do himself in there's probably not much you can do about it." the officer.

"Maybe not but I am going to try, I aint one to quit" Randy replied determinedly.

"I left the police officer to continue his beat, I had the sense that he did not want to get involved. I often feel the same way but I have this habit of getting involved. Whether it be good or bad I was always involved in something or other. Where could he have disappeared to? I did not know his address. Then a thought hit me. How do people often commit suicide? They jump off a bridge. The Wabash Avenue Bridge was five blocks away. Maybe a long shot but worth a try. Well I set off running and soon discovered that the years of smoking had not left me in the best physical shape for sprinting. I would never win an Olympic medal that is for sure unless they hand them out for slowest times. Anyway I pushed myself on and hurried towards Wabash Avenue via North Street."

Jon Burton had placed the trash can carefully underneath the window of the rest room. He reached up and pushed the window open and as quietly as he could mounted the trash can. Keeping as silent as he dared he pushed the window completely open. The cool night air hit his face and he raised himself up and wriggled through the window. He was going head first and the drop to the floor was uncomfortable but he did not really care about pain or injury. His escape had been a success and was undetected. While that Mr Stone may have meant well he did not really want anybody to interfere with his plans and so he was now free to make his way alone.

For a brief moment his thoughts were filled with anguish and grief. He and has wife had a good marriage or so he thought. Like many couples they had their share of ups and downs but these were surely the things that happened. For better for worse, for richer for poorer, they were the vows that had been pledged but now lay in tatters. His two boys Paul and George had both been killed during Operation Market Garden back in the war. The pain of losing both of them had been enormous. Many parents experienced the same as their children fought in the war in Europe or in the Far East. While humans will always suffer loss of some sort it is still a numbing experience. In the space of the last 4 weeks his wife had left him, he had been fired from his job as a bank teller and now his mother was about to die in the City Hospital. All this would have been resolved but for that reporter hauling him back from being run over by that garbage truck.

Jon Burton moved quickly along the sidewalk. The night temperature was falling and it was cold now. The streets at night looked quite foreboding and shrouded in shadows and danger. Jon Burton had no worries about danger or concerns about personal safety. The icy cold blackness of the river was his destination and salvation from a world that was as dark and unappealing as blindness. He was a long way from the man who had once been just a regular guy with a good job, wife and children. The so called American Dream was in tatters and strewn like trash in a garbage can. His eyes had gone. You could see that the soul of this man had long departed and now nothing was inside, he was simply a shell of a man. Appearing into view in the night sky was the Wabash Avenue Bridge. It looked menacing in some ways but in others it was a quiet piece of architecture spanning from one bank to the other. Far below, many metres down was the Chicago River, icy cold at this time of year and certainly not the place to go for a night time swim. However if you wanted to be in the water and not swim then the cold water would be the death of you for sure.

"I was near to the bridge now and just a little bit out of breath. I bent forward slightly to ease the pain of the mad dash across town. In the gloomy night I peered onto the bridge but could see nobody there. I half walked and half ran onto the bridge itself and then I saw what looked like a silhouette of a man standing up on the edge of the wall next to one of the steel bridge supports. As I crept near I was mindful that sneaking up on this person was not a good idea but then again being loud might alert them and scare them too. In the end I did not have to contemplate either, the shadowy figure spoke to me."

"Get away from here." the voice spoke.

"Look I am going to stay where I am. We can sort this out you know." Stone answered.

"Is that you Stone?" the voice enquired.

"Yes, is that you Jon Burton?" Stone replied.

"Don't come any closer Stone. Go back to your newspaper and leave me alone." the voice pleaded.

"Look Jon, I am just trying to help you if you will let me."

"I don't want help, you need to turn around and leave here." Burton retorted.

"I thought back at the diner you know we could have talked about things."

"Talk? You mean well I know, but my plans were and still are to do what I intend to do." Burton continued.

"Jon I guess you could say this is one of my faults, I always get involved in things." Stone said stoically.

"Uninvolve yourself Stone and let me do this.

Randy considered whether he should get closer and began to slowly inch forward. If he could get close enough he might be able to grab him.

"Stay back!" Burton yelled " I am warning you Stone."

"Okay, okay I am stopping still." Randy replied reassuringly.

Randy could see that Jon Burton was right on the edge of the bridge, any sudden moves could scare him and send him toppling into the freezing cold river below. Once already Stone had hauled this man back from the brink of death, a repeat performance was in his mind however it was going to be extremely difficult. Despite sneaking a few inches further Randy was still just too far away to save Jon Burton again. One thought that sprang into his mind was if this guy was going to jump then why the delay? He could just step out yet he was having some dialogue. Could he be persuaded to come down?

"Listen Stone, you think talking will help?" Burton asked inquisitively.

"Problem shared and all that, I am a very good listener." Stone replied trying to keep his tone upbeat.

"If you turn around and face the other way I will come down." Burton ordered.

"You mean that?" Randy asked.

"Yes, now turn around and wait for me." Burton responded.

Randy did as he was asked and turned to face the opposite way. In the distance he could make out the odd light in tower blocks and buildings. The air was cool and Randy waited for the man to step off from the bridge ledge, he waited.

A splash from the depths below the bridge made Stone spin round quickly. He dashed to the side of the bridge. Nobody was there. The realisation of what had actually occurred stunned him and his hands clasped the side of his head. Still peering over the side his eyes scanned the gloom but he saw nothing and heard nothing. He had considered jumping in but that would have been suicide. Running now back towards the river embankment yelling to raise the alarm. At this time of night the area was deserted. Randy knew despite his best efforts that he had not been able to save the man who was determined to end his life. Sprinting over to a pay phone booth Randy dialled the police to report what had happened.

"I reported the incident to Lieutenant Cosker, he would organise an immediate search of the river. He asked if I would be willing to come and identify any body or bodies they found, I agreed to do so in the event one is found. Thirty minutes or so later and I found myself back where it all began. I spoke with the staff at the City Hospital, my press pass made my story my convincing and I relayed the sad tale."

Lieutenant Cosker had called Randy early the next morning to tell him that a body had been hauled out the river and could he come down to the morgue to see if he could identify the corpse as Jon Burton.

"Hi Randy." Cosker greeted Stone inside the mortuary front desk.

Randy covered his mouth as he yawned, "Had better nights."

"Yeah, you do look quite tired."

"Tired does not even cut it." Stone replied glibly.

"Well come this way and see if you can give us a positive identity on this one."

"Where did you find it?" Randy enquired.

"About a mile down river from Wabash Avenue, the description you gave matches but we need a visual identity. There was nothing in his pockets with name or address on."

The two men walked down the short corridor and stopped outside a large green door. The Lieutenant knocked once then opened it and went inside closely followed by Randy.

"Good morning Doctor Dunn."

"Hello gentleman." the doctor responded warmly shaking the hand of each man. "Please come this way."

The three men went through a partition screen and encountered an autopsy table with a body laying on it covered by a lime green sheet. Doctor Dunn stood next to the table and was poised to pull the sheet back to reveal the head of the body.

"Ready? Please be aware that what you will see can shock some people" the doctor asked.

"Yes." Randy replied. "I have seen corpses before."

Doctor Dunn pulled the sheet back to reveal the face of the body. Randy studied it hard and then looked at the Lieutenant and nodded.

"Yes, this is the man from last night I knew as Jon Burton."

"Thanks for that Randy, we will have to find out about next of kin."

"I would suggest you try the City Hospital, they might be able to point you in the right direction." Randy said. "His mother died there last night."

"So there we have it folks. Despite my best efforts I guess some people cannot be helped or saved. What drives a person to do what Jon Burton did I am still not sure. My intervention outside the hospital only seemed to delay the inevitable. On the bridge there really had been nothing I could do, when a person has made their mind made up then sometimes nothing can do to change it. I thought about the last words he had said to me that if I turned away he would come down. Thing is he was true to his word, he did come down, the way he always intended to. At least he had me looking away when he stepped off. I think what I have learned from last night is that a determined mind is exactly that. You can try and change it but sometimes you cannot do that. What I do know is that Jon Burton has found peace and will be laid to rest, speaking of rest and peace I need some of my own. About 8 hours of it will do me nicely. Copy Boy."

The End.