Watching it from his window, Reardon saw the city only as an immense patchwork of random sound and directionless movement. It had not always been like this for him. In his youth he had walked the streets in his dark-blue uniform with shining badge as a protector of a wild and famous city. He had not forgotten that what he felt then was a rapture so heedless, asking so little, that even the loss and butchery he saw in the course of his duties could not permanently overwhelm it. He had been a serious protector, one who must love what he protects.
He lit a cigarette. The flame gave off a pale, orange aurora in the morning fog. He watched the match burn down almost to his fingertips, then quickly waved it out. He smoked wearily, pleasurelessly. This would be his last cigarette, and because of that he could not savor it. In his mid-fifties now, he had come to fear the slow, strangulating death of lung cancer.
It was cancer that had finally killed his wife, Millie, slowly devouring her bowels inch by inch. Even now, two weeks after her funeral, he sometimes came home to the apartment expecting to find her there and was forced all over again to relive his loss of her. At the funeral he had sat at the front of the church staring at the roses that had adorned her closed coffin. He had ordered her coffin closed because he believed that death was a kind of final privacy, upon which living eyes should not be allowed to intrude. His son, Timothy, had sat beside him, along with his son's wife, Abbey, and their children. Timothy had kept his hands folded ritually in his lap, his face immobile, but with his eyes darting about as if his mind were still busily examining the law cases in his office. And Reardon had noticed that only when his son looked back over his shoulder and saw the head of his law firm enter the church did his face suddenly change its expression to one of mourning.
Now, standing in his living room, Reardon turned from the window and glimpsed himself in the full-length mirror on the opposite side of the room. He had become much more conscious of his body recently, conscious that it was slowly taking him through that process of things that pass away. He was still powerfully built for a man of ordinary height and weight, but now, staring at himself across the room, he could detect the first curving downward of his shoulders and buckling of his knees.
Quickly he turned from the mirror to the window. Below he could hear the traffic cutting through the wet streets like long knives slicing into melons. He remembered a psychopath he had arrested almost twenty years before. When asked why he had butchered his victim so wantonly the man had replied he was looking for seeds. "You know, like in a watermelon."
Reardon tapped his cigarette and watched the ashes tumble toward the street. He estimated the distance from his window to the street at about eighty feet. He had heard of infants surviving falls of even more than that distance, but never an adult. Babies survived because they relaxed all the way down. But adult human beings, terrified beyond comprehension, stiffened every muscle, locked every joint, stretched every tendon taut and ground their bones like sticks of chalk into the sidewalk.
Slowly his eyes followed upward the line of windows in the building facing him. He had answered many calls there, mostly inconsequential: family bickerings, lovers' quarrels, evictions, disorderly conduct complaints, general nuisance behavior; only once a murder. Finally his field of vision passed the highest landing and over the roof, where, in the distance, half blurred by the early morning fog, a sign blinked its certain message that Jesus Saves.
"Got a freako for you this morning, Reardon," Sergeant Smith said from behind his large wooden desk as Reardon entered the precinct house. For Smith, human crime was divided into three categories: ordinary criminal acts -