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When Darkness Falls

Chapter One

Sergeant Vincent Paulo couldn’t see the man who had climbed
to the very top of the William Powell Bridge.  Paulo
couldn’t even see the damn bridge.  He heard the
desperation in the man’s voice, however, and he knew this one
was a jumper.  After seven years as a crisis negotiator with
the City of Miami Police Department, there were some things you
just knew, even if you were blind.

Especially if you were blind.

“Falcon,” he called out for the umpteenth time, his
voice amplified by a police megaphone.  “This is Vincent
Paulo you’re talking to.  We can work this out, all

The man was atop a lamppost—as high in the sky as he could
possibly get—looking down from his roost.  The views of
Miami had to be spectacular from up there.  Paulo, however,
could only imagine the blue-green waters of the bay, the high-rise
condominiums along the waterfront like so many dominoes ready to
topple in a colossal chain reaction.  Cruise ships, perhaps,
were headed slowly out to sea, trails of white smoke puffing
against a sky so blue that no cloud dared to disturb it. 
Traffic, they told him, was backed up for miles in each direction,
west toward the mainland and east toward the island of Key
Biscayne.  There were squad cars, a SWAT van, teams of police
officers, police boats in the bay, and a legion of media vans and
reporters swarming the bridge.  Paulo could hear the
helicopters whirring all around, as local news broadcasted the
entire episode live into South Florida living rooms. 

All this, for one of Miami’s homeless.  He called
himself Falcon, and the name was a perfect fit.  He was
straddling the lamppost, his legs intertwined with the metalwork so
that he could stand erect without holding on to anything.  He
was a life-size imitation of an old-fashioned hood ornament,
without the chrome finish—chin up, chest out, his body
extended out over the water, arms outstretched like the wings of a
bird.  Like a falcon.  Paulo had a uniformed officer at
his side to describe the situation to him, but she was hardly
needed.  It wasn’t the first time Paulo had been called
upon to stop one of Miami’s homeless from hurting
himself.  It wasn’t even his first encounter with
Falcon.  Twice in the past eighteen months, Falcon had climbed
atop a bridge and assumed the same falcon-like pose.  Each
time, Paulo had talked him down.  But this time was

It was Vince’s first assignment since losing his

And for the first time, he was absolutely convinced that this one
was going to jump. 

“Falcon, just come down and talk.  It’s the best
way for everyone.”

“No more bullshit!” he shouted.  “I want to
talk to the mayor’s daughter.  Get her here in fifteen
minutes, or I’m doing a face plant onto the old

The Powell Bridge is like a big arc over Biscayne Bay. 
Cyclists call it “Miami Mountain,” though as suicides
go, it is no match for the Golden Gate in San Francisco or the
George Washington in New York.  The crest is only
seventy-eight feet above mean tide.  Even with the added
thirty vertical feet of the lamppost, it was debatable whether
Falcon’s plunge into the bay would be fatal.  The old
causeway runs parallel to the new bridge, however, and it is still
used as a fishing pier.  A hundred-foot swan dive onto solid
concrete wouldn’t be pretty—especially on live

“You ready to punt yet, Paulo?”  The voice came
from over Vince’s left shoulder, and he recognized the
speaker as Juan Chavez, SWAT team coordinator. 

Vince cut off his megaphone.  “Let’s talk to the

The walk back to the police van was clear of obstacles, and Vince
had memorized the way.  His long white walking stick was
almost unnecessary.   He and Chavez entered the van
through the side door and sat across from one another in the rear
captains’ chairs.  An officer outside the van slid the
door closed as Chavez dialed headquarters on an encrypted
telephone.  The call went directly to Miami’s chief of
police, who was watching the standoff on television.  Her
first words weren’t exactly the vote of confidence Vince

“It’s been over two hours now, Paulo.  I’m
not seeing much progress.”

“It took me almost twice that long to talk him down from the
Golden Glades flyover last winter.”

“I understand that,” said the chief.  “I
guess what I’m asking is, are you comfortable doing

“Now that I’m blind, you mean?”

“Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad you decided
to stay with the force and teach at the academy.  I called you
back into the field because you have a history with this guy, but
the last thing I want to do is to put you in a situation that you
don’t think you can handle.”

“I can handle it fine, chief.”

“Great, but time is a factor.  I shouldn’t have to
remind you that no one in Miami keeps gloves in the glove
compartment.  If this sucker doesn’t climb down soon,
one of those stranded motorists is going to reach for his revolver
and take him out for us.”

“I say we move in now,” said Chavez.

Vince said, “Don’t you think a three-oh-eight-caliber,
custom-built thunderstick is a bit of overkill against a homeless
guy perched on a lamppost?”

“No one’s talking about a sniper shot.  I just
want to move our team closer into position, make them more
visible.  We need to send a message that our patience is
wearing thin.”

“If he thinks SWAT is coming up there after him, he’ll

“The same tactic worked just fine the last time.”

“This time is different.”

“How do you know?”

“I can tell.”

“What, going blind made you psychic?”

That made Vince blink, but dark sunglasses hid plenty of pain.
“Shove it, Chavez.”

“All right, fellas, knock it off,” said the

“I’m serious,” said Chavez.  “This
isn’t the first time we’ve had to deal with a homeless
guy threatening to hurt himself.  Nine times out of ten, they
just want a little attention.  I’d like to know what
makes Paulo think this is the real deal.”

“That seems like a fair question,” said the

“All right,” said Vince.  “For one, it may
be his third time up on a bridge, but it’s the first time
that Falcon has made a specific demand.  And it’s a
fairly rational one at that.  It’s not as if he wants us
to make the bubble people stop stealing his thoughts.  Just as
important, he’s set a time limit.  A short
one—fifteen minutes. You factor in the stress in his voice,
and you’ve got a man on the edge.”

“Wait a minute,” said Chavez.  “Because he
shows some signs of clear-headed thinking, that makes him more of a
danger to himself?”

“In some ways, yes.  The only way Falcon climbs down
from that lamppost is if he gives up on his demand to talk to the
mayor’s daughter.  Because he still shows some signs of
rational thought, he will very likely feel overwhelming humiliation
when the television world sees him fail. If we send the SWAT team
up that pole before he’s ready to accept his public failure,
you might as well push him off the bridge yourself.”

“How about soaking him with a fire hose?” said the
chief.  “Or maybe a stun gun.”

“There again, we’re on live television,” said
Vince.  “You knock him off that lamppost and we’ll
have two dozen personal-injury lawyers handing him business cards
before he hits the ground.”

There was silence, each officer thinking it through.  Finally,
the chief said, “I suppose we could promise to give him what
he wants.”

“You mean let him talk to the mayor’s daughter?”
said Vince.

“No, I said promise it.  That’s his only demand,

“Bad move,” said Vince.  “A negotiator never
promises anything he can’t deliver.  Or that he has no
intention of delivering.”

“For once I agree with Paulo,” said Chavez. 
“But I think—” 

Vince waited for him to finish, but Chavez seemed to have lost his
train of thought.  “You think what?” said

“I think it doesn’t matter what we think.  The
mayor’s daughter is here.”


“I can see her through the windshield right now.”

Vince picked up the sound of approaching footsteps outside the
van.  The side door slid open, and he could feel her
presence.  “Hello, Vince,” she said. 

Alicia Mendoza was not merely the mayor’s beautiful
twenty-seven-year-old daughter.  She was a cop, too, so it was
no surprise that she had gotten through the police barricade. 
Still, the sound of her voice hit Vince like a five iron. 
Instinctively, he began searching for the memory of her
visage—the dark, almond-shaped eyes, the full lips, the
flawless olive skin—but he didn’t want to go
there.  “What are you doing here, Alicia?”

“I hear Falcon wants to talk to me,” she said. 
“So I came.” 

Vince’s sense of hearing was just fine, but his brain was
suddenly incapable of decoding her words. That familiar, soft voice
triggered only raw emotion.  Many months had passed since
he’d last heard her speak.  It was sometime after he
became a hero, after the doctors removed the
bandages—following the horrific realization that he would
never again see her smile, never look into those eyes as her heart
pounded against his chest, never see the expression on her face
when she was happy or sad or just plain bored.  The last thing
he’d heard her say was, “You’re wrong, Vince,
you’re so wrong.”  That was the same day
he’d told her it would be best to stop seeing each other, and
the unintended pun had made them both cry. 

“I want to help,” she said as she gently touched Vince
on the wrist. 

Then go away, he thought.  I’m so much better now. 
If you really want to help, Alicia, then please—just go

Excerpted from WHEN DARKNESS FALLS © Copyright 2007 by
James Grippando. Reprinted with permission by HarperCollins. All
rights reserved.

When Darkness Falls
by by James Grippando

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0060831138
  • ISBN-13: 9780060831134