He fell lamely sideways, grizzled head meeting damp cobbles with an unbroken, heavy thwack. The gnarled clump of concrete that had felled him came soon after, bouncing crunchingly off the tiles. A thin ribbon of blood – black ink in the dusky twilight – unfurled from below his twisted limbs, and as it spread slowly out, it seemed to beckon passersby to the scene. Before long, a small knot of people from the adjacent flats had formed around the motionless heap. They huddled together, looking but not coming too close. One of them ran off in the direction of the high street – gone to look for a policeman, more likely than not.
This could go on all night, I thought. Knuckles already white from clinging to the rusty iron balustrade that spanned the edge of Jane’s bedroom balcony, three storeys up from the alley below. Autumn’s early nightfall was a blessing indeed, giving just enough shadow cover to stay undetected by crouching in the furthest corner of the outer ledge – but for how much longer? A pox on the Council and their bloody-minded refusal to pay for the upkeep of these crumbling old Victorian piles. A man’s life now hung in the balance thanks to one loose gargoyle, and with the loss of that same creature had gone another man’s only means of stepping cleanly from balcony to drain pipe, and thence to freedom.
Hubbub down below. A young woman had knelt down and placed a shaky hand on the old man’s forehead. Something deep inside the old codger must have delighted in her soft touch, for now his entire being quaked and heaved until, with a final thrust of resistance, he breathed his last and grew as still as the broken stone monster that lay at his side.
The young woman drew back with a start and let out a tremendous scream. It resonated like a gong, reverberations shimmering up and down the walls of the surrounding flats. Lights flickered on in the windows, and before long, even more people came swarming out to hover like vultures over new carrion. A flash of blue lights at the mouth of the alley confirmed the arrival of the Old Bill. An ambulance would be along in a minute. There wasn’t much time left to act.
Just then, and quite without warning, Jane emerged from the building below; resplendent in a white silk nightgown, a cigarette held loosely between her slut lips. She gasped at the spectacle, and I gasped too: in all these months of watching, we had yet to share the same side of the windowpane, breathe the same night air. It was almost too much to bear, and significant mental exertion was required to keep both hands firmly on the rails.
More urgent matters were at hand: the police were already trickling in to the top of the lane. It would be moments now before one of them pulled out a torch and shone it full strength at the accusing stump in the wall, and the third-storey balcony that lay within tantalizing reach. Jane’s first glimpse mustn’t – couldn’t – be this.
As she shivered and pulled her flimsy dress more tightly around her, she turned away from the crowd for a moment and stared off into the distance. Almost as if – yes, she knew, the filthy thing, and was averting her eyes to allow for her admirer’s safe escape. This was it, she was saying. Go. The siren’s whine and blinding lights from the oncoming ambulance dazzled the crowds, who saw nothing of the furtive leap and botched landing, heard none of the muffled curses and sobs that ensued. Only the gargoyle, with its fixed upward stare, bore silent witness to the monster that slowly hobbled from the shadows and blended in with the crowd, before quietly slipping back into his own third-floor flat, on the far side of the lane.