Saturday, June 1, 2013

No Rescue Tonight

The trouble started with a hotel fire in Manila.  The fire spread so rapidly the guests could not get near the fire escapes until it was too late.  All that was possible for the guests was to flee ever upward, hoping to stay safe by moving up the stairs ahead of the flames, but steadily moving higher and farther from the ground.  By the time the fire department arrived, no ladder could save the trapped guests.  Eventually, however, most of the stranded guests were evacuated from the roof by helicopter.

The Flagship Hotel also had a perennial fire safety problem.  First, the hotel was seven stories tall, built on a pier that extended out over the ocean, and the fire department--whose longest   ladder wouldn't reach to the top floor of the hotel--could only park on one side of the hotel.  The firemen would have needed a boat to access the other side.

The General Manager read about the fire in Manila and immediately decided that the Flagship should keep the door to the roof unlocked at all times.  This was a decision about as flawed as deciding to store beer in a fraternity house.  The
security guards were catching a drunk every week up on that roof and we were not catching the morons who were busting the fluorescent 'L' in the hotel's name.  I was getting really tired of wags calling the front desk asking, "Is this the love boat?"

Weekends, the hotel hired an off-duty policeman to stand security outside the hotel's bar--a duty that usually fell to my friend Bill.  I won't give his last name, since he still has a lot of friends on the island.  Now, before I can finish the story about Bill, I suppose I have to mention his funeral--even though this is bass-ackwards from the way you talk about anybody else--but whenever I think of Bill, his funeral is the first thing that comes to mind.

Bill looked like Dracula.  He didn't need a costume: he had the thin angular face, the black hair that came down to a widow's peak over his forehead, and the deep dark eyes.  Hell, on a good day, he looked like Dracula.  As he began to slowly drink himself to death and his liver started shutting down, he turned a pale yellow color.  If you ran into him at night, he was terrifying.  Eventually--no matter how hard his friends tried to prevent it--Bill ate his gun and ended his life. 

Bill was well-liked and missed by a lot of friends, so his funeral should have been a solemn occasion.  It should have been--but it wasn't.  Without exception, as his friends entered the funeral parlor and made their way up the aisle for the viewing, every single one of them started laughing: there was a pasty-faced Dracula lying in his coffin, with his hands crossed over his chest. Bill would have loved it!

Where was I?  Oh yes--one night, right about midnight, Bill and I were having a cup of coffee in the deserted restaurant.  The bar was open, but it was a very quiet night, so Bill and I took advantage of the solitude to sit at a table and stare out the glass wall at the waves.  The sea was rough and the wind was sending an endless series of rollers under the hotel to crash onto the beach.

And then, my radio went off.  A guest on the top floor was reporting that a woman was screaming from the roof and was threatening to jump.  

As we raced to the elevators, Bill used his police radio to report the jumper and to ask for the fire department to be notified.  By the time we got to the roof--sure enough--there was a woman standing close to the edge of the roof, threatening in a very loud voice for us to stand back or she would jump to the parking lot seven floors below.  

I think I spent about two minutes trying to talk to the woman.  She was in her thirties, and I never did learn exactly what she was upset about.  Suddenly, the sound of the sirens of the fire trucks could be heard and we all stopped to look at the distant rotating lights coming closer.  

I can remember wondering what use the fire department was going to be since they didn't have a net and their ladders weren't long enough.  Just what were they going to...

"Bullshit!" roared Bill as he walked past me, getting closer to the woman.  "This is all bullshit!  I used to be a fireman before I joined the force and I know all about you jumpers.  You're going to wait until the last minute, and then try to pull some poor guy off with you.  Well, not tonight, bitch!"

Bill kicked at a brick that was holding an electrical conduit up off the roof of the hotel.  He raised the brick over his head and said, "You don't get to jump.  I'm going to knock your ass right off this roof before any of my friends get here.  You have 5 seconds!  One!  Two!  Three!..."

Before he could get to four, she had passed us and was down those stairs.  We searched, but never found her.  If she jumped, it wasn't from the Flagship--I locked the rooftop door that night and it stayed locked.

It was a unanimous decision by the management that in case of fire, the guests could just jump into the ocean.

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