Batwoman on the Brink

by Ginger Dehlinger

CYNTHIA DREW A LINE through the last item on her to-do list.   

  • book flight to Las Vegas
  • call the Flamingo
  • buy wet suit
  • pay bills
  • write note

She wrote several drafts of the note on a yellow pad before copying the least incriminating version onto four sheets of ivory monogrammed stationery. She signed the vague ramble, With love, Cynthia, placed it in a matching ivory envelope and left it on the dining room table next to a recently notarized will. Reservations could be cancelled, wet suit returned, but a note that took half a morning to write meant her plan was set in stone.

She would have spent far less time fiddling with words if she hadn’t dotted every I; far less if she had been candid. Her husband Paul would want to know why, yet all he would read and reread was a word-smithed version of what she told her shrink when he asked, “Why are you so unhappy?” She praised Paul, thanked him for the twenty-one years they had been married, and then ended the note with, Please don’t bring my body back to Florida.

At McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, she told the lanky young man behind the Avis counter she wanted a car with GPS and all-weather tires. “Nothing flashy. Blue or white would be good. And make sure it has Arizona plates.” The light blue Toyota Carolla he rented her was exactly what she had in mind.

“Why the Arizona plates?” the agent asked.

“Because that’s where I’m headed. A car with out-of-state plates is going to draw attention in the dead of winter.”

The young man shrugged. Maybe the good-looking blond was being stalked. Maybe she had watched too many episodes of “Law and Order.” She wasn’t beautiful, not movie star beautiful, anyway, but pretty hot, considering the birth date on her driver’s license.

It was sunny when Cynthia left Las Vegas. Four and a half hours later, she was driving the Carolla under a scum of gray clouds. An inch of snow covered the ground as she followed Siri’s directions into Grand Canyon National Park. She had hoped for more snow, expected a foot of the white stuff in January at six thousand feet above sea level. Cold air and snow were essential to her plan. Fewer tourists would visit the Park in bad weather. More importantly, decomposition would take longer if her body lay at the bottom of the canyon for weeks before being discovered.

She had arrived at this grim conclusion after reading a book that chronicled the Grand Canyon’s suicides and other fatalities. Struck by the author’s descriptions of human remains, she did not want to leave a mess on the canyon floor. The wet suit she donned before checking out of the Flamingo Hotel that morning had been purchased for the same reason. She believed squeezing her body into a tight Neoprene suit would protect her innards like the casing of a sausage when she hit bottom. Cleaning up scattered body parts was too much to expect from anyone, even strangers.

She purchased the full-length wet suit at a sporting goods shop in Palm Beach where she spent five minutes admiring herself in a dressing room mirror. She would have preferred a reflection with tighter abs, but gave herself good marks for a woman of forty-five. The zip-free suit she wriggled into was solid black. When she tried the suit on again at home, this time with knee-high black leather boots, she decided she looked like a cat burglar or a malnourished seal. To soften her image, she added a designer scarf sprinkled with bright red poppies and purple asters.

At the south entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, she handed the station agent her credit card and smiled when the woman handed it back to her with a compliment for the colorful scarf. From the ticket booth, Cynthia drove east on South Entrance Road, then took lesser roads to The Abyss. During the short drive, she was surprised to see vehicles from New York, Massachusetts, Missouri, and California. Although the Arizona plates might not have been necessary, they still gave her the feeling of anonymity she desired.

While planning this rendezvous with the Canyon, she pored over pictures and descriptions of viewpoints along its south rim, made a list of those with steep drop-offs and a history of past suicides. The Abyss matched these specifications on paper, as did the other sites on her list; however, she needed to see them with her own eyes to determine if there were intervening features below the rim that could break her fall—ledges, rock formations, trees (dead or alive.)

The Canyon’s vermillion splendor had captivated Cynthia the first time she looked into its breathtaking maw. On that hot blue day in June her skin blossomed with goosebumps as she stood, speechless, scanning a panorama so vast it would take an artist’s entire supply of Titian red, ochre, and burnt umber to capture it on canvas. She wanted to breathe the Canyon in, taste it, somehow get her arms around it. The serene, chiseled landscape held the kind of grandeur she desired for herself—solid, timeless—like the relationship she had with the man standing next to her. After their two-year affair ended, she decided the only way to attain the same level of glory she had experienced with him was to become one with the Canyon.

On this trip, her second, when visibility was paramount, she walked to the edge of The Abyss and looked out over an ocean of fog. Arizona’s famous sun had warmed the Park the day before. Overnight, snow had fallen, and the combination of warm rocks and cold snow had created an all-encompassing fog. The ghostly mist filled the entire gorge, transforming its magnificence into a terrible sameness. No wind ruffled the eerie quiet—no birds, no echoes. The few tourists strung along the viewing platform at The Abyss conversed in whispers.

Cynthia waited several minutes, hoping the sun would show itself and the fog would dissipate. But the earthbound cloud, silent and mysterious, stubbornly refused to budge. After suffering the same disappointment at Maricopa Point, she got back in the Corolla and set out for the third viewpoint on her list. She held the steering wheel in a death grip. Unaccustomed to snowy roads, she drove slow as a street cleaning truck, one eye on the wintery pavement, one on the rearview mirror. She had prepared for snow. She made sure the Carolla had all-weather tires and asked the Avis agent to include a set of chains. She didn’t know how to put them on, but somebody would. She also bought a can of de-icer and heavy-duty gloves. She had not, however, considered the possibility of fog. Nor had she planned for the patrol car that had been tailing her since Maricopa Point.  

CORBYN SCOTT, CHIEF RANGER for the Park’s law enforcement team, was on duty that morning. During a routine stop at The Abyss he spied a woman leaning too far over the steel mesh fence meant to restrain gawkers. The woman had spent ten minutes there, gazing into the cloud-filled depths before returning to her car. He followed her to Maricopa Point where she ignored the Park’s safety signs again.

Dressed in solid black, the woman wore a scarf, no jacket or coat. During Scott’s twenty-six years as a national park ranger, he had seen just about everything when it came to visitors’ attire, but it was not how the woman was dressed that caught his attention. He radioed the other rangers on his team to be on the lookout for a tall blond dressed like Batwoman. “Could be a jumper,” he said into the mic. “She’s flirting with the brink and not taking pictures.”

CYNTHIA, DRIVING AN unfamiliar car faster than she dared on snow and ice, hustled into the Visitor Center parking lot, killed the engine and ducked out of sight. She kept her ears tuned for an approaching vehicle while she tried to figure out why she was being followed. She knew she hadn’t been speeding, well maybe a little when she dashed into the lot. Had she been driving too slowly? Was a tail-light out? The car’s lights had worked when she checked them in Las Vegas. She remembered seeing the same type of official vehicle parked at The Abyss. Had the man seated inside noticed her? Liked how she looked in a wet suit? She glanced at her long, Neoprene-wrapped legs, smiling at the notion she might still be a fox. Immediately she chastised herself for allowing the distraction to interfere with her plan. Why she was being followed wasn’t important, but a ranger on her tail was. Something had triggered his interest, which meant she had to stop looking for the perfect site. It was Mather Point or bust.

The parking lot where Cynthia sat in the Carolla served both the Visitor Center and Conservancy Park Store. She and her lover had wandered the store’s aisles for close to an hour during their last stolen weekend together. She had purchased the fatalities book there, hoping it would explain the Canyon’s strange magnetism. Instead, the book had become a nagging reminder of two days of bitter arguments and a heartless last kiss.

She raised her head, peeked over the dash board. When she didn’t see a white Ford Explorer with roof-mounted lightbar, she sat up, removed everything from her purse that had her name on it, and tossed the car keys into the glove compartment. She left her purse in the trunk next to the tire chains, threw her driver’s license and other ID in a trash bin near the store’s entrance.

 Leaving the store behind, she hoped it would be a decoy, an ally to buy her some time. If the Park ranger truly was after her, not a figment of her paranoid thoughts, he would look for her inside the store. By the time he realized she wasn’t there, she would be gone for good.

CHIEF RANGER SCOTT lost sight of the blue Corolla after it zipped into the nearly full Visitor Center parking lot. He drove by the first two rows of cars. When he didn’t find what he was looking for, he radioed his team.

“Batwoman just pulled into the main lot and disappeared. We’re awfully close to Mather here. Based on the other stops she made so far, my gut says she’s looking for a place to jump. She could be inside the store. Maybe she’ll buy some postcards and be on her way. I can’t be in two places at the same time, so meet me in front of the store…pronto!”

Five minutes later, two park rangers, one male, one female responded to Scott’s call. “I found her car,” he told them. “It was open, keys in the jockey box. You two search the Center and store. Can’t miss her. Breezy blond hair…tall for a woman. Dressed head to toe in black. I’m heading for Mather Point. Call me if you find her. Follow me to Mather if you don’t.”

A HANDFUL OF TOURISTS lined the far end of the Mather Point viewing platform when Cynthia arrived. She was disappointed to see the site’s four-foot, heavy-duty steel mesh barrier was bolted so close to the edge of the drop-off, only a scant windowsill of platform remained on the Canyon side. Stepping off the top rail of a fence was not how she visualized taking the plunge. In the video that had played countless times in her mind, she always scooped up a little terra cotta soil in each hand, walked to the edge of a sandstone ledge, opened her arms, and let the Canyon pull her in.

She spied a rocky outcropping a few feet below one of the barriers, and in less than a minute she scampered over the fence and dropped onto a ledge about the size of a kitchen table. She heard someone yell, “Hey!” followed by shoes scurrying across the stone and cement platform. She looked up and saw six to eight tourists sporting winter hats and scarves, peering over the barrier at her. Everyone was talking at once. One person said, “I’m dialing 911.”

Their outstretched hands couldn’t reach her. The ledge was too small for anyone crazy enough to join her, so she turned her back on the powerless lot. Rubbing her hands together to warm them, she stared into the quiet miasma that had invaded the Canyon’s rapture. The topmost stretches of the east and west rims were visible, but fog, blind as a coma, filled the gorge. She had thoroughly prepared for this moment. Now, smack dab in the middle of it, she blamed the fog, vague and haunting, for the tightness in her chest.

Taking short breaths of cool, moist air, she posed the same questions she had been asking herself for weeks. Will I wet myself on the way down? Will I pass out, unable to breathe with so much air rushing up my nose? Will my face contort like an astronaut’s during lift-off? The questions had been somewhat titillating when she pictured herself succumbing to a rugged expanse bathed in sunlight. Now, with the Canyon’s voluptuous cleavage draped in fog, the euphoria was missing.

AS RANGER SCOTT HURRIED down the incline leading to the Mather Point viewing platform, he felt a ripple of dread at the sight of every tourist on the platform gathered in one spot. As he drew closer, he saw the tourists were looking down at Batwoman who was on the Canyon side of the barrier. She stood on a boulder or some sort of projection, facing the fog bank. Without breaking stride, the gravel-voiced ranger bellowed, “Get back where you belong!”

The tourists scattered. Cynthia gave a startled cry and fell to her knees, parallel to the barrier, an arm’s length from the drop-off.

“Did you have to yell?” she asked when the slightly out-of-breath ranger bellied up to the fence. “Leave me alone. I’m fine. If you try to come down here, I’ll jump. I mean it. I’ll jump.”

She took a quick inventory of the barrel-chested man who had been following her: clean-shaven, aviator glasses, bulky, army green jacket with a Park Service patch on one sleeve. His tan hat was similar to a Canadian Mountie’s hat. Still on her knees, she leaned forward, placed the palms of her hands on the sandstone for better balance.

“I’m fine,” she repeated as she splayed her fingers across the dust-covered surface of her perch.

“That was a command, Lady, not a suggestion. One false move and you’re gonna fall.” The ranger spoke to her with calm assurance; upped the volume when he ordered the rubbernecking tourists off the platform.

Without turning her head, Cynthia flashed the ranger a dismissive wave. “Go away. Give somebody a ticket or something. I know what I’m doing.” She lowered her hand, returned it to the security of a four-point stance and left it there.

“So, tell me, what are you doing? For starters, you’re on the wrong side of the barrier, and that’s against the law.”

Closer to Batwoman than he had been earlier, Ranger Scott saw her black clothing was actually a wet suit. “Who in hell wears a wet suit in the desert?” he scoffed. “There’s no scuba diving in the Colorado. Not even in July. And you won’t bounce in that rubber suit if that’s what you’re thinking.”

Cynthia shook her head in annoyance. “I may not bounce, but I won’t splatter, either.”

Her eyes flicked from fog to ranger to fog while her fingers clung to the rocky ledge like sticky pads on a frog’s toes. She thought about ending his smugness by rolling over the edge before he had a chance to talk her out of it. I win. He loses. She waited for him to reply with something snarky. Instead, he took a cell phone out of a pocket in his jacket and pinged a number on the keypad. He lowered his voice during the call, but based on a few words Cynthia recognized, he was speaking to someone in authority.

During the call, she inched her right hand across the outcropping to determine how close she was to the edge. Her fingers brushed a bit of sand and pebbles into the fog. When the fragments of cracked earth didn’t clatter on the way down, she knew she had found the unimpeded drop she wanted, a realization that didn’t come with much satisfaction.

“Looking for reinforcements?” she asked after the ranger put his phone back in his pocket. “Need to call out the National Guard or something?”

She giggled, giggles that spiraled into laughter, and then quickly morphed into shivers. Her hands were cold by the time she climbed over the fence. The rest of her body had remained warm until this sudden onset of the shakes. She shifted her gaze a degree or two to the right, just enough to peer into the pall. She could feel the Canyon beckoning her again, not with wide open arms like the first time, but with the lure of a Siren. She had rehearsed this moment for weeks with eagerness, not fear. Now her heart was doing flip-flops inside her Neoprene-enclosed chest. It’s the fog’s fault, she told herself, the ranger’s fault. If the fog would lift, if the ranger would leave, everything would proceed as planned.

She crouched lower, rested her forearms on the sandstone and cradled her forehead on the backs of her hands. Trapped between a man trying to ruin her plans and fog doing the same, she grew still as a petroglyph.

“Sorry we took so long,” she heard a woman say. “It was crowded in there. Looks like your instincts were right, Corbyn. Anything we can do to help?”

Glancing upward, Cynthia saw two more people in Park Service uniforms. One was a thirty-something woman with dark brown shoulder-length hair, the other, a man in his twenties. The woman had a slight southern accent, more Charleston than deep South.

“I’ve got it handled,” Ranger Scott said.

The female ranger, leaning as close as she could get to the woman she knew only as Batwoman, rested her arms on the fence cap. “We all go through a rough patch now and then, Honey.”

“I said I’ve got it handled,” Ranger Scott said, louder this time. He motioned his small team to form a huddle. “Seems we’ve got a wacko on our hands,” he said quietly. “A minute ago, she was laughing. Now she’s shaking like someone on death row.”

“Is she praying?” the female ranger whispered. “She looks like she’s praying.”

“Her? Are you kidding?”

“What are you, I mean, what are we going to do?”

Scott rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, this is my first live one. Every jumper I’ve dealt with in the past was already on the Canyon floor. The fact she’s shaking makes me think she’s having second thoughts. Either that or her wet suit isn’t doing what it’s supposed to.”

“If I had a lasso, I could rope her,” said the younger man. “I’m pretty good at that.”

Cynthia raised her head. “I can hear you.” She listened a few seconds before resting her forehead on her hands again.

Chief Ranger Scott scowled at his young subordinate. “One of us needs to guard the entry. Go up there and keep everybody away except emergency personnel.”

After the young ranger left, Scott cleared his throat and returned his focus to the woman on the ledge. “What’s so bad about your life that you want to end it? You know suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

“Really?” Cynthia groaned. “Is that all you’ve got?”

“Listen, Lady, forever is a whole lot longer than you or any of us can imagine.”

Cynthia’s nose was dripping. She pulled the scarf off her neck and used it as a handkerchief. “What if my problem isn’t temporary?”

“What do you mean? You have a terminal illness or something?”


“Then you don’t have a permanent problem—not that a terminal illness is an excuse to jump into the Canyon. Do you realize how much trouble you’re gonna cause if you go through with this? For the Park Service? For your family? Do you have a family? Do they know you’re here? Do they know what you’re thinking about doing?”

“Stop asking so many questions.” Cynthia took a ragged breath. “I have a husband, no children. By now my husband knows what I’m doing.”

“Why isn’t he trying to stop you?”

“I didn’t tell him where I was going. He probably thinks I’m in Las Vegas.”

“I looked in your purse and couldn’t find a single clue to your identity. What’s your name, anyway?”

“If you really want to know, look in the trash can in front of the store.”

Scott paused to collect his thoughts. “Have you asked for professional help?”

“Yes. It wasn’t what I would describe as helpful.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No! Why should I discuss my troubles with you?” She dabbed at her nose with the scarf.

“I might know more about your troubles than you think. If this has anything to do with your marriage, I say try to make it work. I didn’t. Been sorry ever since.”

“You sound like my shrink,” Cynthia mumbled.

She assumed empathy had been part of the ranger’s customer service training, not that he was genuinely sorry he hadn’t made his marriage work. On the other hand, what if he was telling the truth? She wondered what Paul would do if she told him to ignore the letter and replaced its rambling contents with the truth. Would he rather have her damaged than not have her at all? His business kept him jetting from one city to another. Over the years he would have had plenty of opportunities for an affair of his own. Could she somehow avoid telling him the real reason she had been despondent? She hadn’t mentioned her lover in the ambiguous note she left on the dining room table. Her shivers grew more intense as she concentrated on swallowing the good hard cry festering in her throat.

“This has gone on long enough,” Scott grumbled. “Come on, Lady, don’t be a fool.” He leaned across the barrier and extended his arms. “You need to get back up here where you belong. Where it’s safe. I’ll come down and give you a hand, if you’d like. Afterwards, we can go inside and have a drink. Do you drink? If you don’t, you could have a hot chocolate.”  

“Okay, okay, stop talking. And don’t come down here. I can figure this out on my own.”

The sky hung over her head like a suffocating pillow as Cynthia, in the same slow way she got out of bed every morning, rose from a nearly prone position to her knees. She sat on her haunches a moment and stared at the tendrils of fog crawling up the Canyon’s walls. A spasm of fear snaked up her spine and then radiated to her very core. Suddenly, she desperately wanted off the ledge, out of the fog, away from this gigantic hole. She would come up with something credible to say to Paul when she had more time. Right now, all she could think about was being back on solid ground.

She got to her feet and mentally gauged the space between her and the rangers. By standing on her toes and extending her long arms, she could reach the bottom of the steel pole that anchored the fence, use it to pull herself up. All those hours she had spent at the gym were finally going to pay off. She wrapped her hand around the base of a footing and looked for a toe hold in the rocky slope.   

“Don’t forget your pretty scarf,” the female ranger said.

Cynthia let go of the pole, knelt down and grabbed the scarf. She stood too quickly this time and lost her balance. Confused by the dizzying cloud that shrouded her perch, she shuffled her feet, windmilling her arms in a frantic attempt to right herself. But the smooth soles of her leather boots skidded across the sandstone, and she tumbled backwards over the brink. She let go of the scarf as she fell. The red and purple square of silk floated for a lazy second before it followed her terrified scream into the waiting fog.   

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