The Tower

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Chapter 12

Our first stop was a booth called ‘Wickers’ that made some kind of special long underwear.

“So each climber has a kind of unofficial ranking,” Jeff explained. “The higher you’re ranked, the better stuff you can get. You two both have good rankings, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting some good gear.”

“And it’s all free?” I looked down at the high tech long underwear, wondering how much better it could be than the long johns I had packed.

“Well, yes and no.” He handed some clothes to Kris. “What do you think of these?” Kris shrugged and started talking to the clerk.

“So for simple gear and clothes like this, you sign a paper saying they can use you in their advertising. That’s why they only give their high end stuff to climbers with good rankings. When the climb is over, they can ‘show’ how much higher climbers who chose one product over another did in the climb.”

A hand on my wrist suddenly pulled my arm out straight. Another clerk had started measuring my body as we talked.

“What-

“Sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Haversham.” The clerk had moved and was measuring from shoulder to shoulder now. “We wanted to make a special garment tailored for you.”

I looked at Jeff, who nodded, and I nodded at the clerk in return.

“Your news article this morning means that you’ll get the best of everything. Take every edge you can get.”

“I’m not used to this much attention.”

“Well, you’re probably not used to the fact that you have a good chance of dying on live TV tomorrow either.” He chuckled, “Take the good with the bad.”

The clerk continued to measure me, and I saw Kris signing for a package at the counter

“Wait!” I looked at Kris and then at the clerk. “Measure both of us or neither. We came together.”

The clerk that had been dealing with Kris darted behind the counter and came back with a tape measure.

“Whatever you say, Mr. Haversham.”

Kris looked at me and half smiled a thank you. While I had been embarrassed only a few hours ago, I was beginning to like being famous.

We spent about an hour going to the shops Jeff recommended, and we were treated like royalty everywhere we went. I had a few misgivings about the fact that I was going to be making the climb in an all new wardrobe and not the clothes that Mom had packed for me, but I figured she’d rather have her son back than watch him falling in the clothes that she had picked out for him.

When I thought we had finished getting all of our sponsors - We had moisture wicking thermal underwear, lightweight shirts and trousers that would help hold in body heat, a surprisingly thin, yet warm jacket, stocking caps and some super thin gloves that had some amazing gripping technology built in- Jeff turned to us.

“OK, guys, now time to go shopping for toys.”

I looked at Kris. I couldn’t imagine what else we were going to need for the climb. Kris smiled.

“You’re gonna love this part, Rock,” he beamed, “And I’m gonna love going through it with you.” He reached forward and punched me lightly on the shoulder a few times. I still didn’t know what was going on, but I couldn’t help but smile.

“Toys?” I laughed, wondering if this had anything in common with the after-hours activities of most climbers the night before. “Is this really something we-

“Let’s just have a look and see.” Jeff started walking up a stairwell to a second floor that contained more booths. We were stopped at the bottom by a guard who checked our tags before letting us through. At the top, Jeff waved his right arm as to draw attention to the whole floor.

“Our first stop, in my humble opinion,” he paused and stopped in mid-wave, “should be the Apple store.”

I was a bit confused, but followed as Jeff led us past various booths with names like Google, Samsung, Fitbit, Gatorade, and Peptime. Some seemed to be giving away TVs. There booths advertising everything from electronics, cars, motorcycles, health goods, and even luxury apartments.

Both Kris and I stared at each booth we walked past. I wanted to stop and look at a few on the way to the Apple store, but Jeff stopped me.

“Just remember, there’s nothing more expensive in this world than free, and things like that will cost you in choices you can make if you reach the top.” That explanation seemed to satisfy Kris, so I followed numbly along.

Again, I was amazed at the level of wealth and surplus. How could so few live so well while most of us dredged along, lucky to have electricity at our offices and only at home for those who could afford it. Still, a part of me wanted this life. These people didn’t know what it was like to wake up at 2am to check the woodstove, only to wake up a few hours later to head to a farm where you’d toil away all day, making sure the cows would have enough feed for that day, while still saving enough to get them through the winter. And then to go home after that and work the small garden in your yard because you didn’t earn enough in 9 ½ hours to feed your family. These people went to restaurants, watched movies (I wondered at this point if they still made new movies, but I guessed that they must, and wondered if a movie star was more able to feed his family than the farmers that supplied their food).

Apple was amazing. They were selling phones that were also computers. These were like the ones I had marveled at when I arrived in Chicago, and I had been impressed with the camera! The clerk was explaining to me why this was great. I could have stopped him, and said, ‘Hey, here’s a phone that fits in your pocket!’, but it was more than that. Apparently, the iPhone8 had four, quad something somethings, and 256 gigabytes of one thing, and 8 gigabytes of another. It had a screen that could display images at twice the level the human eye could see. I wanted to ask what the point of that was, but, finally, the presentation got interesting.

“So, what’s your favorite song?”

I couldn’t think of any songs off the top of my head, but suddenly, I could hear my mother’s voice.

“Sunny”

“Sunny?” The clerk looked confused.

“Sunny.” I wrote the word down on the piece of paper he had been using to write specifications that I didn’t understand. “It was by a big star back in the 1970s or 1980s.”

“Do you know any of the lyrics?”

“Sunny, thank you for the joy you brought my way.” I echoed the song that my mother had sung to me so many times.

The clerk picked up the phone.

“Siri, find a song with the lyrics, Sunny, thank you for the joy you brought my way.”

The phone beeped, and then spoke.

I have found 11 songs with those lyrics.”

The clerk seemed pleased. “Add all to music.”

Adding 11 songs to music library.

A few second later, he pressed a spot on the screen that said ‘music’ and I heard the song being sung by a woman named Cher. He pressed a few buttons, and I heard the same song being sung by various singers. My favorite, probably because it sounded the most like the way my mother sang it, was by someone called Stevie wonder.

“Now we can fill this with your favorite movies, songs, or apps, but what we want to offer you today, Mr. Haversham, is not one iPhone, but two.”

“Why would I need tw-

“One for your family.” The clerk smiled. “Don’t you want another chance to talk to your mother and wife before the climb? Just in case…

“But how would she get it in time?”

“In hopes of your order, we already have a courier waiting in your town. If you sign now, you could be talking to her within the hour.”

I was hooked. The clerk explained that Apple would have the rights to use my name and image in advertisements. It was pretty much the same as all of the other companies, with a few exceptions. If I didn’t make it to the top, they would repossess my mother’s phone, and I would have to sign an agreement to be an Apple user for life.

I looked at Jeff.

“Trust me, Rock. You’ll never want to switch. Apple is a bit more expensive but if you make it to the top, you won’t have to worry about money.”

Kris and I signed for our phones, and Jeff was getting ready to lead us to the next shop, when I saw Guttenberg.

He had obviously taken time to groom himself, but he looked like death warmed over. His eyes were still a bit bloodshot, and his normally pasty white complexion had taken on a tint of greenish yellow. He even seemed shorter.

“Mr. Haversham…”

I could tell he was about to apologize. Part of me wanted to see it - wanted him to admit that he had neglected his duties and been a bad guide. Maybe it would be a way for me to be excused from the climb. But I stopped him.

“Mr. Guttenberg. Thank you SO much for running all of those errands for me this morning.” Don’t say anything. “I know it couldn’t have been easy after I kept you out so late last night with my worries about the climb.”

Guttenberg’s appearance seemed to change immediately, as if half of his discomfort hadn’t come from a bottle, but from fear and guilt.

“It was no trouble, Mr. Haversham.” He turned to Jeff. “Mr. Hart, thank you for watching over Richard in my absence.”

“Not a problem at all. He helped me get more for Kris, too, so it worked out great.”

“Mr. Haversham.” Guttenberg leaned toward me to whisper. His breath was a foul stench of alcohol, vomit, and mint. “You have an important meeting to get to.”

I gathered my bags, and followed him to the lobby. We left my bags at the front desk with instructions to have them sent to my room, and he led me out the front door.

“I thought we needed special permission to leave the hotel.”

“Oh, believe me, you HAVE permission.”

He walked me toward a waiting limousine. And waited by the door as a driver jumped out and opened it for me.

“Where am I going? Are you coming too?” I was nervous. Where was I being taken?

“I’ll see you when you get back.” He looked at me, and mouthed the words thank you.

The door to the limousine closed. And we started moving.

There was an imposing man sitting in the back of the limousine with me. I looked at him inquisitively, but he showed no signs of registering my look.

“Can I ask where we’re going?”

“Northerly Island.” His face never wavered from the blank determined stare.

Northerly Island. I had either made somebody very happy or very angry. I watched as we drove toward the lake. I had seen Solidarity drive in pictures and news reports, but even reporters seldom got to cross all the way to the island. We passed the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and I could see Adler Planetarium ahead as we neared the checkpoint. We all knew these landmarks, but never in my life had I imagined I would drive through The Gauntlet.

The Gauntlet was rumored to have 10 checkpoints. We passed through a total of four. The first one could get you into visitor parking, where you would exit your vehicle, be screened thoroughly, and escorted, on foot, to the White House. The second could get you as far as government parking, with less screening and no escort, but still a walk. The third was reserved for important guests, and the fourth took us into the garage of the White House itself.

I had been instructed to leave everything but my clothes in the limousine. Ironically, the limousine was empty as I got out. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being a non-citizen. Nothing to leave behind. I walked through some kind of scanning machine, and was led into the White House.

I must have made some kind of impression on the Vice President. I hope it was a GOOD one.

My thoughts were racing. I numbly followed the guards who were leading me, and before I could piece together any reason for my visit to the Vice President, the door in front of me was opened, and I was ushered inside. Sitting behind the desk, was not the Vice President, but the President of the United States, Kendall Rettmann.

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