Descent Into Panic

Chapter 9

Sam was running on sheer adrenalin now. He drew on reserves of strength and courage that he was amazed he still possessed. Damn but he was tired. The sooner this leap was over the better. Then he could rest. He craved rest like a junkie craves his next fix - with a yearning aching need.

"Anyone else want outa here? Cos I for one don't feel much like hanging round and waiting for another panic attack." Even the thought of it made him tremble. He swallowed hard, determined not to give in again to the ever-present fear.

"How?" Allegra Mancini wanted to know, her voice cracking with repressed emotion. She looked up at the hole in the ceiling and then down at her ample bosom and equally ample everything else. She'd obviously watched the others climbing out the hatch and realized that she was the camel and it was a needle's eye. Kenneth Attenborough had been right. There was no way in the world that she would ever get through. Tears underlined the fear in her eyes. They were all going to escape and leave her to die alone.

For a second time, Sam put a comforting arm round Allegra's shoulder. "Don't worry, I have no intention of abandoning you," he reassured her. Suddenly, in her vulnerability, she seemed less irritating than before.

"Ziggy's been working on it, but I don't know what to tell you, Sam. There's not a hope in hell of getting her through that opening – even if you had all the men – and a crane! - up there to help haul her through."

"I've been thinking about it," Sam told them all. "Drew, how far down is it to floor twelve?"

Realizing where Sam was going with his inquiry, Al put the question, and the resulting scenario, into Ziggy's interface.

"Each storey is fifteen feet from floor to ceiling, sir. " Drew looked at the old man with a puzzled frown. He didn't have a clue where this was leading. "The lift car is ten feet high."

"Add another six inches, a foot at most for joists etc. Right." Sam seemed to be thinking aloud. Then he said to the general assembly, "So, given that the top of the car's already more or less flush with the floor up here now, it can't be much farther 'til it lines up with the doors on 12? Say, five or six feet – maybe seven at a stretch?" It was clear how shaky Sam was still feeling by the fact he even felt the need to calculate aloud. Normally, such reckonings would be virtually subconscious.

Al shook the hand link as it squealed, and then read off the result of his inquiry.

"It's do-able, Sam, but it won't be easy and you'll have to hurry whilst at the same time keeping it smooth and steady. Ziggy says 51% you can get her out on the next level if Wayneforth goes ahead and props the outer doors open. It'll be tough going though and you need to be very careful not to jar it too much or you'll all..." Al didn't say it, but a whistling sound while his hand made a swift downward pointing motion made his meaning clear.

"Right, let's get to it." Sam declared, explaining to Wayneforth that he was to help get Drew and himself onto the roof and then go ahead and open the doors on the floor below.

Accordingly, Sam and Drew proceeded to heave Woodrow Wayneforth up through the hatch - whereupon he immediately turned and made his escape through the outer doors with no regard for anyone but himself. Sam couldn't make out his parting remark, but guessed it was something along the lines of 'So long, suckers!'

"Typical!" observed Al. "What a nozzle."

"I suppose that means he won't bother with the doors either. Now what do we do, sir?"

"We'll worry about the doors once we get down there." Sam decided. Al vanished for a fleeting moment and returned smiling.

"Bad news is Wayneforth is scurrying down the stairs as we thought. Good news, Sam, is that the first wave must have decided it would be a good idea for you to have a backup plan. Probably that Miss Kingston. Anyway, there's a chair propping the door open on level 12. So get to it."

"All right, my dear Drew," Sam informed the young man, "Now to emulate a couple of campanologists!"

"Sorry, sir?" Drew continued to look perplexed.

"Okay, we may not be ringing any bells, but we're going to be pulling on some ropes. Elevator cables to be precise." Sam explained.

"Ms Mancini," Sam turned his attention to the remaining passenger. "I need you to sit down on the floor and keep as still as possible to minimize any swaying of the car."

She looked as if she was about to protest indignantly, but she remained silent. She was obviously not in the habit of sitting on the floor, especially not in a clearly expensive and beautifully elegant Victorian style off the shoulder purple evening gown. She was probably secretly scared too that once down, she'd have trouble standing up again. Agility and Allegra had parted company a good many years, not to mention pounds, ago.

Sam spread out his jacket, which was still on the floor from when he'd used it to make McFarlane more comfortable. He did likewise with the waistcoat, fashioning a makeshift blanket for her to sit on. Sam asked Drew to remove his deep red uniform jacket to add to the surface area. Though he was supposed to wear it at all times while on duty, these were exceptional circumstances, so Drew did not hesitate to comply. Besides, between the failure of the air conditioning and the heat from the approaching fire outside it was getting hotter by the minute. He was glad to be able to cool off a bit. Drew was rather ashamed to realize that his own shirt bore perspiration stains under the armpits and – by the damp feeling that the air made him suddenly aware of – in the middle of his back, almost as much as Mr. Quincey's did. This was no time to worry about appearances though.

Between them, they managed to get the opera singer seated moderately comfortably, leaning against a wall.

"We'll have you out of here before you know it," Sam reassured her.

"Mille grazie senor," she responded, more graciously than she had said anything else all evening.

With nobody left to help him, Sam felt the strain of hoisting Drew on his shoulders even more than before, but stoically bore the weight as the boy rose up and disappeared.

The next stage was even tougher. Drew lay flat on the roof, and his upper torso reappeared through the aperture, stretching his hands down exactly as instructed. Sam stretched up and tried to make contact with Drew's wrists. It took several attempts, with Drew shifting position to lower his arms as much as he dare, and Sam feeling as if his arms were going to pop out of their sockets. Finally, they made firm contact. The process reminded Sam of the time he'd leaped into a trapeze artist, but he tried not to dwell on the memory. He'd had more than enough of phobic reactions for one leap without reliving his fear of heights from that experience.

With gravity against him, and Drew being so small and light, it was no mean feat for them to get Sam up and through the gap. Had he been at full strength to start with it would have been wearing. As it was, after the draining effects of the panic attacks, Sam now felt way beyond exhausted. Having finally got up onto the roof of the elevator, Sam practically collapsed and lay for a moment, breathless and unable to move. He wanted nothing more than to be allowed to go to sleep, but he knew he couldn't.

"Are you all right, sir?" Drew asked, deeply concerned. Mr. Quincey was far from a young man, and he was pushing himself beyond the limits that should be expected of a man half his age.

"You okay, Sam?" Al inquired simultaneously.

Sam held up a single digit, indicating that they should give him a minute. In fact, he allowed himself much less than that. He took a couple of gulping breaths and then rolled over and pushed himself up.

"Don't look down, Sam," Al advised, to which Sam merely nodded. He didn't want to even think about how far up they were and, more to the point, what a long way it was to fall.

"Ready?" he asked Drew, as if it had been the young man who had been holding up proceedings. Sam pulled his sleeves down over his hands, poking his thumbs through the slits by the cuff buttons to protect his palms. Luckily the shirt was not too tight a fit to start with, but even so it strained the underarm seams somewhat.

Drew nodded.

They positioned themselves either side of the cables, feet slightly apart for stability. There was a brake on the pulley wheel that was designed to deploy when the lift stopped at each floor. This had stuck on. After a struggle, Sam eased it off slightly with his heel. Then they began very carefully tugging on the heavy twisted steel cords, trying to feed them through the pulley wheel, hoping to ease the car down smoothly. The cables were greasy, but Drew's gloves and Sam's sleeves helped them keep their grip.

The cables creaked and groaned, the car trembled. For a few anxious moments it looked as if the task were too onerous, the weight too much for two men to shift alone. Then the whole thing shifted with a jerk, and they had to struggle to keep to their feet. Having got it moving, Sam made sure they maintained a rhythm to try and keep it that way.

Inevitably, having come unstuck, the car then began to pick up a little speed, and they found themselves trying to rein it back to keep it from crashing down. Their hands started to suffer friction burns, despite the cloth protection, but against the odds they were managing to keep control. Sam spared a moment to cast his eyes upward in gratitude that the unlikely plan was actually working.

"Nearly there, Sam," Al encouraged.

On a signal from Al, Sam pressed his foot against the brake with all his might – such as it was at this point – to bring the car to a gentle halt. They both grasped the cables as tight as they could bear to keep them from slipping.

Sparks flew. The cables whined.

Drew lent his weight to the brake. The car juddered.

The top of the floor 12 doors appeared as they screeched to a halt.

"Yesss!" Al punched the air triumphantly. They had done it.

Before Sam or Drew could catch their breath, Al suddenly yelled a warning...

Then the cable snapped.

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