Descent Into Panic

Chapter 3

"How long?" Sam whispered under his breath to his observer, taking hold of the cane again as if it were a comforter.

Al didn't need clarification of the question.

"No immediate urgency, Sam," he reassured the leaper. "The elevator isn't due to drop for nearly two hours. Of course, it'll get pretty unpleasant in here long before that."

"It's no barrel of laughs now!" Sam forced a grin. "I feel like I've stepped into a disaster movie!" His left hand held the cane with a vise like grip. His right hand held his left to stop it trembling. The right hand was on its own, and struggling.

"If it were," Al decided levity was probably the best medicine, "then one of these people would be the hotel owner, or architect, who'd skimped on costs or materials and so made it unsafe. Another would be a thief with a briefcase full of booty, or a murderer, or some such criminal. Then again one of the women would be heavily pregnant and go into labor any moment. That one's big enough to be carrying quads, but given she's got arms like tree-trunks I think she's just fat! I guess she's the Shelley Winters part!"

Sam shot him a reproachful look. Al merely shrugged and continued, "Now, what other cliché's do they have? Oh yeah, the claustrophobic! Seems like that's the only one we do have in here, and that's you, buddy!"

"Don't remind me," Sam hissed, taking a deep breath.

"Sorry, pal," Al offered contritely. "The sooner you get out, the more choices of escape route you'll have." Al told his friend, to give him something positive to focus on.

Sam nodded. Easier said than done though.

He glanced at the indicator over the door to see how far they still had to descend to get to safety. In keeping with the rest of the leap so far, it was no surprise to see that the dial had stopped just below level 13.

The others started to get restless again.

It was the large lady who vocalized - in a strong Italian accent - what they were all thinking, "How much longer are we going to be kept waiting? Do you realize who I am? Allegra Mancini, world-renowned soprano." She put her hand to her throat, and visibly puffed up with self-importance. "I am due to perform at Covent Garden in..." she looked at her solid gold wristwatch, "in a little under two hours. I have a car waiting for me. I need to get to the theater and get into my costume and make up. There are some very important people waiting to hear me sing."

"Great, we got a prima donna!" Al chipped in. "I think we'd have been better off with a woman in labor!"

Sam hid a short laugh behind his hand and a forced cough. Al was incorrigible, but at least his friend's levity was helping to keep the terror at bay. The more Sam could distract himself from the awareness of his heart thudding in his chest, the better he would feel.

"I'm sure we'll be moving again any moment," Drew told her reassuringly. He tried the emergency phone again, but it was still dead.

Although Sam wanted to mobilize them into making their own escape, he didn't want them to panic. He was having enough problems keeping control of his own nerves. The last thing he needed was for the group to start screaming and yelling again.

Before the lack of communication with the outside world could worry them, Sam decided on a useful distraction.

"Thank you for introducing yourself Ms Mancini. Since we may be here for a little while yet, I suggest we all do the same. As young Mr. Stoppard told you, my name is Tobias Quincey." He inclined his head respectfully to the assembled company, determined to keep this civilized.

"Oh please, you can all just call me Drew," the young man hastily put in. He didn't warrant a "Mister" in this illustrious company. The boss would skin him alive if he heard any of the guests referring to him as Mr. Stoppard. Of course, the best he usually got was 'boy' or 'you there' or even just '10th floor', most often without even a 'please' tagged onto the end.

Sam turned to the other lady, who was younger, slimmer, and far more attractive than the opera singer, "And you are...?"

"Bryony Kingston," she smiled and held out a slender hand, encased in an elbow length midnight blue silk glove, the exact same shade as the elegant silk evening dress that adorned her elegant body.

Sam took the hand, and with a bow, kissed it gallantly.

"I am on my way to a dinner engagement in the hotel dining room with my fiancé and his parents. They will think it terribly rude of me to be so late and I did so want to make a good impression." Her accent was unmistakably British.

Sam smiled back at her. He knew the rest of her dinner party would probably be evacuated in plenty of time, but of course he couldn't tell her that.

Then he turned his attention to the three gentlemen. The first looked to be in his mid to late forties. Like Sam's host he wore a three-piece suit, though his was black. He had a bit of a paunch, which strained at the waistcoat and threatened to spill over the trouser belt.

Before Sam could ask, the man volunteered, "Woodrow Wayneforth the Fourth, at your service, sir. I am on my way to a private poker game with some business associates." Wayneforth was definitely American; though from which State Sam could not be sure. He didn't have a strong Southern drawl, or a Texan twang, or any of the other more obvious regional accents. Given time, Sam could have studied his inflections and narrowed it down, but he dismissed it as unimportant.

The second gentleman was more flamboyantly dressed. In fact, he could have stolen his attire from Al's wardrobe. On second thoughts, Sam allowed, his clothes were a bit outrageous, even for Al. He had on a pair of maroon brushed velvet striped trousers. Solid stripes alternated with ones of embossed rosebuds. The maroon suede shoes beneath were obviously expensive and made for comfort. His pale magenta shirt had ruffles at the open neck and on the cuffs - a refugee from the seventies if ever Sam had seen one. He almost expected to see a huge medallion round the man's neck. His light brown hair was well below the collar line. There was a diamond stud earring in his left lobe and a solid gold signet ring on his finger. He appeared to be early twenties in age.

"Jerome McFarlane," he introduced himself to the assembly. He was British again, but less 'aristocratic' sounding than Miss Kingston. He was probably what the others would sneeringly refer to as nouveau riche. Sam wouldn't have been surprised if he'd announced he was a pop star on his way to give a concert, but instead he declared, "I'm s'posed to be meeting friends for the preview at the Odeon."

That left only, "Kenneth Attenborough." His accent was Scottish. The man had a glare that could curdle milk. He was probably something like thirty-two or thirty-three, average height, average build, average everything but his temper, which from his curt manner was clearly on the short side. He was dressed in sharply creased black trousers, a crisp white shirt with solid gold cuff links, a finely pleated deep green silk cummerbund and matching bow tie. His shoes had a luster you could see your face in. He didn't volunteer where he had been headed, and nobody felt like asking him.

"If this was a disaster movie," Al observed, "my money would be on him for the criminal!"

Sam didn't laugh this time, but his expression showed Al that Sam would not have bet against him.

Mr. Attenborough turned his glare on the unfortunate Drew.

"Don't just stand there, boy. Get this lift moving again!" he snapped.

The elevator responded by creaking, shuddering and then jerking downward several inches before stopping abruptly again, almost knocking them all off their feet. The emergency lighting flickered off and back on. The obese opera singer screamed shrilly again.

"Oh, boy!" breathed Sam, feeling the panic attack trying to assert itself again.

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