Descent Into Panic

Chapter 6

Bryony gasped. "Oh, Lord – Henry!" she cried out. "Henry and his parents--"

"--Are probably safely outside by now," Sam hastened to reassure her.

The rest of the group caught her alarm, though they hadn't heard Jerome's observation. They began asking questions, all demanding answers at once again.

"What is it?"

"What's wrong?"

"What did he say?'

"What's going on?'

"There's a... a fire out there!" Bryony Kingston blurted out, before Sam could stop her.

If they had made a fuss before, it was nothing compared to the ensuing panic. All convinced they were in imminent danger of perishing, the three most obnoxious hotel guests began shouting and complaining and demanding to be rescued, as if Drew could wave a magic wand and instantly transport them to safety. Indeed, they seemed to expect no less.

Sam wanted to slap the lot of them. He couldn't help the fleeting feeling that these three at least would be no great loss to the world. He soon chided himself that it wasn't his place to judge and, with a weary sigh, prepared to do his duty and save their sorry asses.

Putting up a hand for silence he firmly ordered, "Shut up, all of you, now. If you want to get out of here alive, you will all do exactly as I tell you, understood?"

Once more the sheer shock of being spoken to in such a manner had them stunned into silence, their mouths flapping like fish out of water. After a moment or two, they each nodded in turn.

"Good."

"Okay, since the door idea didn't pan out, looks like the only way is up!" Sam declared to no one in particular. He shot Al a look, and the observer obediently had himself re-centered on the roof of the car.

A moment later he returned. "The cables are okay for now, and the shaft isn't too smoky yet. Amazingly, the cane is still holding the doors. If you can get up through the trap door, you should be able to get out. It's only a couple of feet or so to climb down, but you need to hurry before the fire spreads down to this level."

Sam nodded. Finally they were getting a break.

"Right. Mr. Attenborough and Mr. Wayneforth. You're going to help me lift Drew up to open the trap door in the ceiling."

The two exchanged indignant looks, but neither protested aloud.

Sam had them stand directly below the escape hatch, facing each other. Due to the ornate chandelier the hatch was offset, rather than practically central as was standard in most elevators. The ceiling was also a lot higher than the usual seven feet, to prevent guests hitting their heads on the fixture.

The glares they conferred upon Sam could have had him six feet under, but he paid no attention.

"Is no good, he never do it!" Allegra observed unhelpfully, before they'd even tried.

"We're not done yet," Sam snapped. He was still barely holding his own in the battle with the claustrophobia. He hadn't the energy for niceties.

"Yeah, so don't even think of singing yet, sister!" Al put in, knowing full well she couldn't hear him but unable to resist.

Sam shot him a confused look, not getting the joke.

"Aw, c'mon Sam, surely you're not that out of it?" Al chided, "Y'know the saying don'tcha? – 'It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings!' Well, they don't come much fatter than the Diva here!"

Sam couldn't decide whether to burst out laughing or lecture his friend about being unkind, but since he couldn't do either without appearing to have completely lost his mind, he settled on a stern look and a huge grin.

Aware of the ticking clock, Sam instantly turned his attention back to the matter in hand. Standing between the other two men, knees bent and with his back to them, he instructed Drew to climb up and sit on his shoulders. The other men were to steady him from either side.

Once he had completed this maneuver, Sam held Drew's legs steady while the young man reached up and undid the latches holding the trapdoor in place. It was tricky, and the human tower wobbled alarmingly several times before it was accomplished, but eventually Drew was able to push the door up and tip it out of the way.

"Well done, Drew," Sam congratulated him. "Now, go on through."

This was even trickier. Sam stood as still as he could manage, but between fighting the tremors of a threatened panic attack and trying to still the trembling of muscles too long under strain he knew he could not hold on for long.

Drew reached up and made a grab for the edge of the aperture, holding firm as he shifted position to stand on Sam's shoulders. Drew too was feeling the ache in his back from their earlier exertions, but he didn't complain. If old Mr. Quincey could endure the ordeal of supporting him, then he'd gladly do his part.

Fortunately, Drew was of slender build, and reasonably agile. Even so, he slipped on his first attempt, and Sam had to reach up and grab his leg to prevent him tumbling to the floor. Once he was sure the boy was steady, Sam carefully let go, and placed his hand, palm upward, just in front of his shoulder. Getting Drew to ease his foot forward, Sam took a firm hold of it and then carefully raised his arm, gently pushing Drew's leg up and giving him the impetus to clamber through the hole.

"Everything okay up there?" Sam inquired, hoping that Al's assessment was still valid.

Drew stuck his head back through the hole and nodded. "Looks fine."

"Right, Miss Kingston, your turn." Sam announced without preamble.

"Up there?" she swallowed hard, blanching at the prospect as she pointed at the gaping maw in the ceiling.

"Please, Miss Kingston." Sam smiled at her. "I'm afraid it's our only way out."

She looked him in the eyes and acknowledged the truth of his statement.

Sam instructed Wayneforth and Attenborough to join hands, crossed at the wrists, with his own making a triangle. This provided a crude platform onto which she could step, made easier by them bending as low as they could.

"Very well." With a resigned shrug, she kicked off her delicate high-heeled strappy silver shoes.

Even so, an evening gown was not the best attire for acrobatics and, after a couple of fumbled attempts to climb the human pyramid she ripped the side seam of her skirt with a sigh of regret.

"No peeking, boys," she instructed with a flirtatious grin as she tried again, putting a hand on Sam's shoulder, and the other on Attenborough's to push herself up. Sam knew the levity was just a device to hide her nervousness.

With Drew to help pull her up from above, she was soon standing alongside him on the roof of the car.

"Now Mr. McFarlane," Sam instructed, breaking the link to go and help him up. "He'll need a lot of help to keep the weight off that ankle."

Allegra Mancini cleared her throat loudly, "What 'appen to women and children first?"

Sam was still trying to formulate a tactful reply when Kenneth Attenborough supplied, "Because if you get your fat Italian lard-ass stuck in that hole we'll all be trapped down here."

Allegra turned away with an indignant huff that soon turned into an outpouring of tears. She reached into her purse for a handkerchief, into which she blew her nose with a noise like a trumpet of elephants.

"Really, Mr. Attenborough, there's no need for insults," Sam felt compelled to upbraid the outspoken Scotsman. She may be obese, and incredibly irritating, but nobody deserved to be spoken to like that. He put his arm around her shoulder to comfort her. "We're all feeling stressed at the moment, please take no notice."

Sam then helped Jerome up from the floor, and supported his weight as he limped to the opening. Then Sam had him sit on the other two men's clasped arms, while he turned his back, crouched down and got them to ease the young man onto his shoulders – again in a sitting position.

Once in place, Sam carefully stood up, grunting softly with the effort.

Al noticed he also winced. "You okay, buddy?"

Sam was honest enough to return a very slight shake of his head. His back muscles, already over-strained, were starting to go into spasm under the continued mistreatment. If he hadn't leaped by then, he'd be stiff as a board in the morning.

"I know you're probably feeling dizzy and disoriented, Mr. McFarlane. I'm sorry to have to put you through this, but we need you to cooperate as best you can. Please raise your arms as high as you can over your head."

After a moment or two looking bewildered, Jerome complied.

Somehow, with Sam pushing from below, and both Drew and Bryony leaning down and grabbing an arm each, they managed to ease him through the gap.

"You're next, Mr. Attenborough," Sam decided. It was getting harder to work out the mechanics as the number of people in each location shifted.

"Mr. Wayneforth, cup your hands together in front of you please, give Mr. Attenborough a boost up," Sam instructed, before turning his back ready to receive yet another burden. Being shorter, and given that McFarlane was not able lend much assistance – though to give him his due, he tried – it took a lot longer and far more manhandling to get Attenborough through the gap.

As they finally achieved it, the car lurched again. Allegra screamed in Sam's ear, and this time Bryony echoed it as those on top all flattened themselves to the floor and clutched at the edge of the aperture in terror of being tipped off and plunging to their deaths.

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