Beta Read by Gina Jones and Dotty
Written for PetFly by: Peter Lance
Rated PG - 13
internal thought in italics
I sigh and take the statue back from Mrs. Wong. The department was
expecting an estimate of well over a thousand dollars. To hear it was only worth two
hundred at the most was not going to go over well. And they always took out their anger on
the messenger, namely lowly grad students who were asked to do all the legwork when it
comes to getting evaluations on artifacts outside of the department's expertise. In other
"I'm sorry that it wasn't worth as much as your department would like." Mrs. Wong is completely amazing. She came to Cascade with her husband as immigrants and now they own a chain of antique stores. Plus, she gives me green tea, the real stuff; like I said, amazing.
"Yeah, well, guess it can't be bringing me that much luck, huh?" I joke. Even if it isn't worth as much as the department wanted, it's a still a beautiful piece. "I'll pay for it here and get the department to reimburse me. If you wait for them to send you the bill it could take forever. Me, I can bug them."
Receipt and figurine in hand, I make my way towards the elevator, my stomach not so gently reminding me that lunch would be a good idea. The elevator pings and its doors open, just as a huge crush of people decide to make a run for lunch. I barely manage to keep my feet while trying to stash the figurine in my book bag. As it is, there's only room for one more person in the elevator by the time I get to it. God, I hate lunch hour in these buildings. Survival of the fittest in business suits.
Out of the blue, a sturdy steel cane almost destroys any chance of me ever having children. Man, that was close. Pulling back, I force a smile as the elderly woman humphs and glares at me like I'm going to grab her purse or something. Geez lady, its not like there won't be another elevator. It must be the hair. Sometimes it makes it really hard to bridge that inter-generational gap.
Looks like I'm taking the next elevator. I go over to stand with the other poor souls who missed the first elevator, pulling out my watch.
"Oh, no. I'm late for lunch." Shit, did I say that out loud?
"Yeah, you and half the floor." Apparently so. I look up at the businessman, who looks like he has all the time in the world. He probably does. Probably gets paid well for it too. I sigh inwardly. He doesn't have a partner who will bitch and complain all week about errant observers who can't keep a lunch date.
"With my luck, this car's already on its way down," the workman next to him gripes.
"Story of my life," the lady standing beside me sighs as she adjusts the lapels on her power suit.
I pat my book bag where the figurine is tucked safely away. Come on, baby, bring us some luck, looks like we could all use some.
With a soft ping, our prayers are answered. From habit, I let the others get on first and am about to enter when a shout pulls me up short.
"Hold the elevator, please!"
A young woman rushes up the hallway. Wow. Man, is she pretty; beautiful dark skin, shoulder length hair that begs to be touched. I hold out my hand to stop the door from shutting, just as the file folders she's carrying fall to the floor and disgorge their contents over the carpet.
"Can you hold that?" I ask the janitor, nodding to the door. He rolls his eyes, but gives in. Apparently I'm not the only one with a soft spot for long legs and gorgeous eyes.
"Here, let me help you," I say as I pile the papers somewhat haphazardly back into the folders.
"Thank you," she replies, clearly flustered at dropping them. We manage to get them together and she stands, bracing them against her hip.
"You getting on or what?" the suit calls out. Geez, take a chill pill, man.
"Yeah. Thanks," I say to the workman who releases the door after we get inside. The lobby button is already pressed, so I sit back to enjoy the ride. It never ceases to amaze me how we've managed to create these unbelievable buildings. This elevator goes up one hundred floors! Imagine all the people in this building, like a miniature society. But all of them are completely isolated from those around them. I mean, take elevator etiquette. Never face the back, don't look sideways at the people beside you, don't pick your nose...Okay, that's just general etiquette, but on an elevator, its even worse. Stare at the numbers as they light up, waiting until it gets to the floor you want, then rush on with your life.
"What?" the guy in the overalls asks. Shit, I'm doing it again. Where the heck is my internal censor when I need it.
"It's an affliction common to the '90s. Everybody's wired, over-committed." Okay, stop rambling. Any time now. Luckily the elevator stops at the thirty-seventh floor, and the business man steps out.
Then he stops and turns, looking me straight in the eye, violating all elevator etiquette interestingly enough.
"You know what you said about being wired?" He pauses, like he's expecting something.
"Uh...Yeah?" I glance over at my fellow passengers, but they look just as confused.
"You must be a mind reader." His smile doesn't reach his eyes. The doors close before I can come back with an appropriately witty remark.
Whoa. Major tingled down the back of the spine there. Very, very creepy. Talk about one weird guy.
I rock back on my heels and try to not to stare at the people beside me. But what can I say, I'm an anthropologist; studying people is my life.
I'm shooting furtive glances at the girl I helped when suddenly the lights flicker and we stop. I mean, really stop. Not a 'This is your floor please disembark stop,' but a 'Press the panic button you are officially stuck in an elevator stop.' The digital numbers fluctuate between thirty and thirty-one.
"Oh, no..." The businesswoman moans. Great, just my luck, trapped in an elevator with someone who's going to panic at the drop of a hat...or an elevator. Don't go there, Sandburg.
"It'll be okay. You wouldn't believe how many calls the police get for these sorts of situations down at the station."
"You're a cop?" I wince at her tone. Guess hanging around Jim so long has made me more sensitive to the number of people who really don't like cops.
"Uh, not exactly. I'm a research fellow at the university. My name is Blair Sandburg." My mouth is on overdrive, and I'm not at the wheel.
"Ralf Simms, nice ta meet you. Look, as charming as this all is, one of you hit the red button?" the workman interjects.
Shit, that was a bad idea. What's the point of having an alarm inside the elevator, anyway? Its not like we don't know that we're trapped.
Finally, the alarm is silenced. Whether by computer or by person, I don't know.
"Car four, this is building security. Is everybody all right?" the disembodied male voice comes from somewhere above us. Looking up, I spot the camera and speaker.
"Yeah, we're fine. What's wrong?" I call. It's not like we're in any danger. I mean, people get stuck in elevators all the time. The key is not to panic.
The pause before the security guy responds. "We're not sure. But just hang in there, folks. We're going to get you out safe and sound."
I pat my book bag again, feeling the lump of the figuring through the leather. Safe and sound sounds good.
So we stand, waiting for the blinking numbers to start their proper descent again.
"So, how 'bout those Jags, huh?" I say cheerfully. My lame attempt at humour gets a small smile from the woman I helped.
Then silence descends again, interrupted by the rather loud growl of my stomach reminding me I hadn't eaten since my algae shake that morning. I can feel the tips of my ears turning red with embarrassment as they all look at me, eyebrows raised.
"Long time since breakfast."
Then, my stomach stops growling because its suddenly up in my throat. I don't have time to think, to breathe, to anything. The elevator car drops away from beneath our feet and we're falling. Oh god, we're falling!
My fingers are wrapped around the railing, trying to hold on. But I know it means nothing. When we hit bottom, holding onto the rail won't mean much when we're pancakes.
With a jarring screech, the car stops, throwing us all onto the floor. My palms burn as they scrape against the carpet, and my stomach falls back into my belly, roiling about. I suck air through my nose, trying not to puke.
Whatever happened to safe and sound?
"Oh, god. Why did it do that?" the frantic voice of the business lady filters through the raw terror coursing around in my brain.
That, lady, is something I desperately want to know myself.
"Everyone okay?" I manage to ask without my voice wavering. Everyone nods and I breathe a small sigh of relief. Okay, good job. Don't panic, Sandburg. Scooting back against the wall, I pull my backpack onto my lap and pull out my cell phone. My fingers tremble as I punch Jim's work number.
"Jim Ellison." The reception is horrible, but Jim's voice sounds like a heavenly chorus and I feel my heart starting to calm down.
"Hey, Jim, doesn't look like I'm going to make it to lunch." Witty banter, that's it. Don't let on how freaked you are. Deep breaths.
"Don't tell me you're on that elevator."
How the hell does he do that? I mean, is it too much to expect that he not automatically assume I'm in the thick of things? Despite the annoying fact that I am?
"Yes, I am, actually. You know how I was here getting a figurine appraised for the university. It's Chinese, 3rd century. It's supposed to be a good luck charm." Which I think is totally bogus, right about now.
"Good luck? Sure, Chief." His voice is strained. Something is really wrong here. "Remember that breathing exercise you taught me, the one to relieve stress?"
Oh god, something is really wrong here. I keep a poker face. No need to panic the others. "Yeah?"
"Start doing it." Oh, now that is helpful, Jim. So helpful. "Some schmuck calling himself Galileo is threatening to drop that elevator car you're on unless he gets five million bucks."
I pull my knees up and turn slightly towards the wall. "That's, that's interesting. I..uh...I assume that you're on top of this." This is so absolutely bad. "You're on top of this, right, Jim?"
"Yeah, just sit tight, we'll be right there." The click of the receiver at the other end makes me blink.
"Jim?" I ask into the dead air. He hung up. He hung up on me!
I sit back against the wall, and smile reassuringly at the three people staring at me. I still can't believe he hung up on me. Bastard.