ORIGINAL FICTION: "Climbers" (Chapter Four)

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CHAPTER FOUR- Monday, Monday (can't trust that day).

There's an old Gypsy curse that goes something like, "May all your wishes come true". Sounds like a good thing, until it happens. The clouds started rolling in late Sunday night and Monday morning offered a grim greeting to the world with a cold drizzle. Ray got his wish. Bad enough you have to get up and go to work. But a drizzling cold rain on a Monday morning? There ought to be a law that says you get to sleep in on rainy Mondays and go to work around noon, if it clears up. The only reason Ray wanted it to rain was to lessen the chance that someone would take an interest in him between parking his car and making it inside the building with Ray II in that bag. With a little rain, everybody would just hustle inside under their coats and umbrellas, and who would notice that Ray was packing a rather large lunch today? No one. And that's just how it worked. Dodging puddles and struggling with his umbrella, Ray didn't see one other person in the parking lot. So, presumably, no one saw him. That he could see. It was an hour earlier than usual, dark and raining. Ray could have led a plaid elephant through the front door and it would have gone unnoticed on that rainy Monday morning.
But Ray wasn't headed for the front door. He made his way toward his usual side entrance, then at the last moment, made a sharp left and walked along close to the outer wall of the building. Just around the first corner was another door, in complete darkness and out of sight of the parking lot. It was unlocked, and Ray slipped inside without any more sound than the splash of the rain on the walk. Stepping through that door was like stepping onto another planet. A warm and comfortable one. A better one to be on this cold, dark and rainy morning. Ray Meadows was standing in the Plant Manager's office. The warmth and hum of the furnaces below him made this the perfect place to be in this weather. Industrial cozy. A cup of hot coffee, maybe a nice fresh Danish roll, and Ray would be one happy camper. Ray made a mental note to make sure the plant manager got a computer real soon. So he'd have a reason to come down here more often. For days at a time, in weather like this.
Within seconds of stepping inside the warmth of the building, Ray was met by Paul Scoggins, plant manager for Granville Tower One. Within a minute of stepping inside, Ray II was on the floor, and Ray I had his coffee and Danish. Life was good. Paul wanted that computer, too. But right now, they had more pressing matters. The first order of business was the weather. Paul was concerned.
"Do you think this rain's going to be a problem?"
"Shouldn't be. This thing is washable, so it should be able to get wet."
"Yeah but, it's mighty dark out there. What if they don't see it?"
"Fourteen stories up and someone drops past the window? You think they'll miss that?"
Paul shook his head. How'd he get roped into this? It wasn't just the money, was it? Ray was happy to share the prize if they won. Fifty-fifty, no less. No, it wasn't just the money, it was the whole idea of it. This had to be this year's winning prank. Unless they were disqualified for sort of accidentally killing someone. It could happen. Ray had arranged to tap into the microphone in the executive board room. Paul had earphones on the roof. They had both discreetly marked the edge of the roof directly above the board room's center window. J. P. Granville, Jr., President, C.E.O. and Lord High Poo-Bah, would dispense his customary Monday morning hoopla to all of the over-eager vice presidents and lackeys, all politely watching and approving his every move. When good ol' J. P. hit his big finish, there'd be that momentary pause between his speech and their applause. Just enough time for Paul to give Ray II the drop off the top of the building. One and a half seconds later, Ray II would go screaming past the window, arms and legs flailing on his way to certain death on the ground below.
The audience, intently watching The Man, couldn't help but see the poor schmuck fly by behind him, and gasp in horror when they should be smiling and applauding. Of course, by the time Mr. Granville turns around, Ray II will be long gone. How much would you pay for a prank like this? But wait, there's more: The moment Ray II hits the ground, with whatever sickening thud he makes, Ray I will be right there to scoop him up, put him in a computer box and get the golly-gosh out of there fast. By using one of the maintenance entrances, Ray can get back in the building before anyone who might have seen the fall can get out. And there are no windows there on the bottom two floors. That helps a lot. Paul had managed to find work for his crew in other parts of the building. He had been arranging job assignments for two weeks to make sure no one from Plant Management would be near the door Ray was going to use to get back in. And of course, Ray had the key. This would work. Except now, who would see it in the darkness? Paul was worried.
"The windows are tinted, Ray. They're dark. You know what it's like trying to see out these things at night. And it's night."
"Oh boy. You're right. What do you think? Can we do something?"
"Like what? Strap a light bulb to his head and give him two hundred feet of extension cord?"
"Whoa, electric bungee. No, that won't work. How about this: You have some portable flood lights you use for some of the darker work sites, right? Suppose you throw the dummy over the side and then point one of those floods down the side of the building to light it up as he falls? Just for the first two seconds."
"Yeah- That would work! I could have it plugged in and turned on before I push him over the side. Just point and shoot. They're 500 watt lights. That dummy will show up like Liberace at Vegas. The trick will be getting out of there fast if anyone decides to head up instead of down."
"Ok, use the other maintenance door on the opposite side of the roof. Anyone sees the fall and heads up your way, the closest door will be locked. They'll have to make their way across the entire floor. That should give you time to get away."
"Works for me."
Ray stood up and prepared to leave. He put Ray II over to the side for Paul to take to the roof.
"I'm out of here. There are places I need to be seen before nine a.m."
"See you at April's tonight?"
"No doubt. What are you going to do with all the money?"
Paul looked around the somber plant maintenance area.
"I don't know. Maybe spruce the place up a little. What do you think about paneling?"
"Yeah, right. And maybe some curtains?"
"See you tonight. Stay low."
"You, too. And take good care of Ray Junior."
With that, the two conspirators parted ways. Ray knew that he and Ray II were dressed alike, but would anyone recognize the dummy as him in that split second it flashed past the window? He decided probably not, given the gloomy weather and general Monday slowness. One thing for sure: Things would pick up about nine-thirty. No doubt about it.
Ray Meadows was in his office at his usual time, and managed to do the usual things. If anybody saw him, it was business as usual. Nothing different. Of course, that meant a second cup of coffee by eight, having had his first with Paul. By eight-thirty, Ray was wired for sound: Caffeine City. Wa-Hoo. He wasn't really nervous, just Very Wide Awake- on a day when nobody wanted to be awake at all. The rain had tapered off to a wet mist, but it was still overcast and grey. Was this a warm front or a cold front? Ray couldn't remember seeing the weather forecast the night before. With his terminal up and running, he decided to find out. It would give him something to do.
Paul Scoggins arranged a few things for his part in the proceedings. Ray II was removed from his traveling bag and stuffed into the smallest possible box. Paul could carry this under one arm and never attract a bit of attention. He never did. Out of sheer luck, there was a work light and some cord in a storage area two floors below the roof. Paul made his way to it, and spent the rest of the early morning quietly shuttling equipment to the roof. One piece at a time, in unmarked boxes. Even tested the light before he opened the door to the roof and stepped out. It worked. Lucky Paul. Even more luck: Paul found that he actually had enough extension cord to go from the outlet just inside the door to the opposite side where Ray II was going to go flying. Oh, happy day.
The one thing Ray and Paul had working for them was this: It was indeed April Fool's Day. Theirs wasn't the only prank to be played that day. And while some pranksters did have the patience to wait all day and spring their trap in the afternoon, most went for the fast strike first thing in the morning. This meant that their most suspicious observers would be too busy arranging their own mayhem to see what others were up to. And the patient ones? They'd be too concerned with appearing nonchalant to notice anything. So far, so good. Everything was in place and that meeting on the fourteenth floor was gearing up. Executive types were wandering in with a forced casualness and a great tie. It was a waterhole on the Serengeti, with all the animals in three piece suits. And even without the impending flash of Ray II, they didn't have a clue. It was business as usual.
It was a warm front. Ray was happy. The weather forecast on the 'net showed that by late afternoon the clouds would give way to sun, the temperature would be up and tonight would be beautiful. Just right for dining out, and maybe a stroll under the stars afterward. With that good news firmly in place, Ray checked his more mundane messages and work requests. There were only a few, but enough to keep him jumping if he let them. Not today, folks. Things to do, places to go, people to panic. Scanning down the work list, he picked the job on the lowest floor first. The better to be seen there when the time came. It was a simple job, maybe twenty minutes if it went badly. Ten if it went good. Either way, it gave Ray plenty of time to schedule the jobs on the appointments calendars of all concerned to keep him in the public eye all morning. Except for that fifteen minute window that would allow him to catch Ray II, get him hidden, and move on to his next job. A piece of cake. Crumb cake, but cake none the less. By ten o'clock, this place should be a mad house. Would some one call the police? That would be a first, and they'd be assured of the prize. If they weren't arrested. Would Barbara post his bail?
Paul was standing at the door on the roof, and realized there was a problem. A big problem. He knew he could use this door for his escape, but the earphones were wired up to hook in by the other door, closest to the drop area. Certainly no time to re-wire the earphone line. He'd have to use both doors. The earphones would have to come out of the original door, but he would still have to make his exit through the other door on the other side of the roof. He would have to drop the dummy, yank the earphone cord, close and lock the first door, then run across the roof with the light and the cord, bundling up the cord as he went. And that light would be hot. He'd then have to get through the other door and down at least a floor or two before anyone came up the other way and saw him. Oh, boy. It's never easy, is it? Paul liked a challenge, but he also liked a little time to play with it. There was no time, but he was up to the challenge. He had it figured out. And it could work. It had to work.
In the executive meeting room, floor fourteen, vice presidents were getting settled in for the morning meeting. Secretaries were running around, making sure the coffee and donut supply was sufficient for the demand. In the reception area, people were meeting and greeting, with the general movement of all concerned toward that room with one big table and dozens of very comfortable chairs. J. P. Granville, Jr., The Man his bad self, was already there schmoozing with the best of them. John Patrick Granville (Junior, although he was NEVER called that) grew up in his father's company, and presented a rarity among those that do: He was good at running the company, and his employees knew it. He wasn't feared, he wasn't loathed, and nobody thought they could do a better job. Not even J. P. Granville Senior. Retired, but not forgotten, he did keep a watch over the company he had founded some forty years ago. He liked what he saw, but kept watching just the same. J. P. G. Jr. was doing well. His only shortcoming- if it was one- would have to be these Monday morning meetings. True, they only lasted about half an hour, but what did they accomplish? Little new information was ever announced, and old business never discussed. No changes were made or damage caused. I guess all that could be said for them was that these meetings let everybody know what everybody knew. So it wasn't so bad, really, even if it did tend to take on the tone of a quiet pep rally for people in suits. It was good for morale.
Now Ray Meadows had just finished his eight-thirty appointment. It was just after nine. He made a point of walking through the most populated areas on the third floor and went unnoticed through the back stairwell and down to the first floor outside exit. He had an empty computer box with him (to put Ray II in) as well as a pocket full of computer pieces and a can of pressurized air to blow the dust out of small parts. If anyone should come down that back stairwell, he was just blowing the gunk out of those parts, and didn't want to do it in a nice clean office. Made sense to him.
Some twenty floors above him, Paul Scoggins was Ready. He had it all figured out: A length of two by four propped the door open nearest him, where the earphone cord ran out from the line installed three weeks ago. He was listening to the general hubbub, Bub, in the meeting room six floors below. That audio cord was wrapped- but not tied- around the piece of wood holding the door. One good yank would pull the wood from the door and unplug the cord from the socket inside. The door handle was already locked, so when it slammed shut it would be locked on both sides. You'd need a key to go through that one from either direction. That should slow them down. At the other side of the roof, another door was propped open in much the same fashion, but the cord coming out from there was for the light Paul had already turned on and pointed straight up. The mist (almost rain but not quite) was still there, so Paul wore thick rubber gloves, just in case. Ray II was ready to go. And go he would, just as soon as J. P. said the words. And the words were "Thank you, gentlemen, see you next week."
"Well, gentlemen, in spite of the dreary weather outside this morning, it's warm and sunny in the Granville Corporation."
J. P. had begun his half hour sermon from the mount with his usual optimism. Pollyanna Granville was at the pulpit. For the next thirty minutes, everything was going to be fine. And if it wasn't- well, that was just their big chance to make things better. The V.P.’s had all gotten comfy in their chairs, the secretaries were fielding the phone calls, and the donuts were holding out. All good news. In other parts of the four Granville Towers, some of the day's first pranks were starting to show themselves. A drain trap from a wash basin was missing in a seventh floor men’s room in Tower Three, causing one persnickity young man to dump warm water on his nice argyle socks. Whoops. Didn't see that one coming. In Tower Two, all the computer screen savers had been changed to the Granville Corporation's competitor's logos. There was some mad scrambling to get those off before anybody saw them, but no harm was done. In Tower Four there were fish in the water coolers. Tropical fish. On every floor. Someone was busy last night. And every one was thirsty now. In Tower One it was business as usual, for the moment. That was just about to change. It was nine twenty-eight, and everyone was running right on time. Ray, Paul and J. P., Jr. were all dancing together separately.
"Well, gentlemen, that's for this morning- I'll see you all here next week."
Ray II was pushed over the side, and the light was shown straight down on him as he fell silently. Paul began to count the two seconds it would need to plummet past the fourteenth floor.
Ray Meadows looked up through the mist and rain to see a body flailing and falling silently, with a brilliant light shining behind it. It looked like the aliens were rejecting Mister Bean. Again.
On the fourteenth floor, the calm applause and quiet shuffling of executives standing up was shattered by gasps and shouts as a body went past the window right behind the company president. For a moment, J. P. Granville, Jr., thought he had done something to elicit this startled response, but he couldn't remember what he would have said to provoke such alarm. Then he realized that no one was looking at him. They were looking past him. To what? There's nothing out there, we're on the fourteenth floor. By the time he turned around, Ray II was long gone, and the suits were streaming past J. P. toward the window. As though they'd be able to see anything. Above them all, Paul Scoggins was one busy man.
The earphone cord was pulled, and Door Number One swung shut and locked with a thump. Paul ran across the roof, half pulling and coiling the electrical cord as he went. The light was still on, and he was still wearing the earphones. Through Door Number Two, Paul switched off the light, pulled the second door shut when he unplugged the cord and threw the half bundled cord into a waiting box. The earphones went in his pants pocket, and the light- well, the light was still hot. He had to find a place up there out of the way to set it down until it cooled. Somewhere where no one would find it for about ten minutes. That done in a heartbeat, Paul began to fly down the stairs, using the handrails as hand slides, his feet touching down only to change directions at each landing. This part he has done before, many times. He dropped ten floors in thirty seconds. Fast, but not as fast as Ray II.
Outside, the loudest sound of the whole prank was Ray II hitting the wet ground. Sort of a “squish thump”. Still, not loud enough to be heard on the other side of that wall. Ray I had Ray II picked up and stuffed in the waiting box on the second bounce. No time wasted here. He quickly walked to the building’s side entrance and went through the door without looking back. Inside the maintenance corridor, Ray made his way to the front of the building and up the fire stairs, vaulting up to the third floor two steps at a time. Catching his breath on the landing, he waited for a moment, then went through the door as calmly as he could. He did have a nine-thirty appointment and didn't want to be late. What pandemonium awaited him beyond that door? This was the trickiest part of the prank. He had Ray II in the box, and he himself was just a bit wet from having been outside. And he never goes outside.
Ray had it made in the shade, even on this cloudy day. Yes, there was pandemonium. Some one had just fallen to their death. But on the other side of the building. Ray was at the front, and all alone. He looked around at the empty offices, and made his way to his nine-thirty appointment. Of course the office was empty. Everyone was running around to the back of the building. He calmly left a note to say he had been there, and offered to reschedule the meeting for tomorrow. He was leaving that suddenly vacant office as fire-rescue pulled up out front. What a racket they make, he thought. Wake the dead. Ray headed for his office to see what was next on his work list. One quick stop at his storage room to lock up Ray II first, though. No sense in dragging him around all day. By nine forty-five, Ray was in his office, looking dry as a bone and calm as could be. While everyone else was still in their chicken-with-its-head-cut-off mode, he settled down to read his email and wait for the day to end. So far, so good. He and Paul must be in the lead, he thought. At least for now. The day was still young.
Paul Scoggins was equally well off, having negotiated his way through the tenth floor without incident. Only a few people there had see the dummy drop, and they were having a hard time believing what they had seen. Nobody else did. Paul took the freight elevator to the basement and walked across that underground floor without a fear of being caught or questioned by any one. He was supposed to be there. This was his part of the building. His office was here. And now, so was he. A quick check of phone messages showed that for once, he wasn't missed. No one called. Good. He sat down and the phone rang, causing him to stand right back up. He thought it might be some sort of prank. Wire Paul's phone to his seat and see how long it takes for him to answer. He stared at the ringing phone as though he'd never heard one before.
The fourteenth floor was now Comedy Central. Things would have to calm down considerably for pandemonium to reign. Right now they were busy testing the chaos theory as an operating procedure in a time of emergency, and it wasn't working. After the initial chilling shock of a body going southbound past the window, one executive rushed out to get the receptionist to dial 911. Which she dutifully did. Another called the security office at the first floor entrance, sending one younger guard sprinting for the back door. As though there was anything he could do. Demand to see a company I.D.? Go through the pockets for change? He could have taken his time. As it was, the running made it all the more dramatic when he got there. Standing absolutely alone outside the back side of Granville Corporation Tower Number One, the guard saw all there was to see: Not a blessed thing. Nobody. No body. Not even a hole in the ground or a splat print where he hit. Nada.
The guard walked out from the edge of the building and looked up. It was like being center-stage in a very weird theater. He was outside, in the mist and the drizzle. Getting ever so slowly soaked. Inside, faces pressed to the windows on every floor, looking out and down for- for what? For the guy to bounce back up and fly to the roof? Show's over folks. One trip, one way. Th-th-th-that's all, folks. The guard didn't know what to do. There was nothing there, nothing at all. But the people in the building couldn't see that. They were going nuts watching this dork just stand there in the rain. Why didn't he go to who ever fell? Why didn't he help someone? The guard just stood there. Finally, slowly, he did the only thing he could do with every one watching him. He waved. That did it. That got them moving. He was dead meat.
Fire rescue showed up just about the time the first employees came streaming out of the building to throttle that stupid guard. Everyone went running around the building together. The world's fastest parade, complete with lights and siren. The guard was still standing there. Thankfully, he had stopped waving. Halfway between the building and the guard, the mob lost its momentum. They were beginning to see what the guard saw: nothing. No one there. Just the guard, the mob and four paramedics all standing outside in the rain on the first day of April. They looked around on the ground. They looked up at the top of the building. They looked like complete idiots. The only saving grace of the entire fiasco was that it had taken place on the outside of the Granville Towers Complex. The people in the other three towers could not have seen what happened or what was going on there now. And in reality, not much was going on now. A couple of dozen people, all standing there looking a bit sheepish. The fire rescue people were perplexed. They were there for a body, and they wanted it right now. No one was willing to donate. Then it was said. Somebody had to say it, even if it was in the form of a question, Alex:
"April Fool?"
It wasn't recorded who said it, but you know it had to be said. Several people there were already thinking it, but didn't dare blurt it out, in case they were wrong. Nothing like a good laugh with a mangled body in the bushes, just waiting to be found. By now, though, they were starting to realize: There was no mangled body. Not in the bushes, not on the ground, not anywhere. T’ain't there, Rufus. Maybe it was a prank. It had to be a prank. Sure hope that was a prank.
By now, ten o'clock had rolled around and the main topic of the morning coffee break in Tower One was indeed the falling body, and/or the complete lack thereof. With fire rescue having gone away empty-handed, it had to be a prank. And a darned good one. Maybe even today's winner. But the day wasn’t over yet. Ray decided to skip his ten o'clock coffee, having had that second cup first, about seven a.m. No need to fuel the fire. Both Ray and Paul did their best to go about their appointed rounds, fixing things electronic, and fixing things mechanical. The tough part for them was trying to appear as interested and concerned as everyone else about The Body. It was really hard for Paul not to smile. Mister Ray Meadows was an old hand at this sort of thing, so he knew to just keep busy. Ray took and early lunch to avoid the crowds- and any questions- in the cafeteria. Paul ate his sandwich in his office, away from prying eyes. Both knew that the afternoon would drag by slowly before they could meet the other pranksters at Alice's and confess their sins (and maybe collect their money). It was going to be an interesting evening. They felt they were in the lead.

To Be Continued...
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Copyright 1996,2011 Chip Haynes

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