As promised, here is part two of Simon Petrie’s story ‘A Night To Remember’. Part One of this story can be found here.
You will meet certain death, the voice message had declared. In, as these things went, a decidedly ominous fashion.
Was it too much of an exercise in blind optimism, Gordon Mamon wondered, to hope it was simply a wrong number?
He made his way through the plastiglass dome of the Skyward ascent concourse. (Only Skyward would think to fashion its shopfront, in essence, as a gigantic greenhouse. Or more to the point, only Skyward would do such a thing on an equatorial ‘island’ with 105% humidity, and then skimp on the air-conditioning … A good proportion of the milling prospective passengers within the concourse looked lost, which might in some cases have been the truth, but it was more likely that they were suffering from the initial stages of heat exhaustion.) Gordon fanned himself with his handheld, and swore as he noted that the escalator was out again. The stairs held no appeal in this heat.
Colum O’Cable’s hexagonal second-floor office had windows on four sides, which somehow contrived to look out on the beaches, the parks, and the high-end shopping precincts with which Skyward Island was studded, and not on the elevator shafts which were its raison d’etre. It was a nice office, big, solidly constructed—and remarkably well air-conditioned—yet Gordon never felt comfortable in it. A lot of that unease could be down to Colum, of course.
“So what’s the deal?” Gordon asked.
“Like I said, simple freight run. One of the tower units.” (Most of the elevator cars were six-storey, and capable of carrying a dozen guests and several staff on the three-day ascent to the Skytop Plaza; but there were a few twenty-storey units, popular for academic conferences, executive retreats, short-run reality-3V shows, and media conventions, and also used for bulky freight deliveries.)
“Ah, you’ll like this. Waxworks.”
“Yeah. The Iyzowt Museum’s going off-planet. Claudia herself, too.”
“Off-planet? Where? Why?”
“Moon, I think. Though we’re only tasked with the job of getting all to Skytop, of course.”
“Why the tower block?”
“It’s a big collection. Over three hundred pieces, I think.”
“Still, three-hundred-odd waxworks … you’d be able to fit all that on a six-floor module, I’d have thought.”
“Old lady Iyzowt wanted the space of a tall unit. Said it was important the waxworks not feel cramped, or forced into anachronistic tableaux.”
“Damned if I know. Nix on the idea of putting Ghengis in with Emily Pankhurst, or something like that.”
“She sounds a bit eccentric.”
“Did wonders for the cause of women’s suffrage, by all accounts.”
“Oh, Claudia Iyzowt’s more than just eccentric. She’s like a winter’s day on Orkney.”
“Meaning what?” Gordon asked.
“Short, grey, and miserable,” replied Col. “You’ll have a great time.”
“Me and who else?”
“Nobody else on board. Apart from Claudia, and the waxworks, of course.”
“But—but surely, there has to be more than one staff member on board. Regulations. I mean, what if something goes wrong?”
“What can go wrong?” asked Col. “The waxworks aren’t going to cause you any problems. And Iyzowt keeps to herself. You’ll probably hardly see her, the entire ascent. It’ll almost be like taking a vacation, and getting paid for it.”
I get paid for going on vacation as it is, Gordon thought bitterly. It’s called leave. It’s what I’m currently on, supposedly, right this minute. Though he knew from bitter experience—one-hundred-and-eighty-nine-jilted-keynote-speakers-bitter—just how futile, how counterproductive, such an assertion could be, in disputes with Col. Aloud, he asked, “Don’t suppose I have a choice, do I?”
“According to the nanoprint on your employment contract?” Col replied. “In words of one syllable: not really, no.”
Gordon opened his mouth, thought better of it, closed it. Said instead. “Right. I’ll do it. Under protest, mind.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Col, smiling, and Gordon suddenly remembered why he’d chosen that ‘baaa-dum’ alert tone for his handheld.
“I need to make a call first, though,” said Gordon. “It shouldn’t take any more than five minutes.”
Col waved him goodbye. Audience dismissed.
Outside Col’s office, the heat had if anything increased as the sun’s rays slid slowly down. The twinned elevator shafts, rising seemingly to infinity behind him across the concourse, left a pair of blinding-edged, metres-wide dark stripes that stretched unending across the tiled floor and beyond. Walking through the shadows, Gordon pulled his handheld out of his pocket and thumbed an icon.
It was strange, he thought. You could spend years working with a person, be in their company so frequently you got to feel almost like they were part of the furniture, and one day somehow see them in an entirely different light …
“Gordon?” Belle Hopp’s voice sounded anxious and slightly impatient, though that might just have been projection on Gordon’s part.
“Sorry, Belle. Change of plan. Col called.” And Gordon was sorry. He’d been looking forward to this for weeks, for all that it was probably a mistake: office relationships, and all that. (Not that all relationships didn’t have their ups and downs, but …) Then a potential silver lining occurred to him. “I don’t suppose he called you too?”
“No. No, he didn’t,” said Belle. “I paid Sue, a couple of months back, to fudge my contact details on file. Best day’s salary I ever spent.”
“Sounds like I need to try that, too. Belle, I really am sorry.”
“Not your fault, Gord …” But there was no denying that Belle sounded disappointed, perhaps a little put out. “And … take care, huh?”
“Will do, Belle. Another time?”
“We’ll see. I hope so.”
An alert sounded. “Whoops, better go. I’ve got another call.”
But the caller had already gone by the time Gordon switched icons, leaving only a voice message: “Detective? You will meet certain death.”
So, thought Gordon, suddenly uneasy on as many levels as a Skyward freight tower. Probably not a wrong number, then. Pity.