Fish-out-of-water Daat Praen (now known as Bull Mayday) has just received the instructions for his part in an airship heist. Never a high-wire acrobat, the gymnastics the operation were going to involve have Daat, now Bull, nervous as a warm swimmer at a cold lake...
Well, if there's anything out there in the universe listening, it had heard me when I asked for a change in circumstance. They say we carve our own path here, they say it's all a matter of will, what happens to you. But there was an awful lot of cooperation on the part of circumstance that found me stepping into a big brass elevator that afternoon. I had no idea at all what I was about to do, really, I was just hoping that fate had a few more offerings for me in its helping hands.
Thirteen stories. That's how high I was going to be, up on a wire. If I fell? I don't know what would happen to old Mary's plan if I were to fall. Maybe she had a back-up. In any case, I wasn't keen on it. I was starting to wonder if maybe I should have, when a janitor stepped onto the elevator at the third floor.
"Nice day, eh, isn't it?" the janitor asked.
"Sure," I said. I pulled my viola case full of gear closer.
"You play?" the janitor asked. He was spinning a ratchet around on his left index finger.
"Play what?" I asked.
"The instrument you got there," the janitor replied. He cocked an eyebrow and continued to spin his tool as he waited for an answer.
"No. It's for my daughter," I said.
"Well then, I'm sure we'll be hearing complaints about her learning curve real soon then, eh?" the janitor joked.
"Sure, sure," I said, watching the gauge on the elevator wall move ever closer to the number thirteen. The janitor asked something else, but I wasn't paying any attention. I had reached my floor.
"Good afternoon," I said abruptly when the doors slid open.
"Eh, okay, pal," the janitor said, still eyeing me suspiciously. "You take care okay?" As the doors to the elevator were closing, I could see the janitor lean into the narrowing opening, to watch me for as long as he could. What was he, I wondered, the owner of the place? Who was this guy with the ratchet and the unhealthy interest in my daughter's musicianship? It's funny, I was actually upset about it. About the story I had concocted in my head for the janitor, I actually got mad at him for asking about my non-existent daughter. We can convince ourselves of just about anything, can't we?
Well, just about. Convincing myself that gaining entry to apartment 52B seemed like something I might not be able to do. No, I told myself in one of the grimy mirrors that lined the hallway in the old apartment building, I would just have to be sure of myself. Make up a story and stick to it. But I didn't have a story ready when I knocked on the door to apartment 52B, and I didn't think they'd open the door so fast. Not like three more knocks would have given me any better ideas anyways.
"Hello?" asked a little old woman as the door swung open. When I say old, I mean ancient. She looked like a turtle with glasses, and more of a shell.
"Hello, ma'am," I began. "Do you have a moment to talk with me today?"
"Certainly," the woman replied. Her toothless smile was a strange mixture of endearing and repulsive. "What would you like to talk about?"
"Uh," I fumbled. I could feel the sweat forming on my back. Why did I have to wear such a heavy coat on such a hot day? "Water?" I suggested. The old woman smiled. Good, I thought, she seemed to like water. "Yes, water," I repeated proudly.
"What about it, dear?" the old woman asked.
"Is your water... cold enough?" I asked. Like I said, I didn't have anything prepared.
"I think so," the old woman said. "Moriah?" she called back over her shoulder. "Moriah, dear?" There was no response. "Let me see what she's up to," the old woman said after some time with no answer. "Come in and sit down, won't you?"
"Fine, that'll be fine," I said. I pulled my awkward viola case over the doorjamb and entered the tiny little apartment as the old woman disappeared through a swinging door into the back of the place. I felt like I was in my grandmother's house. My mother's mother, not my father's. My father's mother kept her place like a hospital, all bare and lifeless. My mother's mother was the quintessential grandma, all cookies and doilies. Going to her house was like visiting an antique amusement park: ancient candies, relics from days gone by, the faint smell of popcorn and peppermint oil in the air. There was even an exhibit, there on the old woman's wall, showcasing her development from child to woman to crone in pictures. And what a beautiful woman she had once been! All the places she had seen. And now, she was so tiny and airy... It made me think about how soon I was going to die. How quick it all is. And it made me wonder, did I really want to dangle from a rope thirteen stories up, for a quick thrill? Is that what I wanted the last picture frame in the gallery of my life to depict?
"Here we go, sonny," the little old lady said as she reentered the living room. "Here's a cookie and some tea."
"I... thank you," I said, sitting down on a footstool almost without thinking, just like I was back at my grandma's house. "Excellent cookies," I said as I choked one of them down.
"I remember when I first got the recipe for those cookies," the woman began. She then proceeded to tell what must still hold the record for the longest story about baked goods ever told. It had mystery, intrigue, even lost lovers. I could literally see the passage of time go by as she told it. It surely would have required at least three pictures to depict on a wall of life events, that's how long her story about cookies was.
I was watching a liver spot on my hand develop when the door to the kitchen finally swung open, and a rather beautiful young lady popped her head out from behind it. I took one look at the beauty, then at the picture of the old lady as a young woman. They were nearly identical.
"This is my grand-daughter Moriah," the old woman said proudly. "Do you have a little girlfriend?" she asked me.
"I don't," I said. But she'll do, I almost added, but I wiped the drool off my chin and instead said, "I appreciate all the hospitality, ma'am, but I really need to get a look at your bathroom."
"Who is this?" Moriah asked, with a bit of intrigue towards me, but mainly protection towards her grandmother.
"He's here to look at the water, dear," the old woman said with a smile. "Do you think the water has been cold enough lately?"
"It's the warm that's the problem," Moriah said. "You're here to fix the hot water?"
"Sure," I said. "Where is it?"
"Try the sink," Moriah said. She was already onto me, sure, but thankfully her grandmother just smiled.
"It's right through there," the old woman said to me with a point towards the bathroom. I wheeled my case into the tiny, tiled room. I could overheard the old woman say something to her granddaughter about being nicer to boys if she ever wanted to attract one.
I didn't have much time now. I could see my target, the airship, right out the bathroom window, but my instructions said that it was due to leave soon. A quick check of my watch told me that I had fifteen minutes, to be exact. Fifteen minutes to harpoon the airship, shimmy across the wire, take care of the guards, grab the loot, and shimmy back into the old dame's bathroom. Could I do it? Well I had to, didn't I?
I shattered one of the glass lampshades in the bathroom with my harpoonshot as I took the huge think out of the viola case. I immediately called out "Everything's fine!" when it happened, but I was sure Moriah would see the truth. Maybe the janitor from the elevator would be by soon. Maybe Moriah was as tough as she was pretty.
But all and any of my wondering about the affairs of 52B was drowned out by the sound of my heartbeat as I struggled under the weight of the harpoon gun. With its heft sitting on my shoulder, I located the airship in my sights, took a deep breath, and pulled the trigger.
I watched the rope soar across the sky and then hit exactly where it needed to. Success! I felt like I had caught some giant fish or something. If only my friends could have seen it! Ah, who am I kidding, I don't have any friends. If only three-legged Marv had seen it! But then came the hardest part: I had to crawl across that wire. I leaned my head out the tiny bathroom window and looked down. There were busy rivers of cars, the bustling crowds of business people. I swallowed hard as I stepped up onto the window's ledge from the toilet. I really hoped the last picture in the story of my life wouldn't be me splattered across mid-town Jaidour.
Next Time: MAN ON A WIRE, or, NICE OF YOU TO DROP IN