It wasn’t the most lady-like position that she’d collapsed into and was actually rather sad looking. I gently guided her body backward toward the floor to lay her out as flat as possible, and since I had to cradle her head with my hand I had no choice but to touch her soft beautiful hair for the very first time.
My immediate task was estimating how extensively her ribs might have been damaged: one punctured lung and she could easily be dead in ten minutes via drowning in her own blood as it oozed into her air sacs. If she had already suffered such a puncture, then she would soon be coughing up horrifying volumes of frothy pink foam, and by then it would be too late.
Once I got her on her back, I reached over and snapped off the clattering oil pump. I then leaned my ear down to her mouth to listen to her breathing: no wheezing, no liquid gurgling noises, so her lungs were probably fine. I breathed a sigh of relief while ignoring how lovely she smelled.
I stood up, and in frantic helplessness looked around the massive chamber.
“HELLO!” I called out, certain no one was there to hear. My voice echoed multiple times against the icy frigid walls. “WE NEED HELP! PLEASE HELP!”
No answer. And I expected nothing else.
I ran all ten fingers through my hair as I looked back down at her weighed out weather to leave her lying there or risk carrying her out. If her ribs were broken, moving her could indeed puncture a lung. But leaving her on the freezing cold concrete of this freezing cold dungeon would only encourage her going into shock. I thought back to my Army training and the course in emergency field medical treatment I was given. A litter! I need a litter! I looked at the work cart, paused for barely a second, then lunged for it.
I shoved the equipment off the cart, crashing it all onto the floor in just two sweeps of my arms. Once the cart was clear I turned back to her and knelt down. Gently! Gently! I told myself. Don’t screw this one up! I slowly slid one arm underneath her shoulders and the other under her knees. I lifted her very slowly, trying to avoid either compressing or flexing her torso in any way. When I reached a full stand, I pivoted back to the cart and set her down upon the empty tabletop. She was too tall for the cart to service her as a formal stretcher, so I draped her knees over the far edge so her feet could dangle down. Then I took off the letterman jacket she gave me earlier and covered her with it as well as I could to keep in the warmth.
Now it was time to roll.
I restrained myself from racing with the cart, and throttled back to just a very fast walk. My worst fear was that in my haste I might scuttle the cart and send her flying.
I maneuvered her through the many rose-less trellises, past the rectangular pits with their huge cylindrical tanks, following the 40-yard line toward the sidelines where I could now see the doors of the elevators.
After I decelerated the cart and came to a halt right at the elevators, I slammed my hand into the call button and pumped it with a rapid fire of machinegun-like button pressings -- a needless effort since the doors opened before my third button-strobe. I then wheeled her inside the huge hospital-sized elevator car and turned to the button panel. I hit the level marked “LB” but nothing happened. The doors did not close, and the light behind the button for “LB” did not even light up. It was as if the elevator was ignoring me.
The key! I realized. I need the elevator key!
I popped open the door of the emergency phone and yanked the receiver to my ear. But it was dead. At that moment, the elevator doors closed and I took a hopeful breath. With my eyes straining upward in the vain hope that I could see through the elevator ceiling to the cable above, I tipped the useless emergency phone slightly away from my head and hovered it above my shoulder as I waited and listened, praying the elevator would start rising. It didn’t. I lingered for one more moment, but it still wouldn’t rise.
I snorted and tipped the phone back to my ear again and leaned over toward the open storage compartment for the emergency phone. With my eyes scanning it and my free hand feeling around inside of it, I searched the interior of the cabinet for a call button, but there was none. I found nothing but an odd slit below the phone cradle, like an old fashioned razor disposal slot found in the rear of a bathroom medicine chest.
I sighed and slammed the phone back into its cradle again and turned back to the still unconscious Mystery Lady. She was no longer blue, but the paleness to her skin worried me.
“Mrs. Jones!” I called to her while gripping her shoulders, yet avoiding any actual shaking of them. “Mrs. Jones! Please wake up! I need the elevator key!” But not only did she not stir, she probably also was in no way being subconsciously stimulated by my calling out a name that we both knew was not truly hers. I leaned my ear down to her mouth as before to make sure she was still breathing. She was, but just barely.
I then pulled the blanketing letterman jacket off of her and started searching her various pockets, from her velvet coat to her designer jeans. But all I found was a lipstick and a purse pack of disposable tissues.
Did she drop it? I wondered. Did it maybe fly right out of her hand when the accident happened?
I contemplated running back to the repaired oil tank and searching the floor around it, but then the thought occurred to me that it had possibly bounced into an open pit, or was even hidden among the now broken mess of equipment I’d hurled off the cart onto the floor. Maybe I’d find it. Maybe I wouldn’t. The fact that her hat flew so far off her head made me wonder how far the key could have traveled.
“Dear God! How the hell do I get her out of here?”
My next instinct was to search for a staircase.
-------------------End of Chapter 8-b--------------------