I hit the “door open” button and the doors obeyed. I wheeled her back out of the elevator again and against the wall just near the open elevator. Then I closed her velvet coat over her and re-draped my letterman jacket over her, again tucking it in around her. After I finished with that, the elevator doors once again closed and I could tell the empty elevator car was merely sitting there behind those doors, utterly unmoving.
I glanced up from her to visually scan the walls on either side of the elevators, searching for a door. As a plumber, my experience with the skeletal construction of large modern complexes is that most architects positioned the vertical framework of an elevator shaft close to the vertical framework of a stairwell. So surely if there was a staircase anywhere, it had to be nearby.
Looking off toward the right of the elevators, I spotted a plain fire door just a few yards away. In faint letters it read “STAIRS.”
“I’ll be back!” I said to her even though she likely couldn’t hear me. Then I bolted away from her and opened that door. It led straight into a darkened and echoing staircase.
I stepped into the stairwell, taking care to not let the door close behind me. My presence triggered a motion sensor and the lights came on, revealing that I now stood at the very bottom landing of a typical, windowless, fireproof staircase of concrete and metal. No other level existed beneath me.
I didn’t want the door to close behind me, and I also wanted to leave a clue for Mystery Lady as to my whereabouts in the event she awoke, so I took off my blue work shirt with the embroidered oval name patch reading “Pete,” leaving me wearing just my blue work pants and white t-shirt. I bunched up the work shirt and wedged it onto the floor between the door and the doorframe, blocking the door open. I was now feeling the frigid cold of that place, but I ignored it. As I tested the integrity of my doorstopper, I noticed the door was marked “SB-4-B.” I then stepped forward and looked straight up to survey the ascending well of stairs.
It had more of the same industrial pipe-railings as the catwalk. I looked up the well and could see that the spiraling rectangles of stairs and landings continued upward for what was easily several dozen whole flights, far too many for me to count. I imagined carrying her up and shuddered at the prospect. It’s not that I wasn’t strong enough, I just dreaded the risk of inflicting internal injuries upon her or aggravating existing ones. I stood there and fiercely closed my eyes as I tried to assess what to do next.
I saw three choices before me now:
1) Run up the stairs and try to secure outside help. Maybe there was a phone in the glass control room that overlooked the tanks. Or maybe one of those upper levels would bring me into this mysterious and exceedingly private house I kept hearing about.
2) Run back to the repaired oil tank and see if I could locate the missing elevator key somewhere on the floor.
3) Carry her all the way up the stairs and try to bring her to help myself.
The last choice did not appeal to me since it could very well kill her. But leaving her behind also made me very leery. And searching further for the elevator key might prove a colossal waste of time in the face of needing to get her to a doctor immediately.
I opted to head up the stairs alone.
-------------------End of Chapter 8-c--------------------