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Chapter One: Crash or Burn
I grabbed the closest chair and hurled it at the huge window behind the desk.
Nothing. Not even a crack.
"Safety glass," I told my brother, Frank.
"Standard in an office building. Especially on the twenty-second floor," Frank answered. He didn't look up from the computer. His fingers scurried over the keyboard.
I grabbed the chair and slammed it against the glass again. Bam! Bam! Bam! I could feel the impact all the way up my arm bones to my shoulders.
The smell of smoke was getting stronger. We had to get out of here. The floor was shut down. The elevators were off not that you should use elevators in a fire. The doors to the stairs were locked tight.
Somebody wanted us dead.
"Break, you piece of rat poop! Break!" I swung the chair like it was a bat and I was trying to knock the ball out of the stadium.
Yeah! Finally, a hairline fracture appeared in the glass. I beat on the place where the glass had weakened. The crunch of the glass under the chair was the best sound I'd ever heard.
"Frank we've got an escape hatch."
I stuck my head through the shattered window and my stomach shriveled into the size of a BB. It was probably a tenth of a mile to the ground. And take it from me when it's a tenth of a mile straight down, it's a long, long way.
"You've got the chutes, right?" I asked Frank.
He grunted. He doesn't appreciate my sense of humor. Maybe 'cause he has none himself!
"Okay, so...rope. We need rope," I muttered.
We were going to need rope if we were going to rappel down the side of the building.
Problem is, your average high-powered and totally corrupt lawyer's office doesn't come with rope. I scanned the room looking for a substitute. Cords off the two standing lamps, maybe? I snatched the letter opener off the massive wooden desk and started hacking away at the closest cord. Smoke was starting to creep into the room from under the door. Not much time left. Why couldn't the office have steel doors like the stairwells did?
"How's it going, Frank?" I asked as I started to work on the second electrical cord.
"This firewall is like nothing I've ever seen before. Elegant," my brother answered, eyes still glued to the monitor.
"I'm more worried about the firewall on the other side of the door!" I shot back.
"I gotta get through it." The keys clacked under Frank's fingers. "If I don't "
He didn't finish the sentence. But I knew what would happen if he didn't get through that firewall to the list of witnesses.
You worry about getting you and Frank out of here alive, I ordered myself. Let him worry about the witnesses.
With a figure-eight knot I tied the two pieces of cord together. The combined length would get us down about a story and a half. That left nineteen and a half stories to go.
Wait. Twenty and a half. I'd forgotten about the lobby.
I yanked the cord out of the phone. The phone was dead anyway. Another piece of the kill-Frank-and-Joe-Hardy plan. I guess it wouldn't have done much good to trap us in a burning building if we could just call the fire department.
I strode around the room, jerking the cord free from the little metal staples that held it to the wall. That'll get me another few stories, I thought as I added the phone cord to my rope.
The computer had some decent cordage I could use. But I couldn't have it until Frank was done. And even with that, we still needed more.
What else? What else?
The carpet that covered a big section of the polished wood floor. Perfect! But it would take me hours to cut it into strips with a letter opener...
Wait I'd just busted through a window. There were shards of glass everywhere! I snagged a piece and set to work on the carpet. Good thing it was thin.
You'd think hitting the ground would save me from the smoke but there was no escape. In seconds my eyes were watering. Each breath was like swallowing sandpaper.
I ripped off my shirt and hoisted myself onto my feet. I'd spotted a mini-fridge in here the first time I'd visited Frank on his intern job. That was his cover high school intern at the law firm. Mine was annoying brother of high school intern.
I dashed to the fridge and helped myself to two bottles of water.
"Frank! Heads up!" I tossed him one of the bottles and poured one on my shirt. I used the shirtsleeves to tie the damp cloth over my face and then got back to work.
I tied the strips of carpet together as fast as I could. Added them to the rope.
Still not enough.
I added strips of the heavy drapes. The smoke was as thick as fog now. Orange-tinted fog. The flames were eating the door to the office. Any second they'd start on the ceiling.
"I'm through!" Frank called, voice muffled by the wet shirt tied over his mouth and nose. "Just got to copy the names." He hit a few keys, and the file started to download onto a CD.
I tied one end of my rope to one leg of the desk. "Nothing to use as a hook in here, right?" It's not like I could make some strong metal rings out of paper clips. "We'll have to Dulfersitz."
"File's done," the computer announced.
A second later Frank had the CD in his hand. I added all the computer cables to my rope. I still wasn't sure it was long enough to get us to the ground.
"Go, go, go!" Frank ordered.
I didn't have to be told twice. I wrapped the rope around my body and under my butt; the sitz part of the Dulfersitz rappelling technique means you sit on the rope.
Then I took a deep breath, turned around, and climbed out the window.
The breeze was strong up there, swinging me out to the left. I managed to get my feet positioned against the building and started to slide down the rope. Moving from phone cord to carpet to curtain to computer cord to...
No more rope. And my feet hadn't hit the pavement yet. I twisted my head around, trying to see the ground.
"Joe! Jump!" Frank shouted.
I looked up and saw that the cloth part of the rope had started to burn above my brother's hands. Frank needed me out of his way. Stat.
I closed my eyes and let go.
Copyright © 2005 by Simon & Schuster