CROUCHED ON THE floor, I grabbed one end of a rope coil searching for something to fix it to that could hold the weight of two people.
As Mike stood in a daze I searched the office space for something heavy, a hook, an anchor, anything I had faith in to save two lives. Heavy desks seemed like a viable option but they weren’t bolted to the floor. I estimated that between us we weighed about 180kg. Add in the extra force of falling, if it happened, and even with a knot reducing the relative strength of two ropes they should theoretically be able to take the strain, still good for over a tonne of force.
I thought of the metal railing in the stairwell embedded in concrete. Perfect. Except the distance to the window was too far. Walking quickly, adrenaline spiking off the charts, my eyes darted back and forth from one paper laden desk to another, distracting screen savers on flat screen monitors showing bouncing balls and pipes in perpetual patterns.
Think, think, think! With the length of rope we had, I couldn’t take any chances. But the fire below was raging, burning up precious seconds. Even in my rubber soled shoes, I felt the heat through the thin blue carpet.
I reached the reception desk, the most solid object in the vicinity, made of solid pine, giving an extra fifteen feet over the railing. All I needed was an attachment point, something solid. Scampering around on hands and knees I searched for a loophole around the base, then went behind the desk and looked finding nothing but electrical wires an overflowing bin and sheets of paper. Fuck!
We didn’t have time. Looking through to the stairwell, puffs of smoke were visible, searching like nonchalant monsters, knowing they would find us, eager to distil death in our lungs. I glanced back at Mike, who was handling a shotgun, turning it around, inspecting it.
The railing. It would have to work. Grabbing one coil of rope I ran to the stairwell and began to tie the Bowline knot, the same one I had dangled from for years outside the building as a window cleaner, leaving a generous tail. Hands running along the nylon I gathered in the rest of the rope, pulling in quick motions, double checking it for abrasions and weaknesses. Satisfied, I grabbed the end and pulled it over, past Mike to within ten feet of the large panel window. Picking up the other coil, I squatted next to the secure line. With the ends of both ropes I fed the ends into each other looping them and manipulating them so they joined, ending up with a Figure 8, the dark nylon seemingly fused as one. Yanking the ropes apart to tighten the knot, I could only hope it would hold. For reassurance I pulled on the rope several more times then took a deep breath before standing up and facing Mike who was resting on a desk looking dejected.
“Mike! You take my harness.” He scarcely made eye contact. I took the only harness off and began to strap Mike in, feeling like I was attaching it to a manikin as my fingers tightened clips and secured metal fastenings, tugging on them to make sure they were firmly in place.
“Remember what we talked about?” I said, trying to sound as calm as possible, and failing, the pitch in my voice oscillating. “You go first and I’ll follow. That’s the only harness. But don’t worry…I said don’t worry, ” he looked at me the words hitting home, “I’ve climbed enough to be safe above you. I’ll bring the guns, we’ll do this.” I tried to think of something humorous to say, anything to ease the tension, something to cut away at the seriousness of our situation, but nothing came to me.
“Mike, you need to strap in,” I said beckoning him over. I tied a giant knot in the end of the second rope, that would stop Mike plummeting off the end of it. And me… I fed the rope through the harness and clipped Mike in so he was now part of the black cord, able to abseil downwards. I reminded him what he needed to do once he hit glass. Lean back and push I reiterated.
“Wait here!” I said for the umpteenth time. Shit! I’d forgotten to get some string for the guns, to hold them together. Searching frantically I waded between desks pulling out drawers, looking for string, a camera strap, anything that could be tied. Then I spotted telephone line. Ripping it out the back of a phone, I fed the line down the back of the desk and began to pull on it, ripping up tape that secured it to the floor. With twenty feet of it I ran back to Mike, the floor feeling hotter already.
First I clipped myself onto the rope fifteen feet above Mike. All I had was my belt. If nothing else, it gave Mike some reassurance that I knew what I was doing, that I wouldn’t be relying on my body strength to hold on, hundreds of feet above the ground.
Now we were both set, I loaded the shotguns, one red shell at a time until we had twelve live rounds. I put a handful of shells in my pocket. But I wasn’t sure how I’d manage reloading in the sky.
I looked at Mike, his expression no different, as if resigned from life. I’d run out of smiles.
“Get ready for the suck!” I said. Walking towards the escape route I stood ten feet away and pulled the trigger. Just like last time, when I was on the outside. Fractures ran outwards from the impact, like a frozen puddle being stepped on. Bang! Another volley. The cracks multiplied, closer together. Bang! Something gave, but still no air. Bang! I shot at the side, near the metal support. Then the other side. Six shells. Still stranded.
I walked up to the shattered panel, and in frustration gave it a thump with the butt of the shotgun. As it gave way, as it pushed out into the open, I knew I had to scramble inwards, and the whining vicious wind whipped in trying to pull me outwards, just as I reached the relative safety of a desk, as Mike spurred into motion, did the same.
Six shots. That’s how many it took…
TBC – One more instalment and the story shall be finished!
- Cloud Breaker I
- Cloud Breaker II
- Cloud Breaker III
- Cloud Breaker IV
- Cloud Breaker V
- Cloud Breaker VI
- Cloud Breaker VII