I jogged with Brin on our way to a hideout. He kept his back to me, which was just as well as I could no longer look him in the eye.
We’d decided our best hope lay in the aquarium section of the Imaginarium, where one of the employees said there were crawl spaces behind some of the big fish tanks used for maintenance.
We head-longed it down hallways on the back side of the second floor.
Something kept nagging me. I kept trying to dismiss it.
For years I’d wanted my brother to give up his fantasies and deal with the real world. But now that he had given up, I felt responsible.
I finally had to admit the nagging wasn’t fancy or foolishness, simply an inner voice, deeply buried, urging me to reconsider. I slowed down behind him.
I’d been bullied emotionally and given in to it, and then I’d gone and done the same to him, even if I wasn’t as mean about it.
As we passed the stairwell, I summoned the courage to stop.
“Does anyone here have the keys to lock these exit doors?” I called after Brin.
He halted to say, “what?” Then, “No. Emergency doors are always supposed to be unlocked. You know, so they can be used in an emergency...”
“Well, this is an emergency, and we’re going to use them.” Whipping out the insta-glue, I ran up to the utility door next to it. Almost dropping the slick, plastic tube, I uncapped it while twisting open the doorknob.
I had to ignore Brin’s huffs of aggravated confusion to begin applying a small amount to the frame, hand shaking so much I wasn’t sure where the glue ended up—it being almost transparently clear and runny. Trying to see if I’d got the right amount in the right areas, I pushed my face up close. The smell of the glue filled my nose. The chemicals in it stung my eyes and they watered a little.
Pushing the door closed so that came in contact with the frame, and therefore the glue, I stared back at Brin while giving the bonding agent a ten second count like the directions said.
He didn’t know what to make of my behavior, or whether to trust it.
Waiting until I reached twelve in case I was counting too fast in my hurry, I yanked on the door. It wouldn’t budge. I nodded Brin over and he grabbed the doorknob to help pull. There was no give.
I pulled us back to the stairwell door, speaking in a rush to pre-empt what I knew he would say, “I’m the faster runner. I’m going to get them to chase me into the stairwell.” I had to speak up to talk over his first protest. “As soon as you hear me coming up, you apply this stuff and be ready to close the door as soon as I come through.”
He was more than willing to take advantage of my change of heart, but I could see he still wanted to protest my being the one to go, so I spoke before he could: “I’ve been hitting all those work-out machines I got over the years—the ones you’re always harassing me about for using as clothes drying racks—so I’m good to go.” I pointed the glue right at his chest. “You have steadier hands and won’t drop our most precious asset and ruin everything.”
Waving away any further protest, I tossed the glue to him and headed down to the first floor.
When my foot hit the first step, a musical note sounded. It rang all around me. I stopped and glanced around.
A hodge-podge of speakers in the stairwell—their many-colored speaker wires spreading like spider-webs across the ceiling as if wired by overenthusiastic amateurs—reverberated the note for a moment. To my chagrin, stepping down on the next step produced another note. A different one.
So much for sneaking down.
I gripped the handrail and laid my foot on the third step with more care to see if I could find a place that wouldn’t make any sound. No matter what I tried, my tread still produced the note, but I could at least get it to come out softer. I didn’t want to alert them before Brin was ready. So I took the rest of the stairs gingerly, figuring the solid door below would block most of the noise.
Once at the bottom, I shouldered the door open, stuck my head out and pretended to call to a companion some distance away, “YOU GOT THE CASH BOX?” I waited a three-count and then added, “NOT THE ELEVATORS, THE STAIRS!” and was rewarded by distant yelling and footfalls heading my way.
Dubbing myself the Stairmaster’s Master for inspiration, I whisper-called up the stairwell, “I’m coming,” and ran for it.
This time, my heavier footsteps made a sequence of loud, lively notes on the stairs—but the noise could only help my cause now.
As I rounded the landing and hit the second set of stairs, I heard the door below being thrown open. As I hit the top of those steps, I heard pursuit tromping up the first set. The notes they produced clashed in a whimsical way with mine, filling the stairwell with music of a sort, and I could hear confused voices below me.
Brin held the door at the top open until I dashed through it, then he pushed it closed behind me. I returned to join him in holding the door handle, but my hands were jittery. And smaller than his.
“I got a bit more muscle than you,” he said, elbowing me aside.
They started up the second set of stairs in a ringing dissonance as I gasped out, “Now for the other door.”
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