Even the debris scattered at the foot of the building, the empty bottles and garbage-stained cars with their broken windscreens, in a strange way merely reinforced his conviction that the only real events in his life were those taking place within the high-rise.
He could no longer remember when he had made his decision to climb the building, and had little idea of what exactly he would do when he finally got there. He was also well aware of the disparity between the simple business of climbing to the roof — a matter of pressing an elevator button — and the mythologized version of this ascent that had taken over his mind.
As the light began to fade, Wilder watched the first of the residents return from their offices. Among them, stepping from her car, was Jane Sheridan. Six months earlier, Wilder had broken off a brief affair with the actress, ironically enough because of the effort involved in reaching the 37th floor.
Giving up any attempt to cross the concourse, Wilder turned into the deserted swimming- pool. The water level was down by at least six inches, as if someone had been stealing the yellowing fluid. Wilder walked around the pool. An empty wine bottle floated in the centre, surrounded by a swill of cigarette packs and unravelling cigar butts. Below the diving-boards a newspaper hung slackly in the water, its wavering headline like a message from another world.
As he turned into the final stretch of steps to the 14th floor, picking his way among the discarded cans and cigarette packs, something moved above his head. Wilder paused and looked up, his lungs pumping in the silence. A kitchen chair whirled through the air towards his head, hurled down by an assailant three floors above. Wilder flinched back as the steel chair struck the railing, glancing against his right arm before spinning away
Within seconds the elevator was carrying them ponderously aloft. The young masseuse smiled at him encouragingly, alive now that they were moving.
“If you want to go higher, I’ll show you. There are a lot of air-shafts, you know. The trouble is, dogs have got into them — they’re getting hungry . . .”
On the 29th floor Wilder came across a commune composed exclusively of women, a cluster of apartments dominated by an elderly children’s-story writer, a woman of intimidating physique and personality. Sharing an apartment with her were three air-hostesses from the 1st floor.
Realising that his arrival had been anticipated by all these people, Wilder turned to leave, but the corridor behind him was blocked. A group of six residents had emerged together from the elevator lobby.
Around Wilder the dumb-bell troupe was beginning its act. The first clubs whirled in the torch-light. Without any warning, he felt a flurry of blows on his shoulders. Before he fell Wilder seized one of the clubs, but the others struck him to the carpeted floor at Anthony Royal’s feet.