Wilder fingered the freshly healed scar on his unshaven chin, relic of a vigorous corridor battle the previous night. Deliberately he reopened the wound, and glanced with satisfaction at the point of blood on his finger.
After trying to brain him with a champagne bottle as he pushed his head through the broken panel, they had welcomed Wilder’s easy-going offer to help — he deliberately was never more calm than at these moments of crisis. In fact, the older of the two, a spirited blonde of thirty, had complimented Wilder on being the only sane man she had met in the high-rise.
During the past days he had caught several glimpses of the architect, standing high above Wilder at the top of a staircase, disappearing in a commandeered elevator towards the fastnesses of the top floors. Without any doubt, he was deliberately exposing himself to Wilder, tempting him upwards.
During the day Wilder spent a few hours with Helen and his sons in the and floor apartment, trying to rally his increasingly withdrawn wife. Sooner or later he would have to leave her for ever.
He watched Helen making a nervous effort to tidy the apartment. The living-room had been ransacked during a raid. While Helen and the boys sheltered in a neighbour’s apartment, most of the furniture had been broken, the kitchen kicked to a shambles.
Wilder went into his sons’ bedroom. Glad to see Wilder, they banged their empty feeding- bowls with their plastic machine-pistols. They were dressed in miniature paratroopers’ camouflage suits and tin helmets — the wrong outfit, Wilder reflected, in the light of what had been taking place in the high-rise. The correct combat costume was stockbroker’s pin-stripe, briefcase and homburg.
By the stairwell doors a military-style message in sober lettering pointed to the one safe staircase to be used during the early afternoon, and the obligatory curfew time, three o’clock. Wilder raised his camera and stared at the message through the view-finder. The shot would make a striking opening title sequence for the documentary on the high-rise.
During the brawls and running battles of the night he was aware that he took a distinct and unguilty pleasure in urinating wherever he cared, defecating in abandoned apartments regardless of the health hazards to himself and his family. The previous night he had enjoyed pushing around a terrified woman who remonstrated with him for relieving himself on her bathroom floor.
Without thinking, Wilder quickened his pace. He reached the doors as the elevator paused at the 9th floor to discharge a passenger. At the last moment, as it resumed its ascent, Wilder pressed the button.
In the few seconds that remained before the doors opened he realized that he had already decided to abandon Helen and his sons for good. Only one direction lay before him — up. Like a climber resting a hundred feet from the summit, he had no option but to ascend.
The elevator doors opened. Some fifteen passengers faced him, standing rigidly together like plastic mannequins. There was a fractional movement of feet as a space was made for Wilder.
Wilder hesitated, controlling his impulse to turn and run down the staircase to his apartment. The eyes of the passengers were fixed on him, wary of his indecision and suspecting that it might conceal a ruse of some kind.
As the doors began to close Wilder stepped forward into the elevator, the cine-camera raised in front of him, and began once again his ascent of the high-rise.