LIFT

Eleven twenty-five. The library was not due to close for another half an hour but Sam was experiencing serious coffee craving. He’d had enough. He forced his notes into his rucksack, nodded to the weird guy, who had been studying opposite him all evening, and took the stairs down to level three:

Statute Law, Law Reports, Case Files, Periodicals.

It was worth a try. Always worth a try.

The aisles on this floor were even narrower than those on the floor above and they reeked of bookish mildew, of centuries of dust and boredom. He picked his way past the deserted shelves of bound journals towards the bank of microfiche readers, heard female voices and turned in their direction. He emerged into a wider walkway, brighter here because the dim lighting was not blocked by the labyrinthine shelving. Jackpot! At the far end of the study zone two young women were huddled over a single large volume. They looked up as he approached. Yes, it’s me. Sam Gower, God’s gift.

‘I thought you’d still be here,’ said Sam. ‘That looks interesting.’

Anna Jacks sat back in her chair: ‘Criminal Law. No happy endings, Sammie. You finished your essay?’

‘No, but I couldn’t take any more. It was just me and some other sad geezer up there. I was scared he was about to speak to me. Fancy a coffee? It’s half eleven.’

‘God, how did it get as late as that?’ Anna grabbed her bag: ‘Are you coming, Cala?’

Callista Peters stood to lift the tome shut, and the sound of closure echoed along the walkway and died: ‘We’d better put this back,’ she said.

‘Leave it there!’ said Sam. ‘Let that bloody skinny librarian do it. It’s what she’s for.’ He watched Callista take his advice, collect up her papers, watched Anna watching her, let his eyes stray along the curve of Anna’s hip, down her thigh. What a waste!

‘This place gets really spooky at this time of night,’ he said.

Anna glanced up: ‘Spooky? What, with the ghosts of students past?’

‘No, just spooky. Stephen King spooky. Any minute an unpleasant entity could ooze out of one of those aisles and suck us all away into some other dimension of lust and hatred. Leave no trace except for my unfinished essay on skeletal abnormalities.’

‘Yuck!’ Callista pulled her bag onto her shoulder. ‘Let’s get out of here.’

They strolled quickly towards the exit. Anna glanced behind her once or twice: ‘I wish you hadn’t mentioned oozing entities,’ she whispered.

Callista pushed open the door: ‘Don’t worry, Rugby Sam can protect us against all things oozing. Right, Sam?’

‘Depends on the ooze. I’ll have a cappuccino. Anna, I’ll owe you.’

Anna came to a halt: ‘For God’s sake, Sammie, why have you never got any money?’

‘Because I’m a poor, desperate student. Unlike you two. Anyway, regard it as an investment. One day I’ll be a rich consultant and I’ll do all your hip replacements free … No sugar.’

They lounged against the coffee machine, drinking whatever it was that the machine exuded in the name of coffee, and watched the rain lashing silently against the end window. Anna licked the froth from her lip: ‘This tastes more disgusting than usual.’ Then, nudging too-close past Sam, she threw her cup and what remained of her coffee into the recycling bin. ‘Did you hear the police have identified that body that washed up in Brighton?’

Sam was about to take a mouthful. He lowered his cup: ‘What the one with no hands? They think she was probably thrown off a boat, don’t they?’

‘She was a student from Kings,’ said Callista.

‘Bloody Hell, that’s a bit close for comfort,’ said Sam.

‘They identified her teeth.’ Callista gave a wry smile. ‘You should have done dentistry then you’d be able to identify dead bodies. Or, at least, dead heads. I bet it’s well paid.’

Sam took a quick mouthful of coffee: ‘The trouble with you, Cala, is you only think about money.’

‘Yeh, like you don’t. Like all you want to do is heal for free. Hypocrite!’

Sam aimed his empty cup at the bin. ‘Come on, we’d better get out of here before we’re locked in with the ooze. Are you two OK getting home this time of night? I suppose you’re in daddy’s car?’

Anna laughed: ‘My car now! Why? What’s it to you?’

‘It’s just … that girl coming from just down the road. It might have freaked you.’

‘God, Cala, Sam’s turning into a gallant knight right before our eyes?’

‘Muscle head becomes hero. Who would have believed it?’

‘You know you two are real bitches. Apart from when you buy me coffee. But, really, if you’d like me to walk you down. Are you parked underneath?’

‘Yes, I am. Want a lift? Two streets. You could fall into a puddle.’

Perhaps not. ‘No thanks, I’ll feel safer walking!’ He wandered over and summoned the lift. ‘Why do you think they took her hands? That girl in Brighton.’

‘Bookends?’ suggested Anna.

‘Earplugs?’ suggested Callista.

‘Very funny.’ Bitches. The doors opened and they stepped inside. The lift was already occupied: Sam nodded to the weird guy from the fourth floor. He failed to nod back.

‘Hi, Benji!’ said Anna. The weird guy failed to reply.

Ground Floor was already selected, so Sam hovered his finger over B1 and B2.

‘B1,’ said Anna. Sam selected the upper car level and the doors closed.

The lift jolted past Level Two and stopped at the first floor. The librarian stepped in, avoided eye contact and turned to face the doors as they closed. Callista turned to Anna and smirked. Sam rolled his eyes: ‘Are you sure?’ he whispered, inclining his head downwards. Callista sniggered. The lift doors opened and Sam, the librarian and weird Benji stepped out.

***

Anna watched Sammie Gower walk away behind sad Benji. The lift doors closed. She felt in her bag for her parking ticket: ‘Straight to my place, right? I’ve made sure Rosie’s not going to be there.’ She nudged Cala’s arm. ‘The camera’s ready.’

Callista leaned close and rubbed her hand up the inside of Anna’s thigh: ‘We need to stop at my flat and pick up the cake.’

‘Oh yes!’

They both made ready. The lift slowed then jolted to a standstill but as the doors opened into subterranean half-darkness they revealed a large figure blocking their exit. Head turned down, he was gasping for air, one arm against the lift frame, supporting his weight. Anna caught her breath: ‘Sam, what the fuck are you doing here? You frightened the life out of me!’

***

Anna’s eyes were bright with surprise. Sam felt triumphant, exhilarated. Significant: ‘Well, think yourself lucky it’s me. And not a murderer.’

‘How the hell did you get down here as quickly as that?’

‘I took one look at the rain and legged it down the stairs. Thought I’d take you up on the offer of a lift.’ He held the doors open.

Anna frowned and pushed out past him; Callista hurried after her.

‘Perhaps you could invite me for a nightcap at your place,’ he suggested. He sensed his opportunity might be falling away: ‘Cala can come too! I’m good in lesbo threesomes!’

Anna turned: ‘What makes you think you’re our type?’

‘I’m everyone’s type. Rosie’s away, isn’t she?’

Anna looked at her friend: ‘Interesting development? Who would have thought?’

Callista sniggered. ‘Anna, some opportunities just fall straight into your lap!’

Callista’s heels scraped sharp against the damp concrete as she and Anna strode across the dank, oil-stained silence of Level One Parking. Sam followed, congratulating himself. This was going to be a long and interesting night. He watched Anna click open her shiny BMW and reach towards the rear door. He hurried to catch her hand: ‘I want to sit in the front.’

Callista stepped round and opened the passenger door: ‘You want to ride in front, Samson, you buy your own car.’

Reluctantly, Sam clambered into the back seat. She’d pay for that later.

After a brief altercation with the ticket machine, Anna drove out into late, wet Bloomsbury and headed for Aldwych via Callista’s flat in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The windscreen wipers flashed fast ahead of them. Sam leaned forward between the seats: ‘Do you know that weird guy in the lift?’

Callista half turned: ‘That’s sad Benji. He’s doing law research.’

‘Why was he up in Medicine?’

‘Something about forensic evidence,’ explained Anna. She indicated off Kingsway and leaned forward to better negotiate the sharp corner.

Sam braced himself as the car leaned. He looked twice at the person waiting at the kerbside, huddled beneath the cowl of a limp waterproof: ‘Hey, was that him?’ he said, craning his neck round to look through the deluge cascading down the rear window.

‘Who?’ said Anna.

‘Sad Benji. I think that was him, crossing at the lights.’

‘Could be,’ said Callista. ‘He lives in a squat in Waterloo.’

‘That would explain why he smells,’ observed Sam. ‘I didn’t think members of the legal profession were allowed to smell.’

‘He’s not a member of the legal profession. He’s a research student. Would you like Anna to go back and offer him a lift? You could sit in the back together.’

‘No way. He looks mental.’

*

Sam waited in Anna’s lounge, refamiliarising himself with his surroundings. Designer furniture, recessed lighting, warmth. Definitely not a typical student flat, apart from the stacks of books and the papers strewn across the floor. These girls were different and this was going to be a walkover. He shifted a copy of The Times and sat down on the long sofa, leant forward and absentmindedly glanced at the newspaper open on the coffee table. The article about the Brighton murder caught his eye. There was a photo of the dead girl. Anna must have been reading about her before going to the library. He glanced up as she stepped into the room, watched her pull off her coat and throw it across the back of an armchair, walk over and stretched up to lower the blinds. His eyes strayed from her waist to a large abstract on the wall beside her: hectic blue and green and too much orange.

‘That’s cool. It’s new isn’t it?’

Anna turned to look: ‘It was in my mother’s flat. In Hove. But she redecorated. I brought it back last weekend. I liked the orange. Coffee and chocolate cake first, Sammie?’

‘Great!’ A walkover and chocolate cake.

Callista walked in, took off her jacket and threw it down. She set a large plastic box on the coffee table, unveiled the chocolate gateau, glanced up to smile at Sam and did a little wiggle. Asking for it.

‘I’ll make coffee,’ said Anna. ‘You check the camera’s ready, Cala.’ She glanced at Sam: ‘And you just stay sitting there and prepare yourself for stardom.’

Sam shuffled in his seat: ‘I’m getting there, ladies.’ He watched Anna leave. He could feel his blood re-organising itself. He watched Callista pull off her sweatshirt then walk over and fiddle with the audiovisual system. Soft music filled the air. A walkover, chocolate cake and erotic music. These girls had no idea what they were in for.

The distance from ‘A’ to where you’d be
It’s only finger-lengths that I see …[1]

‘Snow Patrol, right?’

Callista turned: ‘Yes,’ she said. Then another wiggle.

Sam tried to mentally rehearse: First … Anna would be the easiest with Cala watching … then Cala, overwhelmed … Anna lying there. Exhausted.

He turned as Anna stepped back into the room. She was carrying a tray. And she was completely naked. She bent over to set the tray down on the coffee table and her bare arse came within inches of his face. Sam was abysmally slow to react. She wandered over and started to tug Callista’s vest top out of her jeans, lift it slowly up her arms and over her head. Sam felt a strange desire to confirm that the chocolate was going to come first. He glanced at the cake, the tea plates on the tray, the three mugs of black coffee, the carving knife, jug of cream, sugar bowl. The cake looked fantastic. Chocolate cake then Anna then Cala.

‘Help yourself to coffee, Sammie. I’ll just make Cala ready. You watch.’

‘OK.’ Cala first then Anna.

He heaped three spoonfuls of sugar into one of the cups, sod the cream, stirred, watched and gulped down several quick mouthfuls of hot, black coffee. He observed their slow practised performance. He could feel his heart beating faster. He drank more coffee, emptied his cup, wondered if he ought to go over and get involved. The anticipation was making him feel quite faint and he was no longer absolutely certain that he would be able to walk straight, what with the intense discomfort building between his legs. He dragged his eyes away from the foreplay to look at his crotch.

Christ!

He went to move his leg but his foot seemed to be wedged under something.

‘Watch the camera, Sammie,’ said someone behind him.

He tried to turn his head, but his neck was fixed. He attempted to lean forward but however much his brain tried to instruct his muscles, operate his bones, he was not able to move. Then suddenly Anna and Callista were in front of him, writhing, stroking one another. So close they were almost touching him. They stepped apart then threw themselves down, either side of him. How could this be happening?

He tried to shout: ‘I caaa …’

Rigid. Mouth rigid.

He watched Anna lean over him and lift a finger to his lips. He felt a shock of panic rampage through his frozen body: it was not her finger. It was the finger of someone else’s hand, severed at the wrist. Then it was gone. He felt his clothes being moved, felt himself touched. He tried to see what was happening but his eyes were fixed on straight ahead. And then across the room he saw the door open wide in front of him.

And sad, weird Benji stepped in to join them.


[1] Snow Patrol. (2006). Set the Fire to the Third Bar from Eyes Open Album.

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