The elevator doors open, slowly. A heavy thud resounds as they disappear into the wall. Several small, jittery clinks follow, as if the doors are adjusting themselves in their sockets. From the dimly lit, empty hallway, no one is visible within.
Craig, is old and tall, and holds a plastic bag in which rests a manuscript—his final manuscript, if his doctor is correct.
Craig steps from the uneven hallway floor to the even elevator floor, from thin carpet to cold, peeling, ceramic tile. It is only after he steps into the elevator and turns to his right that Craig sees the other man, standing very close up against the grey control panel. Craig starts back; then smiles quickly, politely, and turns to face the doors. He sets down his briefcase against the wall opposite the stranger. He glances up at the dimly glowing off-white numbers above the door. The number five might be a slightly less dull yellow-cream, but Craig’s eyesight is not what it was.
The elevator doors close, slowly. They slow further as they near each other, as if reluctant to touch. When they do touch, they send a hollow clank bouncing around. To Craig’s ears, the noise sticks out, slightly jarring.
Craig coughs heavily. He shifts his head slightly so that he can see the other man again. His fellow rider is still standing up against the grey control panel. Despite the dimness of the building, he is wearing black plastic-framed sunglasses, almost Blues Brothers. Narrow nose. Short forehead. Leather coat; patched. Jeans; stained. Stubble. Thin fingers of left hand brushing each other, near hip. Right hand balanced in mid air, as if poised for something. Battered dark grey fedora. Small-framed. Smell of alcohol. The gaze behind the dark sunglasses seems to point at Craig. Craig imagines what they see; knows his own appearance well: Silvery hair, like iron shavings, strong once. Loose skin beneath his round chin. Tall. Forehead lined. Nose dull. Eyes a pale hazel, and always moving. Ears too big. Mouth ringed in smile-creases. Brows thick. Shoulders bony; weary. Back a little stooped. Head forward. Wrinkled shirt, old jean coat, worn beige pants. Scarf. Briefcase. Smell of tobacco smoke.
The elevator stirs, lumbering. Craig pulls out of his cataloguing; snaps his fingers deliberately and grimaces at his forgetfulness; turns to the other man.
“Excuse me, I forgot to look: are we going up or down?”
The man in sunglasses shakes his head.
Craig repeats himself, a little slower. “Eh, the elevator – are we going up or down?” Pauses. “I didn’t check.”
The man shakes his head again. Then he hits a switch on the panel and leans forward slightly, obscuring it from Craig’s view.
The elevator lurches violently and stops. Craig stumbles backward; catches himself on the bare iron railing behind him. He coughs raggedly. The doors creak. The dingy overhead lights flicker.
Craig looks at his fellow passenger. “What’s happening? Which way were you going?”
“I’m here to, well, to meet you, Mr. Faraday,” says the man. Something familiar about his voice. “Now we’re stuck.” He didn’t say ‘but now we’re stuck,’ Craig notices.
“We’re stuck? It looked like you did that.”
The man’s mouth draws into a tight line. “Well, I did,” he says, apologetically. He reaches with his right hand into the depths of his coat; slowly, awkwardly, feelingly.
Craig lets out a breath slowly. “Do you want me to sign a book or something? You want my autograph?”
“No no no,” says the man hurriedly. He pulls out a small revolver. “My interest is in a book you haven’t signed for anybody yet, except maybe your editor. Backstage. You have it with you, don’t you? In your coat? Briefcase?”
Craig draws in a quick breath. His neck muscles go tense. He puts his hands slowly in the air. “Careful now,” he says slowly. “Those things, they go off every now and then.”
The other man gives a snort and a smile that is half a wince. “Got your attention. Didn’t it? Didn’t it? Okay, the manuscript.” His sunglasses allow no view of his eyes; little reflection.
“I don’t have it with me,” says Craig very evenly. The gun points at his mouth.
The man laughs. “Sure you do.” The fingers of his left hand begin to tap on the metal of the elevator panel. “Why did you come here?”
Craig puts his heel up against the briefcase behind him; pins it to the wall of the elevator. “What do you mean?”
“Why did you come to this particular apartment building?”
Craig closes his eyes for a moment. “I got a note,” he says. “Left for me at my editor’s office.”
“Yeah,” says the other man. “He said you’d be in there today to go over things. Said he’d give the note to you. You were just at your editor’s office; you must have it with you.”
“It was signed Tom Schenk,” Craig continues. His brows furrow. “Are you Tom Schenk?”
“It’s in the briefcase, isn’t it?” says the man; angles his right wrist so that the revolver points at the briefcase, approximately.
“It said you’d do the interview after all, Tom,” says Craig. “Your two cents.”
“Isn’t it? It has to— I’ve got more than two,” Tom interrupts himself. The voice matches. “Cents.” His fingers tap faster.
Craig is watching the revolver waver. “So you want to have our talk in an elevator with me at gunpoint?” He puts his hands in his pockets.
Tom’s hand tightens on the revolver; trembles slightly. “No, you’re not interviewing me.”
“These are your terms? Okay, we’ll do it on your terms.”
“No no no no!” Tom takes a big step forward. “I repeat now what I told you last week.” His left hand clenches and unclenches.
“Over the telephone,” clarifies Craig; keeps his voice even.
Tom takes a small step back. “Over the telephone,” he agrees; nods his head quickly twice. “I said, and I say again, I’m not doing an interview. I don’t, I don’t, I don’t approve. What you’re doing.” His fingers resume their tapping.
Craig takes a deep breath in; lets it out slowly; air out of a balloon. He measures his words. “Not an interview, then. In that case, what are we to do here?”
“Give me the book.”
Craig puts out his left arm; supports himself on the back wall of the elevator. Tom hears the noise; shifts the gun quickly toward the spot of contact, then back. He does not look. Craig nods to himself. The sunglasses make sense now. He carefully lowers his hands.
“It is my only copy,” he says.
Tom slams his palm into the wall next to the panel. “Of course it’s your only copy. Don’t you get it? That’s the point. Don’t you get it?”
Craig bites his lip. “No,” he says quietly. “Not really.” He coughs. The revolver still points at him; wavers a bit. “Is this about you, or this about Maria Velden?”
Tom’s thin fingers go back to tapping on the steel of the panel. He snorts, nostrils flared. “Like we’re completely separate,” he says, head bowing slightly. “You say that, you ask that, you say that, like we’re completely separate. Like we have nothing to do with each other!”
Craig leans back; holds his hands up defensively. “I’m just confused.”
Tom clenches his teeth. “I’m just her husband. First. Her first husband.”
Craig opens his mouth; closes it.
Craig opens his mouth; closes it.