Left right left right breathe up stairs two three at-a-time arms pump pump, shoulders bang bump, handrail, spin ’round the landing. Next floor. Oof. Tear down the hall. Pump legs. Four long leapsteps. Race. Halfstep at the end. Breathe. Stairs to the next floor. Oof. Around the newel. Sweat. Blink blink. Damn. Heave up the stairs. Three at a time. Thighs ache. Should have done more squats. Or box… Breathe. Breathe. Box jumps. Breathe. The music from the floors below was fading with each successive story. ‘Cause I’m loose.
The sweat was dripping into J’s eyes. Breathe. He was panting. Up the stairs. Three at a time. Around the newel. Down the hall. Around the other newel. Up the stairs again, three at a time. Like box jumps. Jump. Leap up the stairs. T.V. eye howl.
J could hear the kids two or fewer floors down, scrambling up the stairs after him. Kids? More like thugs. Why is everyone in their 20s “kids”? Fangs, knives and fists: still “kids”? Too loose to be a gang. Certainly not a military unit. Sloppy. No discipline. That’s why they left it there unmonitored. Yawp.
J could still hear the nightclub music below. At this altitude, the windows weren’t quite shaking as much as they were three floors down, but he could still hear the wub wub of the wall of human-sized subwoofers. Damn, this is exhausting, he panted to himself.
J leapt three-at-a-time up the final set of stairs from the fifth floor. Only the rooftop access door now. Hope it’s not locked. Superintendents around here rarely lock the rooftop doors. Overtop the wub wub from below, the thugkids were tearing up the stairs now. Almost there. Damn, I’m tired. Bang open the door.
The spring night air was chilly. J’s sweat was chilly. Evaporation chills. It was night, sure, but it’s never really dark. This and there, lights everywhere. Enough to see by, at least.
The fire escape was terrifying. I’ll need a tetanus shot after this, J thought. Two hundred and twenty pounds was a lot to hump up four flights of stairs, and it’s a lot to ask of an old rickety fire escape. The bolts holding the fire escape frame to the outer brick wall facade were reminiscent of a third-world construction site. Nothing to be done about it. Up and over, like in the trenches.
J grabbed the upper handrails of the fire escape and scrapelowered himself into the metal ladder frame tube. Quickly, quickly, now. Sweaty hands. Rusted rungs. Metal flakes break sweaty palms. Scramble down. Scrapeslide. At least his thighs didn’t hurt anymore. Fifth. Fourth. Third. Can jump from two. Two. Can jump from one. One.
J landed on the asphalt, knees cushioning the landing. Up. Up, now. Down the alley. Around the corner. A bus!
Phew. Finally. Calming drips of sweat… breathe… breathe… He looked into his zipper breast pocket. Still had the MP3 player.
J collapsed into the back of the bus seat.
He can’t be that far ahead. I saw him nab it, the bastard. Jesus! Step away for just a second, and the fucker steals the whole second act. And, damn, she was hot, too. Almost worth it. Fuck. But I can’t lose the second act. Damn it. That’s the only copy we have. That fucker.
Jason and Jay were only two steps behind. Jeremy had taken the elevator up. What the fuck, man? You take an elevator after a punk like J? I even know the bastard. Hell, it was I who invited him here.
I wonder if Alicia will remember me. I almost had her chat ID. She was about to give it to me, but then I saw J. Had to hoof it.
The stairs were tiring. Breathe. I was starting to breathe heavily. Sweat. As we rose up to the roof, Jason and Jay were slowly falling back, staircase by staircase. The bastard will have nowhere to go once we get to the roof. Jeremy will block the elevator. Nowhere else to go, except up. The fucker. God damn, this is exhausting.
Aha! That’s him. That was his heel swinging around the corner from the top of four onto five. Almost got him.
The place was really humming. Jeff had wired an entire wall of human-sized subwoofers. Wub wub wub. He had an array of mid-range speakers lined along either side of the dance floor, each sitting on two chairs, wires running through the backrests, up against the walls. Six tweeters hung from the backboard.
All the USB sticks were ready. Pre-checked and ready. The mixing tableau had double powerwires to the wall, in case anyone tripped or spilled anything. Do you know how many dance nights have been ruined because of DJs spilling their drink onto the mixing tableau?
I had one job — ONE JOB! — I had to do. “Keep an eye on these, will you?” Just make sure the music was there for the second act. For fuck’s sake. Why did Alicia have to look so hot tonight? Why the fuck did I invite J, anyway? That bastard!
Wub wub four stories down continued, the occasional screams of delight, but less and less up here. Almost at the top. J had nowhere to go. A quick fucking punch up will do him good. Nothing too bad. We still have time to get it back to tonight’s DJ. Who’s DJing tonight? Was that who Alicia was trying to talk to?
There it is. That’s the rooftop metal gate swingbanging back after being kicked ajar. Nowhere now, mother fucker. Jeremy at the end of the hall jumps up and down out of the elevator as if he’s actually tired from the chase. Four. Three. Two.
Damn, that’s chilly. Chillier than I thought. Wipe away the sweat. It’s past 11 p.m., but there’s still enough light to see. Love life in the city. Where’s J?
We’re going to need another second act.