The elevator chimed. Stenson stepped inside, hit the button for the forty-fifth floor. He took a deep breath as the doors started to slide shut.
I’ve done it, he thought. Finally.
At the last moment a man in a black suit and mac shoved the doors apart and slid inside. It was the same man that had followed him from the subway exit on Main Street. He leaned in front of Stenson momentarily, hit the 45 button.
The elevator started to move. A ticker above the door counted the floors.
02… 03… 04…
A long way to 45, Stenson thought.
His grip tightened around the handle of the briefcase. This man had followed him, he was sure of it. All because of the case. The damned briefcase.
08… 09… 10…
Stenson swallowed. He caught the other man observing him from the corner of his eye. He swallowed again.
“Slow,” the other man said.
Stenson glanced sideways at him, nervously. It was enough to catch a glimpse of his face. Dark hair, dark eyes, a solid clean-shaven jaw set hard. “These things always are,” Stenson managed to say.
He knows who I am, he thought. He’s followed me. He knows who I am, what I’m doing here.
“Work here, do you?” the man asked. Stenson could tell he was trying to be casual, but that it was strained. Forced.
“Yes,” Stenson said.
13… 14… 15…
“I noticed the briefcase. Figured you worked in one of these offices,” the man remarked.
Stenson tried not to swallow, not with the man watching. His throat had turned to sand. “Yes. That’s right.”
The case. The briefcase, he thought. He knows what’s in there. He’s followed me here to make sure I don’t deliver it.
18… 19… 20…
The hand holding the briefcase was slick with sweat. Stenson’s heart thundered in his ears. He blinked. Keep your cool. Keep your cool.
“And, er, what are you doing here? Your business I mean?” he asked the man awkwardly, his tongue like jelly, his mouth unable to form the words without a struggle.
“Oh, you know. Just taking care of business,” the man said, coldly.
Stenson glanced up at the ticker. Come on come on come on come on come on.
24… 25… 26…
Stenson looked at the man. Smiled. The man returned the gesture. He itched a place under his arm, and as his mac lifted slightly Stenson spotted the pistol.
He looked away, quickly.
29… 30… 31…
“What sort of business are you in?” he asked, casually as possible.
The man grinned. He looked like a shark when it smells blood in the water. “I think you’ve known my line of business since you clocked me at the corner of Sycamore.”
For a second, Stenson felt his heart stop in his chest. He backed away from the man. The elevator was shrinking around him, contracting. The air was hot and unbreathable. Close.
34… 35… 36…
“I… I…” Stenson stammered.
The man pulled the pistol from inside his coat, held it close to his waist.
“Give me the case, Mr. Stenson,” he said.
Stenson pressed himself back against the wall of the elevator. He held the briefcase behind him.
“I can’t,” he said.
“You can and you will,” the other man said. “You don’t know what you’re into, fella. Now give me the briefcase!”
Stenson looked up.
40… 41… 42…
“I can’t!” Stenson cried out. There were only seconds, but in those seconds a lot happened. He saw the ticker changed to 44 and he acted. It wasn’t planned. It came from desperation. Fear.
He stepped forward. At the same time he brought the briefcase up in the air. He swung it down on the man, where it thumped against the side of his head. The gun went off, an impossible explosion of sound in such a small space. His head hummed. The bullet made a crater in the wall of the elevator.
The elevator chimed.
The man in the suit and mac shook his head to clear it, brought the gun up again. The elevator doors slid open. Stenson hit the man again with the briefcase.
There was a long corridor and a single office at the far end. Stenson flinched as the gun fired behind him. He didn’t stop running.
There was the office door, getting closer and closer. He reached for the handle. Pushed the door open. The gun went off again. Stenson staggered forward.
He never let go of the case.
My challenge to Brendan Swogger was:
There’s two guys in an elevator. One carries a suitcase. The other wants the suitcase and is willing to use the gun inside his coat to get it. The elevator is riding to the 45th floor. When they got in they both pushed the same button, meaning they’re both going to the same place. The man with the suitcase knows the other guy wants it but doesn’t know about the gun. What happens next?
This is my own creative response to that prompt. My friend, author David. K. Hulegaard did it first. He challenged Brendan to write a short story from a prompt, and then went on to write his own. It’s a good exercise for a writer, and thanks to Brendan and David it’s one I’ll be revisiting.
You can find Brendan’s version of my prompt here: http://brendanswogger.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/readers-request-story-2-floor-45/
You can find his version of David’s prompt here: http://brendanswogger.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/readers-request-story-1-acid-eyes-9/
And you can read David’s version of the same prompt here: