Soon after two o’clock in the afternoon four days later, Richard Wilder returned from his television station and drove into the parking-lot beside the high-rise. Reducing speed so that he
Could relish to the full this moment of arrival, he sat back comfortably behind the wheel and looked up with a confident eye at the face of the apartment building. Around him the long ranks of parked cars were covered with a thickening layer of dirt and cement dust, blown across the open plazas of the development project from the road junction under construction behind the medical centre. Few cars now left the parking-lot, and there were almost no free spaces, but Wilder drove up and down the access lanes, stopping at the end of each file and reversing back to his starting point.
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. He had driven from the television station at speed, as if trying to emerge from an angry dream, shouting and sounding the horn at other drivers in his way, cutting up one-way streets. Now he felt calm and relaxed. The first sight of the line of five apartment
Buildings soothed him as usual, providing a context of reality absent from the studios.
Confident that he would find a free space, Wilder continued his patrol. Originally he had parked, along with his neighbours on the lower floors, in the ranks along the perimeter of the parking-lot, but during the previous weeks he had been moving his car nearer to the building. What had begun as a harmless piece of vanity – an ironic joke at his own expense – had soon taken on a more serious role, a visible index of his success or failure. After several weeks dedicated to his ascent of the building he felt entitled to park in those files reserved for his new neighbours. Ultimately he would reach the front
rank. At the moment of his triumph, when he climbed to the 40th floor, his car would join the line of expensive wrecks nearest to the apartment block.
For several hours the previous night Wilder had reached the 20th floor and even, during the few minutes of an unexpected skirmish, the 25th. By dawn he had been forced to retire from
This advance position to his present base camp, an apartment on the 17th floor owned by a stage manager at the television station, a former drinking companion named Hillman who had grudgingly accepted this cuckoo in his nest. The occupation of a floor, in Wilder’s strict sense of the term, meant more than the casual seizure of an abandoned apartment. Dozens of these were scattered throughout the high-rise. Wilder had imposed on himself a harder definition of ascent – he had to
Be accepted by his new neighbours as one of them, the holder of a tenancy won by something other than physical force. In short, he insisted that they need him – when he thought about it, a notion that made him snort.
He had reached the 20th floor as a result of one of the many demographic freaks that had confused his progress through the building. During the running battles that had filled the night
He found himself helping to barricade the damaged door of an apartment on the 20th floor owned by two women stock-market analysts. 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.