During the week after the jeweller’s death, events moved rapidly in a more disquieting direction. Richard Wilder, twenty-four floors below Dr Laing and for that reason far more exposed to the pressures generated within the building, was among the first to realize the full extent of the changes taking place. Wilder had been away on location for three days, shooting scenes for a new documentary on prison unrest. A strike by the inmates at a large provincial prison, widely covered by the newspapers and television, had given him a chance to inject some directly topical footage into the documentary. He returned home in the early afternoon. He had telephoned Helen each evening from his hotel and questioned her carefully about conditions in the high-rise, but she made no particular complaints. Nevertheless, her vague tone concerned him.
When he had parked Wilder kicked open the door and lifted his heavy body from behind the steering wheel. From his place on the perimeter of the
parking-lot he carefully scanned the face of the huge building. At first glance everything had settled down. The hundreds of cars were parked in orderly lines. The tiers of balconies rose through the clear sunlight, potted plants thriving behind the railings. For a moment Wilder felt a pang of regret – always a believer in direct action, he had enjoyed the skirmishes of the past week, roughing up his aggressive neighbours, particularly those residents from the top floors who had made life difficult for Helen and the two boys.
The one discordant note was provided by the fractured picture window on the 40th floor, through which the unfortunate jeweller had made his exit. At either end of the floor were two penthouse apartments, the north corner occupied by Anthony Royal, the other by the jeweller and his wife. The broken pane had not been replaced, and the asterisk of cracked glass reminded Wilder of some kind of cryptic notation, a transfer on the fuselage of a wartime aircraft marking a kill.
Wilder unloaded his suitcase from the car, and a holdall containing presents for Helen and his sons. On the rear seat was a lightweight cine-camera with which he planned to shoot a few hundred feet of pilot footage for his documentary on the high-rise. The unexplained death of the jeweller had confirmed his long-standing conviction that an important documentary was waiting to be made about life in the high-rise – perhaps taking the jeweller’s death as its starting point.
It was a lucky coincidence that he lived in the same block as the dead man – the programme would have all the impact of a personal biography. When the police investigation ended the case would move on to the courts, and a huge question mark of notoriety would remain immovably in place over what he liked to term this high-priced tenement, this hanging palace self-seeding its intrigues and destruction.
Carrying the luggage in his strong arms, Wilder set off on the long walk back to the apartment building. His own apartment was directly above the proscenium of the main entrance. He
Waited for Helen to emerge on to the balcony and wave him in, one of the few compensations for having to leave his car at the edge of the parking-lot. However, all but one of the blinds were still drawn.
Quickening his step, Wilder approached the inner lines of parked cars. Abruptly, the illusion of normalcy began to give way. The cars in the front three ranks were spattered with
Debris, their once-bright bodywork streaked and stained.