The lift in my block of flats is regularly out of service, almost always when my legs aren’t working or when I’ve got shopping to bring in, but today the light is on. The doors open without any hint of a problem. I get in, slap 6, and wait for my mind to shut down.
Just as the doors start to close, I spot him. I catch the door with my hand. He comes in under my extended arm and nods at me.
“Next time, you can just press the button.”
A thank you would have been nice. I nod back. He presses 3.
It never ceases to amaze me how fast the Elephant is gentrifying. There he is, late forties, full mac, three-piece suit, a tie pin, designer glasses and a briefcase chained to his arm. I can almost touch the aura emanating from his bonus. When did these people start leaving Chelsea?
The lift stops. We’re only at the first floor. Another exercise dodger? No, great, it’s a kid, hood up indoors, the height of August. He’s a head shorter than me. The banker freezes. The kid deliberately ploughs towards him.
“Bit of space please,” the kid says. I put my hands in my pockets. The banker shuffles backwards. I almost start laughing.
“What’s funny?” asks the kid. I smirk and nod my head towards the banker. We’re both laughing now. If you’ve got certain misgivings, you need to take care with your postcode. The banker doesn’t know where to look. He’s sweating profusely but, then again, it is hot.
The kid has about him the telltale scent of a certain herb. God, I could do with some of that now. If it wasn’t for the banker, I’d start a business transaction. The lift jolts to a halt. It’s too sudden and too soon for the next floor. The lights go out. I groan. There’s a thump on the wall and the kid says, “I don’t believe this shit.”
The lift fills with rhythmic heavy breathing. The banker is using up the last of the air, replacing it with halitosis-rich carbon dioxide. My hand brushes against his jacket.
“Hey, back off,” he wheezes.
“I didn’t do shit, mate,” says the kid.
“You keep your hands to yourself.”
The lights come back on. The kid is standing a bit close to the banker. But, then again, we’re all a bit close. The lift is still frozen. I feel the fresh weight in my pocket.
“All right, steady,” I say, watching them square up to each other. I don’t fancy the banker’s chances. I press the alarm, a button just behind the banker’s back.
“Never bloody works anyway,” I say, which is only going on what I’ve heard. “We just have to wait.”
“I’ll get my phone,” says the banker. He starts frantically patting his pockets.
“Thief,” he suddenly says. “You’re a bloody thief.”
“Shut up,” says the kid, shaking his head.
“Where’s my phone?”
“I don’t know mate. Maybe check the other pocket, innit?”
The banker pauses, then reaches down and holds up his iPhone.
“You should stay away from people’s pockets,” he says, looking at the screen. “Typical. No signal.”
The banker is getting more agitated. He’s almost hyperventilating.
“Just breathe, all right?” I say, firmly. The kid has started playing a shoot ’em up game on his phone. The banker is getting worse.
“I’ve got to get out. There’s got to be a way out.”
“Calm down. They’ll be here soon. Sit down.”
I’m planning on getting his head between his legs. I think I saw it on Grange Hill in the mid-nineties, maybe Byker Grove. But in the event there’s no need. He falls face-forward on to the floor. The suitcase slams down after him.
“Shit, mate,” says the kid.
While I try to work out what to do, the kid gets straight down to the floor. He loosens the banker’s collar and starts checking his airways.
“Ring that alarm again,” he shouts.
“So, sir, you say you got in the lift at what time?”
“8.30, thereabouts. I can’t be one hundred per cent.”
“No, that’s fine. You’ve been very helpful.”
“Thanks. What do you think will happen to him?”
“I couldn’t say sir. Between you and me, he’s a pretty nasty piece of work.”
“On a delivery. Standard drop-off. Debt management, issuing funds.”
“Right,” I say, only half following.
“Rarely get a customer like this one out on the rounds. Looks to us like he was here to send a message. Not the ideal person to get trapped in a lift with.”
“Send a… you mean he… was he armed?”
The policeman shrugs. I leave him to his notes and go to talk to the kid.
“Bit eventful,” I say.
“Yeah, you could say that.” The hood is hanging down. He looks calmer, more mature.
“You live here?” I ask.
“Just visiting family.”
“Well, you did a good job. With the first aid, I mean.”
“Thanks. I took a course at uni.”
“Oh, right.” I look at him again. I’ve got the age all wrong. He’s probably more like 25, not a kid at all.
“You working now?” I ask.
Then he grins, and walks off.
Back in my flat, I hold the wallet in my hands. It’s funny, but all these years on I still can’t break the habit. £150 in cash. Not bad. I study his driver’s licence, his bank cards, wondering where to deposit the history of T.E. Clarke.
I’m not going to risk something like that again, though. You never know who you’re getting into a lift with. Next time I’m taking the stairs.