"Fuck it!" he yelled, slamming the lift button with the palm of one hand, backpack and coat swinging from the other, face and armpits sweating from the run, late as usual, actually worried about it for a change.
The lift doors seemed to hesitate, caught in the moment of weakness between available and busy, and then juddered open. Lou leapt through the gap, spun around, smacked the button for the fourteenth floor, and finally relaxed, as the lift jerked into life.
"Now there's a man who takes his elevators seriously."
Tensing and spinning back again, Lou saw the source of the comment. A young lady, standing quietly in the back of the lift, smiling at him. "Oh sorry. I didn't think there was anyone in here."
"It's alright. I saw you hit the button in the foyer, but I was too far away to open the doors again."
"Hey, you look familiar. You work here?" Taking the opportunity, to check more closely, Lou found the woman was quite attractive, but not the showy sort you'd have noticed her on a busy street. Short dark hair and large round glasses suited her face, and she was shortish and wore a floral peasant dress. Very nice.
"I sure do. I've seen you around too. I work for Stephens Corporation. Tenth floor."
"Yeah? I'm an engineer for Lester Mollett. I'm not sure I'm allowed to talk to you." There had been a friendly rivalry in place between the two firms for some years, but just lately it had escalated to open warfare as the companies head-hunted staff from each other.
"Well, I won't tell if you don't."
"Oh, that's alright then. Listen, I wouldn't want you to think I always come flying into the lift like that. I've not had the best day. I'm late for a meeting this evening too."
"I know exactly what it's like. But today I'm just coming back to finish some work off, so I can take the moral high ground." Her grin again letting him know that she wasn't serious.
"Oh, like that, is it? And I was just about to ask your name. I'm Louis Wright. Lou."
"Ah, very good Mr Wright. Maria Coles."
"Mr? That's very formal, Maria."
"I was just trying it on for size. It doesn't fit you though. Lou it will have to be."
"Just as well, or I'd have to call you Miss Coles. Or is it Mrs?"
"Miss is correct. Not that it's any of your business." Smiling again.
By this time, the lift was between the eighth and ninth floors, and suddenly it stopped, and some sort of scraping sound could be heard from outside the lift.
"Oh, shit, not again." Lou had been complaining for months about the problems with these lifts. They thought he was just being a picky engineer, but the whole elevator bank had been built shoddily, and problems were becoming more apparent as they aged.
"What the hell was that?"
"Oh, it's alright Maria. That was the safety brakes on the elevator. Hold on."
"You know something about this stuff?"
"Yeah, did some prelim study on elevators at college, but moved on to something else. I know just enough to cause trouble." And he pressed the alarm button. "This should automatically call someone, and we can tell them the problem. They can probably unlock the brakes remotely, and get us moving again."
A few seconds went by, but nothing happened.
"Shouldn't we have heard something?"
"Yeah, we should," and he pushed the button again. "It should have beeped as well. Something's not quite right with it."
"Great. Well, what now? Are we stuck?"
"No way. I've got some screwdrivers in my backpack. Let me try and fix this thing." And he proceeded to pry the cover off the alarm panel.
"Well, if I'm going to be stuck in a lift, it's handy to have an engineer on hand."
"Don't think yourself too lucky. Remember I only know a little bit."
"That's more than I know. I'm a database administrator. I can't see that being useful in here."
"You just never know. Here, hold this, would you?"
Prying the panel off, Lou couldn't see any real problem. What looked to be the correct wires were attached to the button, and the wires disappeared down beyond anything he could see from inside the lift.
"I'll just short out these alarm wires Maria. That should have the same effect as pressing the button." Removing the wires from the back of the button, he wound the ends of them together, expecting to hear a beep, and when that didn't happen, he waited for a few more seconds, hoping for a response from the automatic system, but nothing was said. "Sorry Maria. Looks like that's not working either. We just might have to wait until someone notices."
"What about making a noise then? Shouldn't we bang the lift walls or something?"
"We could try, but there aren't many people in the building now. The cleaners were just leaving as I rushed in, and the people I am meeting are four floors up from here. Let's give it a go anyway though."
He handed one of the screwdrivers to Maria, and they bashed them on the walls for all they were worth. Eventually they had to stop, but after waiting for a few more minutes, nothing had happened, and they were fairly sure that no one had heard them.
"Sorry Maria. Looks like we'll have to sit here for a while, until someone notices."
"Shit. Well I hope you like to talk. I'm not that fond of enclosed spaces, and I don't need too much time to think about it."
"You got it. I'll tell you my boring life story if necessary."
"Ha! It's got nothing on mine. Take a seat."
Sitting on the lift floor, they chatted away for about an hour, both of them relieved to have something to think about. They discussed their marital/partner status (both single), their living status (both renting, and both with flatmates), their religious convictions (Lou was a lapsed Catholic, Maria a fervent agnostic) and their hopes for the future (Maria's firmly planned, almost scheduled; Lou's non-existent, verging on paranoia). Eventually the talk died away, and they were silent for a few minutes. Then Maria spoke hesitantly.
"Lou, maybe we should check out what we've got with us, in case we are stuck here for a while?"
"Sounds good." Lou was worried. The cheerful grin had disappeared, and Maria was looking decidedly concerned. "Hey, what's the matter? It's not that bad, other than having to put up with my company."
"Yeah, well there is that. I was wondering if I should complain to the building management about the standard of stuck-in-the-elevator companions they supply." The grin reappeared, and Lou decided they had better get busy before she got too much more thinking time.
"Okay then. You first. I see you have that big handbag there, and the plastic bag. I'll make you a deal. You have to take everything out of the handbag, and show it to me, and I'll do the same. No hiding anything. Deal?"
"Oh yeah, like I want to see what a guy has in his backpack? I'm not up for that unless you include your wallet."
"My wallet? Done!" And they shook on the deal.
"Okay, well first off, that plastic bag is full of plastic containers, regretfully all empty. I borrowed them from a friend at work, and I was just going to return them to her desk. They are Tupperware. You know what that is, Mr Engineer?"
"Yup, sure do. My mother's house is full of the stuff. Not very exciting though. What else?"
Maria tipped her entire handbag out on the floor of the lift, and started to sift through the pile, commenting on each piece, and putting it aside. Lou interrupted her at one point. "Hold on. Put that back."
"That chocolate bar. No fair. You have to share that. It's in the rulebook."
"What rulebook is that?"
"The stuck-in-the-elevator rulebook. The same place you got your ideas about my companionability not being up to scratch."
"Oh, well in that case." And she put the chocolate bar aside.
The next interruption was when Maria quickly picked a small plastic container up, and put it in the 'explained' pile without saying anything.
"Hold it buster. There you go again. What's that?"
"Don't give me any of that crap. That small green plastic thingie. You just moved it over there without saying a word. You promised."
"Oh, you don't want to know about that."
"Oh, yes indeed I do. Especially now." He leered at her, enjoying himself.
Maria was still grinning, so he knew he hadn't pushed her too far. She was enjoying this game as much as he was.
"Well if you must know, it contains my grandmother's ashes."
"She must have been a very small woman. Gimme."
"Pins. It's full of pins. Don't open it, or you'll spill them."
"I'm going to open it unless you can convince me. Out with it."
"Oh, alright. Condoms. It's full of condoms. I don't usually show them to strangers I just met. Are you happy now?"
"Well now that I believe you, I don't need to open it, do I? Here you are."
"Oh no, not now. Here. Have a proper look!" and pinged open the container suddenly. The force with which it was opened pushed the condoms out into the air, and they rained down on the floor between them. Both of them rocked back and forth, laughing loudly, tears streaming down their faces.
"Okay, I've seen enough. Put them away. I'll make you another deal. Anything that we find out about each other in here stays here. Right?"
"That's a good idea. Maybe you're not quite so sub-standard after all. I promise. But you better come up with some good stuff."
Nothing else eventful came from the rest of the scattered pile of belongings, except for an unwrapped peppermint found near the bottom, which was put aside with the chocolate bar despite Lou's comment. "Excuse the language, but I'd have to be fucking desperate to eat that!"
"No one's forcing you buddy. But you know that's the end of my junkpile. Unless you've got a bloody good excuse, it's time for your family secrets."
"I was just thinking about how now would be a good time to play a different game..." grinning widely.
"Well given that you've approved the use of bad language, you get that fucking backpack out here, or there'll be trouble."
"Okay. Okay. Touchy, aren't you?" and he emptied the backpack out on the floor.
"Is that it? I bared my soul, and this is the payback? Gimme a break!"
"Well, hold on then. I was saving this for later, but as you are obviously desperate for scandal, can I divert you with this?" as he unzipped the front pocket of the backpack, and removed two fresh apples. "I put them in here this morning, but never found time to eat them. Of course, fruit is exempt from the sharing rule..."
"Oh Lou, I had no idea. I withdraw all the 'sub-standard' comments. Oh, except the one where I called you a retard. I'm keeping that."
"You never called me a retard."
"I didn't? Shit, I meant to. I suppose it's too late now?"
"It is. But anyway, here's the apple. Don't think it indicates any sort of guilt though. This is a no-fault settlement."
"I accept. Retarded or not, you have the best food."
They sat quietly munching the apples, nicer than usual for two reasons. Firstly, something that has been fought over is always better, and secondly being locked in a small room between floors seems to help the appetite.
"Right then boyo, back to the dig."