By John Yager

This is the third chapter of a series.  Please see the introduction to chapter 1 for other information and background.

This work has been copyrighted by the author, who can be contacted at:

 - 3 -

The Long Way Down

It wasn't long before everyone was more or less organized and we gathered in the reception area ready for the long trek down a dozen flights of stairs.

"Now," Cutler said, addressing the six men and seven women, "I know it's going to be hard for some of you to get home tonight, those of you who usually take subways or buses. The word it that the subways are all out of service and the buses are jammed. I guess traffic is going to be pretty bad.

"Get home however you can and don't even attempt to come in tomorrow until you've called first by phone. If our electricity and phones are still out, we'll just take tomorrow as a day off, a paid day off."

There was a murmur of approval and gratitude among the staff as Cutler went on.

"I want us to stay together going down the stairs. We have four flashlights so I'm giving one to Bill Hastings and asking him to lead the pack. Tim has a light and he and I will take the rear to be sure we don't leave anyone behind. Rita and Sam, you take the other two flashlights and space yourselves out evenly among the rest of us.

"Now, are all the computers backed down and shut off?"

There was general agreement that they were.

"What about lights? They are saying we should shut everything off so we don't cause too great a demand when they begin starting up the grid."

Again, the word was that all lights had been turned off.

"There is some light in the stairwells, Martin," Bill Hastings said. "At least there are emergency lights on each landing."

"Well, that will help," Cutler said, "but we'll use the flashlights, too."

He paused and looked around.

"Okay, Bill, let's head out. Go slow so Tim and I can lock up after everyone is in the corridor."

It took us half an hour to get down to the street level. The corridors and stairwells were crowded with other people coming from floors above and by the time they'd reached our level many of them were worn out.

I moved up by Bill and he and I walked down the stairs together, moving slowly so our little group could keep up and stay together. At about the sixth floor Cutler called down to us saying we should stop for a few minutes so the women could rest.

Despite being in what I thought was good shape, I was glad Martin had called for a break. My legs were tingling and I knew by the next morning they'd be very sore.

We stood in single file against the outer wall of the stairwell as we rested so others could go by. I was impressed that every woman in our group was wearing trainers or sensible walking shoes. The higher healed shoes most of them wore in the offices would have been killers on the stairs and I realized that for these women it was customary for them to wear sensible walking shoes to work, and to change into dressier shoes they carried in their bags once they'd arrived at the offices. I later realized the practice was common in New York and explained the big shopping size bags most working women carried.

As we descended, Bill and I had a chance to talk. I was glad to get to know him better and was again impressed by what a great guy he seemed to be.

"Martin offered to give me a ride to the Damrosch. He said he was taking you back there."

"Yeah, do you live in that area?"

"No, I live in Westchester County and there's no way I'm going to get home tonight. I'm hoping they still have some rooms available the hotel."

"Well hey, Bill," I immediately suggested, "if you stay there tonight, let's plan on going to dinner together later."

"That would be great, assuming I can get a room and there are any restaurants open."

"So do you usually drive home?"

"Oh, no, I get a train for Grand Central, but tonight that's out."

"Do you have a wife waiting and wondering where you are?"

"No wife. I life in the house I grew up in. I inherited it when my mother died a couple of years ago."

"Your father had been gone even longer?"

"My dad was killed in a car wreck back in 1972.  I never knew him."

I knew Westchester was a very expensive area and couldn't help wondering how a single mother could have managed to afford a house there.

When we finally reached the street level Cutler sent Tim down to the garage level to retrieve their car while he spoke to each of his staff. We stood in a little huddle in the dimly lit lobby while Martin made sure that they had a plan for the night and all had a safe place to go.

"My sister lives on 52nd Street, near DeWitt Clinton Park," Rita said. She expects me to come there whenever I can't get home to Astoria. I'm taking Becky and Marge with me."

"So the three of you should be okay?" Cutler asked.

"Oh, sure," Rita laughed. "We may end up sleeping on the floor, but we'll just pretend it's a bunking party."

One by one the others said how they planned to cope. Two of the men lived fairly close to the offices and were each taking one of the other men home with them. Several of the others members of the staff lived further from the office, but within manageable walking distances even though it would take them a long time to get home.

Each one had a plan or had been taken under the protection of someone who lived near by. It really did seem as if New Yorkers had a real talent for coping in emergencies and the good will to look out for each other.

"Okay, then," Martin said when he'd made sure everyone was all right. "Now, remember, nobody comes in tomorrow until you've called. If we have electricity and phones we come in to the office. If not, we couldn't get any work done anyway and you can all just enjoy the day off."

"I'll keep trying the building manager's offices," Rita said. "When I can get through by phone and it looks like the power's up again, I'll walk over so I can answer the phones and let the rest of you know to come back to work."

"We'll come with her, Mr. Cutler," two young women I assumed were Becky and Marge both agreed.

To be continued.