Glenn’s cough is spasm-‘til-you-drop violent; he almost loses his grip. He clenches up with his arms and knees around the power pole, feels a caffeine-kick of panic at the hint of a slide. The wind whips around him, shivering the pole and pumping acrid, oily smoke into every breath.
Try as he might, Glenn can’t catch his breath because he’s going to die up here. And it’s all Ronnie the idiot’s goddamned fault.
Sparks cut through the smoke down below like autumn thunderheads. Something blows in the hydraulic lift crane’s engine and a fresh blast of flame roars from its side. Two tyres burst into rings of fire. At eye level, the elevated crane basket wobbles and tilts away from him toward the building. A flash of relief – at least I won’t be burned – fizzes out at the sound of breaking glass.
An alarm begins clanging from somewhere inside the building, echoing around the business district. Glenn’s heart sinks. He’d been in and out without leaving so much as a fingerprint, let alone getting his gormless mug caught on a security camera.
Now? Out of the window to the bucket of the lift crane – no problem, all according to plan. Then as he’d reached for the control to retract the hydraulic arm and lower himself to safety, he smelled the smoke and saw the fire break out at the base of the arm. Ronnie was making a break for it, not looking back or up. Glenn had tried to call him back and took in a lungful of smoke instead. Coughing, he’d looked around wildly for some other means of escape.
Now he’s on a pole because it was too dangerous to stay on a burning crane. This is a bloody stupid way to go.
An engine revs and tyres screech around the corner. Must be Ronnie making his escape; there’s nobody else around here at two in the morning. He probably thinks he did his job. He stole the crane, drove it three blocks from a construction site without getting pulled over, even got Glenn up to the third storey window.
Glenn looks down and wishes he hadn’t. About a mile away, down at the ground, the crane engine is fully aflame. Little burning droplets spill all around it; from above it looks like a halo.
Another wind blast buffets him. If he doesn’t move he’s going to fall. He wants to go down but it’s too far; if he starts to slide he won’t be able to stop. He grits his teeth and sloth-crawls up the pole, snarling in case it’ll keep the Grim Reaper off his back. He hooks his arm over the crossbar, avoiding the cables and those buzzing things that look like a stack of plates. His face is right next to a wire. Does it take two live cables to kill you or just one? He can’t remember but he turns his face away from it.
The first spot of rain splashes on his face. His phone buzzes; he fishes it out with fingers trembling from the strain of holding the pole. “Ronnie?” he guesses.
“Where are you man? You said to meet at the car.”
“I’m up a pole, Ronnie. I’m up a pole where you left me.”
“What pole? Weren’t you going to come out of the window?”
Glenn’s arm is about to come out of its socket; he’s hanging on by pure fury now. “I did come out of the window Ronnie. I was in the crane.”
Ronnie laughs. “No way man, that’s crazy. I torched the crane.”
“No kidding.” One of Glenn’s back teeth cracks; it’s louder than the alarm going off. “Why did you do that, Ronnie?”
“Can you think of a better distraction to cover our escape?”
“I would have made some suggestions if you’d asked.” The rain’s here now, coming down in fat wet slaps. Glenn’s knees are on fire. Raindrops are forming into rivulets and heading downward. His trousers are soaked. “Ronnie, listen carefully. I need you to-”
The phone slips through his fingers. The sound of it smashing to pieces is lost in the tumult.
He grabs the crossbar; his fingers aren’t closing properly. Distant sirens add a rising harmony to the sound of the alarm. The cops are on their way.
“-come and get me,” he finishes. It’s not gonna happen.
He looks down at the burning crane. The hydraulic arm reaches out from the circle of flame like an arrow in a bullseye.
Rain and smoke get in Glenn’s eyes. He closes them. He starts to cough again.