Ross ran, his feet drumming one hollow boom after another on the brushed steel steps. The big solid slabs of grey metal thrummed and bounced with the force of his footfalls. With his left hand, he grabbed the railing and hauled desperately with the big muscles in his chest, pulling himself up faster just as his legs propelled him forward. He clasped the box closer to his side with his right hand, one finger locked along its length to keep the lid from falling open with the force of his movement.
‘Ross! Ross you bastard, get up here!’ Ven yelled from the tower room, his voice echoing down the darkened steps.
Ross tried to put an extra ounce of speed into his step, and he heard the muffled warning of a fog horn sound somewhere miles away – close, too close.
‘Ross!’ Ven yelled again, and Ross heaved hard – too hard – on the rail. His shin went into the hard metal corner of a step and his boots, their tread worn, slipped on the metal stairs. He yelled in agony and pitched forward.
The steps bit at him – at his hand, outflung to protect himself, at the meat of his shoulder, at his knee. Flares of pain erupted and he yelled again.
The box smashed beside him, and vomited fuses across the steps. He heard them bounce crazily across the walls and tip end over end back down behind him.
‘Get up here right now!’ Ven yelled, fury building in his voice. Ross grabbed a handful of fuses in the dark and prayed that one of them was still in working order.
‘Oh, God, Jesus,’ he croaked when he tried to put weight on his knee. Fumbling to get hold of the rail once more, he pushed the pain down in his mind and moved as fast as he could, promising himself that he would feel it later, but not now.
Step after step after step, he climbed, all the while praying the next curve would be the one that brought him up to the tower room. And finally, the doorframe opened up and Ven, sitting by the candlelight, looked up at him.
‘Jesus, what have you been doing? Where’s the box?’ Ven said, and Ross wordlessly held out his handful of fuses. Ven snatched at them and, by the light of the candle, stared at each one with the intentness of a jeweller.
‘No, no, no, no – yes!’
Ven lunged across the floor of the room and slammed the fuse into place. In the room above, the light of the tower flared on and across the water and Ven started to laugh.
‘Oh, thank God,’ Ross said. ‘Thank God.’
‘Ross,’ Ven said. ‘Jesus. That was too close. Now do me a favour. I’ve left my cigarettes down at the bottom.’