Three hours later, the elevator doors opened on floor 39. Carver, Matilda, Heather, Sara, Gertrude, and I stepped out. I won’t bore you with the details of how we ended up finding the right elevator, because it’s really not interesting. Well, there was one interesting point, when we slid down the laundry chute in the women’s locker room for four levels and landed in a vast pile of towels in the Complex’s secret laundry room. But other than that, it was an oppressive and fiendishly difficult puzzle that needs no recounting.
Floor 39 consisted of one large square room, perhaps 70 feet on a side. the elevator was in the center of one of the grimy, painted cinder block walls. The room was empty, save for a few low stacks of decrepit cardboard boxes here and there. The floor was dirty concrete, and very slightly damp. A faint musty smell permeated the air. The ceiling was low, with steel girders and hanging mercury vapor light fixtures that made me think of a parking garage.
Carver walked in a few steps and made a rotating survey of the room, stopping to face us. “I’ll be damned,” he said. “It actually does exist.”
I was suddenly bent double by a twinge in my stomach. The pain had grown steadily worse over the past three hours, and Matilda could do nothing to help. Gertrude moved beside me and gently but firmly helped me to remain upright. I leaned on her and panted until the twinge passed and I could once more stand on my own.
“Alright,” said Gertrude. “We’ve made it to floor 39. Where does your gadget say the fish generator is?”
I consulted the device, and pointed to the opposite wall. “That way,” I said.
Carver squinted in the direction I’d indicated. “I don’t see anything over there,” he said.
“We’ll have to investigate,” said Sara. So saying, she walked carefully towards the far wall. The rest of us followed. When we reached the wall, Carver turned to me.
“Well?” he said, not unkindly.
“It’s still about 35 feet ahead,” I said, surveying the surface of the wall. “There has to be a secret door or something.” I started moving my hands around on the wall, searching for a switch.
“Or it could be there’s another elevator that goes down to another room on this level,” Carver suggested.
“Let’s not contemplate that angle unless we have to,” I said, moving to another section of wall. Then, I felt Gertrude’s hand on my shoulder.
“Stand back,” she said.
When Gertrude tells me to stand back, I listen. I moved away from the wall, grabbing Carver by the arm and taking him with me.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Watch this,” I said, gesturing with my head to Gertrude. Watching Gertrude in action is similar to watching a combination wildcat and rhinoceros. With obvious zeal, she hurled herself against the wall and began tearing it apart.
Carver was taken aback. “She really shouldn’t be doing that,” he said to me.
“Are you going to stop her?”
Carver watched as Gertrude, with one hand, plucked a cinder block from the wall and tossed it 25 feet to shatter on the floor nearby. “No, I’m not,” he said. We took a few more steps back.
It was over quickly. When the dust had cleared, Gertrude stood before a generously sized doorway in the wall. The floor was littered with debris, and Gertrude herself was filthy with grit and perspiration, but she was obviously quite pleased. Carver and I approached when it seemed safe.
“Feel better?” I said.
Gertrude smiled one of her rare and wonderful smiles. “That felt so good,” she said.
As a group, the six of us moved to peer through the doorway that Gertrude had made. Through it, we could see another square room similar to the one we were in, though about half the size. In the side wall on our left, there was indeed another elevator. At the far wall, directly opposite our makeshift doorway, there was a large sheet metal cabinet. It was about the size and shape of a vending machine, and there was a huge switch on the front that looked for all the world like a gigantic light switch. Above and below the switch were large labels that read, “Fish On” and “Fish Off.” The switch was in the “on” position.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” said Gertrude.