LAID ALOFT

I suppose I should feel rather guilty about what happened, but I don't. After all, I didn't set out to do anything wrong, only something out of my usual routine, and even that was a spur of the moment decision. I've wanted to tell somebody about it for a long time and now I've moved to a different city I've finally decided it's safe to write it down. I guess all I have to say to set the scene is that at the time I was a long married department manager for a big insurance company. My husband and I had our ups and downs but we got along as well as most couples do. A boring life mostly, I guess, until this particular day.
 
 It all started when I came back to work from lunch. When I entered the lift two young men came into it with me. What was odd was that they were wearing hard hats and tool belts, which is not a common sight in a building with forty floors of offices. I hadn't noticed any renovation work being carried out anywhere so I wondered what they were doing.
 
 One of them, a slim dark guy in his twenties, spoke to me about the weather, about how hot it was down in the streets. I agreed it was a bad day and he said it was glorious where they were working, high up in the fresh air and with a fantastic view of the city; he said the pair of them were installing a new microwave dish on top of the communications tower on the roof of the building. I commented that they were probably working in the best place on such a day. The guy I was talking to was Tony -- or at least that was the name stenciled on his helmet.
 
 The other guy had 'MARCO' lettered on his hard hat, and he was blue eyed and stocky, with muscular arms and shoulders like a weight lifter. He made a light hearted suggestion that I should come up to the top of the tower with them and see a view of the city that I'd probably never get a chance to see again.
 
 Just then the elevator stopped at my floor and I replied that it might be fun but I had to get back to work. Tony glanced down at my ID badge, kind of sneered, then said: "No way, Marco, Ms (name deleted ) has to go and type up all the letters for her boss, or she'll be in big trouble."
 
 I assumed he didn't know that the purple edge around my badge meant that I was a department manager. Of course he did know, and he was using the knowledge to needle me even more than I realized. At the time though I thought he really believed that I was just a middle aged, middle grade secretary at everybody's beck and call -- and that assumption angered me. So I pushed the button to close the doors again without getting out.
 
 "I don't type letters for anybody and all the men who work for me are well enough trained to get by on their own -- for a while, anyway. I'll come up and take in the view for a few minutes."
 
 Tony and Marco grinned at me and stepped aside deferentially when the elevator reached the top floor. Marco then led the way up two flights of an iron staircase to a door that he unlocked and opened.
 
 "This is as high as the building goes -- the rest of the way is up the tower," he told me as if it were some kind of a challenge.
 
 As soon as I stepped through the door onto the roof I knew I'd made a mistake. I've never been very fond of heights and I even hate looking out of my office window only halfway up the office block. Now we were so far above the city skyline that I felt a genuine touch of vertigo. But what was far worse was the communication tower itself. As high as we were already, it seemed to rear up into the sky above us like the Eiffel Tower. Even more disturbing to me was that the thin aluminum cladding around it seemed to be shifting and creaking even in the light wind which was blowing.
 
 I couldn't believe my legs were actually carrying me towards it, even with Tony's arm pressing lightly around my back to coax me on. I wanted nothing more than to turn around and go back. Marco had already relocked the staircase door behind us though, and I would have felt very foolish if I had had to ask him to open it again because I wanted to run away. It was the price I was paying for all my boasting about being an executive.
 
 That was the real reason I was going with them, not because I wanted to see anything, but because I'd been talked down to as a female nonentity. Being patronized by arrogant males always makes me bristle up and determined to prove them wrong. A pair of young chauvinists had challenged me and I'd responded. It never crossed my mind that such good looking studs could have any serious intention of making a pass at an older woman like myself. Maybe I should have remembered that Nicholas Chauvin got his name in the dictionaries for adoring Napoleon: especially Napoleon's skill in making quick and easy conquests.
 
 "You'll love this, you'll be the queen of the town today," Marco encouraged me as he went past and entered the tower first with Tony still following me. Innocent as I still was, I was soon to find out why I was positioned in the middle.
 
 Inside was a very narrow and steep staircase which spiraled around the inside of the tower, with steel mesh on the inner side of the stairwell to stop anybody from falling off the steps. It seemed a pretty insubstantial protection to me though, especially when I looked upwards and saw the huge hole that was the center of the tower.
 
 "We have to keep this clear so we can hoist up the communication dishes," Tony explained. "Some of them are ten feet across. It's an easy climb up though."
 
 It certainly didn't seem too easy to me. I was puzzled by circular bands of light inside the tower, three or four of them and each one about a dozen steps up from the next. It looked as if there were large gaps all around the tower, each one at least big enough to put my head through. I asked Tony about them and he said the gaps were to relieve the wind pressure against the tower when gales were blowing.
 

...CONTINUES IN THE MEMBERS SECTION