Chapter 1: Sharp Edges
A floor indicator flashes 40, then 50, and, after a long pause, 51. Doors open; people file out — some executives, a few construction workers… and one more.
The last to emerge is Willow Salix, a 23-year-old who’s on the move and wearing her best business attire. She enters a spacious waiting area, complete with the requisite, front-desk bombshell, and a huge corporate logo, done up right in three-dimensional, brushed aluminum.
Welcome to Belidor Hydro.
Willow chats with the receptionist for a moment, then walks through the center doors that quietly part to let her in. She passes through a narrow, tunnel-like hallway, still under construction. Walks past the painters… the carpet installers… a few interior designers – in short, everyone needed to put in the finishing touches at this late date.
A power saw whines in the distance.
Floor-to-ceiling murals cover the walls. In bold colors, these huge photos display the enormous turbines that Belidor sells to power plants around the world.
Willow keeps moving. As she hurries down the corridor, her ears pick up the first sounds of a muffled roar that gets louder with every step.
There, down at the end, is a lighted threshold.
The narrow entrance tube fans out into an enormous atrium, extending from the 51st floor, all the way up to 60. Wrapping around three sides of the interior, every floor has its own open walkway, and each walkway is bordered by a short wall that runs along its edge. Office workers stand at these ivy-covered parapets on various floors. Some chat, but most seem transfixed by the breath-taking scene above and below.
On the fourth side of the atrium, a thundering waterfall cascades from 55 down to the turquoise basin on 51. The spray… and the sound… and the immense, open space create an overwhelming experience for visitors and employees alike – just as it was meant to be.
Back down on 51, the basin perimeter is lined with massive rocks and a stainless-steel railing.
In one of the trees, a lone goldfinch warbles and chirps, then soars up to the sunlit, translucent roof.
Exhilarated, Willow looks up and takes in the scene.
“So lucky to be here,” she says to a smiling colleague. One last look… and that’s it. Time to go to work.
Willow makes her way through a crowded labyrinth of cubicles.
After a few zig-zags and near-collisions, she arrives at her own little home on the 53rd floor: 5347-G.
Purse down on the chair, coat off, and… what’s this? She ponders a new thing, sitting right in the center of her crowded desktop. It’s a large, plastic bag with her name on it. The office phone, computer keyboard, and framed photo have all been pushed to one side.
She inspects the bag and pulls out a small, cardboard box. Taped to the top is her very own business card, announcing to the world:
She’s had business cards before, but never one like this – and what a treasure it is! Wondering what else is in the bag, she pulls out another, longer cardboard box and weighs it in her hand. Feels heavy.
A small sculpture slides into her palm. It’s that logo from the lobby: “Belidor Hydro” in precision-cut, black onyx.
Hmmm… a cool tchotchke, but there’s no place for it, given all the other junk on her desk. She swaps out a few items, but can’t seem to find an arrangement that works.
Her eyes settle on the framed photo. It’s a classic Hawaiian shot of Willow and her parents: three happy tourists, ready to have some fun. Great picture. Great memories… but that was then. She looks at this thing for an extra second, then shoves it into the overhead bin.
Now there’s room for a new toy: her company’s gleaming logo, rendered in polished stone. She admires the design and runs her fingers over the sharp edges… but suddenly, her eyes open wide.
It’s 9:25! Just a few minutes to spare before the weekly meeting with Allison.
Umbrellas cover ten small tables at the Basin Café – the company meeting place that offers tasty sandwiches and strong coffee, all at the foot of a giant, indoor waterfall.
Sitting at one table, Allison Endicott marks up a blueprint. She’s 42 years old and classy as ever: This Brit still gets her suits on Savile Row.
9:30 it is, and here’s Willow, searching for her mentor at the basin periphery. Not far away, Allison sits all by herself, struggling to hold down the curled construction plan.
Her young intern rushes over to help. Allison smiles as they work together without talking. The ball is in Boss Lady’s court, and she asks the first question…
“Did you speak to him?”
Her assistant looks away. “Nobody takes orders from an intern. You wouldn’t.”
“Willow, it doesn’t matter if you’re an intern or the CEO. If you find something that isn’t working, they have to fix it.”
The young woman remains unconvinced: “I don’t mean the contractors. I’m talking about our own people!”
Allison doesn’t buy it.
“They work for me, and you’re my representative. That means you don’t have to take any crap. You just have to be… professional.”
Willow fidgets in her chair, then looks up. “Speak of the devil.”
Her eyes are fixed on the two, young maintenance guys who still give her heartburn. Rodney Ork and Jamaar Coles share a laugh as they look out onto the basin. They’re standing far away from her, all the way over on the left side of the falls.
Allison sees them, too. “Perfect. You have the punch list. Go over there and talk about it.”
“Of course, now! We gave them at least 15 things to do. Maybe more.”
Allison leans forward. “Well? Are they done?”
“All right. OK. I’m gonna find out.”
Willow picks up her iPad and leaves the café, heading straight for Rodney and Jamaar.
They watch her as she approaches… and aren’t really happy about it. This is not the chick they particularly want to see right now.
Rodney manages a tentative smile. “How ’ya livin’, Willie?”
She appreciates his attempt to make small-talk, but this is all the chit-chat that she can tolerate right now. Before anyone can object, Willow opens up the to-do list on her tablet. As she scrolls up and down, the intern tries to radiate confidence — a little of the “professional” approach that Allison recommended so highly.
“OK! Let’s see what we have here… Urinal in the men’s room…”
Rodney speaks up: “Done. Flushes good.”
“And the leaking faucet is…?”
“Fixed,” Jamaar responds.
She’s surprised to hear all this good news. “Super! That’s… fine. How ’bout…”
Just then, and for no particular reason, Willow rests her hand on the steel railing that encircles the falls. That’s when she makes her discovery: “Does something need to be tightened here?” It seems that way, since the railing can be jiggled back and forth with very little effort. “Maybe a bolt is missing?”
Jamaar and Rodney squirm. Not what they expected.
Time passes and the guys split up.
Back at the café, Willow watches Jamaar from a distance. He searches for something in his tool box, and it seems like he’s taking care of business, but… who knows with him and his wild-ass friend? Maybe she’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Meanwhile, Allison picks up her ringing phone: “Jeremy! Are you coming? Yes… a week from today.”
Now Jamaar finds what he’s looking for: a big Crescent wrench that he can use to secure the wobbly railing. To reach every bolt, he has to lean far over the balustrade – an awkward position that thrusts his heinie up and out there.
One by one, he tightens each nut… until he gets to the skimmer, which happens to be clogged with leaves. A definite no bueno: If Allison sees this mess, she’ll get on his case, for sure.
Over at the service elevator, Rodney reads a magazine, then looks at his watch. Not a happy camper. He looks for Jamaar, but can’t find him. Not in the café. Not coming out of the corridor. No. No. Not by the tree stand, either… Ah! Finally spots him on the other side of 51. Doing what? Cleaning out the skimmer basket!
Rodney hollers, but those roaring falls are much louder.
Jamaar sets the basket down on a rock. He can’t understand a single word that his friend is saying, so he puts his hands to his mouth and yells back his answer: “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” Then goes back to work.
But he doesn’t replace the skimmer.
Jamaar leans over the railing, and again, his butt (and butt crack) are way up in the air. It’s almost like he’s doing a one-armed pushup. His right hand and arm support the weight of his upper body, while his left hand torques the nut on each bolt. This is hard to do, and the wrench is heavy. He works slowly, knowing that he can’t afford to make a single false move.
Meanwhile, Rodney’s service elevator opens up on the 51st floor. Back and forth he paces until the doors finally close. ARRRGGHH! SO exasperated! He rolls up his magazine and heads back to the basin.
Allison is still on the phone. Willow concentrates on Jamaar.
Then, Rodney shows up. Getting right behind Jamaar, he pleads: “C’mon, Man! We’re late! Don’t you wanna see the game?”
By this point, Jamaar is leaning so far over, he’s actually hanging upside down. He thought he’d be done in a jiffy, but the reality is: He still needs more time. “Almost done! Gimme 5 minutes.”
“God damn it!” Rodney lifts his rolled-up magazine and delivers a hard swat to Jamaar’s rear end. WHHAAP!
Jamaar lunges forward. Inches from the water, he braces himself at the last moment… but loses the wrench! PLOP. It falls right into the swirling foam. Jamaar realizes what happened and leaps over the railing.
Landing feet-first in the cold, thigh-deep water, he submerges his arms and desperately searches. Plenty of rocks, plants, and shells, but no wrench. His final grasp yields… handfuls of mud.
Chapter 2: Guilty Eyes
As soon as Willow stands up, Allison springs forward and catches her arm. Willow doesn’t have to look at her boss’s face; she knows that Allison is holding her back for good reason. Things are getting weird, and it’s all happening scary fast.
Over at the basin, Rodney realizes that he’s gone too far. “Oh, shit! I’m sorry!” he says again and again (trying to suppress a laugh). But Jamaar is ready to scream. He throws a handful of mud at Rodney, splattering him with goo.
“I lost my wrench, Asshole! I LOST MY WRENCH!” Like an Olympic gymnast, Jamaar flies over the rail in one, swift leap, then gets right up in Rodney’s face. “You need to wise up, My Man!”
The two guys face each other in a tense stand-off. Rodney is in a tight spot, and he knows it: “Look, I’m sorry, Dude, but we’re late!” Holding Jamaar at bay, he tries something else: “I’m tellin’ you: It’s OK. I will help you find it later. C’mon, I’m hungry.”
More nostril-flaring, then – at last – Jamaar cracks a smile at the sight of his mud-covered buddy. Both break into laughter. The situation almost exploded… but didn’t. Jamaar shuts his toolbox, and they both head for the elevator.
Willow sits down, wondering what the hell just happened.
Unfortunately, the skimmer basket is still perched on a rock – right where Jamaar set it down. That means: No strainer is there to filter out the junk. Green leaves on the surface float quickly into the unguarded port.
Underwater, a zillion aquatic plants all bend forward in the strong current.
And the wrench is moving! It catches here and there on a rock or plant, but quickly disengages and tumbles along.
Closer and closer to the suction port…
Bubbles, twigs, and even a poor fish are all pulled in…
Then, in the blink of an eye, the wrench is sucked in, too!
At the service elevator, Rodney and Jamaar wait for the elevator to arrive.
Allison finishes her phone call and turns to Willow: “Now… where were we?”
An EXPLOSIVE POW! Then a deep KA-BOOM! And finally, APOCALYPTIC SCREECHING, like a thousand bats out of hell.
All around the atrium, people are startled by this horrible racket. Conversations stop in mid-sentence, then resume in a state of mass confusion. What was THAT? What made that sound? Did an airplane crash into the building?
Searching in vain, they finally realize that something is changing before their eyes. The mighty torrent has already slowed to a pathetic trickle. The rumble of a great waterfall now sounds like a dripping leak. And in less than 30 seconds, it’s all over. Everything is quiet, except for one beeping alarm.
At the service elevator, Jamaar and Rodney stand in motionless disbelief. Then, as if wakened by a hypnotist, they snap out of it and start running toward the basin. Jamaar follows his bro. Together, they dash between café tables and almost overturn a few chairs in their mad scramble to reach the stairway.
“Oh, Jesus!” Jamaar cries out.
What stopped the waterfall? What is going on?!
Moving fast, Jamaar passes the skimmer basket… still on the rock… still out in the open… just where he left it. He looks back, and suddenly knows precisely what happened.
Seeing the two maintenance guys blow through the café, Allison grabs her phone again: “I’m calling Ben!” But Willow simply cannot wait, and two seconds later, she’s chasing after the guys.
Way over on the left side of the falls, there’s a stairway that leads down to the Pump Room. Jamaar and Rodney rush down the steps. At the bottom, Rodney swipes his badge and grasps the door handle.
But he stops.
He stops right there… and remains still for a moment.
Both guys can see the problem, and both know it’s a bad sign: Smoke is seeping out of the door frame. Jamaar wraps a cloth around the handle, then both guys inhale and hold their breath. With one, determined push, Rodney shoves the door open… and acrid smoke billows out.
Inside the Pump Room, grey clouds hover over the equipment. Red and blue pipes cover every square inch of the walls and ceiling. Not a fun place to be.
Jamaar waves away the haze and switches on an exhaust fan. And at last, they can see it. Dominating this room is… The Beast: a 2000-horsepower electric motor connected to a gigantic, centrifugal pump.
Fault lights are blinking all over the control panel. Rodney punches buttons and turns off the beeping alarm. He tugs on a few wires, while Jamaar yanks a service manual off the shelf and frantically searches for “Troubleshooting”.
They’re still floundering when their good friend Willow appears at the doorway and watches them in silence. She’s onto their game, even as the guys pretend they haven’t noticed her.
Finally, she speaks: “Did you break it?” Rodney and Jamaar look up, but won’t say a thing.
“TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED!”
Rodney fesses up: “The pump ate his wrench.”
Jamaar speaks in a solemn tone: “I’m sorry.”
“Me, too,” says Rodney. “I mean: I am also sorry.”
Willow stares at puddles of water on the floor. “Don’t we have a back-up?”
Rodney points to a bare concrete pad: “It’s scheduled for next year.”
Allison bursts in, and BOY, IS SHE PISSED. With emotions cranked up to 100, she grasps the handrail to steady herself. She can barely bring herself to speak, then…
“Clean it up! And don’t try to ‘fix’ anything!” She surveys the room for the last time, then exits. Willow follows her, but turns around when she gets to the doorway.
Rodney and Jamaar avert their guilty eyes.
Now we’re on the 60th floor, and this is the CEO’s office. It’s gorgeous, of course. Amazing what you can do with the right design team and a train-load of money.
An entire desk made out of Bubinga wood? Yes. With Cocobolo inlays.
Allison and Willow sit at the long, matching conference table. At one end is the salesman who became CEO: Ben Castelli, a good-looking man in his mid-50s.
Gordon Marst stands at the window. He’s the VP of Finance, and he’s not happy about the ladybug that’s walking across his party invitation. (One flick of his fingers… and that’s the end of that.)
Marst is also in his 50s, but looks older – especially when he’s in a bad mood.
“If you had really supervised them, we wouldn’t be in this situation.” He crumples the invitation and tosses it into the trash. Doesn’t wait for a response. “So now we have to decide. What should we do? I say: postpone the whole thing and re-schedule!”
Castelli is curious: “What would that accomplish?”
Marst pauses, then drops his logic bomb: “We’ve got 400 people coming to this party – people we need to impress. And they’re all coming for one reason: Everybody wants to see the waterfall!”
He looks around the room to make sure they all got his message. “That’s a problem.”
Allison fires back: “Not if we could fix it!”
“In less than a week?!”
“Well… maybe! I don’t know. Why not?”
He taunts her one more time: “What happens if you’re wrong?”
“That’s a valid point,” Castelli agrees as he pops in a breath mint. “We’d look pretty stupid.”
Hah! Marst has been validated. “I can hear it now: ‘This is your waterfall? I get more water from my garden hose.’”
Allison tries to keep her British cool, but it’s not working. She’s heard quite enough. “Yes, Gordon! We agree with you. That would be deeply embarrassing. But it would be just as bad if we postpone. We have people coming in from Europe. We ordered food!”
Marst looks out the window as she gathers steam for one more shot.
“If we call off this Open House, everyone will ask why. If we lie about it, somebody will find out!”
Willow has been following this duel and, at long last, she pipes up: “We should at least try. I bet we could fix that pump in one day.”
Marst is actually startled: “I’m sorry… Who are you?”
“She’s my intern!”
“And when did we start – ”
Castelli interrupts: “Allison! You can’t assure us that – ”
But then, she interrupts him: “I don’t know anything about this equipment, and you don’t, either. Willow and I will talk to the experts, first thing, next week.”
Willow hunkers down. She’s fully aware of the emotional tornado, now whipping through this room, but she’s got a right to speak her mind… doesn’t she? Don’t they want to know what young people have to say?
Castelli stands at the window and watches traffic, 60 stories below. The sun is setting. People are going home. He turns and looks at Allison, then Marst, then Willow. After a few more agonizing seconds, he makes his decision.
“OK. If there’s any way to fix this before next Thursday, take care of it. If not, then… we’ll postpone. I don’t have time for this shit!”
Marst looks at Willow. Willow looks at him. No blinking.
Castelli sizes up the room, then tries to smile. “Are we good? OK. Meeting adjourned.”