“Excuse me,” the newcomer gasped, “I’ve gone and left my building key in my apartment. Do you mind if I come inside with you? I'd really appreciate it.”
Moon wasn’t keen. He didn’t know this man. Granted, he didn’t know many of the people in his building, but he thought he’d seen most of them around at least. This fellow he had not seen, and didn't quite like the look of, although he didn't seem to be drunk or whacked out on drugs or anything. Anyway, in the confines of the porch, it was going to be difficult to stop him if he really wanted in. Moon shrugged.
“Sure,” He applied his key to the lock.
“Open Sesame!” said the stranger, theatrically..
“What?” Moon turned, frowning. This guy was beginning to creep him out.
“Oh, nothing,” said the stranger with an apologetic little laugh. “Sorry. Just something my old Dad used to say." He glanced at his watch, "It was really handy you turning up when you did, I didn't fancy having to hang around till morning.”
Moon grunted, turned the key and pushed the door open.
At this hour, the lobby was dim and quiet, and smelt faintly of floor cleaner and eucalyptus. A long polished oak counter ran down one side where, during the day, the concierge sat grumpy sentinel. Behind the counter was a bank of pigeon holes for residents’ mail.
Moon skirted the counter and collected his letters – two bills, yet more junk mail from Bucket List Superior Holidays (how he wished he’d not left his details on their website!) and a poor photocopy of a proposal by the building’s residents committee on tackling the rats in the basement, detailing who much everyone would be charged for their eradication.
When he turned around again, the stranger was strolling towards the building’s single elevator, his heels clicking on the polished black and white parallelogram-patterned tiles. Moon followed. He was not entirely happy about having to share the elevator car with this odd fellow, but there was only the one car and he didn’t fancy the stairs.
The stranger pushed the call button. The elevator emitted a soft bong, the doors slid open and the two men got in.
“Which floor?” asked Moon, hand hovering over the button panel.
“Oh, er, seven, please.” replied the stranger.
Moon jabbed seven, then his own, six. The doors wheezed closed and the car began its groaning and rattling ascent. Not being the most modern or rapid of transports, the journey took the best part of a minute, which both men spent in slightly awkward silence. The stranger glanced at his watch again, Moon noticed. At last the elevator stopped and Moon was able to step out into his familiar hallway. He hurried along to his own door and, with some relief, heard the lift doors close and the machinery start up once more. Once safely inside his own appartment, Moon relaxed.
"You're growing old and paranoid," he said to himself as he dropped his keys into the conveniently-shaped lap of a jade carving of the Buddha which sat on the hall table. "That guy was just a guy that got locked out, nothing more."
He wandered into the kitchen area.
There was nothing in the freezer but a few icicles and a macaroni and cheese ready meal which had been there for some time. With a sigh, and a promise to himself to go shopping the next day, Moon extracted it, removed the packaging and tossed the unappetising thing into the microwave to heat before flopping onto the couch and turning on the TV.
A documentary about some volcano was showing, and over the sound of ritualistic chanting, the narrator was just describing how the mountain had been sacred to the locals, who would make sacrifice to their gods by hurling people and animals into the fiery chasm at the mountain's heart. The man's face was sweating and flushed, bathed in the lurid orange glow coming from the crater behind him.
The hum of the microwave mixed with the chanting and the smooth tones of the presenter in a pleasingly soporific way, and Moon soon felt himself slipping toward sleep, only to be startled awake by the shrill beep of the microwave, alerting him to the fact that his dinner was ready.
In the stairwell leading down to the sixth floor, the black-haired stranger knelt down, placed his sports bag carefully on the floor and unzipped it. At once, a small grey shape clambered out of the opening.
"About perishing time, too!" grumbled Teatime, "I was almost suffocating in there."
"Nonsense," laughed Harold, "You were fine. Anyway, we're in!"
"Hmph, well, anyway. Do you think he suspected anything?"
"Nope," said Harold proudly, "I think I convinced him I was some oddball living on seventh." He pulled off the black wig and glasses, and allowed his face to resume its usual shape and colouration. He'd worked hard all afternoon on a suitable disguise but, with his limited abilities, had just about managed to get to the stage where he could only reliably hold his new face for a short period of time – hence the incessant clock-watching. As hair had proved too tricky a proposition altogether, a wig had been found, and the spectacles were added as an extra layer of distraction, just in case.
"Right then, old Sock, let's get busy," said Teatime.