Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
A bead of sweat trickled down my forehead. I swiped at it with the sleeve of my jacket, trying to ignore the anxiousness pressing down on me like an iron weight.
Getting in had been easy enough.
A short drive. Down two floors in the elevator and then a brief mingle with the afternoon crowds. Innocuous, just one of the flow as I crossed the street. The rest of the team had arrived as planned, in singles or pairs, just like me. No issues, they reported.
That had been my job. Getting us all here. Getting us all in.
But getting in had been the easy part.
We all knew that once inside there was limited time. An hour, to be exact. Sixty precious minutes.
My gaze flicked from my watch to where Kayzee hunched over the safe, Spartacus at his side holding our only torch. The two of them were talking quickly, raising and then discarding ideas for getting inside. Spartacus said something about algorithms. I nodded along with the others, even though it was dark. Even though I had no idea what he was talking about.
I felt my foot begin to tap and ruthlessly stopped it. Glanced sideways at Iris, who looked calm as always. We took that calm from her. It’s what made us so effective. That, and the individual skills we brought to the table.
Forty-two minutes.
“I think I’ve got it.”
A soft click followed by a tiny flash of green light proved Kayzee’s words. My shoulders relaxed slightly. We were past the first stage.
“Great work guys,” JC murmured. He was good like that. Always with the genuine words of encouragement.
Spartacus and Kayzee worked quickly to pull several documents and a key from inside the safe. A brief glance showed the documents were a mix of numbers and letters, no images. As expected. Anticipation curled in me as Iris took the papers and the torch.
“Forty minutes left,” said Spencer. He liked to point out the obvious. I glanced at him, raised an eyebrow. He gave a rueful shrug.
I tried not to hover as Iris frowned over the documents, the light from our small torch casting her shadow across the wall behind. My glance switched nervously between her and the room’s single door, hoping the light couldn’t be seen beyond it.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The walkie-talkie lying on the room’s only table suddenly crackled to life. Our heads came up sharply. Kayzee jumped almost a foot into the air. Spartacus raised a finger to his lips for quiet. The man’s words were indistinct, mostly unclear. I thought I caught the word ‘exit’ and maybe ‘shift’.
“Doesn’t sound like they’re raising the alarm,” Kayzee said. “How you doing, Iris?”
“It’s as we hoped,” she replied. “They’re ledgers. Offshore account details, transactions, that sort of thing.”
“The ones we needed?”
“I think so. Just give me a few seconds to make sure.” Paper rustled as she finished scanning one and started on the next.
I couldn’t help glancing at the door again. In thirty minutes we either walked out of here or we were never leaving. It felt like the room was getting hotter, even though I knew rationally it couldn’t be. This was an air-conditioned facility—the temperature would be at a steady 22 degrees.
“This is what we were after,” Iris spoke firmly, her hands quickly folding the papers up and shoving them into her jacket.
“Right, time to roll.” The words had just left Kayzee’s mouth when the walky-talky crackled again. This time, the voice on the other end was agitated. Alarmed even. Instinct prickled and I ran for the door, my hand closing over the cool metal of the handle just as a loud buzzing noise echoed through the room. It was immediately followed by a click. I tugged down hard on the handle, part of me already knowing what had happened.
“It’s locked.” I tried to keep my voice calm but it came out edged with tension.
“They’ve put the facility in lockdown,” Iris observed.
JC went straight to one of the walls. “Time to switch to plan B.”
“We’ve got plenty of time,” Spencer added. He could be good with the encouragement too.
We had planned for this, and now we split up, separating around the room to look for the other exit. We were about eighty percent sure there was one. There had to be. A room this important—with what it held? Of course there was another way in! Well, probably there was another way…
My palms slid over smooth paneling, testing, probing, searching for a weakness, or a hollow area. My heart beat in time with the seconds ticking down on my glowing watch.
Twenty-three minutes.
Tick. Tick. The damn thing was inexorable.
“Here,” JC called out softly.
In seconds we were clustered around him. He’d removed a panel from the wall, beyond which was an electronic interface with a key code.
“How much you want to bet we put in the wrong code and it locks down, sets off an alarm, or both?” Spencer muttered.
“Both, most likely,” Spartacus said decidedly. I couldn’t help a brief smile. Never one for sugar-coating was our Spartacus.
“There will be a clue here somewhere,” I said, more hopeful than confident. “Iris, see if there is anything in the documents. The rest of us can search the room.”
We’d just lurched into movement when pounding feet sounded outside, rapidly approaching. We froze in position, collectively holding our breaths, then expelling them in a simultaneous whoosh as the footsteps continued past the door and onwards.
“They know we’re in the facility,” Kayzee said unnecessarily.
“Either that or they’re doing a fire drill,” JC joked.
I smiled, appreciating the attempt at humour. “They’ll work out where we are eventually.”
“Either way we’re screwed if we’re not out in seventeen minutes,” Spartacus murmured absently. He was hunkered down before the electronic keypad. “I recognise this type of keypad. It will be a four digit code.”
“How confident of that are you?” Iris asked.
He cocked his head, serious. “About ninety percent.”
A thought abruptly occurred to me. “What was the key for? The one that was with the papers in the safe.”
Kayzee held it up. “It looks like a key fob to a car. It’s not badged though, so impossible to tell what the make is.”
“But why was it in the….”
My words trailed off as more boots sounded in the corridor outside, this time slowing as they got closer.
“Got it!” Spencer clambered out from under the table, clutching a yellow post-it. “5436.”
“They wrote the password on a post it and stuck it under the table?” Kayzee’s voice was thick with disbelief.
“You have a better idea, Kayzee?” JC wanted to know.
Spartacus hesitated. “He’s right though. I mean, what if—”
I wasn’t sure where I came down on this argument, but those running feet outside certainly seemed to be slowing down as they got closer to our…oh, they were definitely slowing down. Stopping even. Right outside the door.
“Put the code in, Spartacus!” JC’s voice went up an octave.
I heard the distant beeps of Spartacus entering the code as I backed up towards him, gaze fixated on the doorway. There was a fifth beep, then a whooshing sound. Then more beeps, this time from a code panel outside the main door.
‘They’re coming in.” Spencer. Again with the obvious.
There was no time for hesitation. One by one we ran through into the dark rectangle that had opened up in the back of the room. I promptly ran into the back of JC, apologized, then rolled my eyes hard as Spartacus came through last and barrelled into me. He swung shut the door just as the front door opened.
Complete and utter blackness descended around us.
“Anyone think to bring the torch with them?” Iris’s voice floated, disembodied, in the blackness.
I imagined a whole lot of staring at each other. Heard shuffling feet. Fortunately, nobody decided to assign blame. That was us, though. Mistakes and victories belonged to us all.
“Hands on shoulders and we move in single file,” JC suggested.
“In which direction?” Kayzee asked.
This time it was me who couldn’t resist. At least the brief illumination of my watch gave us a flash of light. “Twelve minutes, guys.”
“Pick a direction and start walking.” A slight thread of irritation in Iris’s voice.
JC ahead of me. Iris behind. Both super tall. After a while my arms began to ache. The darkness didn’t dissipate and so we moved slowly. I didn’t envy Kayzee in the lead. When my watch told me we were down to eight minutes, there was a muffled curse from ahead, and then the forward movement suddenly stopped.
“We’ve hit a door, I think,” Kayzee’s voice floated down. “I can’t feel a handle, though.”
“What about another keypad?” This from Spartacus.
“There must be. Hang on…”
Silence descended as Kayzee searched. I fought the urge to begin tapping my foot again. Failed to fight the urge to check my watch.
“I think I found something…”
Light flashed into the corridor as a circular keypad the size of a tennis ball lit up; it looked more like a combination lock than a keypad. Numbers and letters surrounded the edges, with an arrow for each direction of the compass highlighted. After three seconds the light clicked off and they were plunged into darkness once again.
A booming sound echoed through the space. I swallowed, pretty sure the sound had come from where we’d just been. Were they after us already?
“Check the key,” I suggested. “There has to be a reason it was in the safe.”
A small click as JC dug it out of his pocket and pressed the button to release the key. He pressed it up against the glowing digits of his own watch. “I can just make out some letters and numbers.”
“Start typing, guys,” Brett, glancing behind us. Hearing what I had. Footsteps.
“I’m on it,” Kayzee shifted back to the door while JC began reading out the numbers imprinted on the key.
The sound of footsteps grew closer and closer. Unconsciously we all began pressing forward, pushing Kayzee harder up against the door.
“Guys!” he said sharply. “Give me some room.”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Six minutes.
I took a deliberate step away. Looked back the way we’d come, even though it was pitch black. What would they be sending after us? Would it be worse than what happened if we weren’t out of the facility in seven minutes?
I didn’t really want to find out.
I jumped when Kayzee gave a triumphant shout, then eagerly pulled open on the lock and tugged it off the door. He gave it a shove and it swung open noiselessly.
Excited, relieved, full of adrenalin, we poured through into the room beyond. A young man sat behind a desk, feet up on the surface, finishing off the remains of his lunch. At our appearance, he put down his food and beamed at us.
“Well done guys, you did it. Only 36% of groups successfully make it out of that escape room in sixty minutes. You managed it with four minutes to spare!”
There were fist bumps and high fives. Maybe some back-slapping too.
“Beers?” Kayzee suggested as they collected phones and wallets from the locker.
“Damn straight,” Spencer nodded.
I grinned as I followed them out the door. “We should do that again sometime.”