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英语听力:High Rise 01-Critical Mass



Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual
events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.

Now that everything had returned to normal, he was surprised that there had been no obvious
beginning, no point beyond which their lives had moved into a clearly more sinister dimension.

With its forty floors and thousand apartments, its supermarket and swimming-pools, bank and junior
school -- all in effect abandoned in the sky -- the high-rise offered more than enough
opportunities for violence and confrontation. Certainly his own studio apartment on the 25th floor
was the last place Laing would have chosen as an early skirmish-ground. This over-priced cell,
slotted almost at random into the cliff face of the apartment building, he had bought after his
divorce specifically for its peace, quiet and anonymity. Curiously enough, despite all Laing's
efforts to detach himself from his two thousand neighbours and the regime of trivial disputes and
irritations that provided their only corporate life, it was here if anywhere that the first
significant event had taken place -- on this balcony where he now squatted beside a fire of
telephone directories, eating the roast hind-quarter of the alsatian before setting off to his
lecture at the medical school.

While preparing breakfast soon after eleven o'clock one Saturday morning three months
earlier, Dr Laing was startled by an explosion on the balcony outside his living-room. A bottle of
sparkling wine had fallen from a floor fifty feet above, ricocheted off an awning as it hurtled
downwards, and burst across the tiled balcony floor.

The living-room carpet was speckled with foam and broken glass. Laing stood in his bare
feet among the sharp fragments, watching the agitated wine seethe across the cracked tiles. High
above him, on the 31st floor, a party was in progress. He could hear the sounds of deliberately
over-animated chatter, the aggressive blare of a record-player. Presumably the bottle had been
knocked over the rail by a boisterous guest. Needless to say, no one at the party was in the least
concerned about the ultimate destination of this missile -- but as Laing had already discovered,
people in high-rises tended not to care about tenants more than two floors below them.

Trying to identify the apartment, Laing stepped across the spreading pool of cold froth.
Sitting there, he might easily have found himself with the longest hangover in the world. He
leaned out over the rail and peered up at the face of the building, carefully counting the
balconies. As usual, though, the dimensions of the forty-storey block made his head reel. Lowering
his eyes to the tiled floor, he steadied himself against the door pillar. The immense volume of
open space that separated the building from the neighbouring high-rise a quarter of a mile away
unsettled his sense of balance. At times he felt that he was living in the gondola of a ferris
wheel permanently suspended three hundred feet above the ground.

Nonetheless, Laing was still exhilarated by the high-rise, one of five identical units in
the development project and the first to be completed and occupied. Together they were set in a
mile-square area of abandoned dockland and warehousing along the north bank of the river. The five
high-rises stood on the eastern perimeter of the project, looking out across an ornamental lake --
at present an empty concrete basin surrounded by parking-lots and construction equipment. On the
opposite shore stood the recently completed concert-hall, with Laing's medical school and the new
television studios on either side. The massive scale of the glass and concrete architecture, and
its striking situation on a bend of the river, sharply separated the development project from the
run-down areas around it, decaying nineteenth-century terraced houses and empty factories already
zoned for reclamation.

For all the proximity of the City two miles away to the west along the river, the office
buildings of central London belonged to a different world, in time as well as space. Their glass
curtain-walling and telecommunication aerials were obscured by the traffic smog, blurring Laing's
memories of the past. Six months earlier, when he had sold the lease of his Chelsea house and
moved to the security of the high-rise, he had travelled forward fifty years in time, away from
crowded streets, traffic hold-ups, rush-hour journeys on the Underground to student supervisions
in a shared office in the old teaching hospital.

Here, on the other hand, the dimensions of his life were space, light and the pleasures of
a subtle kind of anonymity. The drive to the physiology department of the medical school took him
five minutes, and apart from this single excursion Laing's life in the high-rise was as selfcontained
as the building itself. In effect, the apartment block was a small vertical city, its
two thousand inhabitants boxed up into the sky. The tenants corporately owned the building, which
they administered themselves through a resident manager and his staff.

For all its size, the high-rise contained an impressive range of services. The entire 10th
floor was given over to a wide concourse, as large as an aircraft carrier's flight-deck, which
contained a supermarket, bank and hairdressing salon, a swimming-pool and gymnasium, a wellstocked
liquor store and a junior school for the few young children in the block. High above
Laing, on the 35th floor, was a second, smaller swimming-pool, a sauna and a restaurant. Delighted
by this glut of conveniences, Laing made less and less effort to leave the building. He unpacked
his record collection and played himself into his new life, sitting on his balcony and gazing
across the parking-lots and concrete plazas below him. Although the apartment was no higher than
the 25th floor, he felt for the first time that he was looking down at the sky, rather than up at
it. Each day the towers of central London seemed slightly more distant, the landscape of an
abandoned planet receding slowly from his mind. By contrast with the calm and unencumbered
geometry of the concert-hall and television studios below him, the ragged skyline of the city
resembled the disturbed encephalograph of an unresolved mental crisis.

The apartment had been expensive, its studio living-room and single bedroom, kitchen and
bathroom dovetailed into each other to minimize space and eliminate internal corridors. To his
sister Alice Frobisher, who lived with her publisher husband in a larger apartment three floors
below, Laing had remarked, "The architect must have spent his formative years in a space capsule --
I'm surprised the walls don't curve . . ."

At first Laing found something alienating about the concrete landscape of the project --
an architecture designed for war, on the unconscious level if no other. After all the tensions of
his divorce, the last thing he wanted to look out on each morning was a row of concrete bunkers.
However, Alice soon convinced him of the intangible appeal of life in a luxury high-rise.

Seven years older than Laing, she made a shrewd assessment of her brother's needs in the months
after his divorce. She stressed the efficiency of the building's services, the total privacy. "You
could be alone here, in an empty building -- think of _that_, Robert." She added, illogically,
"Besides, it's full of the kind of people you ought to meet."

Here she was making a point that had not escaped Laing during his inspection visits. The
two thousand tenants formed a virtually homogeneous collection of well-to-do professional people --
lawyers, doctors, tax consultants, senior academics and advertising executives, along with a
smaller group of airline pilots, film-industry technicians and trios of air-hostesses sharing

apartments. By the usual financial and educational yardsticks they were probably closer to each
other than the members of any conceivable social mix, with the same tastes and attitudes, fads and
styles -- clearly reflected in the choice of automobiles in the parking-lots that surrounded the
high-rise, in the elegant but somehow standardized way in which they furnished their apartments,
in the selection of sophisticated foods in the supermarket delicatessen, in the tones of their
self-confident voices. In short, they constituted the perfect background into which Laing could
merge invisibly. His sister's excited vision of Laing alone in an empty building was closer to the
truth than she realized. The high-rise was a huge machine designed to serve, not the collective
body of tenants, but the individual resident in isolation. Its staff of air-conditioning conduits,
elevators, garbage-disposal chutes and electrical switching systems provided a never-failing
supply of care and attention that a century earlier would have needed an army of tireless

Besides all this, once Laing had been appointed senior lecturer in physiology at the new
medical school, the purchase of an apartment nearby made sense. It helped him as well to postpone
once again any decision to give up teaching and take up general practice. But as he told himself,
he was still waiting for his real patients to appear -- perhaps he would find them here in the
high-rise? Rationalizing his doubts over the cost of the apartment, Laing signed a ninety-nineyear
lease and moved into his one-thousandth share of the cliff face.

The sounds of the party continued high over his head, magnified by the currents of air
that surged erratically around the building. The last of the wine rilled along the balcony gutter,
sparkling its way into the already immaculate drains. Laing placed his bare foot on the cold tiles
and with his toes detached the label from its glass fragment. He recognized the wine immediately,
a brand of expensive imitation champagne that was sold pre-chilled in the loth-floor liquor store
and was its most popular line.

They had been drinking the same wine at Alice's party the previous evening, in its way as
confused an affair as the one taking place that moment over his head. Only too keen to relax after
demonstrating all afternoon in the physiology laboratories, and with an eye on an attractive
fellow guest, Laing had inexplicably found himself in a minor confrontation with his immediate
neighbours on the 25th floor, an ambitious young orthodontic surgeon named Steele and his pushy
fashion-consultant wife. Half-way through a drunken conversation Laing had suddenly realized that
he had managed to offend them deeply over their shared garbage-disposal chute. The two had
cornered Laing behind his sister's bar, where Steele fired a series of pointed questions at him,
as though seriously disturbed by a patient's irresponsible attitude towards his own mouth. His
slim face topped by a centre parting -- always an indication to Laing of some odd character strain
-- pressed ever closer, and he half-expected Steele to ram a metal clamp or retractor between his
teeth. His intense, glamorous wife followed up the attack, in some way challenged by Laing's
offhand manner, his detachment from the serious business of living in the high-rise. Laing's
fondness for pre-lunch cocktails, his nude sunbathing on the balcony, and his generally raffish
air obviously unnerved her. She clearly felt that at the age of thirty Laing should have been
working twelve hours a day in a fashionable consultancy, and be in every way as respectably selfaggrandizing
as her husband. No doubt she regarded Laing as some kind of internal escapee from the
medical profession, with a secret tunnel into a less responsible world.

This low-level bickering surprised Laing, but after his arrival at the apartment building
he soon recognized the extraordinary number of thinly veiled antagonisms around him. The high-rise
had a second life of its own. The talk at Alice's party moved on two levels -- never far below the
froth of professional gossip was a hard mantle of personal rivalry. At times he felt that they
were all waiting for someone to make a serious mistake.

After breakfast, Laing cleared the glass from the balcony. Two of the decorative tiles had
been cracked. Mildly irritated, Laing picked up the bottle neck, still with its wired cork and
foil in place, and tossed it over the balcony rail. A few seconds later he heard it shatter among
the cars parked below.

Pulling himself together, Laing peered cautiously over the ledge -- he might easily have
knocked in someone's windscreen. Laughing aloud at this aberrant gesture, he looked up at the 31st
floor. What were they celebrating at eleven-thirty in the morning ? Laing listened to the noise
mount as more guests arrived. Was this a party that had accidentally started too early, or one
that had been going on all night and was now getting its second wind? The internal time of the
high-rise, like an artificial psychological climate, operated to its own rhythms, generated by a

combination of alcohol and insomnia.
On the balcony diagonally above him one of Laing's neighbours, Charlotte Melville, was
setting out a tray of drinks on a table. Queasily aware of his strained liver, Laing remembered
that at Alice's party the previous evening he had accepted an invitation to cocktails. Thankfully,
Charlotte had rescued him from the orthodontic surgeon with the disposal-chute obsessions. Laing
had been too drunk to get anywhere with this good-looking widow of thirty-five, apart from
learning that she was a copywriter with a small but lively advertising agency. The proximity of
her apartment, like her easy style, appealed to Laing, exciting in him a confusing blend of
lechery and romantic possibility -- as he grew older, he found himself becoming more romantic and
more callous at the same time.

Sex was one thing, Laing kept on reminding himself, that the high-rise potentially
provided in abundance. Bored wives, dressed up as if for a lavish midnight gala on the observation
roof, hung around the swimming-pools and restaurant in the slack hours of the early afternoon, or
strolled arm-in-arm along the loth-floor concourse. Laing watched them saunter past him with a
fascinated but cautious eye. For all his feigned cynicism, he knew that he was in a vulnerable
zone in this period soon after his divorce -- one happy affair, with Charlotte Melville or anyone
else, and he would slip straight into another marriage. He had come to the high-rise to get away
from all relationships. Even his sister's presence, and the reminders of their high-strung mother,
a doctor's widow slowly sliding into alcoholism, at one time seemed too close for comfort.
However, Charlotte had briskly put all these fears to rest. She was still preoccupied by
her husband's death from leukaemia, her six-year-old son's welfare and, she admitted to Laing, her
insomnia -- a common complaint in the high-rise, almost an epidemic. All the residents he had met,
on hearing that Laing was a physician, at some point brought up their difficulties in sleeping. At
parties people discussed their insomnia in the same way that they referred to the other built-in
design flaws of the apartment block. In the early hours of the morning the two thousand tenants
subsided below a silent tide of seconal.

Laing had first met Charlotte in the 35th-floor swimming-pool, where he usually swam,
partly to be on his own, and partly to avoid the children who used the 10th-floor pool. When he
invited her to a meal in the restaurant she promptly accepted, but as they sat down at the table
she said pointedly, "Look, I only want to talk about myself."

Laing had liked that.

At noon, when he arrived at Charlotte's apartment, a second guest was already present, a
television producer named Richard Wilder. A thick-set, pugnacious man who had once been a
professional rugby-league player, Wilder lived with his wife and two sons on the 2nd floor of the
building. The noisy parties he held with his friends on the lower levels -- airline pilots and
hostesses sharing apartments -- had already put him at the centre of various disputes. To some
extent the irregular hours of the tenants on the lower levels had cut them off from their
neighbours above. In an unguarded moment Laing's sister had whispered to him that there was a
brothel operating somewhere in the high-rise. The mysterious movements of the air-hostesses as
they pursued their busy social lives, particularly on the floors above her own, clearly unsettled
Alice, as if they in some way interfered with the natural social order of the building, its system
of precedences entirely based on floor-height. Laing had noticed that he and his fellow tenants
were far more tolerant of any noise or nuisance from the floors above than they were from those
below them. However, he liked Wilder, with his loud voice and rugby-scrum manners. He let a needed
dimension of the unfamiliar into the apartment block. His relationship with Charlotte Melville was
hard to gauge -- his powerful sexual aggression was overlaid by a tremendous restlessness. No
wonder his wife, a pale young woman with a postgraduate degree who reviewed children's books for
the literary weeklies, seemed permanently exhausted.

As Laing stood on the balcony, accepting a drink from Charlotte, the noise of the party

came down from the bright air, as if the sky itself had been wired for sound. Charlotte pointed to
a fragment of glass on Laing's balcony that had escaped his brush.

"Are you under attack? I heard something fall." She called to Wilder, who was lounging
back in the centre of her sofa, examining his heavy legs. "It's those people on the 31st floor."
"Which people?" Laing asked. He assumed that she was referring to a specific group, a
clique of over-aggressive film actors or tax consultants, or perhaps a freak aggregation of
dipsomaniacs. But Charlotte shrugged vaguely, as if it was unnecessary to be more specific.
Clearly some kind of demarcation had taken place in her mind, like his own facile identification
of people by the floors on which they lived.

"By the way, what are we all celebrating?" he asked as they returned to the living-room.

"Don't you know?" Wilder gestured at the walls and ceiling. "Full house. We've achieved
critical mass."

"Richard means that the last apartment has been occupied," Charlotte explained.
"Incidentally, the contractors promised us a free party when the thousandth apartment was sold."
"I'll be interested to see if they hold it," Wilder remarked. Clearly he enjoyed running
down the high-rise. "The elusive Anthony Royal was supposed to provide the booze. You've met him,
I think," he said to Laing. "The architect who designed our hanging paradise."
"We play squash together," Laing rejoined. Aware of the hint of challenge in Wilder's
voice, he added, "Once a week -- I hardly know the man, but I like him."

Wilder sat forward, cradling his heavy head in his fists. Laing noticed that he was
continually touching himself, for ever inspecting the hair on his massive calves, smelling the
backs of his scarred hands, as if he had just discovered his own body. "You're favoured to have
met him," Wilder said. "I'd like to know why. An isolated character -- I ought to resent him, but
somehow I feel sorry for the man, hovering over us like some kind of fallen angel."
"He has a penthouse apartment," Laing commented. He had no wish to become involved in any
tug of war over his brief friendship with Royal. He had met this well-to-do architect, a former
member of the consortium which had designed the development project, during the final stages of
Royal's recovery from a minor car accident. Laing had helped him to set up the complex
callisthenics machine in the penthouse where Royal spent his time, the focus of a great deal of
curiosity and attention. As everyone continually repeated, Royal lived "on top" of the building,
as if in some kind of glamorous shack.

"Royal was the first person to move in here," Wilder informed him. "There's something
about him I haven't put my finger on. Perhaps even a sense of guilt -- he hangs around up there as
if he's waiting to be found out. I expected him to leave months ago. He has a rich young wife, so
why stay on in this glorified tenement?" Before Laing could protest, Wilder pressed on. "I know
Charlotte has reservations about life here -- the trouble with these places is that they're not
designed for children. The only open space turns out to be someone else's car-park. By the way,
doctor, I'm planning to do a television documentary about high-rises, a really hard look at the
physical and psychological pressures of living in a huge condominium such as this one."

"You'll have a lot of material."

"Too much, as always. I wonder if Royal would take part -- you might ask him, doctor. As
one of the architects of the block and its first tenant, his views would be interesting. Your own,
too . . ."
As Wilder talked away rapidly, his words over-running the cigarette smoke coming from his
mouth, Laing turned his attention to Charlotte. She was watching Wilder intently, nodding at each
of his points. Laing liked her determination to stick up for herself and her small son, her
evident sanity and good sense. His own marriage, to a fellow physician and specialist in tropical
medicine, had been a brief but total disaster, a reflection of heaven-only-knew what needs. With
unerring judgment Laing had involved himself with this highly strung and ambitious young doctor,
for whom Laing's refusal to give up teaching -- in itself suspicious -- and involve himself
directly in the political aspects of preventive medicine had provided a limitless opportunity for
bickering and confrontation. After only six months together she had suddenly joined an
international famine-relief organization and left on a three-year tour. But Laing had made no
attempt to follow her. For reasons he could not yet explain, he had been reluctant to give up
teaching, and the admittedly doubtful security of being with students who were still almost his
own age.

Charlotte, he guessed, would understand this. In his mind Laing projected the possible
course of an affair with her. The proximity and distance which the high-rise provided at the same
time, .that neutral emotional background against which the most intriguing relationships might
develop, had begun to interest him for its own sake. For some reason he found himself drawing back
even within this still imaginary encounter, sensing that they were all far more involved with each
other than they realized. An almost tangible network of rivalries and intrigues bound them

As he guessed, even this apparently casual meeting in Charlotte's apartment had been set
up to test his attitude to the upper-level residents who were trying to exclude children from the
35th-floor swimming-pool.

"The terms of our leases guarantee us equal access to all facilities," Charlotte
explained. "We've decided to set up a parents' action group."
"Doesn't that leave me out ?"
"We need a doctor on the committee. The paediatric argument would come much more
forcefully from you, Robert."

"Well, perhaps . . ." Laing hesitated to commit himself. Before he knew it, he would be a
character in a highly charged television documentary, or taking part in a sit-in outside the
office of the building manager. Reluctant at this stage to be snared into an inter-floor wrangle,
Laing stood up and excused himself. As he left, Charlotte had equipped herself with a checklist of
grievances. Sitting beside Wilder, she began to tick off the complaints to be placed before the
building manager, like a conscientious teacher preparing the syllabus for the next term.
When Laing returned to his apartment, the party on the 31st floor had ended. He stood on
his balcony in the silence, enjoying the magnificent play of light across the neighbouring block
four hundred yards away. The building had just been completed, and by coincidence the first
tenants were arriving on the very morning that the last had moved into his own block. A furniture
moving van was backing into the entrance to the freight elevator, and the carpets and stereospeakers,
dressing-tables and bedside lamps would soon be carried up the elevator shaft to form
the elements of a private world.

Thinking of the rush of pleasure and excitement which the new tenants would feel as they
gazed out for the first time from their aerial ledge on the cliff face, Laing contrasted it with
the conversation he had just heard between Wilder and Charlotte Melville. However reluctantly, he
now had to accept something he had been trying to repress -- that the previous six months had been
a period of continuous bickering among his neighbours, of trivial disputes over the faulty
elevators and air-conditioning, inexplicable electrical failures, noise, competition for parking
space and, in short, that host of minor defects which the architects were supposed specifically to
have designed out of these over-priced apartments. The underlying tensions among the residents
were remarkably strong, damped down partly by the civilized tone of the building, and partly by
the obvious need to make this huge apartment block a success.

Laing remembered a minor but unpleasant incident that had taken place the previous
afternoon on the loth-floor shopping concourse. As he waited to cash a cheque at the bank an
altercation was going on outside the doors of the swimming-pool. A group of children, still wet
from the water, were backing away from the imposing figure of a cost-accountant from the 17th
floor. Facing him in this unequal contest was Helen Wilder. Her husband's pugnacity had long since
drained any self-confidence from her. Nervously trying to control the children, she listened
stoically to the accountant's reprimand, now and then making some weak retort.

Leaving the bank counter, Laing walked towards them, past the crowded check-out points of
the supermarket and the lines of women under the driers in the hair-dressing salon. As he stood
beside Mrs Wilder, waiting until she recognized him, he gathered that the accountant was
complaining that her children, not for the first time, had been urinating in the pool.
Laing briefly interceded, but the accountant slammed away through the swing doors,
confident that he had sufficiently intimidated Mrs Wilder to drive her brood of children away for

"Thanks for taking my side -- Richard was supposed to be here." She picked a damp thread
of hair out of her eyes. "It's becoming impossible -- we arrange set hours for the children but
the adults come anyway." She took Laing's arm and squinted nervously across the crowded concourse.
"Do you mind walking me back to the elevator ? It must sound rather paranoid, but I'm becoming
obsessed with the idea that one day we'll be physically attacked . . ." She shuddered under her
damp towel as she propelled the children forward. "It's almost as if these aren't the people who
really live here."

During the afternoon Laing found himself thinking of this last remark of Helen Wilder's.
Absurd though it sounded, the statement had a certain truth. Now and then his neighbours, the
orthodontic surgeon and his wife, stepped on to their balcony and frowned at Laing, as if
disapproving of the relaxed way in which he lay back in his reclining chair. Laing tried to
visualize their life together, their hobbies, conversation, sexual acts. It was difficult to
imagine any kind of domestic reality, as if the Steeles were a pair of secret agents
unconvincingly trying to establish a marital role. By contrast, Wilder was real enough, but hardly
belonged to the high-rise.

Laing lay back on his balcony, watching the dusk fall across the facades of the adjacent
blocks. Their size appeared to vary according to the play of light over their surfaces. Sometimes,
when he returned home in the evening from the medical school, he was convinced that the high-rise
had managed to extend itself during the day. Lifted on its concrete legs, the forty-storey block
appeared to be even higher, as if a group of off-duty construction workers from the television

studios had casually added another floor. The five apartment buildings on the eastern perimeter of
the mile-square project together formed a massive palisade that by dusk had already plunged the
suburban streets behind them into darkness.
The high-rises seemed almost to challenge the sun itself -- Anthony Royal and the
architects who had designed the complex could not have foreseen the drama of confrontation each
morning between these concrete slabs and the rising sun. It was only fitting that the sun first
appeared between the legs of the apartment blocks, raising itself over the horizon as if nervous
of waking this line of giants. During the morning, from his office on the top floor of the medical
school, Laing would watch their shadows swing across the parking-lots and empty plazas of the
project, sluice-gates opening to admit the day. For all his reservations, Laing was the first to
concede that these huge buildings had won their attempt to colonize the sky.

Soon after nine o'clock that evening, an electrical failure temporarily blacked out the
9th, 10th and 11th floors. Looking back on this episode, Laing was surprised by the degree of
confusion during the fifteen minutes of the blackout. Some two hundred people were present on the
10th floor concourse, and many were injured in the stampede for the elevators and staircases. A
number of absurd but unpleasant altercations broke out in the darkness between those who wanted to
descend to their apartments on the lower levels and the residents from the upper floors who
insisted on escaping upwards into the cooler heights of the building. During the blackout two of
the twenty elevators were put out of action. The air-conditioning had been switched off, and a
woman passenger trapped in an elevator between the 10th and nth floors became hysterical, possibly
the victim of a minor sexual assault -- the restoration of light in due course revealed its crop
of illicit liaisons flourishing in the benevolent conditions of total darkness like a voracious
plant species.

Laing was on his way to the gymnasium when the power failed. Uneager to join the mêlée on
the concourse, he waited in a deserted classroom of the junior school. Sitting alone at one of the
children's miniature desks, surrounded by the dim outlines of their good-humoured drawings pinned
to the walls, he listened to their parents scuffling and shouting in the elevator lobby. When the
lights returned he walked out among the startled residents, and did his best to calm everyone
down. He supervised the transfer of the hysterical woman passenger from the elevator to a lobby
sofa. The heavy-boned wife of a jeweller on the 40th floor, she clung powerfully to Laing's arm,
only releasing him when her husband appeared.

As the crowd of residents dispersed, their fingers punching the elevator destination
buttons, Laing noticed that two children had sheltered during the blackout in another of the
classrooms. They were standing now in the entrance to the swimming-pool, backing away defensively
from the tall figure of the 17th-floor cost-accountant. This self-appointed guardian of the water
held a long-handled pool skimmer like a bizarre weapon.

Angrily, Laing ran forward. But the children were not being driven from the pool. They
stepped aside when Laing approached. The accountant stood by the water's edge, awkwardly reaching
the skimmer across the calm surface. At the deep end three swimmers, who had been treading water
during the entire blackout, were clambering over the side. One of them, he noticed without
thinking, was Richard Wilder. Laing took the handle of the skimmer. As the children watched, he
helped the accountant extend it across the water.

Floating in the centre of the pool was the drowned body of an Afghan hound.