Chapter Sixteen: The Curse
"Oh God, we're gonna die!"

As the lift jerked to an abrupt stop, Robin was aware of Nancy's exclamation in the darkness. He frowned, dropping down to the floor as he tentatively reached a hand across towards the door. His hand met cold steel and his frown deepened.

"We're gonna die, I just know it!"

"Will you shut up for a minute?" Robin snapped. "We've stopped. The elevator ain't moving any more...we must've reached a floor. Shut your face and help me find the button for the door, will you? The power's dead - we need to find manual!"

There was no response, and Robin became aware of the sound of sobs from the darkness. He grimaced, rolling his eyes.

"Women." He muttered, crawling towards the door and running a hand up the side panelling. "There must be a switch in here somewhere..."

As his hand brushed against the edge of the button panel, suddenly light was restored to the lift, disorientating him and making him sit back in a hurry. Blinking against the brightness, he managed to focus his attention on the control panel. What he saw gave him little comfort, for a red warning light had begun to flash at intermittent intervals. He bit his lip, glancing at the buttons. The dial was lit up across the second and third floor, and in an instant he realised what had happened.

"Nancy, we're stuck between floors." He said aloud. "I guess something went wrong with the power or somethin'...either way, we're stuck here till they get us out. Do you have a phone? We need to let someone know we're in here."

There was no response and he turned around, impatience dying in his eyes as he registered his companion. Nancy was curled up in a ball in the far corner, visibly trembling as tears ran down her cheeks. Her skin was ashe pale and, as he reached out a tentative hand to her, she flinched back away from him.

"Don't touch me!" She exclaimed. "Leave me alone!"

"Nancy, get a grip! We're not killed yet." Robin snapped. "Hysterics ain't gonna help anyone, you know. Get over it and come and give me a hand. Whether you think I'm a murderer or you don't, I need your help."

Nancy shook her head, her breath coming in ragged gasps.

"I can't." She whispered. "I can't get out...I can't breathe. There's no air, Robin...I can't..."

She faltered,  pulling herself unsteadily to her feet and throwing the full weight of her body against the metal door, pounding it and causing the car to rock slightly.

"Let us out!" She shrieked. "Let us out of here!"

"Nancy, stop it!" Robin exclaimed. "What the hell is wrong with you, girl? If you keep doing that likely you'll send us falling again. We're stopped and we're not we're stuck, but they'll get us out of here. We're not going to die and there's plenty of air in here...there's a whole frigging ventilation system. Have you lost your mind?"

Nancy dropped to her knees, fresh tears engulfing her.

"I have to get out." She whispered. "I have to get out."

Robin stared at her as if she was mad, and then comprehension touched his expression.

"Nancy, are you claustrophobic?" He asked, softening his tones.

Nancy didn't answer, banging her fists once more on the steel doors and, gently, Robin took a hold of her wrists, pulling them away.

"No." He said firmly. "That's not helping and it might even hurt. I don't want the elevator to start rocking again."

"But I need to get out! I...I can't breathe." Nancy protested faintly, and in alarm Robin realised that his companion was on the verge of losing consciousness. In an instant he made up his mind, taking the girl by the shoulders and giving her a short, sharp shake.

"Sober up." He said quietly. "You're making things worse for yourself. We're all right. Tell yourself that. We're not going to die, and you can breathe just fine. You just need to focus on doing it, that's all, instead of thinking that you're trapped."

"I can't." Nancy fell against him, tears still rolling down her cheeks. In her panic she grasped at his arm. "Get us out of here? Please? I can't...I can't..."

She faltered again, closing her eyes and Robin bit his lip.

"Stay with me." He said sharply. "Of all the people in the world, Nancy, I didn't think you'd be scared of a little elevator car."

"I'm not scared of the elevator." Nancy raised her dark eyes to his, but they lacked their usual spark and defiance. "I don't like being shut in. I need air. I can't breathe..."

"Well, then let's get some more air into here." Robin glanced up at the wall. "See up there, Nance? That's the ventilation system. I'm gonna see if I can get the cover off...that will let more air in, okay? Then you'll be able to breathe better. Okay?"

Nancy didn't respond, and with a sidelong glance at his companion, Robin shifted her weight off him, clambering to his feet and wrestling with the vent guard. It took a few tries, but in the end his superior strength won out and he pulled the grille free, dropping it down onto the lift floor.

"There." He said, settling himself back down at her side. "That's better, huh? The vent's open now. You have air."

Nancy raised her gaze to the vent, then to Robin's. She took a shuddery breath, then leant up against him again.

"I'm scared." She whispered. "I don't do good when...when I can't get out."

"Well, there's nothing to be afraid of, I promise." Robin said firmly. "I'm not going to hurt you. We have power on. You have air. And we might have to wait a little while before they dig us out, but that's all. We'll be fine. All right? Here..."

He reached for his bag, rummaging inside it and then pulling out a bottle of mineral water. "Take a sip of this. It will help to calm the panic. Go on," As she hesitated. "It's only water. Really, Nancy, it'll help."

Nancy took the bottle, removing the cap and taking an unsteady sip. There was silence for a moment, then she looked at him.

"Thank you." She whispered.

Before Robin could respond, there was a bleep from Nancy's purse and she started, almost dropping the water in her alarm.

"Is that your phone?" Hope flared in Robin's heart. "Someone's trying to get in touch with you, Nance - answer it! The sooner they know we're in here the sooner we'll get out."

"You do it." Nancy sat back against the wall of the lift. "I...I don't feel so good."

Robin pursed his lips, but did as he was bidden. As he rooted around for the phone, he appraised his companion once more, anxiety flickering in his eyes as he registered how grey she looked.

"I had no idea you were afraid of anything." He muttered to himself as he turned his attention back to the phone. "But what a time to have a panic attack! Hello?"

This last into the phone.

"Robin?" That was Jetta's voice, and Robin let out his breath in a rush.

"Yes ma'am." He agreed. "Robin speaking."

"This is Nancy's phone...where the bloody 'ell is my daughter?"

"We're stuck in the had some kind of power outage between floors and we're jammed somewhere in the middle of two and three...according to the dial." Robin explained. "Nancy is with me. told me to answer the phone. I don't think she...well, she's occupied at the moment."

There were curses at the other end, then,

"I had a bad feelin' that's where she was." Jetta said darkly, displeasure clear in her tone. "Listen, we got the engineers coming right this second - they're already taking things apart an' looking for the problem an' we'll 'ave you out as soon as possible. Is the, the elevator stable?"

"It's not moving anywhere at the moment." Robin agreed, casting Nancy another glance. The girl was still sipping the water, preoccupation in her gaze. "But it did rock a couple of times when Nancy tried the door."

"Well, we 'ave safety measures in place that should 'old it, but don't make any sudden movements." Jetta said quietly. "Just in case. They're working on it."

There was a pause, then,



" she all right?"

Robin bit his lip, then,

"She doesn't like being stuck in here." He said evasively. "Neither of us do...the sooner you can get us out the happier we'll both be."

"And the happier I'll be too." Jetta admitted. "Don't worry, I'm making sure everyone's on the case. Leave the phone on, huh? That way I can keep you updated to progress - I tried to use the lift intercom but it seems to be dead this end."

"Haven't tried it this." Robin responded. "But okay. Thanks."

"And Robin?"

"Yes ma'am?"

"Try and keep Nancy calm...if you can." Now the maternal anxiety was clear in the executive's tone and despite himself, Robin felt a pang of sympathy for his superior. "She doesn't do so good in confined spaces."

"It's taken care of, I promise. We'll both be fine." Robin assured her. "It's just a case of waiting it out...that's all."

"Well, hopefully it won't be too long a wait." Jetta said grimly. "I gotta ring off. Hopefully I'll 'ave more news soon...I'm goin' to go chivvy some engineers."

With that the phone went dead and Robin dropped it down onto Nancy's bag, sending his companion a doubtful look.

"Your Mom's worried about you." He said evenly. "But she wants you to know they're working on getting us out right this minute. She doesn't think it'll be too long, so chin up, huh? I might not be the ideal person to be stuck in an elevator with, but I don't bite. I promise. Whatever the papers have to say."

"I feel kinda sick." Nancy admitted, holding the bottle of water out to him. "Here. If I drink any more of this I probably will be. I just keep imagining the lift shaking and then falling...and then this."

Her voice shook a little, and Robin frowned. Gently he removed the bottle from her grip, fastening the lid and pushing it out of the way.

"We aren't going to die, you know." He said softly. "Your Mom said there's safety features installed to stop the elevator goin' headlong when something goes wrong. We're going to be fine. Just a little bored for a while, is all."

"It's so cramped in here." Nancy murmured. "Makes it hard to the air's all running out and I can't get free."

"That's just your fear playing tricks with your mind." Robin told her. "Really."

He paused, then,

"I'm sorry I yelled at you for crying before. I didn't realise you were phobic like this. Your Mom asked me to look after you...this kinda thing has happened before, huh?"

Nancy nodded her head slowly.

"I don't like being shut in." She acknowledged. "Nor does she...I got it from her. I can't control it, though. When...when something like this happens..."

She grimaced weakly at him.

"Guess now I look like a real baby, huh? Crying like that."

"No, you're not a baby." Robin shook his head. "Hell, we all have our fears."

"You don't seem to." Nancy observed softly. Robin looked startled.

"Excuse me?"

"I heard your chat to Aunt Phyl the other day. You know I did. You yelled at her like I've never heard anyone yell at her before. Not even Mom. You called her names to her face and lived to tell the tale. Most people are scared of her. But you're not, are you?"

"No." Robin shook his head. "She's a rich girl who gets her own way too often...I'm not afraid of being frank with her, even if it gets me the boot. Besides, she let me down."

He frowned.

"If you didn't kill anyone, Robin, why are you so bothered about keeping your past a secret?" Nancy raised questioning eyes to his. Robin shook his head.

"This isn't the time or the place." He said with a shrug.

"Well, we need to talk about something." Nancy let out a strange laugh, and looking at her Robin was aware that his companion was still white, her big dark eyes giving away the fact that her panic was only just beneath the surface. "Otherwise I'll start thinking about...about all of this again. And if I do that, I...I'll panic again."

She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath.

"And I may throw up." She added. "I'm trying not to, Robin, but I'm scared. Scared like you wouldn't believe. Please...even if it's total crap, tell me something. I need to be distracted."

Robin eyed her for a moment, then he sighed.

"All right." He agreed at length. "On the understanding that nothing I say in this elevator ever gets outside of it."

"Not from my mouth it won't." Nancy agreed solemnly. "I promise."

Robin sat back against the panelling, and for a moment he was silent as the memories flooded his brain. Then he got a grip on his composure, making himself more comfortable. He took a sip of water, then sighed.

"Sian was my wife." He said at length.

"Your wife?" Nancy stared. "You were married?"

"Seems like a lifetime ago now." Robin agreed. "Yeah. Happiest time of my life, if you want the truth."

"So what happened?"

"She died." Robin said flatly. "In a road accident."

"I'm sorry."

"No, you're not." Robin sighed again. "All you want to know is whether or not I was the one who killed her, so you can settle in your mind once and for all whether I'm the killer you think I am. And you're using the fact you're vulnerable at the moment to make me tell you what you want to know."

"No, I'm not." Nancy drew another shaky breath into her lungs. "If you don't want to tell me, you don't have to. Talk about something else, if you like. Just talk about something."

She hesitated, then,

"I stopped thinking you might be a killer when you got that vent off for me." She added. "You tried to help me, even though we weren't getting along. I appreciate that."

Robin sent her a surprised look.

"Really?" He asked. Nancy nodded her head.

"Really." She agreed. "But if you want to tell me, I'll listen."

Robin swallowed hard.

"It was three years ago now." He said slowly. "Three years this week, in fact. You never forget an anniversary like that. Sian...we were driving back from her work. Heading home in bad weather. It was dark...getting late. The roads were slick...but I'm a careful driver. I always have been. We took it slow."

He took a deep breath, then,

"I don't rightly remember everything." He admitted. "I know that another car came at us out of the dark and I know the guy who was driving it was blind drunk. Part of me wonders if he did it on purpose...he had issues with us. He always had a crush on Sian, and he was always drinking himself stupid and coming on to her whenever he could. Sometimes I wonder if he did it to try and get me out of the picture...other times I think it was an accident and he lost control of his car. Either way, I don't remember the crash itself. It's all a blur."

He spread his hands.

"The last thing I remember, before it all gets hazy, is Sian telling me she was going to have a baby." He said, the pain clear in his tone. "Then I was waking up in hospital after three days out to find she'd been killed on impact and the police wanted to talk to me about it. That's the truth. What really happened."

"Did they blame you?" Colour was beginning to return to Nancy's cheeks and, as he met her gaze, he saw true compassion in her expression.

"No." He shook his head. "I was never even a suspect. People had seen the accident happen and the Sheriff's Dept absolved me of all responsibility before I even woke up. But I did, Nancy. I blamed myself. Part of me probably still does, even though I know it wasn't my fault. Somewhere I should've done should have been me. She had so much to give...and a baby not yet born. I should have died. Not her."

He glanced at his hands.

"That's the real reason I don't have a car, if you want the truth. I haven't driven since the night she died. I couldn't. It'd just bring it all back."

"I guess that makes sense." Nancy said softly. "I'm sorry I riled you about it. And I'm sorry I moaned when you got all safety conscious about my gear lever. It makes sense now."

She swallowed hard, and Robin knew she was still fighting her panic and her nausea.

"A lot makes sense now." She added. "I'm sorry you had to go through all of that."

"It was a bad time." Robin agreed. "Is it any surprise I want it out of the press? I came here to escape the walk down streets that didn't have her face plastered all over them in my mind. It's been three years but I still love her and I still miss her. People tell me to move on - but that's easier said than done. Even being doesn't take any of it away. Much as I'd like it to. And then there's McMillan on my back, too."

"You can't hide anything from the Los Angeles press." Nancy observed. "As Jewel well know from past experience. All you can do is try and work out how best to let it come out. Sadie tried to keep her record a secret for a while, and in the end she paid for it...the scandal was immense and she got accused of murder into the bargain."

"So that was who Jetta meant." Robin pursed his lips. "I half wondered if she was talking about herself, when she talked about employees and their secrets."

"Perhaps she was." Nancy acknowledged. "Everyone has something to hide."

"Phyllis said the same thing, you know. About managing how a secret hits the press." Robin sighed. "She didn't understand that I don't want to manage it. I want to sit on it. I don't want my late wife's name printed in those kinds of papers. She's worth more than a cheap tabloid story to me."

Nancy frowned, leaning absently up against him as she reached for the bottle of mineral water again.

"When you were talking to Aunt Phyl, she talked about a prison record. A rep. If you didn't kill Sian, and if you weren't a suspect, what did you go to prison for?"


A humourless smile touched Robin's lips.

"I'm not sure I should tell you that."

"Why?" Now Nancy was curious. "What did you do? Rob a bank or something?"

"No." Robin shook his head. He stretched out his hand in front of him, glancing at a scar that ran across his knuckles. "No, I got sent down for assault. Grievous bodily harm...whatever they call it. They wanted to sic attempted murder on me, but the judge decided my circumstances were mitigating. So I got a lesser sentence in return for pleading guilty. I didn't really care where I went or what I did, in truth. But it was easier on my family, you know, to have it done smoothly. So I pled."

"Assault? Attempted murder?" Nancy could not keep the shock out of her voice. "I thought you told me you weren't the killer type!"

"And I ain't." Robin cracked his knuckles pensively. "But I ain't sorry, Nancy. I never will be, except, perhaps, that I didn't finish him off when I had the chance. Too much drink, too convalescent. Took it out of me, else I'd probably be doing time for manslaughter. And he'd have damn well deserved it, too. Damn him, prison is too good for him."

"Okay, now you're scaring me." Nancy shuffled back in alarm and Robin realised where he was, offering her a sheepish smile.

"I'm sorry." He said ruefully. "The guy I did time for beating on...he was the guy in the other car. The one who killed my wife and destroyed my life. First thing I did after they buried her was go get smashed and then track him down. I'd discharged myself from the hospital just that morning...I probably wasn't right in the head at the time, in truth. I didn't care if I was caught...I just wanted some kind of revenge for what had happened. He was on remand...they charged him with vehicular homicide in the end and he got twenty-five years for it. But I cracked his jaw good and proper, and he was in the hospital a good fortnight after our encounter. It still kills me that he'll walk free with good behaviour in probably less than fifteen years. And Sian, who never did anything to anyone...she's never going to walk anywhere. Not ever. It's not right."

Nancy chewed on her lip.

"And what about his family?" She asked bluntly. "If you'd killed him, would that give his family the right to kill you? And so on?"

"You sound like Lena." Robin said ruefully. "Sian's sister. She was horrified when she found out what I'd done. Said Sian would be turning in her grave if she knew. She would, too. She was always standing up and preventing me takin' a swing at that guy."

He sighed.

"It's hard to explain what I was thinking. I don't even know if I want to." He admitted. "I guess I had nothing left to lose. Everything that was gone. I always imagined Sian and I would grow old together. Now I'll grow old. She won't."

Nancy took a deep breath.

"You know, Darren McMillan and the Tribune...they will get all this in the long run." She said simply. "That's what he's like. What all the press in this city are like. You won't keep it secret much longer."

"He can print what he likes about me if he leaves Sian out of it." Robin said firmly.

Before Nancy could answer, the phone rang again, and this time Nancy scooped it up, hitting the call accept button.

"Mom?" She said, then, "Yeah, we're okay. Please tell me we'll be getting out of here soon,'s not much fun being stuck like this."

There was a pause, then Nancy smiled.

"Well, he's keeping me distracted." She said slowly. "Just get us out of here, okay? I'm all right, but I'd really rather not spend the night."

She set down her phone, meeting Robin's quizzical look with a grimace of her own.

"She says they think the cable snapped and they're gonna have to winch us down manually. Could take a half hour." She said. "At least. Mom's not happy about it...she's trying to make them hurry it up. She's also spoken to home once since the car fell, so she's going to call home to tell them I'm all right, but that I'll be later in tonight. I told her I was okay...I hope I was right."

"How do you feel now?" Robin asked.

"A little steadier. And I don't feel like I'm gonna pass out or throw up at the moment." Nancy looked abashed. "I feel pretty silly for behaving like a frightened six year old, but other than that..."

She shrugged.

"If I'm keeping your secret for you, you can keep that a secret too. Then we're even." She added. "And I'll try not to go nuts on you again before they get us out. I do feel...more in control. Calmer. You're helping."

"Well, I'm glad I'm of some use." Robin said wryly. "In some ways, I'm glad you know now. Part of me wanted you to...especially after our fight. I just wasn't sure if I could trot it all out to you. I wasn't kidding when I said you were a lukewarm ally...I'm still not sure, even now."

"You have trust issues too, huh?" Nancy looked amused. "In truth, I didn't want you to be the killer the Tribune said you were. I mean, it's rare to meet someone else who feels about music the way that I do...and who understands what it means to me. Someone who's not fussing about fads and fashion and the latest gossip but who's in it simply because music is a part of their soul. And Mom told me that you'd said I was part of the reason you signed with us. I didn't want that to be, well, not true. I didn't want it to be Aunt Phyl's powers of persuasion regarding publicity that got you to put pen to paper here."

She looked ashamed.

"Maybe it's arrogant, but I liked the idea that I'd had some part to play in it. And you know, sometimes I think we're going to be friends and then other times I don't know you at all."

"Likewise." Robin acknowledged. "And you were the catalyst, Nancy. I would probably have signed for Starlight Music if it hadn't been for that meeting in your studio. Sure, Phyllis's finances and her ability to hush things up - that was a big sell too. But I'm not in this business for the hype or the backers. I don't like Phyllis much, if you want the truth. I just wanted to work with someone who cared about music."

"I'm glad that's settled up." Nancy smiled. "In which case, maybe we can be friends."

"Lord, I hope so, after tonight's little adventure." Robin said, rubbing his chin ruefully. Nancy laughed.

"Well, if you manage to keep me sane till they let us out of here, and you'll have my respect for life." She told him dryly. "Now there's a challenge you can't refuse."

"If you say so." Robin winked, and his sad dark eyes lit up with humour. "Okay. You're on."

Prologue: Flashback: Carrowville, Arkansas
Chapter One: Memory
Chapter Two: Spies and Secrets
Chapter Three: Jack
Chapter Four: Flashback: The Hartlin Bar, Carrowville
Chapter Five: Margot's Plan
Chapter Six: Confidences
Chapter Seven:Flashback: The Wedding Reception
Chapter Eight: Fallout
Chapter Nine: Advice
Chapter Ten: A Friend In Need
Chapter Eleven: Logan
Chapter Twelve: Flashback: Sian's News
Chapter Thirteen: Ambush
Chapter Fourteen: Reconciliation
Chapter Fifteen: Flashback: Farewell
Chapter Sixteen: The Curse

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