Nobody in the room knew what was about to happen.
The man strode leisurely up the stairs and into the luxurious lobby of the Drake Hotel. He removed his sunglasses, folded them and placed them casually into the pocket of his tan linen suit. He looked around the lobby, then made his way across the dark blue carpet to the long reception desk.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Adams,” said the woman on duty. “Having a pleasant afternoon?”
“I am,” said the man with a smile. His was average height and slim, with a handsome head of blonde hair and a trim, darker goatee with a smattering of gray. He spoke with a very slight spanish accent.
“I’m doing very well, thank you…Sharon,” he said, leaning forward slightly to read her name tag.
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
He held a red iPhone up in his left hand.
“I’m afraid I haven’t been able to reach my wife all afternoon. Her phone goes straight to voicemail.” He frowned, “She hasn’t left any messages here for me, has she?”
“I’ll look for you, sir, give me just a moment.”
The man looked up at the chandeliers as Sharon checked for messages. The lobby was filling up with people checking in before dinner. His attention was caught by an older man who carried a cat in his arms as if it were the most common thing in the world. He watched until the man, and the cat, disappeared into the elevator. After a moment, Sharon turned back to him with an apologetic look.
“I’m afraid I have no messages, sir.”
“Hmmm,” said the man, a worried look on his face. “I hope—”
He was interrupted by the jangling ring of the phone in his hand. He glanced at it and breathed a sigh of relief. “There she is now.”
“Abby,” he said, bringing the phone to his ear, “I was getting worri—”
“Shut up and listen!” The voice was filtered through a computer: flat , mechanical, high volume. It was so loud that Sharon, five feet away, froze when she heard it.
“I said shut up. We have your wife.”
Sharon looked at the man in alarm as the color drained from his face. He leaned forward and braced himself on the counter with his free hand.
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“This is not a joke, and it’s not a game. We have your wife and you will do exactly as we say, is that understood?”
“No, I, I don’t understand…” he stuttered, shocked.
A woman’s scream erupted from the phone, Sharon and Adams both gasped at the same time.
“Abby!” the man yelled, drawing looks from the other guests in the lobby.
The scream stopped.
“Abby!” the man yelled again, but it was the computerized voice that answered.
“Are you ready to listen to me, Mr. Adams?”
Adams eyes were wide with terror. He put his hand over the phone and whispered to Sharon, “Get me a pen and paper, now!”
A muffled voice came from the phone, which Adams brought quickly back to his ear.
“Yes, yes I hear you. Who are you?”
Sharon placed a complimentary hotel pad and pen on the counter between them.
“It doesn’t matter who I am,” the voice said. “Only that you do exactly as I say.”
Call the hotel manager, the man scribbled across the sheet of paper, and then call 911.
“This is a joke. This can’t be happening,” he said into the phone. “This can’t be real!”
“I assure you it is,” said the voice.
Sharon stood rooted to the spot, staring at the message. Adams slammed the flat of his hand down on the counter, making her jump and give a stifled yelp. She looked up to see him pointing at the phones on the wall behind her.
“What could you possible want with my wife and me? We’re nobody.”
Sharon jumped to the phone and dialed quickly, cupping her hand over the receiver to quiet her voice.
“I disagree,” said the mechanical voice. “We’ve been following you for some time. Surely you are familiar with how this works, given your background and your home country.”
“My home country?” asked Adams, perplexed. He looked wildly around the lobby, as if the villain might be calling from just on the other side of the giant flower arrangement that stood on the center table. Looking for something that seemed out of place.
“You know what I mean. A socialite disappears, a demand is made, and if that demand is not met, she is returned in pieces. Do we need to send you some pieces, Mr. Adams?”
“You’re disgusting,” said Adams. His voice was low now, through gritted teeth. “What the hell do you want?”
“Maybe a few fingers at first, just to let you know we are serious?”
A short man in a dark suit rushed through a door behind the counter. He looked around wildly until he saw Sharon, who had hung up the phone and then picked it up again, and was now waiting for 911 to answer. She pointed at Adams, and the man rushed over.
“What seems—” he stopped when he saw the look on the man’s face, a cross between terror and fierce anger. Adams held a finger to his lips and brought his phone away from his ear, pressing a button with his thumb that put the phone on speaker. He set the phone on the counter.
“Perhaps we will send you her ring finger, so you can be sure it’s her. You would recognize this lovely wedding ring, wouldn’t you, with the emerald on either side of the two diamonds?”
The manager, his name tag identified him as Arthur Bradley, gasped loudly.
“It sounds like I have suitably impressed you, Mr. Adams,” said the voice, not realizing who had made the noise. “You have something of value, there at the hotel, in the safe.”
“Who the hell are you!” Adams shouted viciously at the phone. All noise in the lobby stopped, every eye turned toward the drama that was unfolding at Reception.
“Do not call the police, or your wife will die. Get me what I want, or she will die. I will call back in five minutes. If you do not answer, your wife will die.” Several bystanders heard this last message, and a shocked murmur rolled through the lobby.
Adams looked down at his phone, now dormant on the counter. His left knee bent unexpectedly and he fell to the side like a rag doll, crashing into a woman who had come up to see what was going on.They both fell to the carpet. Bradley heaved himself up onto the counter and swung his legs over, hopping down onto the floor on the other side. He grabbed Adams under one arm while two other men rushed to help. One grabbed Adams other arm while the other helped the woman to her feet. She was crying, though she seemed uninjured. Adams was breathing heavily, trying to wave the men away.
“I’m fine,” he insisted, leaning against the counter. He did not seem fine.
“I’ve got 911 on the phone, finally,” Sharon said, almost shouting in her stress. She held the phone out toward Adams, who looked at it like it was a nuclear bomb.
“Oh my god! Didn’t you hear him?” he shouted. “Hang up! Now!!”
Sharon screamed and reflexively slammed the phone down into its cradle.
Adams turned to Bradley. “Where’s the manager!” he demanded.
“Sir, I am the manager,” said Bradley, trying to show calm. “Could you keep your voice—”
“They have my wife!” Adams shouted. “You want me to keep my voice down?” He was incredulous. “Where’s the manager?” he repeated, staring around.
“I am the manager, sir, my name is Arthur Bradley.” He instinctively straightened his tie.
“There was a woman, last night, when we checked in.”
“That was Miss Alcott. The night manager.”
“So you’re what, the day manager?”
“I am the general manager, sir, and we’ve got to call the police.”
Adams grabbed the man firmly by the upper arm. His grip was surprisingly strong for someone who seemed so lean. “I gave the woman, Alcott, something to put in the safe last night.”
“I need it. Right now. A blue box, gold hinges, gold lock. The slip says Ackerly on it, my wife’s name. I need it,” said Adams again, pushing his face into Bradley’s.
“Sir, we’ve got to call—”
“No police!” Adams shouted at him, flapping his arms in exasperation. “Didn’t you hear him? They’ve got my wife!”
“I don’t think-”
“I don’t care what you think!”
“The police will call back,” said a man standing off to the side. He had short red hair and a strong build. He was one of the men who had helped Adams when he collapsed.
Adams whirled on him.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“O’Brian. Chicago PD. Off duty, but I can help.”
“No police!” Adams shouted again. The caller had said no police but here they were already. Adams looked like a man about to die of fright.
The phone next to Sharon rang, and she jumped with a scream.
“Don’t answer it,” demanded Adams. “Do NOT answer it.” He turned back to the red-haired cop. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.
“Picking up friends from out of town for dinner,” O’Rourke said. “But listen, if you hang up on 911 they’ll just call back, and if you don’t answer, they’ll send a squad car down here. It’s protocol.”
Adams dug the fingers of both hands into the hair on either side of his head, as if he might squeeze his skull until the stress stopped. There was quiet for a moment.
“Sir,” began Bradley, but then the phone rang making them all jump.
“Don’t!” said Adams, lunging forward as if he might leap over the counter. Bradley reached out and took him by the arm, but Adams shrugged him off, took a step away, then turned back to him with a new fire in his eyes. He’d made his decision. “The blue box. Go get it. Right now!”
“We have to talk to the police,” Bradley continued calmly, still trying to tamp down the noise and fuss in his usually serene lobby. This sort of thing did not happen at The Drake.
“Are you refusing?” demanded Adams. “Because I don’t think you can legally do that.” He looked over his shoulder at the cop. “It’s my property, right? He can’t refuse to give me back my property!”
The cop opened his mouth to answer but at that moment Adams’s phone rang from its place on the wooden reception counter.
Everyone fell silent.
“It’s him,” said Adams in a hoarse whisper.
“Let me answer it,” said the cop, reaching his hand toward the phone.
“Are you crazy?” Adams clasped his hand onto the man’s outstretched wrist.
“Speaker phone, then.”
They locked eyes for a moment.
“I can help you,” said the cop.
Adams let go of the man’s wrist, and pushed a button on the phone.
“Mr. Adams?” The computerized voice asked into the hushed lobby. Nobody dared move. Fifteen people or more rooted to the spot. Their genteel afternoon turned into a news flash.
“Well, that’s good. I thought for a moment you might refuse to answer. You know what would happen then.”
Almost immediately, a woman’s scream burst from the tiny speaker.
“Stop it!” yelled Adams. He was leaning over the phone as it lay face up on the counter, his hands pressed flat on either side of it, staring down at it as if he could will himself through the screen.
The screaming stopped.
“Do you have what I want?”
“Yes,” said Adams instantly, whipping his head up to lock eyes with Bradley. Bradley looked at the cop, who nodded yes, and then the manager rushed from the lobby.
“And you didn’t call the police?”
“No, of course not.”
“Not even a little bit?” teased the voice. “Because it’s possible I have people watching the entrance to the hotel. It’s possible that if they see any police approaching, they will let me know. Would you like to know what happens then?”
“No police,” said Adams, in a voice that he hoped was reassuring. His slight latin accent had become more pronounced as he became more distressed.
“A black town car will roll up in front of the hotel in two minutes,” said the voice. “You will get inside it. You will be taken to a safe location, where you will give me the item and I will give you your wife.”
The cop was strongly shaking his head, indicating that this was a really bad idea. He waved his arms back and forth in front of his chest, a universal sign for no way.
“That’s crazy,” said Adams to the phone.
A door at the back of the reception area clicked open and Bradley came in, carrying a flat blue box the size of a hardcover book.
“Once I get in the car you’ll just kill me,” continued Adams, reaching his hand out for the box at the same time, but Bradley held it tight.
“Well, sir, it’s your choice. I can only give you my word that I will keep my side of the arrangement. You have no reason to trust me, but you have no options either. I don’t play games. Two minutes.”
The line went dead.
Adams scooped the phone off the counter. “Wait!” he shouted at it, but it was too late. He turned and looked at the cop.
“What do we do now?”
“The police will be here any minute, and we’ll take it from there.”
“No,” said Adams.
“They have procedures for this.”
“No,” repeated Adams emphatically.
O’Brian put his hands on his hips, and looked up at the ceiling, then gave a long exhale.
“We’ve only got one minute!” said Adams through gritted teeth.
“I’ll do it,” the cop said. He reached his hand out toward Bradley, who handed him the box across the counter. He turned and started for the door.
“What are you talking about?” asked Adams, bewildered.
“I’ll go get in the car, and deliver the—”
“That’s crazy,” said Adams. He grabbed the man by the elbow, and pulled the box out of his hand. “They must know what I look like if they have this planned so well.”
“And what happens when my wife sees you? You think she’s going to play along? She’s not an actress or a spy. They are torturing her!”
The words echoed through the lobby. The silence that followed was broken by the sound of a horn outside the lobby doors. The two men looked at each other, both knowing the horn was the pick-up car.
“Follow me,” hissed Adams, pulling him toward the door. “Don’t let them see you. Get the license number. Call the SWAT team or whoever, a helicopter. I’ll leave my phone on so you can trace it. 872, 414, 3414. Got it?”
“But you can’t…” called the manager, Bradley, from behind them. But he trailed off, uncertain what a man could or couldn’t do in this situation.
They were almost to the door.
“Promise me,” said Adams, grim determination in his voice. “Promise me you’ll find my wife and save her, no matter what happens to me.”
“I can only promise we’ll do our best.,” said the cop.
“Great,” said Adams with disgust, and walked down the stairs. He pushed through the door and out onto the street. He held his head high, a man going to the firing squad. The blue box clutched tightly in his left hand, his cell phone still gripped in his right.
As he crossed to the car, the cop looked through the window, holding his hand up behind him to warn everyone in the lobby to stay back. He watched as Adams slid the phone into his pocket and climbed into the back seat. The door closed and he disappeared behind tinted windows.
As the car pulled away, the cop rushed through the front doors of The Drake, just in time to see and memorize the license plate.
Then he turned toward his car own car, pulling his phone from his pocket as he ran. A crowd of hotel guests had gathered at the door to watch. He reached his car in seconds, punching a number in his speed dial as he went. He wrenched the door open and jabbed the button that started the car, throwing it into drive before he had even slammed the door. Pulling into traffic one handed, he looked up the street just in time to see the black town turn right on to North Lake Shore Drive and disappear into the fading afternoon light. He gunned the engine in pursuit.
Adams sat in the back seat of the black town car and let out a long, satisfied sigh. In the front seat the driver turned to look at him. She had Japanese features and short black hair trimmed to her jawline. Her dark eyes flashed with mirth.
“By the grin on your face,” she said, “I’m guessing it went well.”
He waved the blue box in his hand.
“Keep your eyes on the road, this would be a bad time to get in an accident.”
She turned forward, but looked up into her rear view mirror.
“Are the police in hot pursuit?” she asked, coyly.
Adams looked over his shoulder. “Si,” he said. “Here he comes, fast and furiously. Oh, wait, he seems to have taken a wrong turn on to Division. Oh well. Who will save us now?”
He couldn’t keep the smile off his face; the adrenaline was still coursing through his body. The feeling never got old.
“How did Danny do?” she asked from the front.
“Excellent,” exclaimed Adams. “Really top notch. We owe the man a bonus.”
“Do we, now?” asked the driver.
“Yes, Abby. No need to be greedy.” He shook the box.
“You make it sound like we are going to keep all those diamonds for ourselves. Have you forgotten our client?”
Adams exhaled. “Of course not. But we should still celebrate. Dinner?”
“That sounds perfect. Raisu?”
“Okay,” said the man, reaching up and pulling the blonde wig off his head. Underneath his hair was dark and lustrous. He gingerly peeled the goatee off as well. “But let’s stop at home first, I really need a quick shower.”
“Then home it is. Would you like to go through the park?”
“Yes, my love, you know I love to go through the park.”