The drive to Chicago was not unpleasant; I could see the changes in the foliage as I headed north from Kentucky. Autumn was in full swing and the few leaves that had begun to fall at home, along with some modest changes in the colors of the leaves, gradually gave way to bursts of color as the latitudes passed under the wheels of the Lexus. I fully expected that Chicago would be chilly with the fall winds coming off Lake Michigan, and I was not disappointed later after I had checked into the Drake and walked out onto Walton Avenue in the face of a stiff breeze and temperatures barely above freezing.
I strolled casually up the street on the side opposite the Millennium and gave the building a careful once-over. Walking on down the street for another block or so, I paused to inspect the display window of one of the stores that lined the street, an upscale shoe store catering to both men and women. Being the frugal guy that I am, I was aghast at seeing eight-hundred-dollar shoes there in the window. I couldn’t help wondering if it wouldn’t be cheaper to buy one shoe and have the other leg cut off. Turning from the window, I headed back the way I had come and lingered very briefly to watch people coming and going at the Millennium and walked on to the nearest corner where I could cross the street and get to the hotel’s lobby.
I guess I could have crossed in the middle of the street, but Chicago police are really picky about people not using crosswalks, and I certainly had no desire to draw attention to myself being accosted by a cop.
The front entrance of the Millennium is staffed by a doorman and a baggage handler. I had no problem simply walking through the front door without being questioned about being a hotel guest. I suppose I was dressed in a manner that didn’t draw undue scrutiny and people — both guests and non-guests — obviously are in and out of the hotel at all hours of the day and night.
The lobby is an impressive two-story space lavishly decorated in a period reminiscent of an earlier time in Chicago, though tasteful, and it reeked of opulence. It looked like it could have hosted a party the night before with flappers and illegal hooch. I found a complimentary copy of the Chicago Tribune and looked for an out-of-the-way chair where I could pretend to read the paper while I observed those coming and going through the area.
There is a wide stairway leading up to an open mezzanine, which contains several sitting areas. I headed up to find a seat somewhere near the ornamental rail surrounding the mezzanine where most of the lobby would be observable.
I’m not sure what or who I expected to see, but casual observation inevitably yields some bit of information that may eventually come in handy. I certainly didn’t expect to see L.T. and I didn’t. I also didn’t see anyone else familiar, but I learned where the restaurant and bar were located as well as the elevators and restrooms.
It’s amazing how, if one appears to know exactly where one is going and acts as if he has every right to be where he is, there is seldom anyone who will question his presence. I had assumed an air of being a hotel guest or of someone waiting to meet a hotel guest and was never questioned about why I was there.
Oddly, I’ve found this same attitude in many hospitals. If you appear to know exactly where you’re going and assume a semblance of authority, most hospital staff will never stop you to tell you that visiting hours haven’t started yet.
After about ninety minutes, I decided that I wouldn’t press my luck too far. Having spotted nothing out of the ordinary, I folded the paper and walked nonchalantly down and out the entrance heading back to the Drake.
After being in the Millennium, the Drake came across as somewhat shabby. It struck me as odd that two hotels so close together could offer such divergent settings. The Drake was definitely due for an upgrade, but I wouldn’t be there long enough to worry about it.
I still had two days before the scheduled meeting with L.T. and I decided to use them for a bit of sightseeing. I also determined that I would visit the Millennium twice more before our meeting, just to be sure about potential routes of escape and to further look for possible adversaries.
So the next day, after visiting a couple of Chicago’s museums and strolling for a while along Lake Michigan in the face of a hefty breeze, I decided that I would take my evening meal in the Millennium’s restaurant.
Returning to the Drake from my day of leisure, I showered and changed into a sport coat, slacks, and a tie — wanting to make myself as presentable as possible. My beard was still growing and filling in; I hoped it did not look too scruffy to offset my otherwise elegant appearance.
The restaurant was thankfully not too full when I arrived. As I was removing my topcoat, the maître d’ approached, asked if I would be dining alone, and moved to show me to a table. We moved through the dining room until I spotted the table I preferred — set against a side wall with the lighting somewhat dim.
I asked if I could have that table and he quickly obliged as it was probably one of the less desired tables in the place. He offered to take my coat, but I smiled and told him that I would simply place it on the other chair at the table.
“Enjoy your meal, sir.” He smiled. “Your waiter will be with you shortly.”
“Thank you,” I responded as he turned and walked back to the front of the restaurant.
Shortly, a well-dressed gentleman approached. He was wearing black trousers, a white, long-sleeved shirt, and a black bow tie. His black loafers reflected the pinpoints of light coming from the ceiling lights.
“Good evening, sir,” he began. “My name is William. I’ll be serving you this evening. May I bring you something to drink while you examine the menu?”
I had already scanned the wine menu and settled on a glass of Sobon Zinfandel wine. William left to retrieve the wine. When he returned, I was ready to order a grilled petite filet of beef with Lyonnaise potatoes and sauteed zucchini and squash.
After a very short time spent enjoying the wine, William returned with a steaming plate containing my dinner.
With expected efficiency, he asked if I needed anything else and when I replied negatively, he turned away saying he would check back on me shortly.
I had no doubt he would as I began the leisurely consumption of my meal, keeping my eye on the entrance to the restaurant as I did so.