Drake Hotel, Chicago

My meal at the Millennium passed unevent­ful­ly except for a cou­ple of some­what row­dy fel­lows who were ush­ered to a table near mine when I was halfway through the meal.  They had obvi­ous­ly been drink­ing before com­ing to the restau­rant and their over-indul­gence was exhibit­ing itself as some degree of rudeness.

William was tasked to serve these two as he had me, and even though he main­tained a high degree of cir­cum­spec­tion, it was obvi­ous that he was quite annoyed by their performance.

When he was not at their table tak­ing their order or deliv­er­ing it, sev­er­al crude remarks could be heard from them, most­ly regard­ing William’s race.  It was also obvi­ous that William and oth­ers in the restau­rant were hear­ing the same remarks as well.

Finishing a very sat­is­fy­ing meal and a sec­ond glass of wine, I motioned William over with the check and hand­ed him a suf­fi­cient amount of cash to cov­er the meal, the wine, and a gen­er­ous twen­ty-five per­cent tip.

He bowed slight­ly, thanked me, said he hoped I had enjoyed my meal, and sug­gest­ed I come back again.

I rose from the table and picked up my top­coat and slight­ly stag­gered toward the door, pass­ing close by the table where sat the two unruly gentlemen.

Feigning being some­what tip­sy, I also pre­tend­ed to trip on the hem of my top­coat which I was car­ry­ing and attempt­ing to don at the same time.  Doing all this, I heav­i­ly stum­bled onto the back of one of the men at the table, forc­ing him for­ward where his face went into his plate of food.  At the same time, the top of his head bumped a glass of water and a glass of beer in front of him, throw­ing both onto the lap of the man sit­ting oppo­site him. Both men were quick­ly some­what sobered as they simul­ta­ne­ous­ly rose from their seats as if to escape the hor­rors of the mess they had created.

Practicing a slurred speech, I offered effu­sive apolo­gies as I con­tin­ued to weave my way to the door, leav­ing the two men sput­ter­ing epi­thets and try­ing to brush drinks and sol­id food from their faces and clothes.

As my faked stag­ger took me past William, who looked at the whole scene with some dis­may, I gave him a quick wink and van­ished into the lob­by where I con­tin­ued to don my top­coat as I walked briskly to the front door, but not before see­ing a small grin on his face.

I was sched­uled to meet L.T. the next day so, after a stroll along Walton Avenue in the chilly Chicago night, I returned to the Drake and set­tled in for the evening.

As far as I could tell, every­thing seemed to be on the up-and-up.  I had not dis­cov­ered any fore­bod­ing con­di­tions that indi­cat­ed that this meet­ing was any­thing more than what L.T. had sug­gest­ed in his letter.

The next day dawned — if one could real­ly describe the begin­ning of the day thus­ly since it was gray and over­cast with humid­i­ty high enough that it was almost show­er­ing — for me at about eight-thir­ty.  I show­ered and head­ed down to Drake Bros for an in-house break­fast before going over to the Millennium for my meet­ing with L.T.  He had not stip­u­lat­ed a spe­cif­ic time to meet and as I felt no urgency in get­ting there it was near­ly eleven o’clock when I entered the hotel lobby.

I walked to the recep­tion desk and asked the thir­ty-ish gen­tle­man man­ning it to ring up Mr. Trane’s room and let him know that Michael Tate was there to see him.

After a brief phone con­ver­sa­tion, the recep­tion clerk advised me that Mr. Trane had asked that I come to his room, which was 416.

I head­ed over to the bank of ele­va­tors, entered one which had just arrived at the lob­by floor, and it dis­gorged a cou­ple of ladies obvi­ous­ly head­ing for the hotel beau­ty shop.  I punched the “four” button.

As I emerged from the ele­va­tor at the fourth floor, the first thing I did was to locate the fire stairs and then it was off to find 416, which was only a few steps from the ele­va­tor.  After knock­ing on the door and wait­ing only a few sec­onds, L.T. opened the door and — with a wide grin and an out­stretched hand — bade me come in.

With my usu­al cau­tion and a quick glance through the gap at the hinge side of the door, I stepped into the room and glanced quick­ly about.  The bed was par­tial­ly made up, obvi­ous­ly done so by L.T. because house­keep­ing had not been in yet, but the room was oth­er­wise tidy. A carafe of cof­fee was set­ting on the table.

“Michael,” began L.T. effu­sive­ly, “it’s good to see you again although I did­n’t expect it to be so soon after our return from Hawaii.  I see you haven’t changed, except for the beard.  Almost did­n’t rec­og­nize you. Still exer­cis­ing extreme cau­tion, look­ing to see if some­one was skulk­ing behind the door and check­ing out the room as soon as you entered.

“Come, sit down.  I’ve had some hot cof­fee made for the two of us so we can dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion.  Would you care for some­thing to eat?”

“No, thanks.  Just fin­ished break­fast a short while ago.  But cof­fee sounds good.”

“So, when did you arrive in Chicago, and where are you stay­ing?  I’m sure you came ear­ly to recon­noi­ter and to assure your­self that every­thing was on the up-and-up.”

“I guess you know me pret­ty well by now.  I got here day before yes­ter­day and I’m over at the Drake.  Not quite as nice as your digs, but pleas­ant enough.”

“Actually, Michael, I’m glad you checked every­thing out.  One can’t be too care­ful and with the both of us being cau­tious, it improves our chances of con­duct­ing busi­ness with­out hindrance.

“I know you’re anx­ious to know about the some­what cryp­tic let­ter I sent.  Here’s what’s going on, at least as far as I can tell.”

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

Series Navigation« The Chicago/Watseka Payback: chap­ter 3The Chicago/Watseka Payback: chap­ter 5 »