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.”