On Wednesday, my wife left town for a business trip. OWIF is what she left in her wake.
The dark green car sped off, dropping pieces of cracked plastic and leaving a dark smear of rubber that stayed visible even through the light drizzle that came down. Behind, the semi’s engine rumbled as it idled. Too big to turn, the man had instead opted to brake after he had failed to crush the car and the two people inside it.
He was six foot four, or just a shade taller. His muscles ached from the strain of the day; it had been years since a project had veered so far off the plan. His thin, wiry frame was perspiring under his clothes, a heavy wool suit and black overcoat that seemed perfectly sensible for Chicago in the middle of autumn.
His had skin that was dry and grey, with a long face that didn’t grow a beard so much as grow hard. When he was younger, his face would dull a razor blade in one sitting. Now, grown and middle aged, he keeps keeps his razor blades sharp for reasons other than shaving.
The tall man turned back to the semi and walked up to it slowly. He needed to know who was driving the girl and where they were going. He closed his eyes and recalled the report he had been given that morning, the report that he read over and over until its details were burned into his memory.
Little girl, nine years old, wearing knit hat, light brown hair. Flight 454 from Buffalo, New York, arrival at 8:34am. Our Contact confirmed that she got on the flight and that the flight had taken off. “One handler,” the Contact had stated. “Middle aged man, caucasian. Five foot eight, 160 pounds. Balding, dark brown hair.”
At the sound of sirens he snapped his eyes open. The police were coming. He needed to get off the road. He whipped open the door to the cab of the semi and grabbed his satchel, a heavy nylon bag that caused him to grunt as he lifted its bulk off the floor. He turned it over and inspected the bag. A little blood from the previous driver had ended up on the bottom of the bag, but not so much that it was noticeable. He wouldn’t attract attention with it, at least not until he could replace the satchel.
He jumped out and left the keys in the truck, engine running. He couldn’t take the truck, as the shipping company that owned it and that employed the dearly departed driver would certainly have a GPS tracking chip on it. He looked around the semi one time to make sure that he left nothing that could be traced to him, then sprinted for the edge of the highway.
There was a copse of trees beyond the chain link fence that marked off the interstate from the rest of the northwest side of the city. Six, seven long steps and he was at the fence, climbing it with one smooth motion that barely broke his stride. He was in the copse when the first police car arrived at the semi. He crouched low in the trees, froze, and waited for the two cops to circle the truck, guns drawn and voices barking.
When he was sure that the copse of trees was not in the peripheral vision of either policeman, he made a beeline for the sidewalk. He didn’t bother to run softly as he had been trained to do; the sound of the sirens swamped out any footfalls he made. When he got to the sidewalk he slowed to an easy amble, taking care to mark anyone on the street that may have noticed him jump out from the trees.
The street was almost empty; the light rain had driven most people indoors. When in Rome, he thought, as he pulled a free alternative music newspaper from a newsbox and held it over his head as most pedestrians would. He also did his best to feign irritation at the rain, in case anyone in any of the storefronts saw. As he walked, he kept his ears peeled to the sounds of police sirens heading to the now-empty truck. He tried to clear his mind.
Contact says the handler has made arrangements for a driver to pick them up at O’Hare when the plane lands. They have no luggage, so you must move fast to beat them to the driver. Handler and girl have been told that the driver will be waiting for them a half hour before scheduled arrival to catch them in case the plane lands early.
He walked past an irritated young woman with a small lapdog. Even in the rain, the dog sniffed at trees and benches, looking for a place to relieve itself. The woman grumpily tugged at the dog’s leash. “Come on, Max, hurry up.” The tall man discreetly covered his face with the newspaper as he passed her. He needed a quiet place to make the phone connection.
After a block he passed a storefront without the lights on. “Taco Burrito King,” the sign said, dark and faded. A large handwritten placard was in the window. “Pardon our dust! We’re renovating and will be back soon!”
The tall man stepped back. The front of the building was all glass, and there was still enough light seeping through the clouds to make the front room dangerous. He peered in. The kitchen was walled off from the dining room. That would have to do.
He walked around to service alley of the burrito place, past a shoe repair store, and walked up to the rear delivery door. It had a standard deadbolt. The tall man reached into his front pants pocket. He fished past the cell phone he carried pulled out a pair of metal rods, one of them bent into a ninety degree angle at the very end. He worked the straight rod into the bottom of the deadbolt, then the bent rod.
It took him twenty seconds to pick the lock, or at most, thirty. The deadbolt slid open with a click and he slipped into the door and closed it softly behind him.
Handler has already passed the package to the girl, and may separate from her to check path to driver before allowing her and package outside.
The tall man moved to the back of the kitchen and kneeled on the floor, pulling the cell phone out of his pocket. Small drops of rainwater rain ran off his overcoat onto the floor. He turned the phone on, then punched in the sixteen digit code needed to unlock it.
Handler is unarmed and is carrying false identification. Girl is also carrying false identification.
The phone flashed softly as it looked for a signal. Satellite phones always took a while to connect, and he was inside a building of unknown age. Older buildings sometimes shielded the signal worse than newer buildings.
Driver is mostly likely armed, and mostly likely trained. Contact says that driver will be picking up handler and girl using car of rare color, make, and model to reduce chance of mistake, mostly likely a dark green Oldsmobile Aurora or similar GM car.
The phone connected, and the tall man shook the water off his hand and typed. GIRL AND DRIVER GOT AWAY. UNKNOWN IF WE HIT THE WRONG DRIVER EARLIER OR IF THERE WERE TWO DRIVERS SENT.
The response came back within a minute. RECEIVED. POLICE CONNECTION HAS ID OF 2ND DRIVER LICENSE PLATE.
The tall man heard the sound of jangling keys on the other side of the rear door as well as the sound of two adult men laughing. He jumped up and grabbed a carving knife from the stack of clean dishes and moved silently to the door as it opened.
The satellite phone flashed on the floor where the tall man left it. 2ND CAR REGISTERED TO MARK N——, 4713 NORTH WILMONT AVENUE, CHICAGO.
Ten minutes later the tall man shook the rain off his coat and picked the phone up off the floor.
[end of part 5]