My office was on LaSalle Street in Chicago, just a couple of blocks down from the Chicago Stock Exchange. My job was that of a lowly cleric in the Legal Department of a top-name brokerage firm. Most of the time we dealt with routine, rather boring, regulatory matters, but occasionally we had some excitement. Our Department Head, the General Counsel, called us all into a meeting early one morning. A couple of FBI agents were to arrive at nine to sit in on a meeting with a client suspected of forging stock certificates.
“Jane, when Mr. Jenkins arrives in Reception, go and collect him and bring him here and into my office, offer him coffee, then go back to your desk and stay there until we’re done. We think it will be a short meeting,” the General Counsel instructed me. My desk was right outside and I could see most of what went on in that office. The FBI agents arrived and I brought them a pot of coffee. They looked just like the lawyers in the office – dark suits, plain shirts, boring ties. There was nothing intimidating about them and they were smiling and friendly towards me.
I noticed how quiet it was, looked up and saw that the offices and cubicles nearby had all emptied out. The hairs on the back of my neck started to rise. Were people afraid of a gunfight or perhaps of being taken hostage by a fleeing forger? I’m blessed with a lively imagination, but I had to put it on hold and do my job. The phone on my desk rang – it was Reception.
“Jane, Mr. Jenkins is here for his nine o’clock appointment with Mr. Wheeler.”
“Thanks Mary. I’ll be right there.”
Deep breathing on my way to Reception calmed me and I greeted him cheerfully, “How are you today, Mr. Jenkins?”
“Fine thank you,” said a small, nondescript man in a gray suit, with graying hair, and a grayish complexion. He was not at all what I expected for someone about to be nabbed by the FBI. Where was his thin mustache and little, pointy beard? His little, evil, black eyes? He didn’t look strong enough to grow much of a beard, but he did have little beady eyes, although they were watery and bluish.
“It’s this way,” I indicated. When we reached the office, I knocked, then opened the door and asked Mr. Jenkins if he’d like some coffee.
“No, thank you,” he said and went forward to shake hands with my boss. I shut the door and sat back down at my desk, pretending to be busily sorting papers. There was work to do, of course, but could you get stuck into a project in the middle of that situation? I began to plan what I would do if bullets began to fly, and to map an escape route. The cubicle walls were much too flimsy, but I could duck down behind my desk drawers – no bullet could get through a couple of layers of metal and wood, and reams of legal documents. I realized there probably was no escape route, I’d have to tough it out behind my desk.
No more than ten minutes later the office door opened and the FBI agents led a cowed and handcuffed Mr. Jenkins away to the place where white collar criminals live. I had never before seen such a look of complete dejection on a man’s face as I watched Mr. Jenkins and I wondered what kind of sentence he would have to serve. He must have been desperate to try such a thing, and I almost felt sorry for him.
Now everyone was back, nervously milling about and talking about the incident.
“You were so brave Jane,” several people told me, although I hadn’t done a single brave thing. The CEO, Jack Wild, came by to congratulate my boss and he even thanked me.
But our time in the limelight had to end, as phones were ringing, the mail was delivered and the stack of work on our desks hadn’t grown any smaller. The day became like any other. We all worked hard.
As the day moved into evening, instead of thinking about the FBI and Mr. Jenkins, I began thinking about what I would cook for dinner on Saturday evening. My husband Tom’s head of department was bringing his wife over for dinner at our apartment. Tom teaches physics at the University of Chicago and I wanted to make a good impression. I planned to visit the good butcher’s shop in Oak Park for some really good beef to cook beef bourguignon, using Julia Child’s famous recipe, and follow it up with fresh raspberry mousse and whipped cream. I made myself hungry just thinking about it. Actually it was time to go home, so I really was getting hungry. I packed up my desk, said goodnight to the few who were still working, collected my raincoat from the closet and headed for Reception and the elevators. Mary, our Receptionist, was packing up too.
“You didn’t notice a strange man out there on the trading floor, did you?” she asked me.
“They’re a pretty strange lot, Mary, but there’s only a few left and they all belong to us!” I said, because I thought she was joking.
“Good. There was a weird looking guy who came in a while ago and just ran back there. I called Security and they looked but couldn’t find anything wrong.”
“Perhaps he just got lost?”
“Or perhaps he was casing the joint,” and we laughed, but our laughter was cut short by a piercing scream from the back office, and Mary’s “weird looking guy” came tearing out towards the elevators, where I waited. In his hand was a fancy looking handbag (I noticed the “Coach” tag), he was wild-eyed and snorting and spitting as his arms and legs pumped and he tried to catch his breath. The elevator arrived, the door opened and he jumped in, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me in with him. He pressed a button, the doors closed and we started to descend. He stuffed the coach bag inside his jacket and pulled out a small but evil-looking knife,
“Keep still and shut the fuck up, or I’ll cut you, bitch!” he yelled at me, although I was in shock and hadn’t said a word. Maybe I was whimpering. So I shut up.
The elevator suddenly lurched to a stop and the lights went out. Dead silence, dead black elevator. I felt sweat trickling down my back and I was trembling. I’d never been so terrified in my life. An eerie, red light came on around the elevator control panel, which made my attacker look like the devil himself. He wailed as though he was in pain, thumping on the elevator buttons, swearing without words. Then I realized he was crying.
“They’ll fix it quickly,” I said in what I hoped was a soothing voice.
“Shut up bitch!” was all I got for my trouble, and he swung the knife in an arc at me. I couldn’t help it, I was crying and I sank down to the floor, shaking, my breath ragged.
A deep voice outside called out “this is the Fire Department, we’re gonna open the elevator door and get you guys out, OK?”
“No cops, or I cut her.”
“No cops, just firemen. Stand back from the door.”
The door eased open and two burly firemen stood there, one holding an axe, one a pry bar. But our feet were level with their waistlines.
“You can climb down or wait till we winch the elevator down. But why don’t you let the young lady go? It’ll be much easier on you when they catch you.”
“Ain’t gonna catch me, asshole. Winch us down,” and he swung the knife out towards the fireman.
One of the firemen left, but I was relieved that the second one stayed. It seemed to take forever to get the elevator down to the right level, but as soon as it was done, my attacker pulled me up and held the knife to my throat as he eased out.
“Get away, keep away, or I cut her,” he kept saying , as we eased along from the elevator to the door on LaSalle Street.
I have always loved the old building I worked in, especially its marble pillars and floor, the sweeping staircases, and all the gleaming brass. It was a beautiful pink and grey marble, and I always felt happy to set foot on it in the morning. But this evening it seemed such a great distance from the elevators to the door and the marble felt cold. His grip round my neck was hurting me and I was afraid I would fall and get cut in the process. But we got there. He pushed me out through the door, and along the street to the alley, where he suddenly threw me down to the ground and took off down the alley running like the wind.
Then I was on a stretcher being lifted into an ambulance. They must have given me something because I don’t remember any more until I woke up in a hospital room, with Mary and my boss Mr. Wheeler, sitting beside the bed.
“Jane, how are you feeling?” they asked me in unison. “One of us will stay here with you until Tom arrives – he’s on his way.”
“Did they catch him?”
“Yes, and he’s a sad and sorry character, I must say. Apparently there was no money in the purse he snatched, just credit cards. I suppose he thought he’d find money in a brokerage firm, where people go to invest their money, I don’t know. The doctor said you didn’t seem to be badly hurt, but that you’d need some time to get over the trauma. Once again today Jane you were very brave.
“I didn’t have much choice.”
“Mary deserves our thanks too. She handled the whole situation really well, calling Security, and then shutting down power to the elevator when he grabbed you. That was really quick thinking, Mary.”
“I wanted to stop him, and shutting him up in an elevator with no power was the only thing I could think of at the time. But I was really afraid you were going to get hurt Jane.”
“I don’t think he really wanted to hurt me, just to use me to get away. You know, when the power went off in the elevator he was crying. I don’t think he’s very old.”
Tom arrived, looking so worried it made me feel guilty. The hospital wanted me to stay overnight and I was happy they let Tom stay in my room too. Mr. Wheeler wasn’t expecting me at work the next day, Tom had no lectures and stayed with me, and the doctors let me go home in the morning, after I talked with the Police.
They told my abductor’s sad story. Braden is young, only seventeen, he has two younger brothers, there’s no father around and his mother has cancer. She can’t afford the medicine she needs and Braden is desperate to earn money, to find money, even to steal money. Mr. Wheeler was correct, he did pick our office because he thought the people who came in were rich and would have money they planned to invest. He knows very well he did wrong, but he is in a desperate situation. Unless he gets help from somewhere, he will try again.
Now here’s the part where I had to get the box of tissues – it’s like a miracle. Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Wild, our CEO, will pay for Braden’s mother’s medicine and cancer treatment, and help out with food and housing costs until she is well enough to work again. They have offered Braden a job as a runner, to learn the brokerage business from the ground up. His school says he is good at math, so he might be a natural for this business. I can’t wait to see him on the trading floor, wearing his blue jacket, papers in hand, and running fast between our office and the Stock Exchange. And I know he can run fast.
Saturday morning came and I was feeling good, so we decided to keep our dinner date with Tom’s boss. Such nice people, and they seemed to really enjoy the food! I’m always nervous about cooking for other people, especially important people like my husband’s boss. They did notice the abrasion on my cheek from when it scraped the pavement, although I tried to cover it up with makeup. And I still had a bandage on my sprained wrist, so after some bad jokes about Tom beating me up, I promised to tell the true story after dinner. Tom prepared the way,
“My wife Jane works as a legal secretary in a big brokerage firm. I know she is very valuable to them because they told me so. She will tell you that most of the time her job is mundane, repetitive, even boring, and about the most excitement they can expect is being stuck in the elevator when the power goes out. But once in a while it gets really exciting. Jane, over to you.”