Working late turns out to be a bad idea.
|“Night, Jane. Don’t work too late.”
“I won’t, Barb. Have a good night. I’ll see you Monday.”
I had one more stack to file. It just didn’t pay to take a vacation with the way the work piled up while I was gone, but I was glad I had decided to come in today even if it was Friday. With everything caught up, Monday wouldn’t be so hectic.
I had worked at Carter Chemicals almost three years now as their receptionist. We sold all kinds of cleaning products. My office, administration only, was on the second floor of the Darling Bank Building in downtown Greenville, a suburb of Philadelphia. We occupied one quarter of the third floor with three other local companies, two insurance agencies and the local Builders’ Association.
I loved my job and got along with everyone in the office. As the receptionist, my desk was out front with no privacy, but I didn’t mind. I enjoyed talking to all the interesting people who came in and out. I shared space with the copy machine, file cabinets, a computer and a small area of visitor seating. The bathrooms, across the common hallway from our entry door, were shared with the other three offices.
Sliding the last letter into its folder, I pushed the drawer in and turned to grab my purse. That’s when the lights went off. It was deathly quiet in the second floor office with no air conditioning hum or fluorescent light buzz. The only dim glow came through the one window blind and the computer screen. The battery backup had kicked in.
I stood still and waited thinking it might just be momentary, but the power did not come back on. Without the elevator, I’d have to go down the steps in a pitch black stairwell, not a pleasant thought. Searching around in my purse, I found my cell and called Jim, my husband. He would be picking me up soon.
“Hi, Sweetie. I’m on my way.”
“Hey, Hon. I just finished up and the power’s gone off here. Do you want to stay on the phone with me while I go down the stairs?”
“Why don’t you stay right there? I’m almost at your building now. I’ll bring the flashlight and come up and get you.”
“Oh, that sounds great. I’ll wait. Bye. Love you.”
“Love you, too. Bye.”
I forgot to look at the time, but it seemed like it had been more than long enough for Jim to have arrived. I continued to wait thinking maybe traffic had held him up.
Carefully, I made my way over to the computer and sat down. Since it’s working, I might as well check the news. Typing in CNN dot com, I started reading the scrolling news headlines. My breath caught in my throat as I read one in particular.
“Two armed assailants have entered the Darling Bank on Northwest Forty-Third Street and are holding several bank employees hostage according to an email sent from the bank minutes ago. No further information is available at this time.”
Quickly, I grabbed my cell and dialed Jim. No one answered as the number continued to ring and ring. When the request to leave a message came on, I hung up and put my cell on vibrate.
Another message was scrolling across the computer screen.
“CNN has learned the armed assailants holding hostages at Darling Bank are demanding five million dollars in ransom for their five hostages. Stay tuned for further developments.”
My mind was racing. Was Jim one of the hostages having been accosted when he came looking for me? Should I call 911 and let someone know I was on the second floor? Quietly, I walked to the window and lifted one slat of the blind just a crack. It was enough to see the cordoned-off area below rimmed by police cars and other official-looking vehicles. Also, I could see a couple news vans in the distance, CNN one of them.
Hearing a clicking noise, I surmised the stairway door had opened and closed. Then I heard footsteps in the hallway. Quickly, I put the computer on power save to darken the screen and, sliding off my chair, I crawled underneath my desk. If anyone opened the door, I wouldn’t be seen. Trying not to make a sound, my oxygen level dropped to the point where I thought I would pass out. I could hear footsteps of more than one person, but they were being mighty quiet, too. They paused at my door, the handle turned and the door, itself, began to swing open. I held my breath as a gun came through the opening. Then a person entered my office in a getup like SWAT teams on television.
Without showing myself, I hollered, “I’m the receptionist. I’m hiding under the desk.”
After that, everything is sort of a blur. They took me to the roof where I slid down something to some waiting firemen.
“I think my husband may be one of the hostages. He was on his way to pick me up. Do you know if he is?” Desperately, I directed my question to anyone who would listen, but everyone was too busy to pay much attention to me. They helped me to a waiting ambulance and told me to stay put.
Somebody laughingly yelled, “They’re asking for fried chicken. That’s a big drop from five million!”
Not much later, I saw a chicken-hostage exchange being made at the door to the Bank. The SWAT officer was running toward the ambulance with……..Jim!
Jumping out, I threw my arms around him, “Oh my God, I’m glad I didn’t know for sure you were in there. Are you okay?”
“I’m great now.” Looking toward the Officer, Jim asked, “Can we go home?”
“We need to ask you some questions. It won’t take long. You come with me.” Noticing my fallen expression, he added, “You can come, too.”
We went into the vehicle the SWAT team used where they questioned Jim about the layout of the area inside, where the hostages were, and what he thought of the two assailants.
“They’re just young kids. I think they were walking past the Bank and decided on the spur of the moment to do this. Honestly, I don’t think they really have guns. They keep their hands in the pockets of their sweatshirts. Nobody’s actually seen a weapon.”
After thanking Jim for being helpful and taking down our personal information, the Officer said we could go home. Another Officer escorted us to our car.
Later that evening this story appeared on CNN….
“SWAT Team Saves Bank Hostages. SWAT officers stormed Darling Bank late this afternoon after a standoff with two alleged gunman holding four Bank employees hostage and demanding five million dollars. The decision to storm the Bank was made after information given by a hostage who was released in exchange for fried chicken. None of the hostages or others involved sustained any injuries. One of the alleged gunmen escaped and is still on the loose at this hour. He is believed to be armed and dangerous. After a thorough sweep of the Bank Building with dogs, police continue to search for that suspect. The other suspect remains in custody. More information will be reported as it becomes available.
Jim and I talked long into the night about what had happened. He figured the police had turned off the power to make the robbers uncomfortable, but when he asked one of the officers about it, he told him it was the robbers' idea, thinking it would keep anyone from pressing the alarm. Ironically, that's what alerted the Bank's security service. The thieves were so worried about the alarm they forgot to lock the door until after Jim came waltzing through. When his cell rang from my call, one of the assailants grabbed it and threw it in a trashcan. That night, I made a promise to Jim and to myself. I would never work late again no matter what.