I drove to the Metra station and took the train into the Loop, simply because parking in Chicago is a horror story all by itself. Since I’m way too cool (i.e., too poor) to have an iPhone with GPS, I dug around in my faded Louis until I found the directions I’d printed off of Google Maps. Even then, it took me a few minutes of walking the wrong way, turning around and backtracking before I had my bearings. Of course, I’d anticipated this, and planned my schedule accordingly. Finally, I found the right building. By the time I stepped into the vast air-conditioned lobby, it was nearly 12:10.
The building itself had a reception desk almost like a hotel concierge, as most Downtown complexes do. I told the reception clerk my name.
“And who are you meeting with?” he asked.
“It’s either going to be Chantal Norris or…Alex Wilhelm?” Was that his name? I wondered, as I got just a little bit anxious.
“Drivers’ license, please,” he said.
I fished it out of my wallet and handed it to him with two fingers, like it was an American Express Platinum or something equally impressive. For some reason, I always did this – even though I’d never owned a card worth even remotely that much. It just seemed like a good habit to get into.
“All right, Miss VanBrandt.” The machine printed out a ticket with a number and a barcode, which he handed to me.
“Scan this at the elevators to your left.”
“Thank you,” I said, and headed in the direction he pointed.
The printed card opened the turnstile granting access to the elevators that went up to the 16th floor. I checked the notes I’d scribbled on the Google printout: Floor 14, Suite 1. So far, so good. I walked into the first open elevator, rode it up for an ear-popping 30 seconds until it stopped with a ding on Floor 14. After a nerve-wracking few seconds, the doors rolled open. I stepped into a lobby with polished black marble tiles and looked for Suite 1.
There it was, a frosted glass door imbued with the letters A. S. P. in a diploma-like font, with the customary balance scale for a logo. I pushed on the door, and it opened easily; I’d expected it to be heavier.
A girl about my age – Chantal, I assumed – sat at an expensive-looking desk with a headset on her ear. She smiled, motioned for me to sit down, and quickly resumed typing. I settled on a soft leather couch that nearly swallowed me whole and grabbed the latest issue of Time from the coffee table.
She looked exactly as she sounded on the phone: sweet, attentive, preppy-chic. Her hair was pulled into a high sock bun, which I seriously hoped did not contain an actual sock. When she finished her call she looked at me, still typing profusely.
“You must be Tess?” she half-asked, half-assumed.
I shut the magazine. “Yes. And you’re … Chantal?” I hesitated on purpose so I wouldn’t sound too desperate.
“Yes. Mr. Wilhelm will be out in a moment. He’s just finishing a conference call.”
I nodded. “All right. Thanks.”
A few minutes later, the door on her side of the room opened. Out stepped a man I recognized from the picture on the website: tall, lean, broad-shouldered, in a very tailored suit. He could have been a present-day Don Draper, only with bleach-blond hair and eyes the color of black holes. In contrast to his hair, his eyebrows were dark.
For a second I thought of the devil’s Latin name, Lucifer, which loosely translates to “Angel of Light”. Maybe that’s the look he was going for.