‘It’s not kick-you-in-the-face spicy, it’s just right’ read one of many flashing billboards as I walk these busy streets. I’ve been wandering aimlessly in this city for the past half hour, trying to find my way back to the hotel I’m staying at. Am I completely down on my luck? I forget to charge my phone last night, it dies by noon, and now I’m lost in Chicago- a city I’ve never been to. My friends warned me to be careful in this enormous city. I begin to worry that I’ve gotten myself even more lost. The streets are looking gloomier, and more deserted, the farther I walk in search of my hotel. I walk against the traffic of the sidewalks until I end up in a quieter area that I’ve seen before.
I spot a different hotel a little farther ahead of me and decide that I’ll stop there for directions. As I approach, though, I catch sight of a large figure sitting outside it; their slouched back against the dull brick wall and their knees to their chest. I stop five feet away, and as I do, they raise their head. A middle-aged looking man with dark hair and tired eyes is looking up at me.
“Excuse me…” I begin, shuffling awkwardly. “Do you know how I can get back to the Warwick hotel? My phone died a couple hours ago, and this is my first…”
The man perks up and he interrupts, “Oh, yeah, yeah, I know where that is, hold on bud,” The man pulls himself up and reaches his hand out to shake, “Name’s Aaron. If Warwick is where you’re trying to get, then you gotta go back up Third and cross over to Archer. After Archer take a right, and then the first right after that, then you should be back to the street Warwick’s on.”
I could see Aaron was looking around, but it wasn’t just any look; his eye movements were rapid, almost rushed. I wasn’t sure at all if I could trust this guy, but I know I want to get back to my hotel room.
At last, I nod in response to his directions as I reply, “Thanks a lot Aaron. You seem like a good guy. Here…”
Aaron must not have heard me because he looks like he’s about to sit back down, but I stop him; “Hey wait, I wanna thank you, man.” The tired-looking man looks back at me and he pauses.
A nod and a warm smile express his appreciation, as I slip my wallet out from my back pocket, open it up, and peer in to see how much I’ve got. Three Andrew Jackson’s, two Abe Lincoln’s, and a couple of George Washington’s. As I pinch one of the twenty-dollar bills between my index finger and my thumb, I feel the pressure of a cool, sharp blade being pressed against the side of my abdomen.
“Aaron, what are you doing man…” I quickly lowered my voice and finished with a stern tone, “You don’t need to do this. Just take the money I offered you, let me go, and I won’t have the police called on your ass.”