by Peter Cones
“Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!” The blaring fire alarm rang throughout the apartment building. Panic-stricken adrenaline filled my arteries pumping blood throughout my body.
“What the hell is going on?” Shouted the annoying neighbor from across the hall, as he pranced to the stairwell in a desperate plea to escape. His name is Steve, but his friends call him Bo Jangles. I know this because on several occasions they come stumbling home drunk, making the most ridiculous noise at 4 o’clock in the morning banging on walls, slamming doors, and yelling down the hallways. “It’s all in good fun.” He always says. I have called the front desk on him a handful of times, but his shenanigans cease for only a week or two if I am lucky. To say I feel utter disgust when I look at him would be a serious understatement. His long, brown, disheveled hair looks like he has not seen a shower, or barber, in years. He isn’t very tall either, but what he lacks in height he gains in attitude. I feel like he is probably an only child because he is as spoiled as they come and it doesn’t seem to ever go to work. Who can go out every night, come home in the early hours of
morning, and still function at a well-paying job? Any time we cross paths in the hallway he walks like he has something to prove, but always talks to me like we are long lost brothers.
I rushed down the stairwell intentionally a few people behind Steve. The stairwell was dark, musty, and seemed smaller than ever before with so many bodies flooding into it at once. As we were all trying to file out in an orderly fashion, the firefighters began running up the stairs with their heavy gear and masks on. I was on level two, almost out! I had lost sight of Steve by now, “Thank God” I thought to myself. Unfortunately, I could still hear him screaming in hysterics, “What the hell is going on? Does anyone know? I don’t want my apartment to burn up!”
Once outside, it was dark and cold. The fall weather was slowly creeping in trying to
postpone winter as long as possible. I tried to find my way to the grassy field across the street. There was a softball field that everyone was piling into. The field, usually hosting weekend family get-togethers, was now a haven for the families abandoned from their homes. Everyone looked dazed and confused, but waking from your bed in the middle of the night to rush out into the dewy cold of early morning can prove to cause such confusion.
I could see across the way that Steve was obviously lost, mentally that is. He was searching for anything that felt familiar. Why he always blew situations out of proportion will always remain a mystery to me. I tried to avoid eye contact with him, but then it happened. He locked eyes with me and darted his short self right over to my direction. Inside I was cringing at the thought of having to draw up a conversation with him. He thought we were brothers in a past life and I couldn’t feel more opposite about that thought. We were total opposites in every since of the word. I was an athlete, a businessman, tall, well-kept blonde hair, socially liked, good with the ladies, and responsible.
Steve jumped and dodged to get his way through the crowd and he finally succeeded.
“Billy, do you know what is going on here?” He exclaimed. “I had just got home from the bar and was about to go to sleep and then the alarms starting going off! It almost scared the pee right out of me!”
I could smell the alcohol on his breath as he spit his sentences in my face; he clearly wasn’t lying about being at the bar. If it was possible to get drunk from smelling alcohol, I am pretty sure it would have happened to me.
“No, I don’t know what is going on,” I hesitantly mumbled. Why did I hate talking to him so much? “I don’t see any smoke, so that’s a positive sign,” I tried to reassure him. I was trying to calm him down. Other people were probably panicked as well, but everyone else could control their emotions. Steve could not.
As more police and fire sirens screamed closer and closer, I began to think something must be serious. Even when someone pulls the fire alarm as a prank, they send out a few trucks, but they never continue to send out more and more.
“Do you hear that Billy?! More sirens!” stating the obvious. Steve was always a pro at doing that. I tried to reassure him again, “I am sure everything is under control because I still don’t see any smoke.”
Just about that time Lucy came up to us. Lucy lived in apartment 546, three doors down from me. She always seemed to be very honest with a bubbly personality. She was also always positive. I talked to her a few times about my annoyance with Steve and she would always try to make me see the positives in the situation. She reminded me of my mom. She was in her late 50s, but she looked like she had always taken good care of herself because she seemed 10 years younger then her actual age. Her husband had past away 5 years ago, so she decided to move to the city to keep herself young. She always told me, “I am not going to stop living because Fred is gone, I am going to stay as young as possible.” She certainly did do that. She was young at heart, young in spirit, and young in her mindset. Being only 30 years old, I looked up to her a lot because of her outlook on life.
“Hi Billy and Steve, do y’all know what is going on here? I was having the best dream and it was ruined by those god awful alarms going off.” She exclaimed in the most southern accent ever heard. That’s another reason why she reminded me so much of my mother; that southern twang was hard to come by in the Chicago city.
“NO!” Steve exclaimed. “But I wish they would let us know something because it is getting extremely cold out here!” Before I could even say a word to Lucy, the hostage rescue team vehicle stormed around the corner with the bold yellow letters, FBI HRT, plastered on the side of the van.
“What the hell…” I questioned nervously. Simultaneously, Steve broke down crying and screaming, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” The crowd was a mix of emotions as well. Some people shouting, “What’s going on?” Then some people crying, “I can’t believe this is going on right now!” I saw a mix of turmoil in people’s faces and eyes, especially since we didn’t initially think it was anything major and then it became a full-blown situation. People always considered Chicago to be a very dangerous city, but in the part of town that I lived in I had never seen any crime take place. Only on a few occasions have I heard of bad things happening, but it was never even that serious. I have lived here for 7 years and always felt completely safe. Nothing like this had EVER happened in this complex for sure.
The police chief interrupted my thoughts with an announcement. He climbed up the fire truck ladder with a big mega phone in hand as if with this device he could speak to the world. Did he not realize the commotion of the residence? He stood up there for a good five minutes while everyone hushed each other to silence. Trying to contain Steve’s emotions is really what everyone’s concern should have been. I think he was the last one to pipe down.
“As you can see, we have a situation going on here.” The chief hollered, stating the obvious. Like we didn’t know there was a situation going on. We were woken in the middle of the night to sirens blasting, forced to come outside in the early morning chill, and he was telling us we have a situation! “There is a hostage situation happening on the 8th floor, so for everyone’s safety we decided to evacuate the entire building. This is still very much an active hostage situation, so we would like your cooperation and understanding. We will be walking around providing blankets for those of you that don’t have jackets. That is all we have at this time, please stand by for further instructions.”
Lucy, Steve and I were huddled around each other now. It was beginning to get colder and for some reason I didn’t even care about Steve’s annoyance anymore. Maybe I was using him for his body heat, but I was ok with that because who knew how long we would be out there. “I wonder who is involved in the hostage situation,” Lucy said. Police officials were running all over the place. They looked so unorganized, but they all kept pointing up to the balcony on the far right end. “Was that the infamous apartment that was causing all this chaos so early in the morning?” I thought.
I mentioned what I saw to Lucy and Steve, “I think that’s the apartment! Look, they all keep pointing to it!”
“I think you’re right!” Exclaimed Lucy.
“That’s Jordan and Amanda’s apartment!” Steve screamed!
“Who is Jordan and Amanda and how do you know them?” I questioned. He did know a lot of people in our complex. I am not quite sure how he knew everyone because most of the time he was out drinking, or at home sleeping doing what typical 22 year olds do.
“Amanda and my sister are good friends. They went to high school together and then Amanda moved here to Chicago. She is the reason I moved to this complex in the first place!” Steve broke down even more, “I really hope that isn’t her apartment they are talking about. I know she was having issues with her husband, but I didn’t think it would come to this. It just can’t be. I told her things would get better. She wanted to leave him and I told her not to.” He sobbed.
I begin to have an overwhelming sense of compassion for Steve and I began to realize that I had completely misjudged him. First of all, I was shocked that he wasn’t an only child! He was annoying, yes, I don’t think that will ever change, but he was also a very caring person. Seeing him become so emotional made me realize that sometimes there are other sides to a person that we do not always consider. This guy was deeply upset so I told Steve, “Let’s go look in the crowd for Amanda so we can rule out whether it is actually her or not.” He agreed and we went to start searching through every person standing around. Lucy jumped on board as well and started hollering, “Amanda” with that southern twang. In that moment I knew it probably was Amanda upstairs in that room being held hostage by her abusive husband, but I had to keep Steve positive, just like Lucy would have done for me.
I kept telling Steve, “The cops are here, they train for situations like these, I am sure this will all be ok in the end. Let’s just keep trying to find her.” Steve had now become very unusually quiet. I had never heard him this quiet. It was as if he lost his voice. He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t talking. He was blank. His face had no expression anymore. The man that was once full of emotion and excitement now had none. It was as if he knew more than he was willing to tell. He acted like he knew her fate already. He squatted down in a corner of the cold, damp softball field and began to throw up continuously. I, for once, did not know what to do. I decided to tell the officers the information that I had and see if it was of any use to them. I told Steve I would be right back and left to dart over to the unorganized group of officers. I found an officer and explained to him what Steve had told me. He confirmed that it was that apartment, but said they already knew all of that information and that I should return to the softball field and let them do their job. I felt helpless.
I went back over to Steve, who had finished throwing up and told him, “The officer said it was Amanda’s apartment they were dealing with, but they said they had it under control.” Steve looked up at me with hope in his eyes and in that same moment we heard a loud “BANG!” We both knew what had just happened. The sound of a gunshot seemed to be a universal sound that all recognized and understood. Steve screamed in sobs like I had never seen before. “Amanda! Amanda! Amanda!” Steve desperately repeated her name over and over as if it would bring her back and reverse the fate just placed upon her. I was beginning to feel sick as well. Never did I think we would be in this situation together, but for once, I was willing to be there for him even though I didn’t know what to say or do.