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Later that same Thursday night, an evening walk through the heart of town with Elise helps me clear my mind. Elise happily chats away, talking animatedly about her day's highlights. It's a joy being in her presence. To be honest, there's nothing I love more than listening to her sweet voice.
As we amble along, a cool breeze fans our exposed cheeks. Glitter and glamor in the brightly lit showcase windows exhilarate us somewhat. We weave in and out of pedestrians. Gradually, my thoughts wander away from the challenges at work.
High above us, a helicopter flies in lazy circles with no particular destination in mind. Nobody pays it any attention. At this hour, Johannis Street looks docile and normal. Colorful clubs and cozy bars are just coming to life. Party people are streaming in and out of them.
I take Elise's hand in mine and squeeze it slightly. She smiles radiantly up at me. For a second, I am lost in her beautiful brown baby eyes. I tell her how much I love her, and she kisses me spontaneously.
I momentarily lose all sense of time and place. Someone roughly bumps into me from behind. It happens a second time. I curse and look over my shoulder. Two muscular men in casual jeans and black jackets stare back at me. Their cold eyes are suddenly very familiar. Despite the red caps pulled low over their faces, I immediately recognize them from pictures I've seen on TV. Handal's associates! My heart begins to hammer. These two men have been at the center of a police APB for the last couple of days. In that very moment, as the realization of our predicament sinks in, one of them presses the muzzle of a pistol into my side.
Oh dear God! Oh dear God! I think over and over as a cold chill runs down my spine.
"Put your hands where we can see them. Don't make a sound. Don't alert anyone. Do as we say, and nobody gets hurt," one of them says.
I don't believe him. Not with a gun sticking in my side.
Elise's eyes grow wide with dread. Is she about to scream? Thoughts of bullets tearing through my rib cage send my hand flying up to cover her mouth. She starts to shake violently.
"It's okay, Elise. Just do as they say. We will be fine. Trust me." I wink and try to smile.
But she doesn't believe me. I don't believe myself either.
"Walk," the second man orders.
We stumble forward on uncertain legs. How blind can all these pedestrians be? Nobody seems to notice our predicament. A few empty stares from one or two onlookers is all we get. My throat constricts with the overwhelming urge to shout for help. But I do not. Obviously, resistance is futile. That would only get us killed. With growing despair, we comply, walking down the street as directed.
Terrified, we shuffle past Titty-Twister and then Rosenkeller. To the right, numerous sidewalk tables are filled with late-night, carefree diners. Everyone seems to be happy. No one discerns our desperation.
Up ahead, a group of teenagers boisterously celebrating life closes in on us. A young lady in their midst offers me a slug from her wine bottle, and the assailant behind me roughly shoves her away. She swears. Cold steel digs into my back with renewed vigor. Our attackers are pros. Not once does anyone spot their guns. I keep my mouth shut and walk on. Hopefully the girl will notice something is amiss and alert the police. Seconds tick by. Nothing dramatic happens. No sirens, no charging police. I am barely keeping it together.
A single black SUV with darkened windows parked fifteen meters down the block catches my eye. The driver's door opens a tiny crack. My heart begins to race wildly. An irrational fear grips me as the crack widens. My assailant shoves his pistol into the small of my back, forcing me to move forward suddenly. I nearly lose my footing. He growls. As we stumble a few steps closer to the SUV, Handal Hoams unexpectedly sticks his head out of it. Elise screams in shock.
All at once, all hell breaks loose. The helicopter in the sky...
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