One man recounts his experience as a hostage at the Nakatomi Building that fateful Christmas Eve in 1988….
by: Seth Huock1
The day The Nakatomi Corporation hired me is a day I won’t soon forget. At the time, it was quite possibly the best day of my life. What I didn’t know then is that it would lead to what was definitely the worst day of my life. But let’s not put the horse before the carriage here. Let me back up. At the time I was working as a Sales & Acquisitions Analyst for a small firm in San Jose. I had limited experience, but allow me to pat my own back for a moment and say that I caught on pretty quick. In no time at all I was climbing the ladder at this stepping-stone of a company, waiting for the perfect time to jump ship to the big leagues. It was right around that time I got a phone call, one that immediately sent a shiver down my spine. It was from none other than Joseph Yakagi, Chief Operations Officer at Nakatomi Corporation. I could barely speak. He was a legend in the business, a god amongst men, and he wanted me to come down to Nakatomi Plaza for an interview. I of course obliged.
I remember the drive from the airport so vividly. I was so nervous. I kept fidgeting in the backseat of the car they sent for me. So much so that I got the attention of the driver, a young kid named Argyle. Now, normally I like to keep to myself in a cab, and especially that day as I had to focus, but my main man at the helm wasn’t having it. He wanted to chat it up. He seemed like a good kid and all but honestly, he wouldn’t shut the fuck up. He could tell how anxious I was and confidently told me he had something to soothe my nerves. With a flick of a switch the taxi came to life, a heavy bass beat engulfing my body and before I knew it Run DMC’s “Mary Mary” was cranking at peak volume. I sheepishly reminded Argyle that I was looking for something mellow, soothing even. He responded with a smile adding, “Man, this IS mellow music.”
As we approached the Nakatomi Building the thumping beats of Argyle’s so called music fell inaudible to me. I couldn’t focus on anything but the stand alone, newly erected tower shimmering before me in the morning sun. The building was imposing, grandiose and commanding. It was like approaching the Black Gate of Mordor or something. My heart skipped a beat, I shit you not. I had read all about it in Time Magazine, about its state of the art security systems, high-speed traction elevators, computer based control systems, and earthquake resistant design. It wasn’t finished, but when it was complete there would be nothing like it, anywhere.
When we finally arrived I took a deep breath, checked my hair in the rear-view mirror and readied myself for the chance of a lifetime. As I was exiting the car Argyle, never short on words, exclaimed that next time I saw him he would be “pushing a limo.” “Good luck with that,” I answered as I slammed the door and hustled away. I had much bigger fish to fry.
I wasn’t so much intimidated by meeting Mr. Takagi – Joseph, as he asked me to call him – since I had heard he was a lovely man. I mean, he was the one who sought me out after all. But I was however taken aback by the plethora of beautiful woman running around that place. I mean the amount of tail at Nakatomi was unbelievable! I knew right then I had to get that job. And luckily, after a lengthy but relaxed interview with Joseph Takagi, I was offered a position that very day. A dream come true.
So yeah, I was there that night. There was no way in hell I was going to miss a Nakatomi Corporation Christmas Party, especially following one of the most profitable years in the history of the corporation. Those puppies get wild on an average year. I mean, don’t let the classical music fool you, annually this was the evening to let it all hang out. An everybody-gets-laid type of night, you get me? But, not this Christmas. Far from it. The shit hit the fan, and I came face to face with the scariest night of my life.
I didn’t see them exit the elevator. I didn’t even hear the gunshots. Honestly. I was in a back office about to give Sandy Balfour the business. Before I knew it this guy wearing a red blousy shirt – you know, one of those Color Me Badd type numbers? – burst in wielding a machine gun and dragged me and Sandy out before I could close the deal. The brute didn’t even give Sandy a chance to cover up or anything. It was then that I saw what was going on. A chorus of tears, screams, and gunshots painted a clear picture of the terror unfolding.
They assembled us in the 30th Floor Lobby, still liberally letting bullets fly. Everybody was freaking the fuck out. Amid all that initial commotion I watched as the sea of grease-ball terrorists parted, making way for the man who was noticeably in charge. This one was bearded, yet carried an air of sophistication about him, dressed in an expensive businessman’s suit. What I will never forget, ever, is just how calm he was; so sure of himself and focused. There is no doubt he had done this sort of thing before. He, who we all know now was Hans Gruber, began preaching about the Nakatomi Corporation’s legacy of greed around the globe. And then he wanted to know which one of us was Joseph Yakagi. He knew everything about Joseph. Everything! And like the man that he was, Joseph stepped up and was summarily whisked away. Whatever air was left in the room at that time seemed to have been siphoned out with him.
We knew things were bad, but when we heard that Joseph had been shot we knew that shit was dire. And the way we found out, a coldly delivered…”he won’t be joining us for the rest of his life.” What the fuck was that? These sick fucking Germans. Just thinking about that makes my stomach turn. Monsters.
All right, I wasn’t going to share this, mostly because people might think I had lost it, or that I was making shit up or something. But, there is something most people don’t know about these terrorists. This group, supposedly assembled by Hans with exacting care, well, they were a bunch of meatheads. Let me explain. Sure, they were professionals, good at their trade and all that. I have no doubt their plan would have gone off like gangbusters if not for John. But what I am talking about is how they acted when not on task. You had to see them, like a bunch of frat boys. When not reigning terror upon us battered and broken hostages or working on cracking the safe, they were playing grab ass, making jokes and laughing. I even heard one of them say at one point, “das ist, was sie sagte.” Translation: “that’s what she said.” I speak fucking German and I heard it loud and clear. I mean comradery is comradery, I get that. I’ve done team sports and been around my fair of locker rooms and boy’s nights out and such, but these guys took the fraternizing thing to a whole new level. They were dick-punch guys. You might not know the type, it’s an interesting breed. You know how some guys slap each other on the ass to show affection, an appreciation of a good effort and such? This form of affection wasn’t enough for these assholes. When one wasn’t looking another would sneak up on them and punch the other in the dick. The others would of course keel over in fits of laughter. And remember, these guys were carrying automatic weapons as they were yucking it up. Fucking Alpha Kappa Schnitzel. Unreal. I bet you didn’t know that. These terrorists were a breed apart, I’m telling you.
It was impossible to relax, especially with these meatballs circling us like sharks, threatening us and staring us down. We were basically puddles of tears just leaning on each other for support. I was repeatedly trying this trick I learned from a traveling salesman I met at an airport once. This guy was always on a plane. And he shared with me a technique that helped him to keep his bearings, one where he takes off his shoes and socks and walks around barefoot making fists with his toes. I gave it a run, but it wasn’t helping. Nothing was.
But then it happened. Then we realized we maybe had an ace up our sleeve, a fly in the ointment, a monkey in the wrench. We all saw it, and as scary as it was it gave us some sort of weird hope. Out of nowhere the elevator opened and Megan from Accounting, who saw it first, just lets out the mother of all shrieks drawing our attention. In the elevator was one of the terrorists – the one comfortable enough in life to wear an all grey sweat suit out in public – was dead, tied to a chair, and wearing a fucking Santa hat. Someone even wrote Ho-Ho-Ho across his chest. If I saw that in a movie I’d probably think it was funny, but this was no fucking movie. This was all too real, and someone had just gotten one over on these ornery Krauts. Finally it seemed the terrorists looked rattled, especially the one with the long flowing blonde hair that looked like a WWF wrestler. We actually got to calling him Goldilocks behind his back – a little joke to maintain some levity – and thank all that is good that he never heard it! But, something was certainly up. There was a Joker in the deck.
Soon after, the police showed up. And you could tell the terrorists were stressing a bit, all except for Hans, who remained so calm and cool. You could tell he had a plan, and that they had left nothing to chance. I was sitting near Holly around this time – you know Holly Gennaro or McClain or whatever – and I overheard her discussing with her secretary that the man upstairs causing all the trouble for these terrorists was her husband. Now, I knew her husband was at the party. I actually bumped into them by accident earlier in the night as I tried to sneak Sandy Balfour into the boss’s shared bathroom. But what I didn’t know was that he was a cop, one hell bent on making these German’s lives miserable.
It was then that Ellis, actually a friend of mine I’m partially ashamed to admit, stepped up to do what he did best – stick his nose in where it didn’t belong. He had a plan and it started with speaking to the the man in charge. So, Hans agreed to see him and why not? Ellis claimed he could hand deliver him their mystery guest upstairs so why not hear him out? But I knew Ellis was full of it. We all did. The minute he stood up claiming that he “negotiates million dollar deals for breakfast” and that he “could handle this Eurotrash” I thought this can’t end well. I was petrified for him. What idiot put him in charge?
I saw Ellis walk into Holly’s office with that cock-sure swagger, and I had no doubt he was high as a kite. He always was. And I also knew he was going to pull out that awful “white knight” line. Maybe even call Hans “Bubby.” I just knew it. He was always using those lines. When we went out, hitting on girls – he loved brunettes by the way, the higher the hair the better – he’d flash them that Ellis-smirk, and then he’d wink, raising his vodka rocks to his lips as he recited his chauvinistic pick-up line: “Ladies, your savior is here. Look no further. I’m….your White Knight!” Boom, or so he thought, as he leaned back satisfied into his chair, just waiting for the pussy-parade to begin.
Everyone freaked when they heard the gunshot. Tears and wails as far as the eye could see. But the truth is, I wasn’t surprised at all. I knew there was only so much of ole Ellis they could take. Once I saw him make his move, acting all Johnny-on-the-Spot, I was sure he wouldn’t walk out of there alive. But I didn’t realize how bad it would sting until I saw him drug out of Holly’s office like a rag doll. Fuck, I miss that knucklehead. We had some times. Man, we had some times…
When the first set of explosions rocked the building I was on my way to the bathroom. The terrorists, at Holly’s request, were taking us to the bathrooms in groups to avoid things getting really messy. I could feel the whole building rock back and forth and then the sky outside lit up like a Christmas tree. It was like a lightning storm and an earthquake combined. I swear I thought for a moment that the building would collapse. Thank goodness they built that sucker right.
So, I don’t really know how to explain this part of the evening, and let me start by saying I still don’t believe what happened myself, but I finally get to the pisser, right. And I’m taking my time at the urinal, just zoned out and trying not to think about anything at all. Just trying to find some Zen space for a moment. I’m pretty sure I had my eyes closed and my head back, but whatever. So, I hear someone saddle up to the stall next to me, aggressively unzip his fly and let’s loose a monster piss. I mean, you could hear the steady, powerful flow echo throughout the otherwise empty restroom. Like washing down a driveway with a garden hose. Suddenly an “Ahhhhhhhh…” fills the air, like this fella next to me was really enjoying relieving himself. It took all the willpower I had to not look over, see who was responsible for this dam break. But, that isn’t how I roll at the urinal, that’s a man’s private time in my book. Anyways – I swear what happened next truly occurred – I swear it on the life of my kids. The guy next to me starts talking, saying “I gotta tell ya’, the woman at this company are Un-Be-Lievable!” I recognized the voice immediately. It was Hans Gruber. No joke, the man himself! It took a second but I slowly looked over, scared shitless and in a state of shock. “Um…..yeah,” I managed, and you should have seen the look on his face. He was staring at me with a slight smile, as casual as could be. Like it was any ole regular day, and we were co-workers or something. And you could tell he wanted to chat. Turns out Hans is a chat it up while you piss at the urinal type of guy. My head was spinning, surreal hardly describes the situation, and I was trying to play it cool, somehow forcing a friendly grin upon my face. And then he asks me, “What about the one with the red skirt and heels, the blonde with the black blouse? You know who I’m talking about?” “Uh…. yeah….Patty?” I stuttered. “Yeah Patty! My God….Patty. You ever hit that?” he asks. Now pause for a second and think about that. Hans Fucking Gruber, International Terrorist, just asked me if I hit that. I almost fell over. But, truth be told, I had. “Yeah,” I told him, “a few months back.” He smiled approvingly, and after his stream dwindled to a halt he zipped his pants back up and then turned to leave. But before he did, he patted me on the back. “Good man, “ he said proudly, one man simply congratulating another on a worthy conquest, a mountain climbed. And THEN, casually I remind you, he says “Welp, back to it.” Back to it!?! Back to it!? Like he was going back to his desk to send a few emails or something, make some copies. Fucking unreal. Still can’t believe it.
Soon after I shook the encounter with Hans off, the power was cut. It was surprising how the terrorists reacted to this turn of events. You think they would be pissed! Yet, they jumped for joy like a bunch of schoolkids, more grab-ass and high fives and such. Something had gone their way. Again – they had planned for this I guess. But I knew John wouldn’t give up. I mean we didn’t give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, did we? I’m sorry, I just love that joke and I need to get my mind off the evening for a second. Ok, well…where was I? Yeah, the power went out and the Germans giggled with pleasure. Then they instructed Holly to “gather your flock.” How fucking clever. And we were expeditiously shepherded upstairs by this Mr. Miyagi looking fuck – how he got mixed up with these Aryan monsters anyway I have no idea – but he led us up to the heliport, and then darted away. Some thought a deal was struck, that we were finally saved. I wasn’t buying that. The lambs were just being led to their slaughter. These Germans weren’t fucking around, and if they were happy, it was a bad sign for us.
This might sound a bit weird, but I don’t care. I have never seen anything more beautiful in my entire life than the bloody mess of a man, John Fucking McClain, bursting upon the roof guns a-blazing and thrusting us downstairs and away from certain death. Looking like Rambo, like Commando, and Chuck Norris combined, it was obvious John had been through hell and back! His feet were wrapped like a boxer’s hands, his pants tattered and his entire body drenched in blood. But he also looked like a savior, our savior. I wish Ellis could have seen him, then he would’ve really known what a true white knight looked like. John Wayne himself. And, I am man enough to admit that I love that John McClain. A hero, no doubt about it. If he would oblige me, I would love to invite him back out to the Coast, to get together, and have a few laughs.
But I have never been right since that Christmas Eve back in ‘88. I have some fucked up sort of post traumatic stress thing happening. Every time I hear a German accent on TV, or see a man with long, flowing blonde hair – I freak. I completely shut down. I can’t even watch The Sound of Music or movies with plots that seem like a knock off of our experience, like fucking White House Down or Passenger 57. It’s a night I try to not think of often, but I figured this holiday season it was time to face my demons. It’s funny, I had no idea how much Lieutenant Powell, or even John were doing to help us all out, and the role that Argyle played in all this – who woulda thought! And contrary to that, I had no idea how badly that leach Thornburg almost fucked everything up. But, when we finally were released from the grasps of Hans and Ze Germans, I had never felt so alive. And as the ashes and scraps of the $640 million in negotiable bearer bank bonds fell from the sky like snow, you know what….it actually felt like Christmas.
- a.k.a. Michael Shields [↩]