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Down on Earth, the crowd had dispersed: The awestruck military attaché. The 62nd Airlift Wing captain in combat fatigues. The radio producer, mike in hand, headphones parenthetically gripped over his skull.

Wearing only a sports bra and boxers, bruises on her back, the girl surged through the salon’s door. Her feet were bare and bleeding from the race over asphalt, her speech a frenzied heave as she spilled the secret of where she had been, what she had been doing. 

Olga is on her own. Her son is in prison, being held on suspicion of having committed what they are calling on television ‘the art theft of the century’. She knows that the accusation is correct. Along with friends, her son Radu stole seven valuable artworks from a museum in Rotterdam, loaded them into a car and drove them to Romania.

On the night that Jesús Vicente Zambada Niebla strode into the lobby of the Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel in Mexico City, the price on his head was $5 million.

In March last year, a college freshman named Maxwell Birnbaum was riding in a van filled with friends from Austin, Tex., to a spring-break rental house in Gulf Shores, Ala. As they neared their destination, the police pulled the van over, citing a faulty taillight. When an officer asked if he could search the vehicle, the driver — a fraternity brother of Mr. Birnbaum’s who quickly regretted his decision — said yes.

David Sneddon flew to Beijing in April 2004 for summer Mandarin courses before his final year majoring in Asian languages and business. Languages were his thing: At 24, he was already fluent in Korean after spending two years as a Mormon missionary in Seoul.

The movie for that Saturday afternoon was 1967’s Journey to the Center of Time, a leaden hunk of sci-fi schlock. The show was WISN’s “Shock Theater,” hosted by Toulouse No-Neck, your typical horror movie host whose schtick included throwing a dummy of himself off the Sky Ride at Summerfest. 

For years, Khadija Adam had gone to Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall on Saturdays. She had her hair styled at the Ashley Salon, attended to her mobile-phone at Safaricom, shopped at the Nakumatt supermarket. Sometimes she stopped into the Millionaires Casino. Adam, a former model and a warm, boisterous talker, knew many shop owners by their first names, and always bumped into friends. 

Magnus von Buddenbrock and Stefanie Giesselbach arrived in Chicago in 2006 full of hope. He was 30, she was 28, and they had both won their first overseas assignments at ALW Food Group, a family-owned food-trading company based in Hamburg.

Scott DiPonio raced to make sure everything was in order — the fighters were ready, the ring girls were on time and the Bud Light was cold.

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