Water Street view from the Double Date Adventure

The Double Date Adventure

It all start­ed inno­cent­ly enough with a char­i­ty auc­tion.

It end­ed this past Sun­day when I was kid­napped by an evil phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny, res­cued by two women who then were poi­soned by the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal company’s CEO, and final­ly tagged along as the women were saved at the last minute with an exper­i­men­tal anti­dote.

But back to how this adven­ture all began … 

To raise funds for Team Chal­lenge (a fundrais­ing pro­gram from the Crohn’s & Col­i­tis Foun­da­tion of Amer­i­ca, or CCFA) back in May, I auc­tioned off a din­ner date with myself. The result of that auc­tion was that two women — Karen and Michelle — bid togeth­er in lit­er­al­ly the final sec­onds to win the din­ner date.1 I was so sur­prised by the dou­ble bid that I want­ed to do some­thing out-of-the-ordi­nary for din­ner for Karen and Michelle.

That was when I decid­ed to cre­ate “The Dou­ble Date” adventure/experience for them.

For sev­er­al years, I’ve want­ed to write and pro­duce a vari­a­tion on an Alter­nate Real­i­ty Game (ARG)2 that was focused on a very spe­cif­ic audi­ence of just one or two peo­ple. Karen’s and Michelle’s auc­tion bid offered just the excuse for me to cre­ate such a cus­tom expe­ri­ence  for them … and bet­ter yet, they would be unaware that they were the recip­i­ents of such an expe­ri­ence until they were already immersed in it.

Since Michelle lives in Den­ver, we all had agreed at the end of the char­i­ty auc­tion to sched­ule our din­ner date for Sun­day, Sep­tem­ber 4 when Michelle would next be in Mil­wau­kee. That left me a lit­tle over three months to plan and imple­ment “The Dou­ble Date” expe­ri­ence. Since the auc­tion had ben­e­fit­ted Crohn’s dis­ease research, I decid­ed to cen­ter “The Dou­ble Date” around a fic­tion­al Mil­wau­kee phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny that was devel­op­ing an unortho­dox cure for Crohn’s.

Split QR Code

On July 27, Karen and Michelle received via snail mail the com­ple­men­tary halves of a print­ed QR code … and noth­ing more. To their cred­it, they almost imme­di­ate­ly fig­ured out that each of them had half and began email­ing pho­tos and scans of their respec­tive parts to each oth­er, lead­ing to var­i­ous cut-n-paste attempts. In less than a day, they had assem­bled a work­ing ver­sion of the QR code and reached a web page that appeared to pro­vide basic details for the Sep­tem­ber 4 din­ner date: times, what to wear, etc.

In the weeks that fol­lowed, the two women con­tin­ued to receive a series of oth­er mys­te­ri­ous let­ters and pack­ages: ID cards and a matched set of decoder rings from the NCIS Junior Agent Fan Club, mock Tiffany’s box­es and more. Then on August 19 while Karen was vis­it­ing Michelle in Den­ver, they received a joint­ly addressed card from Lazar Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals con­grat­u­lat­ing them on their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the War­rior Dash. The card direct­ed them to the LazarPharma.com web­site where they began to read chunks of the back­sto­ry that would become rel­e­vant on Sep­tem­ber 4.

In the inter­ven­ing weeks between August 19 and the begin­ning of Sep­tem­ber, Michelle and Karen learned from the Lazar web­site about recur­ring dis­ap­pear­ances of indi­vid­u­als with Crohn’s dis­ease who were par­tic­i­pat­ing in Lazar Pharam­ceu­ti­cals’ pilot stud­ies. They also were intro­duced to the char­ac­ter of Kate Ross, the Chief Mar­ket­ing Offi­cer at Lazar, who (as they lat­er dis­cov­ered) would be ini­ti­at­ing much of the action on Sep­tem­ber 4. Under the guise of “mar­ket­ing mag­ic num­bers,” Kate began post­ing cod­ed mes­sages on the Lazar web­site, and Karen and Michelle were able to decode those mes­sages using the decoder rings they had received in the mail. The mes­sages hint­ed that some­thing was wrong at Lazar and that Kate Ross was con­cerned that CEO George Lazar was con­duct­ing secret ille­gal (and poten­tial­ly uneth­i­cal) activ­i­ties.

Lazar Pharmaceuticals on 4square

Dur­ing the week pri­or to Sep­tem­ber 4, I began to make offhand­ed ref­er­ences (in text mes­sages and online loca­tions that Karen and Michelle were like­ly to see) to hav­ing been select­ed to par­tic­i­pate in a pilot study at Lazar Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. The impli­ca­tion (assum­ing Karen and Michelle made the con­nec­tion) was that I might be in poten­tial dan­ger, giv­en that oth­er study par­tic­i­pants had been dis­ap­pear­ing.

The first major devi­a­tion from my sto­ry plan occurred on the evening of Sep­tem­ber 2 when Michelle arrived in Mil­wau­kee. A mes­sen­ger sent to the air­port to deliv­er a per­son­al note from Kate Ross to Michelle was unable to catch Michelle as she left the ter­mi­nal. So a sec­ond mes­sen­ger was dis­patched the next morn­ing to deliv­er an updat­ed ver­sion of Kate’s note to the relative’s home where Michelle was stay­ing. The note con­tained a key and set the tone for the remain­der of the week­end:

Dear Ms. H______,

I am the for­mer Chief Mar­ket­ing Offi­cer at Lazar Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. (I was fired this past Wednes­day after I dis­cov­ered that Lazar Phar­ma – and founder George Lazar – are involved in ille­gal, high­ly uneth­i­cal activ­i­ties.)

I attempt­ed to catch you last evening at the Mil­wau­kee air­port when you arrived, but unfor­tu­nately didn’t see you before you left the ter­mi­nal. The rea­son I am con­tact­ing you is because I under­stand that you and Ms. Karen H______ are acquain­tances of Kevin A. Barnes. (I dis­cov­ered this through infor­ma­tion that Lazar Phar­ma has been secret­ly col­lect­ing about Kevin.)

Two inno­cent peo­ple have already mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared, and I am very con­cerned that Kevin could be the next vic­tim of what­ever George Lazar and Lazar Phar­ma are up to. Final­ly, I’ve attached a dupli­cate of a key that I found in Lazar Pharmaceutical’s secret file on Kevin. I have no idea what this key is for, but believe it to be extreme­ly impor­tant. Please car­ry this key with you at all times this week­end – it may turn out to be a mat­ter of life and death!

Stay safe, and I’m ask­ing you and Karen to please try to keep Kevin safe as well.

Good luck!

Kate Ross

On the evening of Sep­tem­ber 4, just min­utes pri­or to when I was sup­posed to pick up Karen and Michelle for din­ner, they both received the same text mes­sage from an unfa­mil­iar phone num­ber:

Hi — This is Kate Ross (for­mer­ly of Lazar Phar­ma). Kevin has been delayed, but I’ve sent my chauf­feur to pick both of you up and take you to Kevin. The car is wait­ing out­side now.

When Karen and Michelle stepped out­side, they dis­cov­ered a wait­ing limo. Inside the limo were per­son­al notes addressed to each of them, as well as a bot­tle of cham­pagne. The notes con­tin­ued the omi­nous com­mu­ni­ca­tions from Kate Ross:

Dear Ms. H______,

Despite my best efforts, it appears that George Lazar kid­napped your friend Kevin ear­li­er today. I believe that Kevin is now the third per­son that Lazar has kid­napped, and unfor­tu­nate­ly the first two are already dead.

It is my belief (based on the mount­ing evi­dence I have seen in the last 24 hours) that Lazar is steal­ing the unique DNA from each per­son he has kid­napped, using a process that is extreme­ly painful and ulti­mate­ly fatal.

There is a slim chance that Kevin may still be alive. Lazar main­tains an “unof­fi­cial” lab on Milwaukee’s East Side. Giv­en how close­ly law enforce­ment has been watch­ing George Lazar recent­ly, it’s like­ly Lazar is using that lab to extract all of Kevin’s DNA. I’ve instruct­ed the limo dri­ver to take you to that address in the hope that you can put an end to Lazar’s fiendish plan (and hope­ful­ly save your friend).

Until you arrive, there isn’t any­thing you can do, so you and Karen may as well enjoy the Anna De Codor­niu you’ll find in the limo. Kevin orig­i­nal­ly had hoped to share that with you dur­ing your din­ner date this evening – I’m sure he’d want you both to still enjoy it.

God­speed and good luck!

Kate Ross

Min­utes after the limo picked them up, I saw Karen tweet:

We’re on an elab­o­rate date. Or is it a game?

The limo took Karen and Michelle to a rehabbed ware­house on Milwaukee’s East Side where they dis­cov­ered signs for “Lazar Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.” Once they went inside and began to explore, they found me chained to a chair in an unoc­cu­pied office area. I quick­ly warned them that George Lazar’s thugs would be back any minute and begged them to free me before “they get back to yank out my DNA.”


Michelle real­ized the key she had received in Kate’s orig­i­nal note was the key to the pad­lock hold­ing me in chains.5 After releas­ing me from the chains, Karen and Michelle dis­cov­ered anoth­er note from Kate Ross, reveal­ing that the dan­gers of the evening had increased sub­stan­tial­ly:

Mss. H______ and H______,

I’m ter­ri­bly sor­ry, but I have failed … and it may have cost both of you your lives.

After I deposit­ed my pre­vi­ous let­ters to you in the lim­ou­sine, one of George Lazar’s hench­men snuck in and poi­soned the bot­tle of Anna De Codor­niu cham­pagne. I pray that for some rea­son you didn’t drink any, but if you did, you have only about 90 min­utes left to live.

There may be one slim chance. One of Lazar Pharmaceutical’s for­mer star research sci­en­tists — Bruce Sheri­dan — was work­ing on devel­op­ing an anti­dote to that par­tic­u­lar poi­son. The last I had heard, Bruce had cre­ated (and hid­den) sev­eral dos­es of the pos­si­ble anti­dote. Because George Lazar’s hench­men may find this note before you do, how­ever, I can’t direct­ly tell you where the anti­dote is hid­den. (If those hench­men found this note first, and I revealed the loca­tion of the anti­dote, they would track it down and destroy the only thing that can save you.) So …

9,17 / 22,17 / 13,7,24,11,16,’21 / 15,3,11,14,4,17,0 / 8,17,20 / 22,10,7 / 14,17,5,3,22,11,17,16 / 17,8 / 22,10,7 / 3,16,22,11,6,17,22,7 !

Good luck and I hope you both sur­vive the evening!

Kate Ross

Karen and Michelle got one of their decoder rings from the limo and quick­ly deci­phered the loca­tion of the next clue (in a res­i­den­tial area on Milwaukee’s East Side). A quick dash in the limo led us to the next loca­tion where we dis­cov­ered what appeared to be Kate Ross’ final note:

Karen, Michelle and Kevin,

Thank good­ness you’ve solved my code, found this note and all of you are (hope­ful­ly) still alive!

For­mer Lazar research sci­en­tist Bruce Sheri­dan has hid­den sev­er­al dos­es of a pos­si­ble anti­dote to the poi­son you ingest­ed in the cham­pagne. The anti­dote is locat­ed some­where in his millionaire’s con­do in Point On The Riv­er.

Bruce cur­rent­ly is attend­ing a con­fer­ence in Vien­na, but I’ve called Point On The Riv­er and alert­ed them that you are on your way and will need imme­di­ate, unlim­it­ed access to his con­do. Point On The Riv­er is locat­ed at ____ and Bruce’s con­do is #____. I only hope you can get there and find the anti­dote in time (and that the anti­dote actu­al­ly works).

This may be the last time you hear from me. May you escape the evil clutch­es of George Lazar and live to see tomorrow’s dawn!

Kate Ross

And once again we were off in the limo, this time to one of Milwaukee’s coolest con­do build­ings. Karen and Michelle had (of course) drunk the cham­pagne while rid­ing in the limo and we talked touch-in-cheek about how long they had left to live.


Once we arrived at Point On The Riv­er, we made our way upstairs to Bruce Sheridan’s con­do and dis­cov­ered a full din­ner wait­ing for us (cour­tesy of Chef Pam from Plum Deli­cious Din­ing).

While Chef Pam put the final touch­es on din­ner, Karen, Michelle and I set out in search of the anti­dote. We locat­ed it in the refrig­er­a­tor6 and all three of us took a gen­er­ous swig. We declared our­selves “win­ners” of “The Dou­ble Date” and sat down to an amaz­ing din­ner.

The evening end­ed with Karen and Michelle wined and dined to their hearts’ con­tent, and hav­ing mem­o­ries of a char­i­ty auc­tion prize they like­ly will nev­er for­get.

In clos­ing, I would like to thank every­one who helped me cre­ate and deliv­er this unique expe­ri­ence to Karen and Michelle, the win­ning bid­ders in the Team Chal­lenge char­i­ty auc­tion: Man­del Group for use of the con­do, Chef Pam for prepa­ra­tion of an amaz­ing meal, Chaf­fee Limo for trans­porta­tion ser­vices, and Ted, Ben, Nadia, Jen­ny and all the oth­ers who played key roles through­out. And of course thank you to Karen and Michelle, who are ongo­ing sup­port­ers of Team Chal­lenge.

This arti­cle orig­i­nal­ly was pub­lished on KevinABarnes.com.


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  1. Michelle H. and Karen H. sub­mit­ted simul­ta­ne­ous bids in the last 15 sec­onds of the auc­tion. Each of their indi­vid­ual bids was high­er than the pre­vi­ous lead­ing bid, so when tak­en togeth­er they more than dou­bled that pre­vi­ous high bid. The “Mes­sage” line in both Karen’s and Michelle’s bids indi­cat­ed they were to be tak­en out togeth­er as a “Dou­ble Date.” []
  2. An Alter­nate Real­i­ty Game (ARG) is an inter­ac­tive nar­ra­tive — or game — that takes place in the real world and often mix­es real loca­tions with fic­tion­al char­ac­ters and events in order to tell a sto­ry that is dri­ven by the play­ers inter­ac­tions. []
  3. Karen is a major NCIS fan­girl. []
  4. We had pre­vi­ous­ly agreed that I would pick them both up at Karen’s home. []
  5. This is when I dis­cov­ered the risks of play­ing such a game with two women pos­sess­ing high­ly devel­oped sens­es of humor. While I sat there chained to the chair, beg­ging to be released before I was killed, Karen and Michelle dis­cussed in mock seri­ous­ness with each oth­er whether they should release me, or first race ahead to find sub­se­quent clues and (hope­ful­ly) din­ner. []
  6. Of course it was in the refrig­er­a­tor — where else would a research sci­en­tist store a per­ish­able mix­ture? []
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The author

Kevin A. Barnes is a Digital Experience Project Manager at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee. He also is a pub­lished short story author — his first short story was pub­lished in 1983; his most recent in Octo­ber 2014. Visit his website at https://www.kevinabarnes.com