Double Crossed, Page 2Ally Carter
They were not a group accustomed to being told what to do, even when one of the men jumped onto the stage. He carried a machine gun and wore a plastic mask over his face, the kind popular at Halloween with people who just want to put on a suit and pretend to be a president.
This man had chosen Ronald Reagan.
“Stay where you are,” he ordered. He kept his gun at his hip, pointed into the air, the butt resting against his side in a way that made him look more like an old-time gangster than a Navy SEAL.
Macey could have told him he was doing it wrong, but she had a feeling he wasn’t the type to take orders. He was the type to give them.
“I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that we mean you no harm.” He walked slowly down the stage. A member of the band had dropped a violin and he kicked it, daring anything or anyone to stand in his way. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t hurt you. Do not fight us. Do not doubt us. And do not do anything stupid.”
Macey couldn’t help herself; she looked at the boy beside her, thought of how casually he’d pulled the phone from the mayor’s pocket, and wondered if maybe stupid was what he did best.
“Now, with the formalities out of the way,” Reagan said, “I’m so glad you could join us.”
A rush of cold air filled the room and Macey turned to see another gunman (Jimmy Carter) coming in from the balcony, pushing a small group of about a dozen partygoers in front of him. One woman was crying. A man looked indignant. They all carried themselves with hurried, nervous strides until they examined the larger scene—the masks and the guns and the fact that there was absolutely no way out.
“Good. We’re all here,” Reagan went on. “Now let’s get comfortable.” He spun and pointed his gun at one of the armed men Macey had spotted earlier. “Not you. Bill, why don’t you help Rambo here get comfy?”
A man in a Clinton mask walked toward the private security professional.
“Hands up,” Clinton said with a fake southern accent.
Slowly, the guard raised his hands, and Clinton pulled the man’s own gun from the holster at his side. Clinton slipped a pair of zip ties around his wrists and pulled them tight. But the guard didn’t try to stop him.
“You too.” Reagan pointed at the other private guards, the two men who hadn’t seen the signs, who hadn’t noticed the subtle shifts in the room that had seemed so obvious to Macey.
She looked at the boy beside her. And to Hale.
“Okay, ladies and gentlemen,” Reagan said with a little flourish, like part of him was putting on a show. “If you could move to the edges of the dance floor...” he said calmly, but no one moved. “Do it!” Another burst of bullets filled the air.
People screamed. Some fell to the floor with their hands over their heads, but almost everyone was frozen.
“Now move to the edge of the dance floor,” Reagan said again very slowly, and this time the people did as they were told. “Hands where we can see them, ladies and gentlemen. In fact, ladies, why don’t you toss your handbags into the center of the room? No use hanging on to those now.”
A handful of women “tossed” their ten-thousand-dollar evening bags onto the hardwood floor, and Macey was glad no one was in the mood to protest.
“Gentlemen,” Reagan said with renewed flair, “we will now be moving through the crowd to collect your cell phones. No use hiding them. We have our ways.”
When one of the masked men (George H. W. Bush) came toward them, Macey watched Hale slip a cell phone out of the interior pocket of his jacket and put it into the bag Bush Senior was carrying.
“I thought you didn’t have a cell phone,” Macey whispered.
“I lied,” Hale said, and Macey realized how good he was at doing exactly that.
“Now, who still has a phone?” Reagan asked like a kindergarten teacher giving a child once last chance to confess to leaving the lids off the markers. “Come on now.” He walked down the stage, and when no one said a thing he shot another blaze of bullets into the air. And suddenly, a handful of cell phones were on the floor, sliding toward the pile of handbags in the center of the room.
Quietly, Macey went through her options. Even though the masked men were asking for cell phones, the gunmen were making so much noise that she was sure someone had already called 911. The obvious exits were blocked, and the elevators had no doubt been disabled. The men moved with confidence and order, but they weren’t trying to be quiet. There was nothing covert at all about this operation.
Unlike the boy beside her.
From the corner of her eye she saw him reach for his coat pocket.
“Don’t,” she whispered.
“What?” he asked with a shrug. He looked and sounded almost bored.
“Don’t do whatever you’re doing.”
When Hale’s hand disappeared inside his tuxedo jacket, Macey wasn’t exactly sure what he’d find inside that pocket. It could have been another phone or a breath mint. Really, nothing would have surprised her. Well…nothing except…
“Is that an earbud?” she whispered. He smiled. “Are you on comms?”
“Shhh,” he told her softly.
Macey saw one of the men, Carter, over Hale’s shoulder, walking slowly around the group, standing guard, and she lowered her voice even more.
“Why do you have a comms unit?”
Hale smirked. “You’re cute when you’re annoyed.”
“Don’t,” she warned, but it was too late; he was already placing the tiny device in his ear.
Macey couldn’t decide whether to be intrigued that Hale was walking around with a state-of-the-art covert communications device or jealous because she’d been caught without one of her own.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” Reagan said from the stage. He bowed a little. “Why don’t you all have a seat?”
“What is it?” When Kat’s voice finally came into Hale’s ear, it was cold and steady and even. All tease was gone. If she was angry at him for standing her up, she didn’t show it. She just said, “Tell me what’s going on.”
“Party crashers,” Hale whispered. He watched Macey watching him. “Five, and they brought toys.”
“Guns?” Kat guessed.
“Big ones,” Hale said.
“You know this is what you get for doing a favor for your mother.”
“I know,” Hale admitted.
“What are they after?” Kat asked.
“Hard to say,” Hale said; again, he eyed the room.
“Who is that?” Macey asked.
“The reason I wasn’t flirting with you,” Hale told her.
“Ladies,” Reagan was saying, “if you would be so kind as to remove your jewelry. Gentlemen, that goes for you too. Watches. Cuff links. Let’s have them.”
“It…it’s my wedding ring,” one woman protested.
“Sweetheart…” Clinton jammed the end of his gun into the woman’s husband’s chest. “He can buy you another one.”
Hale watched the men systematically make their way down the line of people sitting in a circle, dropping millions of dollars in jewels into their outstretched bags, but the masked men didn’t hurry. And when the bag finally made its way to the Calloway Canary the whole room seemed to sigh. What a pity.
“What are they doing now?” Kat asked.
“Jewelry and wallets,” Hale said. But something didn’t quite make sense. “They’re too slow.”
Hale looked at Macey, who added, “Seven minutes since shots fired.”
“Kat, what’s the emergency response time in Midtown Manhattan?”
“Not long enough if they want a clean exit,” she told him.
Macey hadn’t heard Kat’s words, but she looked at Hale like she’d read his mind.
“They aren’t trying to beat the cops out of here,” she said.
She shifted on the floor and leaned closer. Her mouth was only inches from his ear. He placed an arm around her, and to anyone watching, it probably looked like a boy comforting
a girl, offering a shoulder and maybe laying groundwork to make a move, but Hale knew better.
“Okay, Hale’s mystery lady,” Macey whispered, “listen up. If you want to help, you need to call 212-555-9898. You’ll get a recording. Tell it the Peacock is caged.”
Hale laughed. “Tell it what?”
“Someone will be here within an hour,” Macey went on. “They probably already know, but…Do you need the number again?”
“Look, Macey,” Hale said. “Thanks for the offer, but we’ve got it. Now just keep your head down and try—”
“You don’t get it, do you? Those are AK-47s. They can fire six hundred bullets per minute and can reload in less than three seconds. And in case you didn’t notice, there are five of them.” She drew a deep breath. “Now does your friend need the number again?”
“She’s got it,” Hale said with a nod. “Now, why don’t you tell me exactly why she should waste her time doing your errands,” Hale said, but Macey said nothing. “You’re not a normal girl, are you?”
He looked and sounded like someone who was already certain of the answer.
“That’s cool.” Hale nodded, unfazed. “But just so you know, that”—he pointed to the piece of metal peeking out from behind the stage—“is a Hurst 5,000 PSI hydraulic spreader-cutter, more commonly known as the Jaws of Life.”
“So I’m not a normal boy.”
AS WORD SPREAD—AND WORD ALWAYS DID—the streets outside the hotel eventually became clogged with police cars and fire trucks. News vans lined the barricades while uniformed men tried to keep the curious at bay. But try was all they could manage.
It was New York City, after all, and word that the mayor, a senator, a district court judge, and the most popular players in the Manhattan social scene were currently being held at gunpoint at the charity event of the season was sweeping through the city like a fire.
The SWAT teams shouted at the NYPD; the NYPD argued with the FBI; and the FBI demanded in the loudest voices possible, “Who let this happen?”
Only a smaller-than-average teenage girl stayed quiet in the dark, right on the edge of the barricade. Occasionally, a man in a gray suit would appear, place a cup of hot chocolate in her hands, a heavier coat around her shoulders, but it was as if the girl herself didn’t realize she was freezing. She just stood looking up at the high-rise as if wondering whether or not she should try scaling the walls herself, stealing her way inside.
“Are you Katarina Bishop?” Kat jerked her head away from the Athenia in time to see a woman walking toward her. She was tall and thin, with shiny black hair that blew behind her in the wind. And even in that crowd of chaos, there was something about the woman that demanded attention.
“You’re Kat Bishop?” the woman asked again, studying Kat, who wasn’t sure whether or not she should say yes. But answering, it turned out, was optional, because the woman raised the yellow tape and said, “Come with me.”
On the other side of the barrier, Kat struggled to keep up with the woman’s long legs and quick stride. And when a man with a walkie-talkie stepped in front of Kat, blocking her way, the woman flashed a badge Kat couldn’t read and ordered, “She’s with me.” No one asked the question again. The two of them walked undisturbed all the way to the opposite side of the street.
“So…I got your message,” the woman said once they were alone in that crowd of people. “Now I need you to tell me everything you know about Macey McHenry.”
It was then that Kat realized two things. First, this was the woman whom Macey had needed Kat to call. The second was that even though Kat hadn’t left her name or given her number, this woman had picked Kat out of the crowd as easily as if they’d met a dozen times before. Kat didn’t know whether to be scared or impressed, so she just focused on the only thing that mattered in that moment.
All up and down the sidewalks, uniformed officials shouted and spat and spewed. But this woman just kept her eyes glued to the Athenia’s balcony high overhead as if she, like Kat, were tempted to scale the walls and burst inside.
And that was why Kat said, “You know her.” It was more realization than whisper. She watched the way the woman stared up at the towering hotel. “You know Macey McHenry. And you love her—there’s someone you love in there. Well”—Kat drew a breath—“you’re not the only one.”
Before the woman could say a word, Kat pulled an extra earbud out of her pocket and held it out.
“Here you go,” Kat said. “You can talk to my friend on the inside. Well, technically, he’s more than a friend, but…” Kat remembered almost too late that she was talking to a woman with a badge. “Anyhow, you can talk to him. He’s with Macey.”
When the woman took the earbud, she didn’t ask another question. She was a woman on a mission as she placed the tiny device in her ear and said, “This is Special Agent Abby Cameron. Let me talk to Macey McHenry.”
There was only one gunman in the ballroom.
Macey watched the man walk around the people who sat in a huge circle on the floor, like a conga line that had gone terribly, terribly wrong. And she thought about what it meant.
There was only one gunman in the ballroom.
Wordlessly, she slipped off her shoes. Gently, she placed a palm on the floor, shifted to stand, but that was when Macey felt another hand pressing down on hers. Hard. Too hard.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Hale hissed in her ear. His fingers burned into her skin. And Macey knew that if she was going to take out the gunman, she was first going to have to neutralize the boy beside her.
“Why don’t you let me go, and I’ll show you,” she said with only a modicum of flirt in her voice.
“Why don’t you put your fancy shoes back on and sit there like a good little girl?”
“First of all, I’m good at a lot of things. Taking orders from bored billionaires isn’t one of them. Second of all, he’s alone, and I can take him,” Macey said.
“No!” Hale said. “You don’t know anything about this guy.”
“I know he’s left-handed and has an old injury to his right knee—probably a torn ACL at some point but the details don’t matter. And the way he keeps his finger purposefully away from the safety of that gun means he’s never fired it. And he doesn’t want to.”
“You’re kinda scary.”
Macey leveled him with a glare. “My school offers a self-defense class. A good one.”
“How nice for you. Now I want you to promise me that if I move my hand, you won’t do something stupid.” Macey was just starting to protest when Hale stopped and brought his hand to his ear. “Besides, there’s someone who wants to talk to you.” He held out the extra earbud, whispering softly in the too-quiet room. “It goes in your ear and—”
But before he could finish, Macey rolled her eyes and placed the bud in her ear. “This is Peacock,” she whispered.
She watched Hale’s eyes go wide as she heard a very familiar voice say, “You’re not getting extra credit for this. Now”—Macey’s teacher took a long, easy breath—“what’s going on in there?”
“Five gunmen. Automatic weapons. Very organized. They’ve got all the hostages in the main ballroom. Looks like the gunmen have split up. I’m thinking I can pick them off one at a time.”
“No, Macey. Bad idea,” Abby said just as Hale gave her an I told you so grin. “We’ve got to protect your cover. There haven’t been any ransom demands yet, but when there are…”
“They’re not looking for ransom,” Hale said, interjecting himself into a conversation that was far above his clearance level. “They might ask for one, but it will be a distraction. That’s not why they’re here.”
Macey rolled her eyes again and told him, “Half the power players in the city are sitting on this ballroom floor.”
“Yes,” Hale agreed with a little too much vigor for Macey’s liking. “And as you pointed out, four out of five gunmen aren’t in the ballroom. So,” Hale said slowly, “whate
ver they want, it isn’t in here.”
Macey was just starting to argue when Abby asked, “What can you tell me about the gunmen?”
“They’re amateurs,” Hale said at the exact time Macey told her teacher, “They’re pros.”
Hale shook his head. “Just because you do something professionally doesn’t mean you’re a professional. And, trust me, these guys are just the type to get someone hurt.”
Abby was talking in Macey’s ear, going on about emergency extractions and contingency plans. She’d warned Macey to sit tight, not to blow her cover. But the clock inside Macey’s head was ticking, Hale’s words washing over her.
And she was tired of sitting on the floor, doing absolutely nothing about it.
Macey would have given anything to have her best friends with her, but Cammie and Bex were in London on not-so-official CIA business and Liz was…Well, Macey reconsidered. Perhaps having the most accident-prone girl in the history of the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women far, far away from the men with the assault rifles was a good thing.
“What about lover boy up there?” Abby asked. “He’s walking around with a pair of comms units in his pocket—could he be useful?”
Macey looked Hale slowly up and down, then whispered, “I highly doubt it.”
Hale huffed and mouthed the words I can hear you.
Macey just eyed him. “But I guess he’ll have to do.”
The man in the Bush mask looked bored, or as bored as anyone with his face covered could possibly look. He kept his weapon on his hip and walked around the wide circle, staring down at the captives.
This man wasn’t the brains, Hale knew. He held no authority, made no decisions. He was there to wear a mask and hold a gun. And hopefully, Hale thought, make a key mistake.
“You should get us away from the windows,” Hale said when the man walked by.
“Shut up,” he ordered, his voice husky and deep and vaguely European.
“They’re gonna have snipers out there,” Hale said. “I watch movies. I know how this ends. We need to get away from the windows. Look, that one door is even open.”