“You’re late,” Kat said as soon as Hale put the phone to his ear. She wasn’t the kind of girl to wait for hello.
“What can I say? Macey McHenry has been throwing herself at me….”
“See, that’s the kind of thing that would make me jealous if she weren’t way out of your league.”
“You know, if I had feelings, that might have hurt them.”
“Sorry,” she said. “Now come on down. There’s a Raphael in Rome that has our name on it.”
“I don’t know…” Hale started. “It might be hard to get away from Macey. It looks like she works out. And you know how crazy I drive the ladies.”
“Crazy is an understatement.” Kat took a deep breath. “Am I going to have to come up there? Because I will. I have no objection to stealing people, you know.”
Hale started to laugh. He wanted to tease. But right then he saw something that seemed a little out of place in the elaborately decorated ballroom. Behind the stage, covered in canvas, lay a device, a piece of metal sticking out at such an angle that only Hale could really see it.
Kat talked on, but Hale was no longer listening as he crept closer to the narrow gap between wall and stage, looking. Thinking.
“Hale?” Kat’s voice sounded in his ear. “Hale, are you listening to me?”
That was when Hale noticed a hotel employee standing beneath the security camera that was trained on the dance floor, an odd bag draped across his arm. On the other side of the room, a sign that read that the elevators were temporarily out of service made Hale’s mind come to a terrifying stop.
When Hale saw a man lingering near the elevators, he had a sudden sense of déjà vu, remembering a particularly intricate operation in Denmark.
Another man, in an ill-fitting waiter’s uniform, was moving to the stairs by the veranda, and Hale thought about a long night spent near a garbage chute in Belize.
“That settles it.” Kat sounded annoyed by Hale’s silence. “I’m coming up.”
“No, Kat!” Hale shouted, but she was already gone. “Marcus, I need you to go downstairs. Now. Stop Kat.”
“Of course, sir.”
“And, Marcus,” Hale called after him. “Just…tell her I have these.” Hale reached into his pocket and found the long-forgotten earbuds.
It is a testament to both Marcus’s demeanor and the oddities of Hale’s new life that the butler didn’t say another word. He didn’t ask a single question. And Hale was left with one other thing to do.
“There you are,” Hale told his mother when he found her.
“Oh, darling, do you know Michael Calloway? His mother is the event chair. We’ve just been arguing over whether he is going to let me outbid him for this gorgeous antique clock,” Mrs. Hale said, but her son didn’t care.
“Sorry,” Hale told the man in the tux with the small bits of sweat gathering at his brow. “I need her,” he said, pulling his mother from the table and toward the bank of elevators on the far side of the room, the ones that appeared to still be operational.
“Mom, I need you to come with me.”
“But, darling,” the woman protested, “it’s Swiss!”
The elevator dinged and Hale pushed her inside it. “Sorry. Dad will meet you downstairs.”
The doors were just starting to close when someone yelled, “Hold it!” and Hale turned to see Macey McHenry dragging her own mother behind her. “She’s going down,” Macey said, and pushed the button for the lobby. Before anyone else could protest, the doors slid smoothly closed.
Behind Hale, another elevator opened, and Macey pointed to it. “After you,” she said.
“No.” Hale let the word stretch out. “After you.”
“No,” Macey said. She grabbed his arm and pushed.
“Hey, I bruise,” Hale said. “Also, you are freakishly strong.”
Macey McHenry was sidling up to him. She looked like a bored society girl who was in the mood to grab the nearest guy and leave the party. But if there was anything that W. W. Hale V truly understood, it was that looks could often be deceiving.
As soon as she was close, she whispered, “You’ve got to get out of here.”
“No. You’ve got to get out of here,” he told her. “Go downstairs. Go now.”
“No,” she countered. “You go.”
“Why?” he asked.
“You tell me first.”
But before they could say another word, the last elevator slid slowly open and two men in masks rushed out. From the opposite side of the ballroom, shots rang out, rapid-fire, piercing the ceiling, plaster falling onto the dance floor like snow.
And then Hale and Macey whispered in unison, “Because of that.”
PERHAPS IT WAS TOO LATE—the crowd too tipsy—but it seemed to take a moment for the partygoers to realize exactly what was happening. Their exits were blocked. And the finest of New York society had no choice but to huddle together, watching a series of masked men run into the ballroom through the fog of falling plaster.
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.”