Double Crossed: A Spies and Thieves Story (Page 4)

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.”

“I said shut up.”

“Okay.” Macey took up the argument. “If you want to get shot coming over here to check on us, fine, but my debutante ball is this spring and I can’t show up with scars and stuff.” She cast a weary glance toward the massive wall of windows and French doors. “Besides, I’m cold. The least you can do is close that door.”

Hale watched the man consider this. His posture changed. His feet shifted. And when he turned and started for the window, Hale dared to whisper, “Kat, you hearing this?”

He didn’t get a reply, but as soon as the gunman reached the open door, a bullet burst through the glass, shattering it into a million pieces, spraying it across the floor.

It missed the gunman, though. It was supposed to. And what followed was chaos. Hostages bolted to their feet and ran. Others crawled across the floor, over stray bits of glass, struggling to free themselves from that place and that terror.

And when the dust and the panic settled, nobody even noticed that the boy and the girl who had mentioned the windows in the first place were gone.

Chapter 5

WALKING DOWN THE ABANDONED HALL, Hale went through the list of all they had to do.

“First, we have to find out where they’re going and what they want. And keep your eyes peeled,” Hale ordered. “If we find a way of sneaking out some hostages, we should do it. And, Macey,” he said, stopping to catch her full attention, “don’t get caught.”

It was good enough advice, but Macey McHenry seemed to have other things on her mind.

“You’d better not be planning on looking up my dress.”

“I won’t look up your dress.”

“Because if you look up my dress, I will hurt you.”

“Yeah.” Hale laughed a little. “You can try and—”

But before Hale could finish Macey spun, knocking him against the wall. She had her fingers around his neck and his head poised to snap. It was all he could do to choke out the words “I won’t look up your dress.”

“Good boy,” she said, and let him go.

Without another word, the two of them eased down the narrow hallway that ran along the back side of the ballroom. Carts of food sat, abandoned. Bucketsful of ice were melting.

It felt to Hale like they were walking through a ghost town. And Hale couldn’t help himself—he worried. The whole job felt wrong. Too overt. Too obvious. Too physical and dangerous and risky. Whatever it was that had brought the men in the masks there, he didn’t like it.

“What are you thinking?” Macey tilted her head and studied him.

“It’s not a Gab and Grab—they’ve been here too long and they’ve gotten too entrenched. They’re big and they’re organized, but they aren’t set up for the Queen of Sheba.”

Macey looked at him oddly, so Hale added, “To run that con you need a set of triplets and a goat.” Then he shook his head and talked on. “They’ve got hardware and hostages, and that means…”

“What does it mean, Mr. Bored Billionaire–slash–Amateur Thief Guy?”

“I don’t know. I’m usually the heister—not the heistee. And I don’t work this way.” He walked a little faster. “You take hostages at a bank—someplace with lots of cash and lots of exits. And you only do it after you mess up and don’t get out. Seriously, no one in their right mind intends to take hostages. Unless…”

“Unless what?”

“Unless they intend to use them.”

The words washed over both of them, neither of them moving. Neither of them spoke until Hale glanced up at the air vent that opened overhead, and held out his hands in the universal signal for let me give you a boost. “Now I promise I won’t look up your dress.”

Macey wasn’t the type of girl to have regrets, but as she crawled through the dirty air vents that ran along the top of the Athenia’s highest floor, there were a number of things she would have changed about that particular evening if given the opportunity. First, she would have gone with the black gown instead of the red. (In those situations, you really need a dress with straps.) She absolutely would have brought one of the little travel-sized tear gas canisters her roommate Liz had perfected the previous semester. And perhaps most importantly, she would have done more than a little reconnaissance on W. W. Hale V before the evening took its covert turn.

Macey risked a look at the boy behind her. She couldn’t shake the feeling that he was at home there, but nervous. Like a veteran athlete who has been asked to play a new position. He seemed a little off his game.

“Cammie’s going to be mad she missed this,” Macey said to fill the silence.

“Excuse me?” Hale asked.

“Nothing.” She shook her head. “I just…I have a friend who really likes air vents. And dumbwaiter shafts. And laundry chutes. Of course, the last time I was in a laundry chute, Cammie and I fell about a dozen stories….”

“Well, that sounds like fun.”

“It was either that or get kidnapped by terrorists, so I guess we got off easy.”

Macey glanced back to see Hale’s flirty grin. “Somehow I find that very— Wait!” Hale snapped, and grabbed her ankle, held her in place so that she couldn’t move another inch.

Macey jerked her head around and saw why Hale had stopped her. Narrow red beams crisscrossed the empty shaft, shining in the darkness.

“Lasers,” Hale sighed.

“Lasers,” Macey repeated.

They eased away from the red flickering beams that covered the shaft and blocked their way, inching backward until they heard voices below. Through a grate in the ceiling they could see the masked men lingering near a closed door, leaning against an antique table and smoking European cigarettes as if they had all day.

“Okay, so clearly they don’t have access to the target, which means—” Hale started, and Macey cut him off with a “Shh!” She leaned closer to the vent and listened to the foreign words that filled the hallway beneath them.

“What is that?” Hale asked, leaning close to the vents. “Russian?”

“Albanian,” Macey said, and again, motioned for him to be quiet.

“Now I suppose you’re going to tell me they teach Albanian at your school.”

“Only for extra credit.” Macey leaned even closer, listened harder. “It’s a job for hire,” she translated. “They don’t know how to get past the security system.”

Hale wasn’t impressed. “Of course they can’t get past the security system. You see that sticker by the door. That unit is protected by the new Sterling system. I can’t even get past that.”

Macey rolled her eyes and kept her ear trained on the men in the hall. “The boss—I guess that is whoever hired them—he said the system would be off, but it’s not.”

Below, the men talked on. Their frustration grew. “What are they saying now?” Hale asked.

“Cusswords.” Macey cut her eyes at him. “Bad ones.”

“What are they waiting on?” Hale asked almost like he wasn’t expecting an answer. But then, as if on cue, the air vent was plunged into darkness.

In the hallway beneath Hale and Macey, only the emergency exit signs emitted any light, and the hall was covered in an eerie red haze as Clinton shattered the IN CASE OF FIRE glass and pulled an axe from the compartment inside. With two long strides he walked to the door and swung. A minute later the men in the masks were walking inside.

The red laser beams disappeared and Macey glanced back at Hale and said, “Come on.”

Even with the power off, the air shafts were hot in the middle of winter, and sweat beaded on Macey’s brow and ran down the side of her face as she crawled along ahead of Hale, past the point where the lasers had previously blocked their way.

Inching along, she glanced down through the grates into the room below. It was gorgeous and luxurious with a silk-covered fainting couch and a balcony overlooking the park. But even for the Athenia, it was too nice to be a regular room.

“It’s an apartment,” Hale said. “Did you know the Athenia had residences?”

Macey nodded. “They do for a few select clients.” But then something caught her attention. “Is that…” Macey started. She was staring at a painting on the wall.

“A Klimt?” Hale filled in, then sighed. “Oh yeah. But don’t get your hopes up. It’s a copy.”

“And you know this because…” Macey drew out the last word and looked at Hale even more skeptically than before.

“I saw the original at the Louvre last summer,” he said with a shrug.

“Oh,” she said, deflated.

The masked men were right below them, unloading gear and going to work on the opposite side of the opulent room, so Macey and Hale spoke in hushed whispers, pressed together in the tiny space. But Macey didn’t feel a charge, a spark. Handsome though he was, there was no doubt that W. W. Hale was otherwise engaged.

When the man in the Reagan mask pulled the Klimt from the wall, she felt Hale go cold and rigid as he studied the space behind where the print had been.

“Oh boy,” Hale whispered almost to himself.

“What?” Macey asked.

“The safe,” Hale said.

Macey looked back at the room, at the big metal box around which the masked men were gathered. “What about it?”

“It’s…good,” Hale admitted.

“Surely it’s not too much for a world-class art thief such as yourself?” Macey tried to tease, but Hale was already backing slowly away.

“No, Macey. It’s too good.” He shook his head. “Come on. We’ve got to find whoever lives here and figure out what these guys are after.”