Bidwell blinked. “I thought she was out front.”
“TV's on. No sign of her.” Wilson walked to the window, peered out. “Damn. Car's gone, boss.” He turned back toward the bathroom and his eye fell on Hardesty's backpack. “Uh oh.”
“Where'd this come from?”
Bidwell, still carrying the dripping cotton ball, peered over Wilson's shoulder. “Never saw it before.”
“I have,” Wilson said with a sigh. “It's issue. Looks just like the ones Regent One procured for the whole team ...” his voice trailed off and he shook his head. “What was she thinking?”
“Who?” Bidwell took in the alarm on Wilson's face. “You're not talking about Angela.”
“Text message,” Wilson said. “Apparently this came from Regent Four.” He picked up the cell phone, held it within Bidwell's field of vision. The older man read the screen, then turned a puzzled frown on the younger. “It looks like GPS coordinates – Hardesty used to be on the Detail. She'd recognize some of them from memory.”
“Like these,” Wilson confirmed. “The Palmer School's somewhere else. These are for Bethesda Naval Hospital. That's probably where the President is, right now.”
“Where in the world did she get this, Tim?”
“I have no idea ...” Wilson flipped the phone over and groaned. “That's Regent One's call-code.”
Bidwell chewed his lip, then hastened back to Taylor. He finished daubing the boy's hair with strong tea and checked his watch, then set an alarm for ten minutes. “Tim,” he said, “we may need to get out of here in a hurry.”
A few minutes later, the watch beeped. “Okay, Taylor – you hit the shower and wash your hair. Don't take too long, okay?”
Taylor bounced off the vanity and nodded. “Okay, Dad. You know, Miss Angel was doing laundry – shouldn't somebody check on it?”
Wilson said quietly, “I'll take care of it.” He pushed open the door into the hall and headed down to the designated guest laundry for their floor. Bidwell watched him out of sight before shutting the door, then poured himself another cup of coffee while he waited for Taylor. He'd no more than taken a sip when the door banged open, admitting a white-faced and fast-moving Wilson.
“Quick,” he said, with a gesture. “Grab Taylor – we've got to get out of here.” Bidwell raised an eyebrow, but Wilson had already turned off the TV and grabbed Hardesty's backpack. “The FBI's in the lobby.”
“Oh, rats,” Bidwell said softly. “Taylor ...” He pushed open the bathroom door.
Two minutes later a trio of black-suited men burst into the suite.
“Somebody's staying here, right enough,” one of them said, gesturing at the coffee Bidwell had abandoned on the counter. “Check the bedroom.”
The second and third armed men reappeared. “Wet towels and a kid's laundry in the bathroom, chief. No sign of anything in the bureau or the closets.”
“Desk clerk said two guys, one woman, one kid,” the third agent pointed out. “Not a lot of sign in the room, for that kind of population.”
“Check over there,” the man in charge replied, nodding at the French doors that opened onto the balcony. These proved locked. The youngest agent opened them quickly and shoved through, but came back in right away.
“Nothing,” he said, disgustedly.
The other agent stepped out, looked both ways, checked below. “The vehicle isn't here.”
“We missed them,” the man in charge said. “They were tipped off.” The desk clerk looked at him, fear in her face, as the three men converged on her. “Let's go back down to your office,” the man in charge said flatly. “I want to have a look at your security tapes, and the phone records for this room.”
The woman trembled a little as the group left the suite; the man in charge deliberately didn't shut the door behind him.
Wilson peered around the edge of the door from the balcony into the suite, saw the open door into the hall and swore under his breath. He stepped back out, stood on the rail and reached up toward the balcony above, catching the heavy braided-nylon camouflage belt Bidwell had dropped over the side. He wrapped the buckle-end around his hand, gave a tug and used the belt to help him rappel up the split-face block wall to the next balcony.
“Good thing this room was empty,” Bidwell said, with a nod to the space beyond the doors. “What now?”
“They've had a look around down there, but our best bet is to be somewhere else as soon as possible.” Wilson sighed. “Taylor okay?”
“I think he might be a little scared,” Bidwell said softly. “He's never done trapeze work before.”
“You took right to it,” Wilson said, approvingly.
“His mom had a third-floor bedroom, when we were in high school,” the Vice President answered mildly. “How exactly do we proceed, Tim?”
Wilson shook his head. “I would give my eyeteeth for a telephone, so I could get in touch with Hardesty.” He looked at his boss and the boy on the balcony and added ruefully, “Since I haven't got one, I guess she's on her own.”
“Just like us,” Taylor murmured.
“Just like us,” Bidwell confirmed.
Wilson jimmied the door, let them into the room beyond. It proved a utilitarian space, not another suite but a storage and service area.
“Well, well, well,” Wilson murmured. He grinned at Bidwell. “Look what we've got here.” Stacks of staff uniforms filled a floor-to-ceiling shelf; a laundry chute from overhead dumped into a thermoplastic cart. Not long thereafter, Bidwell, dressed now in a housekeeping uniform, pushed the cart – artfully heaped with sheets and towels – down the hall toward the freight elevator at a desultory pace, knocking randomly at doors as he went.
“Don't sneeze,” Taylor said, grabbing a towel and muffling Wilson in it as the latter's face convulsed a second time. “Somebody'll hear you.”
Wilson muffled the explosion in the towel, then whispered back, “thanks.”
The freight elevator opened, descended, opened again; Bidwell walked out into the covered parking area, checked the van with its back doors open and grinned at the keys hanging from the ignition. He turned around, trotted back and shoved the hamper into the van, slammed the doors and swung into the driver's seat. A moment more and the van had negotiated the alley, turned out into a quiet back street, and put the hotel behind them.
Taylor popped out of the hamper. “Dad?”
“Right,” Bidwell said. “How's Tim?”
“Sneezing,” the boy replied. “I think he's allergic to something in the laundry.”
Bidwell chuckled in spite of everything and swung the van up an on-ramp into freeway traffic. A few minutes later Wilson joined him in the van's other front seat, buckling in carefully.
“Taylor,” he said quietly, “isn't big enough for that uniform, boss.”
“I was afraid of that. Well, we'll have to find a place to get some clothes anyway,” Bidwell said. He glanced down at the dull-maroon smock and black trousers he'd donned in such haste earlier. “These are anything but inconspicuous, unless you're actually working.”
“Mmm,” Wilson said. Forty-five minutes later they parked the van in the lot in front of a busy discount warehouse chain store.
Disconsolately, Taylor poked his head over the side of the hamper. “Now what?”
“Tim's turn,” Bidwell said. “Bear in mind we're getting low on cash.”
Wilson sighed. “I think,” he told Bidwell, “we need reinforcements.”
“I think we need to get back to our quarters, without getting caught,” Bidwell said. “Surely by now they know we're not there.”
“You don't think they're watching the place?”
“Only like hawks,” Taylor said.