SHADWELL STEPPED OFF the elevator first. Rowe stayed with us. Id had enough bodyguards of my own not to argue. When Shadwell was certain it was safe, hed let us know. He stepped to one side with a nod and Rowe motioned us forward.
That was the most serious bodyguarding theyd done, and it made me nervous. Were there threats on Keith Summerlands life? If so, Jason and he looked enough alike that it could be a serious problem. Maybe there was more than one reason that we suddenly had guards. Shit.
One of the doors in the hallway had Peterson standing sort of at attention by it. Chuck was talking low and urgently to him. So this was where the two of them had vanished to.
Chuck turned, and gave Jason a look. It was neither friendly nor unfriendly, but it wasnt a good look. It was more as if he were trying to see Jason, see whaTHE was made of, and what it meant. I didnt like the look. It meant Chuck was thinking too hard about Jason. We were leaving this town in a day. That look was too serious for in twenty-four hours were gone.
Chuck smoothed his suit jacket where it had bunched over his gun, and said, over his shoulder, as he moved past us for the elevator, Its your ball until I get back, Peterson.
You arent technically my superior, Ralston.
So Chuck did have a last name after all. Peterson didnt sound very happy with him by any name.
Chuck walked past us like we werent there. The uniformed guard was holding the doors of the elevator open as if hed been ordered to. If you dont like it, Peterson, call the governor, see who he thinks is in charge tonight.
Petersons face closed down, fighting for blankness, but his hands flexed, and I knew pissed when I saw it. What had been happening between the two of them while wed been in Shadwell and Rowes tender care? Something was up; question was, what? It was none of my business; I kept repeating that in my head like a mantra. Jason had gotten me to promise that I would not mess with Chuck, but God, he made it hard not to yank his chain.
I was good. I let Chuck get on the elevator. Let the doors close, and said not a word.
Jason squeezed my hand and kissed my cheek.
What was that for? I asked.
For being good. I dont know why, but Chuck seems to make you want to pick at him.
You, too, Mr. Kiss-Me-in-the-Parking-Garage.
Jason actually looked embarrassed, which I didnt get to see often. I treasured it for the rare gift it was, and we were left facing Peterson. Him I didnt want to mess with; he seemed sort of harassed. Or maybe hed been nice at the hospital and it cut him more slack than Chuck.
Shadwell and Rowe were still with us like good bodyguards. Until Shadwell had gone all serious getting out of the elevator, Id begun to suspect they were guarding us to make sure we didnt do anything embarrassing to the Summerlands as much as they were guarding us from the press. But the exit from the elevator had been too real. I could leave Chuck alone, but I needed to know what was up from someone.
You have about a half hour until theentertainment arrives. He said entertainment like it hurt.
Are you kicking us out then? I asked.
He shook his head. I just assumed that Mr. Schuyler would be more comfortable leaving then, but no, I dont have any orders for when you leave the party, or if. Again, his voice said he didnt like it.
Jason said, Im sorry if our coming to the party is a problem.
Peterson looked surprised, but recovered himself. I think you mean that. You may look like Keith, but you dont sound like him.
Shadwell and Rowe stiffened beside me, as if they werent used to Peterson being quite that honest.
Jason gave him a bright smile. Thats one of the nicest things anyones ever said to me.
Not true and I knew it, but it made Peterson smile, and I think that was what Jason wanted. Jason liked everyone to be happy if he could manage it.
The door opened behind us, and a flock of blond women who all looked like Jasons sisters should have looked swarmed over him, squealing happy cries of Jason, Jason! They pulled him into the room, and he went, laughing.
I was left in the hallway with the bodyguards. Peterson looked at me. It was a wondering-what-Id-do look. Was he worried Id be jealous? Was that part of why he hadnt wanted us here?
Rowe stifled a laugh thaTHE tried to turn into a cough.
Shadwell said, in a dry voice, You really should get something for that cough.
I smiled at them all. Its okay, guys. Im not going to go all jealous because Jason is flirting and theyre flirting back. Im cool.
No woman is that cool, Shadwell said.
I smiled and shook my head. Jason flirts like he breathes. Both will stop only when hes dead.
Shadwell said, You are not his girlfriend, or this would bother you.
I gave him full eye contact as I said, Hell flirt with them, Shadwell, but hell be fucking me later.
His pale eyes flinched, and his face went sort of grim. You trying to shock me?
No, Shadwell, Im trying to make you understand that if theres a problem tonight it wont be me.
Peterson said, Enough. I dont know what is happening with the two of you, but I do not need it tonight. Is that clear, Shadwell?
Shadwell gave one clear nod.
Good. Peterson looked at me. Ms. Marshal Blake, do you have an objection to Shadwell and Rowe being inside the room with you for at least the beginning of the party?
Okay, thats it, the civvies are inside the room, with more guards, I assume?
Peterson just nodded.
Shadwell and Rowe stayed on our side of the hotel room door. They did a serious exit from the elevator up here. They had a shitload of uniforms downstairs when I insisted on putting my carry-on in the hotel safe. I thought that was to keep the press at bay, but somethings happened. What is it?
You may not be a civilian, Marshal Blake, but you arent one of us. We cant
Is the threat against all the Summerlands, just the kids, or is it Keith specifically?
Rowe and Shadwell exchanged glances. Peterson fought not to look at them, and to keep my eye contact. He had to work at it.
We are not at liberty to discuss
Dont give me that bullshit, Peterson. You were at the hospital today. I do not want to go to his family and say we got their only son killed because he was mistaken for a Summerland boy. Not to mention that I wouldI waved my hand in the air, trying to think how to say itit would leave this big hole in my life to lose Jason. So we arent going to lose him, are we? I glared at all three of them.
We are doing our best, Peterson said.
What has changed in just the last few hours?
I cannot share the information, you dont have clearance.
How much danger is Jason in? I asked.
You know its not him.
BuTHE could be hurt by accident, I said.
Peterson made an exasperated sound low in his throat. Yes, he looks enough like both the boys to be in danger.
In danger of death, or kidnapping, or what? I asked.
This time they exchanged a flurry of looks, including Peterson. Shadwell said, She isnt cleared for this.
I will have to clear it with my superiors, but Ill try to get permission to fill you in on some of it, Peterson said. Go to the party, enjoy yourselves, stay longer than thirty minutes; maybe by the time the party is over I can tell you more.
Theyll never go for that, Shadwell said.
Until they give you my job, Shadwell, I will run this operation the way I see fit. Is that clear?
Very, sir, Shadwell said, and managed that great neutral military voice, where you can say Yes, sir all day long while inside youre thinking You motherfucker.
Then do your job. Ralston will be back to check on things later.
Ralston, sir? Shadwell said.
Peterson nodded. Yes, Ralston.
Why is Chuck in charge of the party? I asked.
Ask the governor, Peterson said. He leaned back and opened the door for me. He was going to see me safely inside the room before he left, apparently. I didnt argue, just let Rowe go into the room first, then me, then Shadwell. Shouldnt they have done that for Jason? Oh, wait, hed been safe behind the wall of beautiful blond women. Now thats body armor.