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Maggie tried to regain that powerful feeling the next day, wearing the pale-gray uniform she despised, as she led Walden and Tracker through one of the employees’ back entrances into the Benson Hotel. Her heart hammered as if it were pumping twice as much blood as necessary, and her hand obsessively checked yet again that the keys were still in her pocket.
It had all seemed so straightforward in the woods. They knew when and where the Secretary of the Interior would be in the Benson Hotel for the timber conference. They also knew something her bodyguards would not know: that members of the radical environmental group Planet Now would disrupt the event by setting off a stink bomb at 10:45 a.m. Various members of that organization would be stationed throughout the room, ready to wave posters front of the television cameras, proclaiming “THIS TIMBER CONFERENCE STINKS!”
“You’d think they’d be able to come up with a better ‘action plan’ than that,” Walden had complained when he’d first heard about that group’s intention. “It’s an embarrassment. They’ve obviously run out of innovative ideas. Somebody has to do something to save the Pacific Northwest forests, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be the Sierra Club with their lawsuits that’ll take ten years to resolve or Planet Now with its chicken-shit ‘action plans.’”
Walden had needed Maggie to buy in on his own plan because she’d once worked at the Benson and she knew how to discreetly get in and out of the hotel. By that time, he’d already recruited Tracker, a tall, heavy-limbed young man who never seemed to say much about anything. Maggie had had some initial doubts about Tracker’s abilities, but she trusted Walden’s judgment. If he said Tracker could do the job, then Tracker could do it.
She’d readily agreed to Walden’s plan. Her decision to participate was based on her reverence for the forests of her native Pacific Northwest and fear for their continued survival—but Walden’s black curls and dangerously dark eyes had added an appealing spice to the plan. And it didn’t hurt that she still held a grudge against her former employer. The subservient position of bathroom hostess hadn’t suited her—handing towels to privileged women in thousand-dollar shoes who wouldn’t be going home to another dinner of ramen. When the Benson had fired her (she’d figured the hotel could spare those few rolls of toilet paper she’d taken home), she’d walked out still wearing the hotel’s signature pale-gray fitted-shift uniform, with the bathroom keys in her pocket, and never bothered to return either.
And the uniform had proven useful today as she’d led Walden and Tracker, each wearing dark coveralls and carrying armloads of flowers, right through one of the employees’ entrances at the rear of the hotel. The two of them followed her past the supply-pantry entrance to the bathroom that was once her former station, past the elevators, past the kitchen with its smell of onions and baking bread, toward the rear passageway that led to the conference room. Maggie knew that only hotel employees would be using this entrance. She’d planned it so they arrived at 10 a.m., late enough that the place would already be abuzz with employees, but early enough to appear they belonged there by the time Planet Now’s stink bomb went off at 10:45.
She said a fervent prayer as they walked the final fifty feet of the passageway. But just as she approached the conference room door, a man in a blue security guard uniform stepped in front of her, blocking the way. Another stood beside the door. “Your pass,” the first one said.
Maggie stopped and felt her face flush. “What?” she asked, her voice too quiet at first because there didn’t seem to be enough air in her lungs. “What did you say?” she repeated, with slightly more volume.
“You need a pass to go in here,” he said. “Where’s your pass?”
“Oh, my pass, my pass,” she stammered, and turned to look at Walden. Her eyes were too wide, she thought, her breath too shallow in her chest—she hadn’t realized it would be so difficult to do normal things like speak and breathe or even think straight—and somebody needed to respond to these two guards.
Walden smiled. His relaxed, snake-charmer smile. “Damn,” he said. “I knew there was something we forgot. Those stupid passes. Hey look, man, you can make an exception, right? We’ve got a couple loads of these flowers to deliver. My boss is waiting inside to arrange them on the tables. We’re already late and she’ll be pissed as hell if we don’t get in there.”
The guard hesitated. Walden upped the amp in his smile.
“Yeah,” the guard grinned back, “no problem.” He turned to the second guard, “Mike, these three are okay. They can go in.”
Mike seemed less convinced. “They said everybody got to have a pass.”
Walden let a couple of day lilies drop from his arms, and stooped to retrieve them. “Yeah, I’m sorry we spaced grabbing those passes. We’ll have them for sure on our next trip in.” He leaned toward Mike, conspiratorially. “Look, you guys could just let us in this once without the passes—one working stiff to another?”
But Mike had apparently made up his mind. He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Sorry, man. There’s some big-shot government official showing up here. Our orders are don’t let nobody in who don’t have a pass.”
“God, I’d give you each—I don’t know—twenty bucks apiece if you’d let us in now. My boss might fire me. We were supposed to be here an hour ago.” Walden’s wattage was brilliant, blinding. They have to give in, Maggie thought, they had to melt under its effect.
“Twenty bucks?” the first guard repeated. He turned to Mike. “Easiest money we’ll ever make.”
Mike considered the offer. Maggie added her own weak smile to Walden’s, but it was as if her slight movement interfered with his charm over the men.
“Sorry, man,” Mike repeated. “I’ve worked for bitches like that, but we just can’t do it.”
Maggie wondered wildly if the Walden and Tracker would now charge the guards, but instead Walden just said, “Thanks for nothing.” He turned and led the other two away from the only entrance they had any hope of getting the guns through.
They now had twenty minutes before the stink bomb went off. Walden murmured, “Take us somewhere private where we can talk.” They dumped the flowers in a trash can as Maggie led them back past the kitchen and the elevators. Stopping at the door to the supply-pantry connected to the women’s bathroom, Maggie used both hands to steady the key in the lock, and then they all slipped into the narrow room with its white stacks of small hand towels, bars of flowery-smelling soap, and hoarded toilet paper. She turned to Walden and said, “Now what?” as he ran his fingers through his dark curls, saying, “We have to go to plan B, but it’s much more risky—” and Tracker turned from the adjoining locked bathroom door, laid a big hand on each of their shoulders and said, “Shh. Somebody’s in there.”
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