Since I've know the man I've been telling Pete Thornton that I hate parties. I don't really do big crowds, fancy tuxes, schmoozing and boozing. I never have mastered small talk and if a big important funder for the Phoenix Foundation comes up to me and asks where I think the most improvement could be made…I'll tell him. Whether he really wants to hear or not. And somehow my snafu's and social faux pas never do get back to Pete. Because he keeps inviting me.
Most of the time I manage to find something important to do a few weeks in advance, like forays into middle eastern countries and getting trapped in chemical plants or stranded in hot air balloons. God knows I can't claim desperately needed vacation as a reason to avoid a suaree.
This particular gathering, according to Pete, trumped all others past, present and future. From the office to his car there was no give in Pete's insistence that I be there, nor could I talk the secretary into scheduling a last minute emergency appendectomy for me. I was going. Period.
Pete had even gone to the trouble of pre-renting a tux for me. And if that didn't beat all there was a limo on the docks at six with instructions not to leave without me safely tucked away in the back. That's the trouble with best friends also being your boss. Hard to say no, especially when you have no choice to begin with.
So I was relatively resigned, on a cool Friday evening, when the limosene pulled up in front of the Hyatt Regency on Bernhardt. I had to wait for the driver to let me out, but once I hit the concrete I was resolved. I would schmooze, I would mingle, and I would be on my best behavior. And I would never, ever let Pete talk me into another party.
I must have looked important in the black tux, or maybe it was the ivory silk shirt, mother of pearl cuff links and indigo bow tie. Could've been the black tennis shoes. I drew a few looks on the way in, and I didn't mind returning them. One of the guaranteed benefits of these shindigs were the princesses that showed up looking for Mr. Charming.
I will never claim to be an expert on women but there is one thing that I have figured out. How to spot a woman that is looking. She'll have her hair up, her shoulders tanned and bare, enough makeup to set her glowing and a color that perfectly reflects her eyes. She won't be drinking because she doesn't want her hand to be cold, should it be taken by anyone. And she wants to be free for that possible prince to sweep her onto the dance floor.
It was just such a woman or two that eyeballed me as I stepped through the revolving glass doors and into the vast open lobby. I can't say what she was wearing but I can tell you that her eyes were green.
Most of the interior of the hotel was done up in gold, brass, crystal and water. The latter cascaded down so many surfaces and under so many walkways that a person had to fight the urge to hold his breath when he first walked in. Plants both living and silk sprouted unnaturally throughout the cavernous room. But none of the space had been devoted to the Phoenix Foundation's party.
In fact without an invitation there was no way to know where in the towering hotel the party was being held. Partly for security reasons and partly to preserve the feel of the hotel lobby, or so I assumed. If the invitation wasn't plain enough, of course, there was the line of elegantly clad party guests queing up at the bank of elevators, glass elevators, that scaled the forty floors in a stately manner. All the better to allow the guests to see exactly how elaborate the interior designer was paid to be. Did I mention that the lobby windows stretched all forty stories?
"Never again, Pete." I muttered, staring straight up as one of the elevators started its ascent. "Never again."
Ugh. I'd been spotted.
Dressed in his classic pin stripe tux Pete, looking far more comfortable in his monkey suit than I was in mine, came striding over, vacating a group of Asian diplomats. They headed for the elevators and I managed to paste on a smile as I reached out a hand for Pete's.
"You made it!"
"You doubted I would…" I asked, shooting both eyebrows up. "I felt like the president, locked into my limo."
Pete chuckled amiably but there was a sparkle of mischief and triumph in his eyes. "I've had lots of time to get used to you MacGyver."
"Don't I know it." I muttered, sinking one hand in a pocket, or trying to. Confound it if Pete hadn't given me a tux with no pockets in the pants. I'd had to slit the stitches in the breast pocket to find a place to put the Swiss Army Knife.
Pete chuckled again and waved a hand at the diplomats as they boarded an elevator car together. "Some of the men I'd like you to meet, before you disappear on me tonight. Sikuzu, and his brother and father. Two generations of a very powerful, industrial family."
"Big bucks for the Phoenix Foundation," I agreed.
"And big influence. The youngest of the group has been leaning ever so slightly towards more 'democratic' ways of thinking, Mac. This could mean more than the Phoenix Foundation."
Pete's face lit up as he spoke and a lengthy examination answered all the questions I'd had about why I was at the party, and why it had been so important. "Alright." I said, nodding. I put a reassuring hand on Pete's shoulder and nodded again when he looked at me.
"I appreciate it, Mac."
I smirked at the relief in his voice and let my friend get about ten feet away before the movement of an elevator sparked a momentary concern.
"Uh….Pete? There isn't any way that I might be able to avoid the um…" I thumbed towards the glass cages rising and falling like recent gas prices and forced the apprehension out of my voice and onto my face. I'm not scared of heights…persay. I just don't see the need to put myself in a glass box when a steel one would do just as nicely.
"Ha…of course Mac. There are freight elevators around the corner. Pierre!"
Relief let me release the breath I hadn't realized I was holding and I rested my palm over my heart to make sure it still beat, while Thornton pointed at me and briefly made a request of the concierge he had just called.
The blessed man nodded and Pete gave me a wave before he went one way, and Pierre the other. I followed Pierre.
In a hotel of Hyatt Regency quality, around the corner meant through two corridors and a Laundromat, but true to his word, Pete's promised freight elevator awaited me along with another colorfully clad party guest. I guess I wasn't the only one with a dislike for glass rooms.
"You weel be on the catwalk when you arrive. You will follow ze signs to the terrace. Enjoy your evening, Monsier…Madamme." Pierre bowed stiffly and zipped off once the lady and I had entered the car. She stood as far from the door and the control panel as possible and said nothing so I did the honors, punched the button marked "Catwalk" and leaned back gratefully against the safety bar as the doors closed.
Another small pleasure about freight elevators. No elevator music.
Now. My stoic companion would not have fallen under the "looking" category. The most glaring piece of evidence was the gold ring on her left hand. Had she been Caucasian and far more scantily clad I might have considered it, but she was very definitely asian. She was about four feet nothing, and couldn't have weighed more than ninety pounds, maybe 105 with the full weight of the traditional kimono, knot and headdress added in.
"Evening." I said, gallantly.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I always say. My voice broke over the hum of the elevator easily but she never blinked. She barely seemed to breathe for that matter.
"My name's MacGyver."
Don't get me wrong. I know a thing or two about the restrained cultures of the east. I've spent more time than I care to remember watching the good, the bad and the ugly of cultures like hers unfold when exposed to the heart of America. There are a great many things about eastern tradition that I have deep respect for. I tried hard to let them outweigh the things I couldn't stand.
I was pondering another snappy way to break the silence when the lights flickered, the gears groaned and the elevator shuddered. Some part of my brain told me I should have expected as much. I put my hands out to catch my self and kept the smaller figure of the woman in the corner of my eye until the car was completely stopped. Thankfully the lights stayed on.
One glance told me that my fellow trappee was still statuesque and unharmed. The elevator fell silent again and my mind went from damage control to Mr. Fix-it.
I punched the catwalk button once and waited. Nothing happened so I punched a few of the other buttons. The gears groaned a bit and the walls vibrated but we didn't move anywhere. I glanced over at the lady, who stared at the door.
At least she wasn't screaming. I pulled the emergency stop.
At least she wasn't pregnant. I depressed the emergency stop and pulled it again. Nothing.
"Okay…" Under the button panel was the emergency call box and I pulled open the thin aluminum door wondering vaguely why they always put the box as far down on the wall as possible. I flipped the on/off switch, waited for the green light and said, "Hello?"
The box reminded me instantly of someone else I had recently met. In fact she was more talkative than the box was.
"The freight elevator on the east side has frozen around the 38th level." Nothing. "Hello. Mayday, mayday…"
I looked the thing over wondering if there wasn't a volume control somewhere that I had missed, or another switch I was supposed to throw. I was two seconds away from getting at the Swiss Army Knife and pulling open the panel when I heard a disturbingly familiar sound.
Two clicks of metal against metal.
The same sound the hammer of a gun makes when it is being cocked.
My heart leapt to my throat and on instinct I looked to the door, images of Murdoc or some other enemy jumping to the back of my mind. What I saw reflected in the stainless steel was worse. I lunged towards the tiny woman, one hand reaching for the revolver she was turning on herself and the other seeking to wrap around her waist, traditional knotted blanket and all, to pull her into some sort of restraining hold.
The gun went off, bright and loud in the tiny space. Plastic and glass shattered above us and I ducked my head and squeezed my eyes shut as debris fell. A second later warm steel was against my palm. I couldn't tell which way the muzzle was pointed but I closed my fist around the small gun anyway, pulling the tiny woman in against my chest. She screamed, the gun went off a second time, my hand exploded along with the lights and we were plunged into darkness.