fb-pixel;

Chapter 18: A shot in the dark

Heather Hopp-Bruce/Globe staff; Adobe


“The Mechanic” is a novella by best-selling author Ben Mezrich. The fictional work will publish exclusively on BostonGlobe.com over the next two weeks. Read more about this book at globe.com/themechanic. Sign up to be alerted when the next installment goes live here.

Chapter Eighteen

It all happened so fast it seemed like time itself had shattered along with the display case. One minute Hailey was reading the last page of the book in the foppish professor’s hands, and the next everything exploded around her. She saw Nick spinning away, pushed by the force of the bullet that had hit him in the shoulder. She saw the professor diving to the ground and scrambling on all fours toward a door marked “staff only.” And then she herself was diving forward, grabbing Nick and pulling him behind the closest protection she could find — the slowly revolving Robinson crate, encased in its envelope of glass.

She looked down at Nick, who was flat against the floor, clutching at his wound. Blood seeped through his fingers and his face was pale, but he was breathing. Hailey risked a glance around the edge of the revolving crate, but she couldn’t see the woman who had fired at them. She’d only caught the slightest glance before she’d hit the ground: jet black hair tied back in a ponytail, some sort of dark vest over a zippered sweatsuit, and heels. But there was no sign now of the woman, who could be anywhere around them, and moving closer by the second.

Advertisement



She turned back to Nick. His eyes were open, but he wasn’t trying to move.

“I’ll be OK,” he said. “You’ve got to go. You can’t stay here.”

“I can’t just leave you.”

Even as she said the words, Hailey realized she felt them, too. The emotions surprised her; she didn’t get close to people easily. They were in this together.

Advertisement



“She’s not after me,” Nick coughed. “She’s after that.”

He jerked his head toward the eagle, which Hailey realized she was still clutching. She’d lost the towel, and the bronze glinted in the spotlight from the revolving crate above.

“Then I’ll toss it to her.”

Nick shook his head.

“She gets that, and we’re dead. You saw the warehouse and the hotel room. She doesn’t leave loose ends.”

Hailey realized Nick was right. She thought quickly, did the math, and came to the only conclusion that she could. It wasn’t ideal, but if there wasn’t any choice.

“I’ll draw her away. If you can make it, meet me at the skiff.”

She gave his hand a squeeze, then started scanning the room, looking for the best way out. They’d come in through a locked side entrance that had been child’s play for Nick, but getting there would take her past where she’d last seen the woman. But as she looked around, she saw another way, an open door leading into a dark hall with wooden planks for a floor.

Hailey took a deep breath, kept low — and took off.

Her sudden move gave her a slight advantage; the bullet that came her way went wide by a handful of inches, shattering a framed picture on the wall behind her. Then she was through the doorway and into a much darker space. Not a room, but a wharf overlooking what appeared to be the harbor, except it wasn’t, because there were tall Revolutionary War-era ships bouncing up and down on the water. Hailey saw a pile of cork barrels in a corner, and quickly huddled behind them, hiding herself as best she could. Just in time, because as she clutched the eagle to her chest, she heard the distinct sound of heels against the creaky wooden floor.

Advertisement



The woman with the dark hair stood in the doorway, the handgun floating expertly in her right hand. She paused there for a moment, listening. Then she spoke.

“You don’t have to die, Katie. You know that, don’t you?”

Hailey felt the blood rushing into her cheeks. She hadn’t heard that name in a long, long time.

“I just want the eagle,” the woman continued. “The people I work for have been chasing that eagle for a very long time. Give it to me, and you can go back to the life you’ve created for yourself.”

Somehow, the woman knew who she really was. But if that was supposed to frighten Hailey, well, it had the opposite effect. She felt anger boiling inside her. This woman had no idea what she’d gone through to get from Katie to Hailey.

“The eagle is worthless,” Hailey hissed, from behind the barrels.

“You know that’s not true. Something is hidden in the shape of its wings that is more valuable than either of us can imagine.”

Advertisement



“You were listening in on the bar.”

“I wasn’t the only one. Which is why I don’t have time to play with you.”

Hailey felt her anger building.

“I know why your employers want the eagle. But it just contains the equation, not the solution. I’m a mathematician. Trust me, an equation like this could take years, lifetimes to solve.”

Hailey wasn’t simply stalling. She was telling the woman the truth. The eagle was a blueprint, but on its own, so complex it might not even be possible to decipher. The end result — the bell, the precise tone that could transform one metal to another — was something else. Somewhere else.

But the woman didn’t seem to care. She started forward, toward the barrels, one heel-click at a time.

“To the people who pay me, lifetimes are cheap. Don’t be a fool, Katie. Give me the eagle and you can walk out of here.”

The sound of the woman’s heels against the faux wooden dock stopped. Hailey held her breath. She glanced up and realized for the first time that the darkness to her right was actually made up of a plane of incredibly smooth black glass. She caught a glimpse of her own reflection in the strange glass and realized the woman could see the reflection too.

“It’s over, Katie.”

Hailey rose to her feet, facing the woman. She held the eagle in front of her, a pathetic shield.

“My name’s not Katie,” she started, as the woman raised the gun.

Advertisement



And suddenly, two figures sprang up directly behind the black glass. Women, in Revolutionary garb, one of them pregnant. As they started to speak, the killer with the raven hair whirled toward them and fired. The bullet hit the glass, shattering it, and the two Revolutionary women vanished in a puff of sparkle — because they had never really been there at all. Holograms, Hailey realized, as she dashed full speed toward a doorway that had automatically opened directly across from her. The professor, she realized, was at the controls. When he’d scurried through the door marked “staff,” she’d assumed he was running for his life. She’d misjudged him.

Another bullet crashed past her but she was already through the doorway. She found herself in another dark room, this one with a descending floor separated into bleacher-like alleys. A vast movie screen wrapped around the entire front of the room, from floor to ceiling. There was an emergency exit next to the screen, but before Hailey was halfway there, she heard those heels again, and dove for the floor.

Just as she hit the carpet, the entire room changed. The movie screen became a vast green field, and even the floor seemed to become part of the theme park vision, so real Hailey could almost smell the grass of Lexington Common. Smoke rose from panels in the walls, obscuring the air around her. Then out of the mist, across the entire front of the room, a phalanx of British redcoats roared toward her, seeming to come right out of the screen, muskets and bayonets bristling. Ear-shattering explosions rocked the room, and the entire floor started to shake.

The woman with the dark hair seemed momentarily stunned or confused, and Hailey didn’t waste the moment. She flung herself toward the emergency exit and hit the door dead center with her shoulder.

Cool, night air whipped her skin as she barreled down what appeared to be a half-covered gangplank. Ahead of her, she saw the ship: a near perfect re-creation of one of the three boats that had been victimized in 1773, now floating in the same water that had once been doused with tea. With a leap, she was on the deck and moving even faster.

In front of her was a row of fake, cubic crates attached to ropes, readied to be thrown into the water during regular museum hours, assumedly by cheering tourists dressed as Mohawks. Hailey lowered her shoulders, tucked the eagle under her arm, and headed for the crates at full speed.

“Katie,” she heard from the gangplank behind her, “Stop!”

But she was already over the crates and over ship’s railing, plummeting toward the dark, cold water below.