Either way, it bought Monk and the children some extra leeway.
But for how long?
Gray herded everyone across the shattered restaurant. Without a clear target, the continual barrage from the sniper had died down to bursts, enough to keep them pinned low.
Moving in a crouch, Gray aimed for the fire exit. The stairwell opened beside the elevator. They dared not use the lift. Whoever arranged this ambush surely had people posted in the lobby, watching the front exit and elevator bay. To call for the lift would only alert any men posted below. They’d be trapped. The only hope was to use the stairs to reach another level of the hotel and hole up in one of the rooms and regroup.
Their route to the stairwell was confounded by the rotation of the floor, but Gray knew the motion had also saved Dr. Masterson’s life. That first bullet had been meant for the back of the professor’s skull. The rotation of the floor must have thrown off the sniper’s aim, turning a fatal shot into a grazing wound.
Gray had to give the old guy some credit. After the initial shock, he seemed hardly fazed. He pressed a cloth napkin against his ear, already soaked with blood. He had somehow managed to grab his white hat and had it perched aslant on his head. Rosauro kept to his side, bearing the man’s ivory-handled cane.
Gray and Elizabeth reached the stationary lobby of the restaurant, followed a step behind by Rosauro and Masterson. “The stairs,” Gray said.
Rosauro dashed across the lobby in two running strides, then slid low to the door like a baseball player stealing home. She smoothly slipped a Sig Sauer semiautomatic from an ankle holster. Staying on her knees, she reached up, yanked the handle, and used her shoulder to nudge the door open, just wide enough to cover with her pistol and observe the stairs.
Gray heard it immediately. Boots pounded up the tile stairs. Many boots.
“Seven to ten,” Rosauro assessed.
They were too late.
“Hold them back,” Gray ordered and rolled over to the elevator.
Noting his destination, Elizabeth reached for one of the call buttons, but Gray blocked her before she could press it. According to the lighted display above the doors, the cage was still waiting at the lobby level. It was surely under watch.
Gray scooted over to one of the restaurant’s service stations and found a carving knife and an armful of folded tablecloths. He returned to the elevator and slipped the knife between the doors. He levered the blade enough to get his fingers and the tip of a boot through the gap. With a single heave, he shoved the doors open.
As he did so, the crack of a pistol blasted—followed by a cry of surprise and pain from the stairwell. A short spat of gunplay followed. But Rosauro had the higher ground. Gray didn’t know how long that advantage would hold out. If they rushed her post, she’d be swamped.
They had to move fast.
Beyond the open doors, the elevator shaft was pitch dark. Two oily cables dangled. There was also a metal service ladder to one side.
They’d never have time to climb.
Gray passed the tablecloths to Masterson and Elizabeth. He showed them how to bundle them between their hands. “It’s only a short step,” he assured them and pointed to the cables. “Hang tight and brake with your shoes. Try not to make too much noise when you get to the cage below. Wait for us there.”
He got a worried nod from Elizabeth and a roll of the eyes from Masterson. But the gunfire discouraged any dissent. Elizabeth pressed forward first. She reached out with her wrapped hands and leaped to the cables. With a small cry, she slid down the shaft.
Once she disappeared into the gloom, Masterson followed, securing his cane under his pant belt, like a sword in a scabbard. He was tall and long-limbed enough to reach the cables by stretching his arms out.
Down he went.
“Go!” Rosauro called to him. She did not turn but fired two quick shots. “I’ll be right behind you.”
“The elevator latch—”
Gray knew better than to argue with a woman…especially one with a gun. He bundled his hands, leaped, and mounted the cable. He slid down with a shout back to Rosauro.
Before he even finished his yell, she appeared at the lip overhead, limned against the brightness. She swung to the service ladder, yanked the inside latch, and closed the elevator doors. Darkness swallowed Gray as he slid down the cable. He felt the line shake as Rosauro joined him.
Gray’s eyes quickly grew accustomed to the gloom. Weak light filtered through each level’s doors. As he slid past the floors, counting them down, he made out the shadowy elevator car below. Two figures huddled together at one corner.
A tiny flicker of flame ignited below.
Elizabeth’s cigarette lighter.
Gray braked his descent and landed lightly atop the elevator.
A moment later, Rosauro dropped next to him.
Gray found the service hatch. He removed his own weapon and opened the hatch enough to peek through. The cage was empty below, the doors closed. He motioned the others to remain on top.
Gripping the edge of the hatchway with one hand, Gray swung down and dropped into a crouch, his weapon up. He reached for the button that opened the doors. He heard shouts and panic coming from the lobby. The gunfire had stirred the sleepy hotel into a beehive.
Just as well.
The chaos could serve them.
Gray hit the button, and the doors parted. He darted out as soon as there was enough space and ducked to the left, where a waist-high planter supported a dwarf palm tree.
The lobby churned and milled with people. Management yelled in both Hindi and English.
Steps away, Gray immediately picked out two people who looked too calm, wearing jackets despite the heat. Hands in pockets. He noted earpieces in place.
They spotted him, too.
But his sudden and unexpected appearance caught them off guard. Despite the crowd, Gray had no choice but to react quickly. A prolonged firefight would only threaten more lives.
With his weapon already raised through the palm leaves, he squeezed the trigger and dropped the first man with a headshot. Pivoting on his toe, he squeezed twice more in rapid succession, knowing his aim was not as fixed. The first shot struck the man’s shoulder, spinning him back. The second went wide and buried itself into the plaster wall.
The gunman fired through the pocket of his jacket, but Gray dropped to the floor as plaster blasted behind him. Lying on his shoulder, arms extended, he fired again, a few inches from the floor. The assailant’s ankle exploded, and he toppled face forward and hit the marble floor hard with his chin, shattering bone. He didn’t move again.
Gray turned to the elevator in time to see the cage doors slip closed.
The bystanders in the lobby, stunned for a breath, emptied in all directions with screams and shouts.
Gray stabbed the button.
He glanced up to the lighted display. The elevator had been called.
It was headed up.
Up toward the gunmen in the rooftop restaurant.
Crouching atop the elevator, Elizabeth heard the lift pulleys engage. With a lurch, the car began to rise. The elevator had been called.
“Mierda…,” Rosauro swore next to her.
Elizabeth stared up to the dark shaft. “What are we going to do?” she asked. She still held her lighter, flickering with a tiny flame. She felt helpless, and she hated how her hands shook.
“You’re going to stay here,” Rosauro said and leaned forward and blew out the flame. “In the dark. Not a word. Not a sound.”
The woman sat on the lip of the hatch, then dropped down into the elevator.
“Close the door,” she called quietly up to them. “But keep it unlocked. Just in case.”
In case of what?
Still, Elizabeth obeyed. She swung the hatch almost closed, holding it ajar with her pinky. Her last sight of Rosauro was as the woman readied her weapon.
Biting back a curse as the elevator lifted away, Gray ran for the stairs. He knocked a few people aside and leaped over a couple huddled low on the stairs, covering their heads. He mounted the stairs three at a time, racing around and around, pausing only long enough to make sure the car hadn’t stopped. If he could get above it and hit the call button, then he could stop the elevator before it reached the roof.
He missed it on the second level and sprinted.
Shouts called from above, deep-throated and brusque. It sounded like the assault team was headed back down. Gray burst onto the third floor to check the elevator and ran smack into a wall—or rather, the human equivalent of it.
Kowalski stood at the elevator bay, finger on the button.
“Gray!” he said, rubbing his stomach. “Ow, what the hell, man?”
The elevator chimed open.
Rosauro leaped out, her pistol pressed into Kowalski’s face.
“Hey!” He bumped back a step.
“You called the elevator?” Gray asked.
“Yeah, I was going up to the restaurant, find out what all the commotion was.”
Gray didn’t know which was Kowalski’s greatest asset: his thickheadedness or his laziness.
“Everybody out!” Gray yelled.
Rosauro was already in motion, helping Elizabeth and Masterson down through the hatch. Gray led them back to the stairs. Kowalski brought up their rear.
Rosauro moved alongside him as they fled down the stairs. “I heard them speaking English. No British accents. American.”
Mercenaries from the look of the pair in the lobby.
Still, he pictured the man he’d spotted outside the Museum of American History. With the name badge from the Defense Intelligence Agency. Mapplethorpe. Someone knew they’d be here.
They reached the deserted lobby. Gray urged everyone toward the open door—but before they could reach it, a figure stepped into view. He shouldered a snub-nosed M4 carbine assault rifle. Additionally, strapped to his back, he bore a long-barreled M24, fitted with a sniper’s scope.
It was the gunman from the neighboring rooftop.
The barrel of his weapon pointed at Masterson’s nose.
The sniper didn’t intend to miss this shot.