“You check the time. Perfect. As intended, you’ve arrived fashionably late. You stroll in and hand your invitation to the security guard, who waves you in.
You’ll see her beyond the glass double doors, in a slinky blue ballgown. She approaches as you enter, wearing a polite hostess smile that’s veiling suspicion. She knows the name and face of every guest scheduled to come or not come tonight. And you're not on her list. Her high heels click in contrast to the gentle dance music floating in from the next room. She is the very image of caring hospitality.
You better play it smooth.
You’re normally awkward and reserved, but it’s time to get out of character. Or should I say, into it.
You run your hand through your wavy brown hair carelessly. “Hope I’m not too late,” you say with a casual smile. You nod back to your Lamborghini Aventador, parked outside the entrance, and make a joke about traffic and car problems. Her eyes widen slightly as she realizes just what kind of guest you are. Her smile becomes a little more accommodating.
“Won’t you have some champagne, Mr…”
“Ryker,” you supply. “William J.”
“Mr. Ryker.” She plucks two champagne glasses off a convenient waiter and hands one to you. “We’re so glad you were able to make it to our little event.” She gracefully guides you through the crowds. But don’t be fooled. Right now, underneath that mask, she’s annoyed. The fact that she doesn't know you by sight yet somehow you got in tells her that you were invited but she missed you, which implies failure on her part, which she's blaming you for. You are an anomaly. A pin out of place. Everything she says to you from this point on will be a well-disguised insult.
“I’m sure you heard about the famous sculpture of the Viennese Dolphin that we have on exhibit as side art tonight,” she says, pointing it out to you. She’s really saying that she takes personal offence at the fact that you were invited to the extent that you knew about the Dolphin, but she still didn’t know that you were invited. Don’t make it worse.
“Yes, Freddy mentioned that when he invited me,” you say, barely glancing at the black glass sculpture. She looks at you sharply.
You just made it worse.
“Mr. Frederick Neese,” she stresses, “invited you personally?”
“Oh no, I received one of the mainstream invitations. Freddy called me later and talked about it.” Great. Now she really hates you. Not only did she apparently miss your name among the mainstream invitations, you are somehow a personal friend of her boss and she doesn’t know you. She narrows her eyes and offers you more champagne. You graciously decline and stroll away to speak with a famous businessman you allegedly know.
Now, before you further endanger your reputation here, you make your way through the crowd to a small sitting room on the side. He’ll be in here.
There he is. He’s the one on the couch with the two young ladies. Again, don’t be fooled. One of them is his sister and, by coincidence, the agent who trained him. The other is his fiancé and, by coincidence, his mission partner. Though he looks the part, he’s no more a playboy than you are. He’s here for the drop and a separate mission that you don’t need to worry about. The blond woman stands up to use the restroom, which is your cue.
You walk past his couch to peer out to window. He asks you if you have a lighter. You pat your breast pocket, then your right pocket, shrug, and say, “Sorry.” A simple code. Idiotproof, in fact. Which is good for this mission, seeing as you're the one on it.
He hands you the phone. You take it without saying anything and go back out to the main hall and up the marble staircase.
The third door on the right is the one to the control room. You lean over the banister and admire the view of the black Viennese Dolphin from above until the guard monitoring the cameras comes out for his 8:30 bathroom break, courtesy of his 8:15 coffee. As soon as he’s safely out of the way you casually pick the lock and enter the control room. Ignoring the larger monitors, you focus on hacking the main database. You scan the building for the radiation signal of the item and download the results onto the specially manufactured phone he gave you.
It takes a few nerve-wracking minutes to load and then begins tracking your target. You slip out, lock the door, and quickly dart back to the banister just as the guard rounds the corner again. You resume admiring the view of the Viennese Dolphin from above.
Your phone begins to beep softly in your earpiece. You start to walk around the indoor balcony. The beeping gets quieter. You head back towards the stairs. The beeping gets louder and higher. As you descend the stairs, the tone rises. You’re close.
“Ah, Mr. Ryker.” It’s the emcee lady with the blue ballgown. Don’t slight her. She’s dangerous. She knows something.
“I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now,” you say, brushing past her. Slighting her. Idiot.
She sharply turns and makes for a security guard by the front door. She probably looked at all the invitations again for a Mr. William J. Ryker and didn’t find anything. And now you’ve refused to explain yourself when she wanted to talk, so she’s just going to have the guards ask you.
Well, thanks to your own actions, you’ve pretty much blown your cover and you don’t have much time. You quickly walk across the room, trying to locate it based on the beeping.
The locator beep is getting higher and higher. You should be right next to it but all you see are people, tables, and art exhibits. Blue ballgown points at you and the guards start for you. You take a chance and guess where it is.
No time for doing this the subtle way. You dash across the room, snatch the metal cane of an old man, and swing it at the Viennese Dolphin. People scream and cry out in surprise and consternation as it shatters into millions of tiny pieces. The guards start yelling and several patrons run at you. You quickly rifle around in the shards until you locate the small black computer chip that was hidden in the Dolphin’s eye. You slip it into your pocket and dodge around the guards, running towards the next room as guards block the main exits. Someone grabs ahold of your jacket and slams you down on the marble floor. You hear your tux rip. You twist around, dragging your assailant to the ground, then kick off him to slide under a table. You scramble to your feet and dash through the milling crowd in the banquet room. They don’t know what all the noise is yet. People chatter, unsure what’s going on.
Blue ballgown comes streaking in after you, pointing and yelling something. She’s followed by some more security guards.
You jump and slide down the wide banquet table, scattering glasses, plates, and silverware everywhere. Why do you always make such a mess?
You know the layout of this place. The janitor’s closet is on the other side of the ballroom. Slipping slightly on the oiled dance floor, you skirt the couples in the ballroom.
Blue ballgown grabs a handgun from somewhere in her slinky dress and begins firing at you as she runs.
Aha! You knew she was an agent. Okay, maybe you didn’t, but you feel vindicated just the same as you skid across the slippery ballroom floor and she hurls a grenade at your head.
You slam the janitor’s closet door behind you and bolt it to slow them down. You shove some buckets over to the high window and scramble up them. After smashing the glass, you wriggle through the window and drop to the grass below, shredding your tux in the process. That was an expensive suit, by the way.
Uncaring, you dash across the grass to the circle driveway and leap into your car, fiddling with the key as Agent Blue Ballgown begins leading armed guards out the front doors. You jam the key in, floor it, and screech around the corner, sliding sideways in your seat. You duck as bullets shatter the back windshield.
Coming out of the circle driveway in a skid, you blast down the avenue into the night. Some bullets hit the bumper, but they can’t do anything to the bulletproof paint. You crow your victory to the skies and switch to incognito mode. Your car begins to convert to a low-profile black Honda Civic, smoothing purring as all the pieces rearrange themselves. They can spend the rest of the night searching for a car of your description now, as you calmly drive home in a Honda. You finally turn on your mike and earpiece and start communicating with me, which you should have been doing the whole time. “How was that?” you ask, grinning at the camera in the rearview mirror.
One of these days, Will, you’re going to cut it too close,” I snapped, then sighed and dragged off my headset. Running the Operations Room was always so stressful. I rubbed my eyes, letting out a shuddering breath I leaned back in my swivel chair and watched him make his way back to base on the map.