After the meeting, Schuyler told Bliss and Oliver everything her grandmother had told her about the Silver Bloods, and how Charles Force was the only person who could help them with Dylan's situation. They decided that the next day Schuyler and Bliss would sneak out of their third period class to confront him. Oliver would make some excuse to their art teacher as to why the girls were absent.
They ambushed Mr. Force in front of the Four Seasons restaurant, where he was known to lunch daily. The Four Seasons was located in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue, and from noon to two P.M., it was the center of the Manhattan universe. Media magnates, financial tycoons, publishers, celebrated authors, and personalities made it their personal commissary.
"There he is," Bliss said, spotting his sleek silver head emerging from a black Town Car. She recognized him because her father had hosted the Forces at their apartment the first week they arrived in Manhattan. She had been a bit afraid of Charles Force. The man had looked right through her, as if he knew everything about her, every secret wish, every hidden desire; his handshake had been firm and had left a mark on her. He frightened her, but she wasn't about to let that stop her from helping Dylan.
Schuyler studied him. She could swear she'd seen him before. But where? There was something familiar about him. The way he bent his head forward. She knew this man, she was sure of it.
"Mr. Force! Mr. Force!" Bliss called. Charles Force looked curiously at the two girls standing in front of him.
"Excuse me," he told his lunch partner.
"Mr. Force, we're sorry to disturb you," Bliss said. "But we were told to come to you, that you alone can help us."
"You're Forsyth's kid, right?" Charles said abruptly. "What are you doing here in the middle of the day? Doesn't Duchesne have off-campus rules? Or did that go out with the uniforms?" He turned to Schuyler. "And you." He didn't say her name, but he raised his eyebrows. "If I'm not mistaken you're a Duchesne student as well. Well, you have my attention. How can I help you?"
Schuyler held his gaze and didn't flinch. She stared at him with her bright blue eyes, and it was he who turned away first. "Our friend Dylan is being accused of a murder he didn't commit. You are the only one who can help us. You are the Regis. My grandmother said - "
"Cordelia Van Alen is a menace. She has never forgiven me for taking command of the Conclave," he muttered. He motioned to his lunch partner, who was still patiently holding the door open to the restaurant. "Go ahead, I'll join you in a minute."
"We're not leaving until you help us," Bliss said - her voice quavering even though there was nothing she wanted more than to run and hide from the man. The voices in her head were screaming, demanding that she stay away from him. Killer... a voice in her head whispered. Murderer... She felt a deep and intense revulsion. She wanted to throw up. She wanted to throw herself in front of a cab. She wanted to fly, to flee, anything to escape from his penetrating gaze. She thought she was going to go mad with fright. There was something terrible about this man, a wild and dangerous power she should run from.
"Dylan Ward has been taken care of. There's no need to worry about him anymore," he said, with a dismissive wave of his hand. "He is perfectly safe. Nothing will happen to him. The police made a regrettable mistake. He's free. Your father could have told you that," he sniffed. "He helped with the paperwork for the release."
Bliss was momentarily shocked into silence. She hadn't realized it would be so easy. "What do you mean?"
"Exactly what I said, the matter has been resolved," he said shortly. "There's no need to worry, I assure you. Now, please, I am late for my lunch."
Bliss and Schuyler exchanged uneasy looks.
"But what about the Silver Bloods? What about what they're doing to us? We know about Croatan!" Schuyler accused.
"Please, don't bother me with Cordelia Van Alen's pitiful fairy tales. I refuse to even discuss it. I've said it before and I'll say it again. There is no such thing as Croatan," he said, a finality to his tone. "Now, I suggest you girls go back to school, where you belong."
The Carlyle Hotel was an understated, elegant hotel on Madison Avenue in the style of a grand English manor. It was one of those hotels that whispered luxury with an intimidating Old Money sang-froid. Even the air-conditioning was always a frosty sixty-six degrees. When Schuyler was little, her grandmother would to take her to the Bemelmans Bar for Shirley Temples. Cordelia would sit at the bar and smoke, drinking one Sazerac after another, and Schuyler would sit quietly, looking at the frolicking animals on the mural and counting the many ladies who came in wearing hats and corsages. Then, afterward, they would repair to the main dining room to tuck into a five-course French meal. On the days when Cordelia declared she'd had "just enough" of the Riverside Drive house, they would repair to a two-bedroom apartment suite at the Carlyle for the weekend. Schuyler would order strawberries and cream from room service, fill up the whirlpool bath, and eat her nutritiously deficient dinner amid the bubbles.
When Schuyler walked into the white marble lobby that evening, she felt at home in the hushed surroundings. She put painful thoughts of Jack Force and the humiliating encounter with his father out of her mind. Bliss had asked her and Oliver to meet her there that evening without explaining why. Oliver was already waiting in a secluded corner of the bar.
"Manhattan?" he asked, motioning to his drink. "Sure." She nodded.
A discreet waiter arrived bearing a silver tray and her cocktail. He placed a silver bowl of warm Spanish almonds on their table.
Schuyler picked one and munched on it thoughtfully. "God, do they have the best nuts here or what?"
"There's nothing like an Upper East Side hotel." Oliver nodded sagely, taking a handful. "We should do a New York hotel bar-nut tour. Compare the Regency's nuts to the Carlyle's to the St. Regis."
"Mmmmm... the Regency has a great selection. They do this little appetizer thing, with three different kinds of treats - wasabi peas, warm nuts, and some kind of peppery cracker," Schuyler said. The Regency was another of Cordelia's favorite haunts.
They emptied their glasses and ordered another. After a few minutes, Bliss ran into the bar, her hair still wet from a shower. She took a seat next to Schuyler and across from Oliver. "Hey, guys. Thanks for meeting me."
The three of them clinked drinks.
"Mmm... these nuts are good," Bliss said, popping a few into her mouth.
Oliver and Schuyler laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing. I'll tell you later, it's not important," Schuyler said.
Bliss raised an eyebrow. The two of them were like that all the time. Inside jokes, memories of their friendship she didn't share. It was amazing that Dylan had put up with it.
"C'mon, what's happened? Why did you want to meet here?" Schuyler asked.
"Who?" Oliver asked.
"Who else? Dylan." Bliss replied. She told them what she found out from her father - that Dylan had been released - but he wasn't exactly as free as Charles Force had told them. Instead, he had been put into protective custody in a suite at the Carlyle Hotel. The judge had allowed Charles Force to bail him out, on the condition that Dylan be released only to his care. Her father said it was all a misunderstanding, and the charges would be dropped soon enough. But they still couldn't figure out why Dylan was being held anyway, especially by Charles Force.
"And I overheard my dad and Charles talking, about how 'they take care of their own' and 'not to let the situation get out of hand. "
"Wonder what he meant by that?" Schuyler asked, taking another almond from the bowl.
Bliss took a long swig from her cocktail. "Anyway, the way I see it, we just do what Oliver said. Bust him out. We can't fail. Use mind control to overwhelm the guards - Schuyler told me she had done it before - then speed him out of there, and Ollie's the lookout. They're holding him in Room 1001."
"Just like that?" Oliver asked.
"Yeah, why not? You're the one who told us to think like Blue Bloods."
"But how do we get upstairs in the first place? Don't you need to be a guest?" Oliver asked.
"Actually," Schuyler piped up, "that's the easiest part. Cordelia and I used to stay here all the time. I know the elevator guys."
"Well then, let's get the show on the road," Oliver said, raising his hand for the check.
They walked out to the main lobby toward the guarded elevator. "Hey, Marty," Schuyler said, smiling at the elevator man in his shiny red coat with brass buttons.
"Hi, Miss Schuyler, you haven't been here in a while," he said, tipping his hat.
"I know, it's been too long," Schuyler said smoothly, ushering in her friends into the mirrored elevator.
"Twelfth floor?" Marty asked genially.
"No, they uh, put us on ten this time. You guys must be booked."
"It's October," he explained. "Lots of tourists. Some show at the Met or something." He pressed the TEN and took a step back, smiling at Schuyler and her friends.
"Thanks, Marty, see you around!" Schuyler said, when the doors opened.
They walked toward the end of the hallway to the room, but when they arrived at Room 1001, there were no guards stationed at the front of the room.
"That's weird," Bliss said. "I heard my dad saying they've got like, all these cops around him all the time."
Schuyler was about to pulverize the lock, when she noticed something. The door was ajar. She pushed it open. She glanced over her shoulder to find Bliss and Oliver giving her puzzled looks. They had come prepared for battle, and yet there was no obstacle to their progress.
Schuyler entered the room, Bliss immediately behind her.
"Dylan?" Bliss called.
They entered the plush, carpeted room, where the television was still blaring. There was a room service tray with remnants of a steak dinner on its plate, the silver covers haphazardly stacked to the side. An unmade bed and towels on the floor.
"Are you sure they said 1001?" Schuyler asked. "Completely." Bliss nodded.
"What do you think happened?" Oliver asked, looking around and taking the remote control. He switched off the television.
"Dylan's gone," Bliss said flatly. She remembered what Charles Force had told her. He was being taken care of - whatever that meant. She felt a chill. Had they arrived too late to save him?
"He's escaped." Oliver nodded.
"Or someone, or something, let him go." Schuyler said. Bliss was silent, her face inscrutable as she looked at the half-eaten meal.
Schuyler placed a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. "I'm sure wherever he is, he's all right. Dylan's tough," she told her friend. "Now, come on, let's get out of here before someone thinks we let him out."
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