“Hi. Is this serious?” Mark asked when he picked up.
“It’s about Matt. He just called me.”
“Where is he? The school just called me and I can’t get a hold of him.”
“His battery was dying and I told him to turn the phone off for the time being. He’s at Union Station in a total panic. It seems some of the boys at school set him up at some mall by putting merchandise in his pockets without him knowing, then ditched him. He found the stuff before leaving the store, but he’s scared to death that the mall security is after him.”
“Not quite, but things are a pretty mess. I’m heading to the school now. Tell you what. I’ll have a car meet you at Union Station. You bring Matt back to school. I’m not sure what all is going on, but I’m pretty sure they’re not going to charge him.”
“Matt’s pretty worried about this hurting you.”
Mark chuckled. “He would. Tell him not to worry. We’ll get it all straightened out.”
“Okay. I’ve got to go underground. I’ll call when I catch up with Matt.”
“Good. And, uh, thanks.”
As Mark swiped his phone to hang it up, he noticed Secret Service Agent Riff Butler, a tall, broad Black man with the blank demeanor most agents wore, already ordering the car. Butler paused.
“Sir?” he asked. “We’ve got a car on the way to Union, but is it for Ms. Wheatly?”
“Yeah,” said Mark. “Do you know if Matt ditched his detail?”
“No, sir. He didn’t. But they won’t interfere if he’s not in actual danger.”
“That’s right. But Matt was set up by some boys.”
“Yes, sir. We know. But it will be better for Matt if his detail doesn’t step in.”
Mark frowned. “I don’t see how that will help keep him safe.”
“It’s not personal safety, sir,” said Riff. “It’s socialization at school. No point in reminding everybody that he has government bodyguards. Makes him more of a target for resentment and harassment.”
“I see.” Mark glared out the window. “I know why you can’t tell me what’s going on, but Tony Garces was saying that Matt’s been getting a lot of grief from Duffy and Rob.”
“Yes, sir.” Riff shifted as he checked his tablet. “Duffy McIntyre and Rob Ayres. Duffy’s father is Andrew McIntyre and Rob’s father is Stephen Ayres.”
“No.” Mark groaned softly.
Andrew McIntyre had made his extreme fortune buying and selling software companies. His hardline approach to business and everything else meant that he was a frequent and very loud critic of Mark’s. Stephen Ayres was part of a real estate dynasty, and while he wasn’t the blowhard McIntyre was, he was no fan of Mark’s, either. Mark tried to remember if either were active parents. Mark knew Paul Marley’s mother, Senator Janet Marley. She was from the opposition, but the two were friends.