Gabrielle Ashes taxi was not moving.
Sitting at a roadblock near the FDR Memorial, Gabrielle looked out at the emergency vehicles in the distance and felt as if a surrealistic fog bank had settled over the city. Radio reports were coming in now that the exploded car might have contained a high‑level government official.
Pulling out her cellphone, she dialed the senator. He was no doubt starting to wonder what was taking Gabrielle so long.
The line was busy.
Gabrielle looked at the taxis clicking meter and frowned. Some of the other cars stuck here were pulling up onto the curbs and turning around to find alternative routes.
The driver looked over his shoulder. You wanna wait? Your dime.
Gabrielle saw more official vehicles arriving now. No. Lets go around.
The driver grunted in the affirmative and began maneuvering the awkward multipoint turn. As they bounced over the curbs, Gabrielle tried Sexton again.
Several minutes later, having made a wide loop, the taxi was traveling up C Street. Gabrielle saw the Philip A. Hart Office Building looming. She had intended to go straight to the senators apartment, but with her office this close . . .
Pull over, she blurted to the driver. Right there. Thanks. She pointed.
The cab stopped.
Gabrielle paid the amount on the meter and added ten dollars. Can you wait ten minutes?
The cabbie looked at the money and then at his watch. Not a minute longer.
Gabrielle hurried off. Ill be out in five.
The deserted marble corridors of the Senate office building felt almost sepulchral at this hour. Gabrielles muscles were tense as she hurried through the gauntlet of austere statues lining the third‑floor entryway. Their stony eyes seemed to follow her like silent sentinels.
Arriving at the main door of Senator Sextons five‑room office suite, Gabrielle used her key card to enter. The secretarial lobby was dimly lit. Crossing through the foyer, she went down a hallway to her office. She entered, flicked on the fluorescent lights, and strode directly to her file cabinets.
She had an entire file on the budgeting of NASAs Earth Observing System, including plenty of information on PODS. Sexton would certainly want all the data he could possibly get on PODS as soon as she told him about Harper.
NASA lied about PODS.
As Gabrielle fingered her way through her files, her cellphone rang.
Senator? she answered.
No, Gabs. Its Yolanda. Her friends voice had an unusual edge to it. You still at NASA?
No. At the office.
Find anything at NASA?
You have no idea. Gabrielle knew she couldnt tell Yolanda anything until shed talked to Sexton; the senator would have very specific ideas about how best to handle the information. Ill tell you all about it after I talk to Sexton. Heading over to his place now.
Yolanda paused. Gabs, you know this thing you were saying about Sextons campaign finance and the SFF?
I told you I was wrong and‑
I just found out two of our reporters who cover the aerospace industry have been working on a similar story.
Gabrielle was surprised. Meaning?
I dont know. But these guys are good, and they seem pretty convinced that Sexton is taking kickbacks from the Space Frontier Foundation. I just figured I should call you. I know I told you earlier that the idea was insane. Marjorie Tench as a source seemed spotty, but these guys of ours . . . I dont know, you might want to talk to them before you see the senator.
If theyre so convinced, why havent they gone to press? Gabrielle sounded more defensive than she wanted to.
They have no solid evidence. The senator apparently is good at covering his tracks.
Most politicians are. Theres nothing there, Yolanda. I told you the senator admitted taking SFF donations, but the gifts are all under the cap.
I know thats what he told you, Gabs, and Im not claiming to know whats true or false here. I just felt obliged to call because I told you not to trust Marjorie Tench, and now I find out people other than Tench think the senator may be on the dole. Thats all.
Who were these reporters? Gabrielle felt an unexpected anger simmering now.
No names. I can set up a meeting. Theyre smart. They understand campaign finance law . . . Yolanda hesitated. You know, these guy actually believe Sexton is hurting for cash‑bankrupt even.
In the silence of her office, Gabrielle could hear Tenchs raspy accusations echoing. After Katherine died, the senator squandered the vast majority of her legacy on bad investments, personal comforts, and buying himself what appears to be certain victory in the primaries. As of six months ago, your candidate was broke.
Our men would love to talk to you, Yolanda said.
I bet they would, Gabrielle thought. Ill call you back.
You sound pissed.
Never at you, Yolanda. Never at you. Thanks.
Gabrielle hung up.
Dozing on a chair in the hallway outside Senator Sextons Westbrooke apartment, a security guard awoke with a start at the sound of his cellular phone. Bolting up in his chair, he rubbed his eyes and pulled his phone from his blazer pocket.
Owen, this is Gabrielle.
Sextons guard recognized her voice. Oh, hi.
I need to talk to the senator. Would you knock on his door for me? His line is busy.
Its kind of late.
Hes awake. Im sure of it. Gabrielle sounded anxious. Its an emergency.
Same one. Just get him on the phone, Owen. Theres something I really need to ask him.
The guard sighed, standing up. Okay, okay. Ill knock. He stretched and made his way toward Sextons door. But Im only doing it because he was glad I let you in earlier. Reluctantly, he raised his fist to knock.
What did you just say? Gabrielle demanded.
The guards fist stopped in midair. I said the senator was glad I let you in earlier. You were right. It was no problem at all.
You and the senator talked about that? Gabrielle sounded surprised.
Yeah. So what?
No, I just didnt think . . .
Actually, it was kind of weird. The senator needed a couple of seconds to even remember youd been in there. I think the boys were tossing back a few.
When did you two talk, Owen?
Right after you left. Is something wrong?
A momentary silence. No . . . no. Nothing. Look, now that I think of it, lets not bother the senator this instant. Ill keep trying his house line, and if I dont have any luck, Ill call you back and you can knock.
The guard rolled his eyes. Whatever you say, Ms. Ashe.
Thanks, Owen. Sorry to bother you.
No problem. The guard hung up, flopped back in his chair, and went to sleep.
Alone in her office, Gabrielle stood motionless for several seconds before hanging up the phone. Sexton knows I was inside his apartment . . . and he never mentioned it to me?
Tonights ethereal strangeness was getting murkier. Gabrielle flashed on the senators phone call to her while she was at ABC. The senator had stunned her with his unprovoked admission that he was meeting with space companies and accepting money. His honesty had brought her back to him. Shamed her even. His confession now seemed one hell of a lot less noble.
Soft money, Sexton had said. Perfectly legal.
Suddenly, all the vague misgivings Gabrielle had ever felt about Senator Sexton seemed to resurface all at once.
Outside, the taxi was honking.