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Still wearing his bathrobe, Zach Herney sat at his desk in the Oval Office, his head throbbing. The newest piece of the puzzle had just been revealed.

Marjorie Tench is dead.

Herney’s aides said they had information suggesting Tench had driven to the FDR Memorial for a private meeting with William Pickering. Now that Pickering was missing, the staff feared Pickering too might be dead.

The President and Pickering had endured their battles lately. Months ago Herney learned that Pickering had engaged in illegal activity on Herney’s behalf in an attempt to save Herney’s floundering campaign.

Employing NRO assets, Pickering had discreetly obtained enough dirt on Senator Sexton to sink his campaign‑scandalous sexual photos of the senator with his aide Gabrielle Ashe, incriminating financial records proving Sexton was taking bribes from private space companies. Pickering anonymously sent all the evidence to Marjorie Tench, assuming the White House would use it wisely. But Herney, upon seeing the data, had forbidden Tench to use it. Sex scandals and bribery were cancers in Washington, and waving another one in front of the public only added to their distrust of government.

Cynicism is killing this country.

Although Herney knew he could destroy Sexton with scandal, the cost would be besmirching the dignity of the U.S. Senate, something Herney refused to do.

No more negatives. Herney would beat Senator Sexton on the issues.

Pickering, angered by the White House’s refusal to use the evidence he had provided, tried to jump‑start the scandal by leaking a rumor that Sexton had slept with Gabrielle Ashe. Unfortunately, Sexton declared his innocence with such convincing indignation that the President ended up having to apologize for the leak personally. In the end William Pickering had done more damage than good. Herney told Pickering that if he ever interfered in the campaign again, he would be indicted. The grand irony, of course, was that Pickering did not even like President Herney. The NRO director’s attempts to help Herney’s campaign were simply fears over the fate of NASA. Zach Herney was the lesser of two evils.

Now has someone killed Pickering?

Herney could not imagine.

“Mr. President?” an aide said. “As you requested, I called Lawrence Ekstrom and told him about Marjorie Tench.”

“Thank you.”

“He would like to speak to you, sir.”

Herney was still furious with Ekstrom for lying about PODS. “Tell him I’ll talk to him in the morning.”

“Mr. Ekstrom wants to talk to you right away, sir.” The aide looked uneasy. “He’s very upset.”

HE’s upset? Herney could feel his temper fraying around the edges. As he stalked off to take Ekstrom’s call, the President wondered what the hell else could possibly go wrong tonight.