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Marjorie Tench‑senior adviser to the President‑was a loping skeleton of a creature. Her gaunt six‑foot frame resembled an Erector Set construction of joints and limbs. Overhanging her precarious body was a jaundiced face whose skin resembled a sheet of parchment paper punctured by two emotionless eyes. At fifty‑one, she looked seventy.

Tench was revered in Washington as a goddess in the political arena. She was said to possess analytical skills that bordered on the clairvoyant. Her decade running the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research had helped hone a lethally sharp, critical mind. Unfortunately, accompanying Tench’s political savvy came an icy temperament that few could endure for more than a few minutes. Marjorie Tench had been blessed with all the brains of a supercomputer‑and the warmth of one, too. Nonetheless, President Zach Herney had little trouble tolerating the woman’s idiosyncrasies; her intellect and hard work were almost single‑handedly responsible for putting Herney in office in the first place.

“Marjorie,” the President said, standing to welcome her into the Oval Office. “What can I do for you?” He did not offer her a seat. The typical social graces did not apply to women like Marjorie Tench. If Tench wanted a seat, she would damn well take one.

“I see you set the staff briefing for four o’clock this afternoon.” Her voice was raspy from cigarettes. “Excellent.”

Tench paced a moment, and Herney sensed the intricate cogs of her mind turning over and over. He was grateful. Marjorie Tench was one of the select few on the President’s staff who was fully aware of the NASA discovery, and her political savvy was helping the President plan his strategy.

“This CNN debate today at one o’clock,” Tench said, coughing. “Who are we sending to spar with Sexton?”

Herney smiled. “A junior campaign spokesperson.” The political tactic of frustrating the “hunter” by never sending him any big game was as old as debates themselves.

“I have a better idea,” Tench said, her barren eyes finding his. “Let me take the spot myself.”

Zach Herney’s head shot up. “You?” What the hell is she thinking? “Marjorie, you don’t do media spots. Besides, it’s a midday cable show. If I send my senior adviser, what kind of message does that send? It makes us look like we’re panicking.”


Herney studied her. Whatever convoluted scheme Tench was hatching, there was no way in hell Herney would permit her to appear on CNN. Anyone who had ever laid eyes on Marjorie Tench knew there was a reason she worked behind the scenes. Tench was a frightful‑looking woman‑not the kind of face a President wanted delivering the White House message.

“I am taking this CNN debate,” she repeated. This time she was not asking.

“Marjorie,” the President maneuvered, feeling uneasy now, “Sexton’s campaign will obviously claim your presence on CNN is proof the White House is running scared. Sending out our big guns early makes us look desperate.”

The woman gave a quiet nod and lit a cigarette. “The more desperate we look, the better.”

For the next sixty seconds, Marjorie Tench outlined why the President would be sending her to the CNN debate instead of some lowly campaign staffer. When Tench was finished, the President could only stare in amazement.

Once again, Marjorie Tench had proven herself a political genius.