The Westbrooke Place Apartments are located at 2201 N Street NW and promote themselves as one of the few unquestionably correct addresses in Washington. Gabrielle hurried through the gilded revolving door into the marble lobby, where a deafening waterfall reverberated.
The doorman at the front desk looked surprised to see her. Ms. Ashe? I didnt know you were stopping by tonight.
Im running late. Gabrielle quickly signed in. The clock overhead read 6:22 P.M.
The doorman scratched his head. The senator gave me a list, but you werent‑
They always forget the people who help them most. She gave a harried smile and strode past him toward the elevator.
Now the doorman looked uneasy. I better call up.
Thanks, Gabrielle said, as she boarded the elevator and headed up. The senators phone is off the hook.
Riding the elevator to the ninth floor, Gabrielle exited and made her way down the elegant hallway. At the end, outside Sextons doorway, she could see one of his bulky personal safety escorts‑glorified bodyguards‑sitting in the hall. He looked bored. Gabrielle was surprised to see security on duty, although apparently not as surprised as the guard was to see her. He jumped to his feet as she approached.
I know, Gabrielle called out, still halfway down the hall. Its a P.E. night. He doesnt want to be disturbed.
The guard nodded emphatically. He gave me very strict orders that no visitors‑
Its an emergency.
The guard physically blocked the doorway. Hes in a private meeting.
Really? Gabrielle pulled the red envelope from under her arm. She flashed the White House seal in the mans face. I was just in the Oval Office. I need to give the senator this information. Whatever old pals hes schmoozing tonight are going to have to do without him for a few minutes. Now, let me in.
The guard withered slightly at the sight of the White House seal on the envelope.
Dont make me open this, Gabrielle thought.
Leave the folder, he said. Ill take it into him.
The hell you will. I have direct orders from the White House to hand‑deliver this. If I dont talk to him immediately, we can all start looking for jobs tomorrow morning. Do you understand?
The guard looked deeply conflicted, and Gabrielle sensed the senator had indeed been unusually adamant tonight about having no visitors. She moved in for the kill. Holding the White House envelope directly in his face, Gabrielle lowered her voice to a whisper and uttered the six words all Washington security personnel feared most.
You do not understand the situation.
Security personnel for politicians never understood the situation, and they hated that fact. They were hired guns, kept in the dark, never sure whether to stand firm in their orders or risk losing their jobs by mule‑headedly ignoring some obvious crisis.
The guard swallowed hard, eyeing the White House envelope again. Okay, but Im telling the senator you demanded to be let in.
He unlocked the door, and Gabrielle pushed past him before he changed his mind. She entered the apartment and quietly closed the door behind her, relocking it.
Now inside the foyer, Gabrielle could hear muffled voices in Sextons den down the hall‑mens voices. Tonights P.E. was obviously not the private meeting implied by Sextons earlier call.
As Gabrielle moved down the hall toward the den, she passed an open closet where a half dozen expensive mens coats hung inside‑distinctive wool and tweed. Several briefcases sat on the floor. Apparently work stayed in the hall tonight. Gabrielle would have walked right past the cases except that one of the briefcases caught her eye. The nameplate bore a distinctive company logo. A bright red rocket.
She paused, kneeling down to read it:
SPACE AMERICA, INC.
Puzzled, she examined the other briefcases.
BEAL AEROSPACE. MICROCOSM, INC. ROTARY ROCKET COMPANY. KISTLER AEROSPACE.
Marjorie Tenchs raspy voice echoed in her mind. Are you aware that Sexton is accepting bribes from private aerospace companies?
Gabrielles pulse began racing as she gazed down the darkened hallway toward the archway that led into the senators den. She knew she should speak up, announce her presence, and yet she felt herself inching quietly forward. She moved to within a few feet of the archway and stood soundlessly in the shadows . . . listening to the conversation beyond.