In the darkened hallway outside Senator Sextons den, Gabrielle Ashes legs were trembling. Not so much out of exhaustion from standing motionless, but from disillusionment over what she was listening to. The meeting in the next room was still going, but Gabrielle didnt have to hear another word. The truth seemed painfully obvious.
Senator Sexton is taking bribes from private space agencies. Marjorie Tench had been telling the truth.
The revulsion Gabrielle felt spreading through her now was one of betrayal. She had believed in Sexton. Shed fought for him. How can he do this? Gabrielle had seen the senator lie publicly from time to time to protect his private life, but that was politics. This was breaking the law.
Hes not even elected yet, and hes already selling out the White House!
Gabrielle knew she could no longer support the senator. Promising to deliver the NASA privatization bill could be done only with a contemptuous disregard for both the law and the democratic system. Even if the senator believed it would be in everyones best interest, to sell that decision flat out, in advance, slammed the door on the checks and balances of government, ignoring potentially persuasive arguments from Congress, advisers, voters, and lobbyists. Most important, guaranteeing the privatization of NASA, Sexton had paved the way for endless abuses of that advanced knowledge‑insider trading the most common‑blatantly favoring the wealthy, inside cadre at the expense of honest public investors.
Feeling sick to her stomach, Gabrielle wondered what she should do.
A telephone rang sharply behind her, shattering the silence of the hallway. Startled, Gabrielle turned. The sound was coming from the closet in the foyer‑a cellphone in the pocket of one of the visitors coats.
scuse me, friends, a Texas drawl said in the den. Thats me.
Gabrielle could hear the man get up. Hes coming this way! Wheeling, she dashed back up the carpet the way shed come. Halfway up the hall, she cut left, ducking into the darkened kitchen just as the Texan exited the den and turned up the hall. Gabrielle froze, motionless in the shadows.
The Texan strode by without noticing.
Over the sound of her pounding heart, Gabrielle could hear him rustling in the closet. Finally, he answered the ringing phone.
Yeah? . . . When? . . . Really? Well switch it on. Thanks. The man hung up and headed back toward the den, calling out as he went. Hey! Turn on the television. Sounds like Zach Herneys giving an urgent press conference tonight. Eight oclock. All channels. Either were declaring war on China, or the International Space Station just fell into the ocean.
Now wouldnt that be something to toast! someone called out.
Gabrielle felt the kitchen spinning around her now. An eight P.M. press conference? Tench, it seemed, had not been bluffing after all. She had given Gabrielle until 8:00 P.M. to give her an affidavit admitting the affair. Distance yourself from the senator before its too late, Tench had told her. Gabrielle had assumed the deadline was so the White House could leak the information to tomorrows papers, but now it seemed the White House intended to go public with the allegations themselves.
An urgent press conference? The more Gabrielle considered it, though, the stranger it seemed. Herney is going live with this mess? Personally?
The television came on in the den. Blaring. The news announcers voice was bursting with excitement. The White House has offered no clues as to the topic of tonights surprise presidential address, and speculation abounds. Some political analysts now think that following the Presidents recent absence on the campaign trail, Zach Herney may be preparing to announce he will not be running for a second term.
A hopeful cheer arose in the den.
Absurd, Gabrielle thought. With all the dirt the White House had on Sexton right now, there was no way in hell the President was throwing in the towel tonight. This press conference is about something else. Gabrielle had a sinking feeling shed already been warned what it was.
With rising urgency, she checked her watch. Less than an hour. She had a decision to make, and she knew exactly to whom she needed to talk. Clutching the envelope of photos under her arm, she quietly exited the apartment.
In the hallway, the bodyguard looked relieved. I heard some cheering inside. Sounds like you were a hit.
She smiled curtly and headed for the elevator.
Outside in the street, the settling night felt unusually bitter. Flagging a cab, she climbed in and tried to reassure herself she knew exactly what she was doing.
ABC television studios, she told the driver. And hurry.