Gabrielle Ashe was at a full jog when she entered the third‑floor production room of ABC News. Even so, she was moving slower than everyone else in the room. The intensity in production was at a fever pitch twenty‑four hours a day, but at the moment the cubicle grid in front of her looked like the stock exchange on speed. Wild‑eyed editors screamed to one another over the tops of their compartments, fax‑waving reporters darted from cubicle to cubicle comparing notes, and frantic interns inhaled Snickers and Mountain Dew between errands.
Gabrielle had come to ABC to see Yolanda Cole.
Usually Yolanda could be found in productions high‑rent district‑the glass‑walled private offices reserved for the decision makers who actually required some quiet to think. Tonight, however, Yolanda was out on the floor, in the thick of it. When she saw Gabrielle, she let out her usual shriek of exuberance.
Gabs! Yolanda was wearing a batik body‑wrap and tortoiseshell glasses. As always, several pounds of garish costume jewelry were draped off her like tinsel. Yolanda waddled over, waving. Hug!
Yolanda Cole had been a content editor with ABC News in Washington for sixteen years. A freckle‑faced Pole, Yolanda was a squat, balding woman whom everyone affectionately called Mother. Her matronly presence and good humor disguised a street‑savvy ruthlessness for getting the story. Gabrielle had met Yolanda at a Women in Politics mentoring seminar shed attended shortly after her arrival in Washington. Theyd chatted about Gabrielles background, the challenges of being a woman in D.C . . . and finally about Elvis Presley‑a passion they were surprised to discover they shared. Yolanda had taken Gabrielle under her wing and helped her make connections. Gabrielle still stopped by every month or so to say hello.
Gabrielle gave her a big hug, Yolandas enthusiasm already lifting her spirits.
Yolanda stepped back and looked Gabrielle over. You look like you aged a hundred years, girl! What happened to you?
Gabrielle lowered her voice. Im in trouble, Yolanda.
Thats not the word on the street. Sounds like your man is on the rise.
Is there some place we can talk in private?
Bad timing, honey. The President is holding a press conference in about half an hour, and we still havent a clue what its all about. Ive got to line up expert commentary, and Im flying blind.
I know what the press conference is about.
Yolanda lowered her glasses, looking skeptical. Gabrielle, our correspondent inside the White House is in the dark on this one. You say Sextons campaign has advance knowledge?
No, Im saying I have advance knowledge. Give me five minutes. Ill tell you everything.
Yolanda glanced down at the red White House envelope in Gabrielles hand. Thats a White House internal. Whered you get that?
In a private meeting with Marjorie Tench this afternoon.
Yolanda stared a long moment. Follow me.
Inside the privacy of Yolandas glass‑walled cubicle, Gabrielle confided in her trusted friend, confessing to a one‑night affair with Sexton and the fact that Tench had photographic evidence.
Yolanda smiled broadly and shook her head laughing. Apparently she had been in Washington journalism so long that nothing shocked her. Oh, Gabs, I had a hunch you and Sexton had probably hooked up. Not surprising. Hes got a reputation, and youre a pretty girl. Too bad about the photos. I wouldnt worry about it, though.
Dont worry about it?
Gabrielle explained that Tench had accused Sexton of taking illegal bribes from space companies and that Gabrielle had just overheard a secret SFF meeting confirming that fact! Again Yolandas expression conveyed little surprise or concern‑until Gabrielle told her what she was thinking of doing about it.
Yolanda now looked troubled. Gabrielle, if you want to hand over a legal document saying you slept with a U.S. senator and stood by while he lied about it, thats your business. But Im telling you, its a very bad move for you. You need to think long and hard about what it could mean for you.
Youre not listening. I dont have that kind of time!
I am listening, and sweetheart, whether or not the clock is ticking, there are certain things you just do not do. You do not sell out a U.S. senator in a sex scandal. Its suicide. Im telling you, girl, if you take down a presidential candidate, you better get in your car and drive as far from D.C. as possible. Youll be a marked woman. A lot of people spend a lot of money to put candidates at the top. Theres big finances and power at stake here‑the kind of power people kill for.
Gabrielle fell silent now.
Personally, Yolanda said, I think Tench was leaning on you in hopes youd panic and do something dumb‑like bail out and confess to the affair. Yolanda pointed to the red envelope in Gabrielles hands. Those shots of you and Sexton dont mean squat unless you or Sexton admit theyre accurate. The White House knows if they leak those photos, Sexton will just claim theyre phony and throw them back in the presidents face.
I thought of that, but still the campaign finance bribery issue is‑
Honey, think about it. If the White House hasnt gone public yet with bribery allegations, they probably dont intend to. The President is pretty serious about no negative campaigning. My guess is he decided to save an aerospace industry scandal and sent Tench after you with a bluff in hopes he might scare you out of hiding on the sex thing. Make you stab your candidate in the back.
Gabrielle considered it. Yolanda was making sense, and yet something still felt odd. Gabrielle pointed through the glass at the bustling news room. Yolanda, you guys are gearing up for a big presidential press conference. If the President is not going public about bribery or sex, whats it all about?
Yolanda looked stunned. Hold on. You think this press conference is about you and Sexton?
Or the bribery. Or both. Tench told me I had until eight tonight to sign a confession or else the President was going to announce‑
Yolandas laughter shook the entire glass cubicle. Oh please! Wait! Youre killing me!
Gabrielle was in no mood for joking. What!
Gabs, listen, Yolanda managed, between laughs, trust me on this. Ive been dealing with the White House for sixteen years, and theres no way Zach Herney has called together the global media to tell them he suspects Senator Sexton is accepting shady campaign financing or sleeping with you. Thats the kind of information you leak. Presidents dont gain popularity by interrupting regularly scheduled programming to bitch and moan about sex or alleged infractions of cloudy campaign finance laws.
Cloudy? Gabrielle snapped. Flat out selling your decision on a space bill for millions in ad money is hardly a cloudy issue!
Are you sure thats what he is doing? Yolandas tone hardened now. Are you sure enough to drop your skirt on national TV? Think about it. It takes a lot of alliances to get anything done these days, and campaign finance is complex stuff. Maybe Sextons meeting was perfectly legal.
Hes breaking the law, Gabrielle said. Isnt he?
Or so Marjorie Tench would have you believe. Candidates accept behind‑the‑scenes donations all the time from big corporations. It may not be pretty, but its not necessarily illegal. In fact, most legal issues deal not with where the money comes from but how the candidate chooses to spend it.
Gabrielle hesitated, feeling uncertain now.
Gabs, the White House played you this afternoon. They tried to turn you against your candidate, and so far youve called their bluff. If I were looking for someone to trust, I think Id stick with Sexton before jumping ship to someone like Marjorie Tench.
Yolandas phone rang. She answered, nodding, uh‑huh‑ing, taking notes. Interesting, she finally said. Ill be right there. Thanks.
Yolanda hung up and turned with an arched brow. Gabs, sounds like youre off the hook. Just as I predicted.
Whats going on?
I dont have a specific yet, but I can tell you this much‑the presidents press conference has nothing to do with sex scandals or campaign finance.
Gabrielle felt a flash of hope and wanted badly to believe her. How do you know that?
Someone on the inside just leaked that the press conference is NASA‑related.
Gabrielle sat up suddenly. NASA?
Yolanda winked. This could be your lucky night. My bet is President Herney is feeling so much pressure from Senator Sexton that hes decided the White House has no choice but to pull the plug on the International Space Station. That explains all the global media coverage.
A press conference killing the space station? Gabrielle could not imagine.
Yolanda stood up. That Tench attack this afternoon? It was probably just a last‑ditch effort to get a foothold over Sexton before the President had to go public with the bad news. Nothing like a sex scandal to take the attention away from another presidential flop. Anyhow, Gabs, Ive got work to do. My advice to you‑get yourself a cup of coffee, sit right here, turn on my television, and ride this out like the rest of us. Weve got twenty minutes until show time, and Im telling you, there is no way the President is going Dumpster‑diving tonight. Hes got the whole world watching. Whatever he has to say carries some serious weight. She gave a reassuring wink. Now give me the envelope.
Yolanda held out a demanding hand. These pictures are getting locked in my desk until this is over. I want to be sure you dont do something idiotic.
Reluctantly, Gabrielle handed over the envelope.
Yolanda locked the photos carefully in a desk drawer and pocketed the keys. Youll thank me, Gabs. I swear it. She playfully ruffled Gabrielles hair on her way out. Sit tight. I think good news is on the way.
Gabrielle sat alone in the glass cubicle and tried to let Yolandas upbeat attitude lift her mood. All Gabrielle could think of, though, was the self‑satisfied smirk on the face of Marjorie Tench this afternoon. Gabrielle could not imagine what the President was about to tell the world, but it was definitely not going to be good news for Senator Sexton.