Deception Point Page 55
A leviathan was rising from the water beside the iceberg, breaching the surface with an ominous hiss. Like some mythical sea monster, it came-sleek, black, and lethal, with water foaming around it. Tolland forced himself to blink his eyes. His vision cleared slightly. The beast was close, bumping up against the ice like a huge shark butting a small boat. Massive, it towered before him, its skin shimmering and wet.
As the hazy image went black, all that was left were the sounds. Metal on metal. Teeth gnashing at the ice. Coming closer. Dragging bodies away.
Tolland felt himself being grabbed roughly.
And then everything went blank.
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 production’s 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 she’d attended shortly after her arrival in Washington. They’d chatted about Gabrielle’s 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, Yolanda’s 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. “I’m in trouble, Yolanda.”
“That’s 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 haven’t a clue what it’s all about. I’ve got to line up expert commentary, and I’m 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 Sexton’s campaign has advance knowledge?”
“No, I’m saying I have advance knowledge. Give me five minutes. I’ll tell you everything.”
Yolanda glanced down at the red White House envelope in Gabrielle’s hand. “That’s a White House internal. Where’d you get that?”
“In a private meeting with Marjorie Tench this afternoon.”
Yolanda stared a long moment. “Follow me.”
Inside the privacy of Yolanda’s 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. He’s got a reputation, and you’re a pretty girl. Too bad about the photos. I wouldn’t worry about it, though.”
Don’t 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 Yolanda’s 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, that’s your business. But I’m telling you, it’s a very bad move for you. You need to think long and hard about what it could mean for you.”
“You’re not listening. I don’t 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. It’s suicide. I’m 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. You’ll be a marked woman. A lot of people spend a lot of money to put candidates at the top. There’s 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 you’d panic and do something dumb-like bail out and confess to the affair.” Yolanda pointed to the red envelope in Gabrielle’s hands. “Those shots of you and Sexton don’t mean squat unless you or Sexton admit they’re accurate. The White House knows if they leak those photos, Sexton will just claim they’re phony and throw them back in the president’s face.”
“I thought of that, but still the campaign finance bribery issue is-“
“Honey, think about it. If the White House hasn’t gone public yet with bribery allegations, they probably don’t 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, what’s 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-“
Yolanda’s laughter shook the entire glass cubicle. “Oh please! Wait! You’re killing me!”
Gabrielle was in no mood for joking. “What!”
“Gabs, listen,” Yolanda managed, between laughs, “trust me on this. I’ve been dealing with the White House for sixteen years, and there’s 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. That’s the kind of information you leak. Presidents don’t 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 that’s what he is doing?” Yolanda’s 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 Sexton’s meeting was perfectly legal.”