Death, in this forsaken place, could come in countless forms. Geologist Charles Brophy had endured the savage splendor of this terrain for years, and yet nothing could prepare him for a fate as barbarous and unnatural as the one about to befall him.
As Brophy's four huskies pulled his sled of geologic sensing equipment across the tundra, the dogs suddenly slowed, looking skyward.
"What is it, girls?" Brophy asked, stepping off the sled.
Beyond the gathering storm clouds, a twin-rotor transport helicopter arched in low, hugging the glacial peaks with military dexterity.
That's odd, he thought. He never saw helicopters this far north. The aircraft landed fifty yards away, kicking up a stinging spray of granulated snow. His dogs whined, looking wary.
When the chopper doors slid open, two men descended. They were dressed in full-weather whites, armed with rifles, and moved toward Brophy with urgent intent.
"Dr. Brophy?" one called.
The geologist was baffled. "How did you know my name? Who are you?"
"Take out your radio, please."
"Just do it."
Bewildered, Brophy pulled his radio from his parka.
"We need you to transmit an emergency communique. Decrease your radio frequency to one hundred kilohertz."
One hundred kilohertz? Brophy felt utterly lost. Nobody can receive anything that low. "Has there been an accident?"
The second man raised his rifle and pointed it at Brophy's head. "There's no time to explain. Just do it."
Trembling, Brophy adjusted his transmission frequency.
The first man now handed him a note card with a few lines typed on it. "Transmit this message. Now."
Brophy looked at the card. "I don't understand. This information is incorrect. I didn't-"
The man pressed his rifle hard against the geologist's temple.
Brophy's voice was shaking as he transmitted the bizarre message.
"Good," the first man said. "Now get yourself and your dogs into the chopper."
At gunpoint, Brophy maneuvered his reluctant dogs and sled up a skid ramp into the cargo bay. As soon as they were settled, the chopper lifted off, turning westward.
"Who the hell are you!" Brophy demanded, breaking a sweat inside his parka. And what was the meaning of that message!
The men said nothing.
As the chopper gained altitude, the wind tore through the open door. Brophy's four huskies, still rigged to the loaded sled, were whimpering now.
"At least close the door," Brophy demanded. "Can't you see my dogs are frightened!"
The men did not respond.
As the chopper rose to four thousand feet, it banked steeply out over a series of ice chasms and crevasses. Suddenly, the men stood. Without a word, they gripped the heavily laden sled and pushed it out the open door. Brophy watched in horror as his dogs scrambled in vain against the enormous weight. In an instant the animals disappeared, dragged howling out of the chopper.
Brophy was already on his feet screaming when the men grabbed him. They hauled him to the door. Numb with fear, Brophy swung his fists, trying to fend off the powerful hands pushing him outward.
It was no use. Moments later he was tumbling toward the chasms below.
Toulos Restaurant, adjacent to Capitol Hill, boasts a politically incorrect menu of baby veal and horse carpaccio, making it an ironic hotspot for the quintessential Washingtonian power breakfast. This morning Toulos was busy - a cacophony of clanking silverware, espresso machines, and cellphone conversations.
The maitre d' was sneaking a sip of his morning Bloody Mary when the woman entered. He turned with a practiced smile.
"Good morning," he said. "May I help you?"
The woman was attractive, in her mid-thirties, wearing gray, pleated flannel pants, conservative flats, and an ivory Laura Ashley blouse. Her posture was straight - chin raised ever so slightly - not arrogant, just strong. The woman's hair was light brown and fashioned in Washington's most popular style - the "anchor-woman" - a lush feathering, curled under at the shoulders... long enough to be sexy, but short enough to remind you she was probably smarter than you.
"I'm a little late," the woman said, her voice unassuming. "I have a breakfast meeting with Senator Sexton."
The maitre d' felt an unexpected tingle of nerves. Senator Sedgewick Sexton. The senator was a regular here and currently one of the country's most famous men. Last week, having swept all twelve Republican primaries on Super Tuesday, the senator was virtually guaranteed his party's nomination for President of the United States. Many believed the senator had a superb chance of stealing the White House from the embattled President next fall. Lately Sexton's face seemed to be on every national magazine, his campaign slogan plastered all across America: "Stop spending. Start mending."
"Senator Sexton is in his booth," the maitre d' said. "And you are?"
"Rachel Sexton. His daughter."
How foolish of me, he thought. The resemblance was quite apparent. The woman had the senator's penetrating eyes and refined carriage - that polished air of resilient nobility. Clearly the senator's classic good looks had not skipped generations, although Rachel Sexton seemed to carry her blessings with a grace and humility her father could learn from.
"A pleasure to have you, Ms. Sexton."
As the maitre d' led the senator's daughter across the dining area, he was embarrassed by the gauntlet of male eyes following her... some discreet, others less so. Few women dined at Toulos and even fewer who looked like Rachel Sexton.
"Nice body," one diner whispered. "Sexton already find himself a new wife?"
"That's his daughter, you idiot," another replied.
The man chuckled. "Knowing Sexton, he'd probably screw her anyway."
When Rachel arrived at her father's table, the senator was on his cellphone talking loudly about one of his recent successes. He glanced up at Rachel only long enough to tap his Cartier and remind her she was late.
I missed you, too, Rachel thought.
Her father's first name was Thomas, although he'd adopted his middle name long ago. Rachel suspected it was because he liked the alliteration. Senator Sedgewick Sexton. The man was a silver-haired, silver-tongued political animal who had been anointed with the slick look of soap opera doctor, which seemed appropriate considering his talents of impersonation.
"Rachel!" Her father clicked off his phone and stood to kiss her cheek.
"Hi, Dad." She did not kiss him back.
"You look exhausted."
And so it begins, she thought. "I got your message. What's up?"
"I can't ask my daughter out for breakfast?"
Rachel had learned long ago her father seldom requested her company unless he had some ulterior motive.
Sexton took a sip of coffee. "So, how are things with you?"
"Busy. I see your campaign's going well."
"Oh, let's not talk business." Sexton leaned across the table, lowering his voice. "How's that guy at the State Department I set you up with?"
Rachel exhaled, already fighting the urge to check her watch. "Dad, I really haven't had time to call him. And I wish you'd stop trying to-"
"You've got to make time for the important things, Rachel. Without love, everything else is meaningless."
A number of comebacks came to mind, but Rachel chose silence. Being the bigger person was not difficult when it came to her father. "Dad, you wanted to see me? You said this was important."