Now, with Sexton standing before her, staring down, she sensed him searching her eyes for a lie. Sedgewick Sexton could smell untruths like nobody Gabrielle had ever met. If she lied to him, Sexton would know.
"You've been drinking," Gabrielle said, turning away. How does he know I was in his office?
Sexton put his hands on her shoulders and spun her back around. "Were you in my office?"
Gabrielle felt a rising fear. Sexton had indeed been drinking. His touch was rough. "In your office?" she demanded, forcing a confused laugh. "How? Why?"
"I heard my Jourdain in the background when I called you."
Gabrielle cringed inwardly. His clock? It had not even occurred to her. "Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?"
"I spend all day in that office. I know what my clock sounds like."
Gabrielle sensed she had to end this immediately. The best defense is a good offense. At least that's what Yolanda Cole always said. Placing her hands on her hips, Gabrielle went for him with all she had. She stepped toward him, getting in his face, glaring. "Let me get this straight, senator. It's four o'clock in the morning, you've been drinking, you heard a ticking on your phone, and that's why you're here?" She pointed her finger indignantly down the hall at his door. "Just for the record, are you accusing me of disarming a federal alarm system, picking two sets of locks, breaking into your office, being stupid enough to answer my cellphone while in the process of committing a felony, rearming the alarm system on my way out, and then calmly using the ladies' room before I run off with nothing to show for it? Is that the story here?"
Sexton blinked, wide-eyed.
"There's a reason people shouldn't drink alone," Gabrielle said. "Now do you want to talk about NASA, or not?"
Sexton felt befuddled as he walked back into his office. He went straight to his wet bar and poured himself a Pepsi. He sure as hell didn't feel drunk. Could he really have been wrong about this? Across the room, his Jourdain ticked mockingly. Sexton drained his Pepsi and poured himself another, and one for Gabrielle.
"Drink, Gabrielle?" he asked, turning back into the room. Gabrielle had not followed him in. She was still standing in the doorway, rubbing his nose in it. "Oh, for God's sake! Come in. Tell me what you found out at NASA."
"I think I've had enough for tonight," she said, sounding distant. "Let's talk tomorrow."
Sexton was in no mood for games. He needed this information now, and he had no intention of begging for it. He heaved a tired sigh. Extend the bond of trust. It's all about trust. "I screwed up," he said. "I'm sorry. It's been a hell of a day. I don't know what I was thinking."
Gabrielle remained in the doorway.
Sexton walked to his desk and set Gabrielle's Pepsi down on his blotter. He motioned to his leather chair-the position of power. "Have a seat. Enjoy a soda. I'm going to go stick my head in the sink." He headed for the bathroom.
Gabrielle still wasn't moving.
"I think I saw a fax in the machine," Sexton called over his shoulder as he entered the bathroom. Show her you trust her. "Have a look at it for me, will you?"
Sexton closed the door and filled the sink with cold water. He splashed it on his face and felt no clearer. This had never happened to him before-being so sure, and being so wrong. Sexton was a man who trusted his instincts, and his instincts told him Gabrielle Ashe had been in his office.
But how? It was impossible.
Sexton told himself to forget about it and focus on the matter at hand. NASA. He needed Gabrielle right now. This was no time to alienate her. He needed to know what she knew. Forget your instincts. You were wrong.
As Sexton dried his face, he threw his head back and took a deep breath. Relax, he told himself. Don't get punchy. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply again, feeling better.
When Sexton exited the bathroom, he was relieved to see Gabrielle had acquiesced and come back into his office. Good, he thought. Now we can get to business. Gabrielle was standing at his fax machine flipping through whatever pages had come in. Sexton was confused, however, when he saw her face. It was a mask of disorientation and fear.
"What is it?" Sexton said, moving toward her.
Gabrielle teetered, as if she were about to pass out.
"The meteorite... " she choked, her voice frail as her trembling hand held the stack of fax papers out to him. "And your daughter... she's in danger."
Bewildered, Sexton walked over, and took the fax pages from Gabrielle. The top sheet was a handwritten note. Sexton immediately recognized the writing. The communique was awkward and shocking in its simplicity.
Meteorite is fake. Here's proof. NASA/White House trying to kill me. Help! RS
The senator seldom felt totally at a loss of understanding, but as he reread Rachel's words, he had no idea what to make of them.
The meteorite is a fake? NASA and the White House are trying to kill her?
In a deepening haze, Sexton began sifting through the half dozen sheets. The first page was a computerized image whose heading read "Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)." The picture appeared to be an ice-sounding of some sort. Sexton saw the extraction pit they had talked about on television. His eye was drawn to what looked like the faint outline of a body floating in the shaft. Then he saw something even more shocking-the clear outline of a second shaft directly beneath where the meteorite had been-as if the stone had been inserted from underneath the ice.
What in the world?
Flipping to the next page, Sexton came face-to-face with a photograph of some sort of living ocean species called a Bathynomous giganteus. He stared in utter amazement. That's the animal from the meteorite fossils!
Flipping faster now, he saw a graphic display depicting the ionized hydrogen content in the meteorite's crust. This page had a handwritten scrawl on it: Slush-hydrogen burn? NASA Expander Cycle Engine?
Sexton could not believe his eyes. With the room starting to spin around him, he flipped to the final page-a photo of a rock containing metallic bubbles that looked exactly like those in the meteorite. Shockingly, the accompanying description said the rock was the product of oceanic volcanism. A rock from the ocean? Sexton wondered. But NASA said chondrules form only in space!
Sexton set the sheets down on his desk and collapsed in his chair. It had taken him only fifteen seconds to piece together everything he was looking at. The implications of the images on the papers were crystal clear. Anyone with half a brain could see what these photos proved.
The NASA meteorite is a fake!
No day in Sexton's career had been filled with such extreme highs and lows. Today had been a roller-coaster ride of hope and despair. Sexton's bafflement over how this enormous scam could possibly have been pulled off evaporated into irrelevance when he realized what the scam meant for him politically.
When I go public with this information, the presidency is mine!
In his upwelling of celebration, Senator Sedgewick Sexton had momentarily forgotten his daughter's claim that she was in trouble.
"Rachel is in danger," Gabrielle said. "Her note says NASA and the White House are trying to-"
Sexton's fax machine suddenly began ringing again. Gabrielle wheeled and stared at the machine. Sexton found himself staring too. He could not imagine what else Rachel could be sending him. More proof? How much more could there be? This is plenty!
When the fax machine answered the call, however, no pages came through. The machine, detecting no data signal, had switched to its answering machine feature.