"He's breaking the law," Gabrielle said. Isn't 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 it's 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 you've called their bluff. If I were looking for someone to trust, I think I'd stick with Sexton before jumping ship to someone like Marjorie Tench."
Yolanda's phone rang. She answered, nodding, uh-huh-ing, taking notes. "Interesting," she finally said. "I'll be right there. Thanks."
Yolanda hung up and turned with an arched brow. "Gabs, sounds like you're off the hook. Just as I predicted."
"What's going on?"
"I don't have a specific yet, but I can tell you this much-the president's 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 he's 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, I've 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. We've got twenty minutes until show time, and I'm telling you, there is no way the President is going Dumpster-diving tonight. He's 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 don't do something idiotic."
Reluctantly, Gabrielle handed over the envelope.
Yolanda locked the photos carefully in a desk drawer and pocketed the keys. "You'll thank me, Gabs. I swear it." She playfully ruffled Gabrielle's 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 Yolanda's 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.
Rachel Sexton felt like she was being burned alive.
It's raining fire!
She tried to open her eyes, but all she could make out were foggy shapes and blinding lights. It was raining all around her. Scalding hot rain. Pounding down on her bare skin. She was lying on her side and could feel hot tiles beneath her body. She curled more tightly into the fetal position, trying to protect herself from the scalding liquid falling from above. She smelled chemicals. Chlorine, maybe. She tried to crawl away, but she could not. Powerful hands pressed down on her shoulders, holding her down.
Let me go! I'm burning!
Instinctively, she again fought to escape, and again she was rebuffed, the strong hands clamping down. "Stay where you are," a man's voice said. The accent was American. Professional. "It will be over soon."
What will be over? Rachel wondered. The pain? My life? She tried to focus her vision. The lights in this place were harsh. She sensed the room was small. Cramped. Low ceilings.
"I'm burning!" Rachel's scream was a whisper.
"You're fine," the voice said. "This water is lukewarm. Trust me."
Rachel realized she was mostly undressed, wearing only her soaked underwear. No embarrassment registered; her mind was filled with too many other questions.
The memories were coming back now in a torrent. The ice shelf. The GPR. The attack. Who? Where am I? She tried to put the pieces together, but her mind felt torpid, like a set of clogged gears. From out of the muddled confusion came a single thought: Michael and Corky... where are they?
Rachel tried to focus her bleary vision but saw only the men standing over her. They were all dressed in the same blue jumpsuits. She wanted to speak, but her mouth refused to formulate a single word. The burning sensation in her skin was now giving way to sudden deep waves of aching that rolled through the muscles like seismic tremors.
"Let it happen," the man over her said. "The blood needs to flow back into your musculature." He spoke like a doctor. "Try to move your limbs as much as you can."
The pain racking Rachel's body felt as if every muscle was being beaten with a hammer. She lay there on the tile, her chest contracting, and she could barely breathe.
"Move your legs and arms," the man insisted. "No matter what it feels like."
Rachel tried. Each movement felt like a knife being thrust into her joints. The jets of water grew hotter again. The scalding was back. The crushing pain went on. At the precise instant she thought she could not withstand another moment, Rachel felt someone giving her an injection. The pain seemed to subside quickly, less and less violent, releasing. The tremors slowed. She felt herself breathing again.
A new sensation was spreading through her body now, the eerie bite of pins and needles. Everywhere-stabbing-sharper and sharper. Millions of tiny needle-point jabs, intensifying whenever she moved. She tried to hold motionless, but the water jets continued to buffet her. The man above her was holding her arms, moving them.
God that hurts! Rachel was too weak to fight. Tears of exhaustion and pain poured down her face. She shut her eyes hard, blocking out the world.
Finally, the pins and needles began to dissipate. The rain from above stopped. When Rachel opened her eyes, her vision was clearer.
It was then that she saw them.
Corky and Tolland lay nearby, quivering, half-naked and soaked. From the looks of anguish on their faces, Rachel sensed that they had just endured similar experiences. Michael Tolland's brown eyes were bloodshot and glassy. When he saw Rachel, he managed a weak smile, his blue lips trembling.
Rachel tried to sit up, to take in their bizarre surroundings. The three of them were lying in a trembling twist of half-naked limbs on the floor of a tiny shower room.
Strong arms lifted her.
Rachel felt the powerful strangers drying her body and wrapping her in blankets. She was being placed on a medical bed of some sort and vigorously massaged on her arms, legs, and feet. Another injection in her arm.
"Adrenaline," someone said.
Rachel felt the drug coursing through her veins like a life force, invigorating her muscles. Although she still felt an icy hollowness tight like a drum in her gut, Rachel sensed the blood slowly returning to her limbs.
Back from the dead.
She tried to focus her vision. Tolland and Corky were lying nearby, shivering in blankets as the men massaged their bodies and gave them injections as well. Rachel had no doubt that this mysterious assemblage of men had just saved their lives. Many of them were soaking wet, apparently having jumped into the showers fully clothed to help. Who they were or how they had gotten to Rachel and the others in time was beyond her. It made no difference at the moment. We're alive.