Page 58 of Deception Point

Font Size:  

"I have an emergency!" The operator was breathless. "... phone call for the President."

Tench looked incredulous. "Not now, you don't!"

"It's from Rachel Sexton. She says it's urgent."

The scowl that darkened Tench's face appeared to be more one of puzzlement than anger. Tench eyed the cordless phone. "That's a house line. That's not secure."

"No, ma'am. But the incoming call is open anyway. She's on a radiophone. She needs to speak to the President right away."

"Live in ninety seconds!"

Tench's cold eyes stared, and she held out a spider-like hand. "Give me the phone."

The operator's heart was pounding now. "Ms. Sexton wants to speak to President Herney directly. She told me to postpone the press conference until she'd talked to him. I assured-"

Tench stepped toward the operator now, her voice a seething whisper. "Let me tell you how this works. You do not take orders from the daughter of the President's opponent, you take them from me. I can assure you, this is as close as you are getting to the President until I find out what the hell is going on."

The operator looked toward the President, who was now surrounded by microphone technicians, stylists, and several staff members talking him through final revisions of his speech.

"Sixty seconds!" the television supervisor yelled.

Onboard the Charlotte, Rachel Sexton was pacing wildly in the tight space when she finally heard a click on the telephone line.

A raspy voice came on. "Hello?"

"President Herney?" Rachel blurted.

"Marjorie Tench," the voice corrected. "I am the President's senior adviser. Whoever this is, I must warn you that prank calls against the White House are in violation of-"

For Christ's sake! "This is not a prank! This is Rachel Sexton. I'm your NRO liaison and-"

"I am aware of who Rachel Sexton is, ma'am. And I am doubtful that you are she. You've called the White House on an unsecured line telling me to interrupt a major presidential broadcast. That is hardly proper MO for someone with-"

"Listen," Rachel fumed, "I briefed your whole staff a couple of hours ago on a meteorite. You sat in the front row. You watched my briefing on a television sitting on the President's desk! Any questions?"

Tench fell silent a moment. "Ms. Sexton, what is the meaning of this?"

"The meaning is that you have to stop the President! His meteorite data is all wrong! We've just learned the meteorite was inserted from beneath the ice shelf. I don't know by whom, and I don't know why! But things are not what they seem up here! The President is about to endorse some seriously errant data, and I strongly advise-"

"Wait one goddamned minute!" Tench lowered her voice. "Do you realize what you are saying?"

"Yes! I suspect the NASA administrator has orchestrated some kind of large-scale fraud, and President Herney is about to get caught in the middle. You've at least got to postpone ten minutes so I can explain to him what's been going on up here. Someone tried to kill me, for God's sake!"

Tench's voice turned to ice. "Ms. Sexton, let me give you a word of warning. If you are having second thoughts about your role in helping the White House in this campaign, you should have thought of that long before you personally endorsed that meteorite data for the President."

"What!" Is she even listening?

"I'm revolted by your display. Using an unsecured line is a cheap stunt. Implying the meteorite data has been faked? What kind of intelligence official uses a radiophone to call the White House and talk about classified information? Obviously you are hoping someone intercepts this message."

"Norah Mangor was killed over this! Dr. Ming is also dead. You've got to warn-"

"Stop right there! I don't know what you're playing at, but I will remind you-and anyone else who happens to be intercepting this phone call-that the White House possesses videotaped depositions from NASA's top scientists, several renowned civilian scientists, and yourself, Ms. Sexton, all endorsing the meteorite data as accurate. Why you are suddenly changing your story, I can only imagine. Whatever the reason, consider yourself relieved of your White House post as of this instant, and if you try to taint this discovery with any more absurd allegations of foul play, I assure you the White House and NASA will sue you for defamation so fast you won't have a chance to pack a suitcase before you go to jail."

Rachel opened her mouth to speak, but no words came.

"Zach Herney has been generous to you," Tench snapped, "and frankly this smacks of a cheap Sexton publicity stunt. Drop it right now, or we'll press charges. I swear it."

The line went dead.

Rachel's mouth was still hanging open when the captain knocked on the door.

"Ms. Sexton?" the captain said, peering in. "We're picking up a faint signal from Canadian National Radio. President Zach Herney has just begun his press conference."


Standing at the podium in the White House Briefing Room, Zach Herney felt the heat of the media lights and knew the world was watching. The targeted blitz performed by the White House Press Office had created a contagion of media buzz. Those who did not hear about the address via television, radio, or on-line news invariably heard about it from neighbors, coworkers, and family. By 8:00 P.M., anyone not living in a cave was speculating about the topic of the President's address. In bars and living rooms over the globe, millions leaned toward their televisions in apprehensive wonder.

It was during moments like these-facing the world-that Zach Herney truly felt the weight of his office. Anyone who said power was not addictive had never really experienced it. As he began his address, however, Herney sensed something was amiss. He was not a man prone to stage fright, and so the tingle of apprehension now tightening in his core startled him.

It's the magnitude of the audience, he told himself. And yet he knew something else. Instinct. Something he had seen.

It had been such a little thing, and yet...

He told himself to forget it. It was nothing. And yet it stuck.


Moments ago, as Herney was preparing to take the stage, he had seen Marjorie Tench in the yellow hallway, talking on a cordless phone. This was strange in itself, but it was made more so by the White House operator standing beside her, her face white with apprehension. Herney could not hear Tench's phone conversation, but he could see it was contentious. Tench was arguing with a vehemence and anger the President had seldom seen-even from Tench. He paused a moment and caught her eye, inquisitive.

Tench gave him the thumbs-up. Herney had never seen Tench give anyone the thumbs-up. It was the last image in Herney's mind as he was cued onto the stage.

On the blue rug in the press area inside the NASA habisphere on Ellesmere Island, Administrator Lawrence Ekstrom was seated at the center of the long symposium table, flanked by top NASA officials and scientists. On a large monitor facing them the President's opening statement was being piped in live. The remainder of the NASA crew was huddled around other monitors, teeming with excitement as their commander-in-chief launched into his press conference.

"Good evening," Herney was saying, sounding uncharacteristically stiff. "To my fellow countrymen, and to our friends around the world... "

Ekstrom gazed at the huge charred mass of rock displayed prominently in front of him. His eyes moved to a standby monitor, where he watched himself, flanked by his most austere personnel, against a backdrop of a huge American flag and NASA logo. The dramatic lighting made the setting look like some kind of neomodern painting-the twelve apostles at the last supper. Zach Herney had turned this whole thing into a political sideshow. Herney had no choice. Ekstrom still felt like a televangelist, packaging God for the masses.

Articles you may like