As the PaveHawk settled onto the runway beside the President's plane, Rachel now understood the references to Air Force One being the commander-in-chief's "portable home court advantage." The machine was an intimidating sight.
When the President flew to other countries to meet heads of state, he often requested - for security purposes - that the meeting take place on the runway aboard his jet. Although some of the motives were security, certainly another incentive was to gain a negotiating edge through raw intimidation. A visit to Air Force One was far more intimidating than any trip to the White House. The six-foot-high letters along the fuselage trumpeted "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA." A female English cabinet member had once accused President Nixon of "waving his manhood in her face" when he asked her to join him aboard Air Force One. Later the crew jokingly nicknamed the plane "Big Dick."
"Ms. Sexton?" A blazer-clad Secret Serviceman materialized outside the chopper and opened the door for her. "The President is waiting for you."
Rachel got out of the chopper and gazed up the steep gangway at the bulging hull. Into the flying phallus. She had once heard the flying "Oval Office" had over four thousand square feet of interior floor space, including four separate private sleeping quarters, berths for a twenty-six-member flight crew, and two galleys capable of providing food for fifty people.
Climbing the stairway, Rachel felt the Secret Serviceman on her heels, urging her upward. High above, the cabin door stood open like a tiny puncture wound on the side of a gargantuan silver whale. She moved toward the darkened entryway and felt her confidence starting to ebb.
Easy, Rachel. It's just a plane.
On the landing, the Secret Serviceman politely took her arm and guided her into a surprisingly narrow corridor. They turned right, walked a short distance, and emerged into a luxurious and spacious cabin. Rachel immediately recognized it from photographs.
"Wait here," the serviceman said, and he disappeared.
Rachel stood alone in Air Force One's famous wood-paneled fore cabin. This was the room used for meetings, entertaining dignitaries, and, apparently, for scaring the hell out of first-time passengers. The room spanned the entire width of the plane, as did its thick tan carpeting. The furnishings were impeccable - cordovan leather armchairs around a bird's-eye maple meeting table, burnished brass floor lamps beside a continental sofa, and hand-etched crystal glassware on a mahogany wet bar.
Supposedly, Boeing designers had carefully laid out this fore cabin to provide passengers with "a sense of order mixed with tranquility." Tranquility, however, was the last thing Rachel Sexton was feeling at the moment. The only thing she could think of was the number of world leaders who had sat in this very room and made decisions that shaped the world.
Everything about this room said power, from the faint aroma of fine pipe tobacco to the ubiquitous presidential seal. The eagle clasping the arrows and olive branches was embroidered on throw pillows, carved into the ice bucket, and even printed on the cork coasters on the bar. Rachel picked up a coaster and examined it.
"Stealing souvenirs already?" a deep voice asked behind her.
Startled, Rachel wheeled, dropping the coaster on the floor. She knelt awkwardly to retrieve it. As she grasped the coaster, she turned to see the President of the United States gazing down at her with an amused grin.
"I'm not royalty, Ms. Sexton. There's really no need to kneel."
Senator Sedgewick Sexton savored the privacy of his Lincoln stretch limousine as it snaked through Washington's morning traffic toward his office. Across from him, Gabrielle Ashe, his twenty-four-year-old personal assistant, read him his daily schedule. Sexton was barely listening.
I love Washington, he thought, admiring the assistant's perfect shape beneath her cashmere sweater. Power is the greatest aphrodisiac of all... and it brings women like this to D.C. in droves.
Gabrielle was a New York Ivy Leaguer with dreams of being a senator herself one day. She'll make it too, Sexton thought. She was incredible-looking and sharp as a whip. Above all, she understood the rules of the game.
Gabrielle Ashe was black, but her tawny coloring was more of a deep cinnamon or mahogany, the kind of comfortable in-between that Sexton knew bleeding heart "whites" could endorse without feeling like they were giving away the farm. Sexton described Gabrielle to his cronies as Halle Berry's looks with Hillary Clinton's brains and ambition, although sometimes he thought even that was an understatement.
Gabrielle had been a tremendous asset to his campaign since he'd promoted her to his personal campaign assistant three months ago. And to top it all off, she was working for free. Her compensation for a sixteen-hour workday was learning the ropes in the trenches with a seasoned politician.
Of course, Sexton gloated, I've persuaded her to do a bit more than just work. After promoting Gabrielle, Sexton had invited her to a late night "orientation session" in his private office. As expected, his young assistant arrived starstruck and eager to please. With a slow-moving patience mastered over decades, Sexton worked his magic... building up Gabrielle's trust, carefully stripping away her inhibitions, exhibiting tantalizing control, and finally seducing her right there in his office.
Sexton had little doubt the encounter had been one of the most sexually gratifying experiences of the young woman's life, and yet, in the light of the day, Gabrielle clearly regretted the indiscretion. Embarrassed, she offered to resign. Sexton refused. Gabrielle stayed on, but she made her intentions very clear. The relationship had been strictly business ever since.
Gabrielle's pouty lips were still moving. "... don't want you to be lackadaisical going into this CNN debate this afternoon. We still don't know who the White House is sending as opposition. You'll want to peruse these notes I typed." She handed him a folder.
Sexton took the folder, savoring the scent of her perfume mixed with the plush leather seats.
"You aren't listening," she said.
"Certainly am." He grinned. "Forget about this CNN debate. Worst case scenario, the White House snubs me by sending some low-level campaign intern. Best case scenario, they send a bigwig, and I eat him for lunch."
Gabrielle frowned. "Fine. I've included a list of the most probable hostile topics in your notes."
"The usual suspects no doubt."
"With one new entry. I think you might face some hostile backlash from the gay community for your comments last night on Larry King."
Sexton shrugged, barely listening. "Right. The same-sex marriage thing."
Gabrielle gave him a disapproving look. "You did come out against it pretty strongly."
Same-sex marriages, Sexton thought in disgust. If it were up to me, the faggots wouldn't even have the right to vote. "Okay, I'll turn it down a notch."
"Good. You've been pushing the envelope a bit on some of these hot topics lately. Don't get cocky. The public can turn in an instant. You're gaining now, and you have momentum. Just ride it out. There's no need to hit the ball out of the park today. Just keep it in play."
"Any news from the White House?"
Gabrielle looked pleasantly baffled. "Continued silence. It's official; your opponent has become the 'Invisible Man.'"
Sexton could barely believe his good fortune lately. For months, the President had been working hard on the campaign trail. Then suddenly, a week ago, he had locked himself in the Oval Office, and nobody had seen or heard from him since. It was as if the President simply could not face Sexton's groundswell of voter support.