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deception point

Prologue
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 fullweather
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.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Just do it.”
Bewildered, Brophy pulled his radio from his parka.
“We need you to transmit an emergency communiqué. 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.
1
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 “anchorwoman”—
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.”
“It is.” Her father’s eyes studied her closely.
Rachel felt part of her defenses melt away under his gaze, and she cursed the
man’s power. The senator’s eyes were his gift—a gift Rachel suspected would
probably carry him to the White House. On cue, his eyes would well with tears,
and then, an instant later, they would clear, opening a window to an impassioned
soul, extending a bond of trust to all. It’s all about trust, her father always said.
The senator had lost Rachel’s years ago, but he was quickly gaining the country’s.
“I have a proposition for you,” Senator Sexton said.
“Let me guess,” Rachel replied, attempting to refortify her position. “Some
prominent divorcé looking for a young wife?”
“Don’t kid yourself, honey. You’re not that young anymore.”
Rachel felt the familiar shrinking sensation that so often accompanied meetings
with her father.
“I want to throw you a life raft,” he said.
“I wasn’t aware I was drowning.”
“You’re not. The President is. You should jump ship before it’s too late.”
“Haven’t we had this conversation?”
“Think about your future, Rachel. You can come work for me.”
“I hope that’s not why you asked me to breakfast.”
The senator’s veneer of calm broke ever so slightly. “Rachel, can’t you see that
your working for him reflects badly on me. And on my campaign.”
Rachel sighed. She and her father had been through this. “Dad, I don’t work for
the President. I haven’t even met the President. I work in Fairfax, for God’s sake!”
“Politics is perception, Rachel. It appears you work for the President.”
Rachel exhaled, trying to keep her cool. “I worked too hard to get this job, Dad.
I’m not quitting.”
The senator’s eyes narrowed. “You know, sometimes your selfish attitude
really—”
“Senator Sexton?” A reporter materialized beside the table.
Sexton’s demeanor thawed instantly. Rachel groaned and took a croissant from the
basket on the table.
“Ralph Sneeden,” the reporter said. “Washington Post. May I ask you a few
questions?”
The senator smiled, dabbing his mouth with a napkin. “My pleasure, Ralph. Just
make it quick. I don’t want my coffee getting cold.”
The reporter laughed on cue. “Of course, sir.” He pulled out a minirecorder and
turned it on. “Senator, your television ads call for legislation ensuring equal
salaries for women in the workplace…as well as for tax cuts for new families. Can
you ...
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