Rachel locked eyes with the reporter. "Ralph, or whoever the hell you are, get this straight. I have no intention of abandoning my job to work for Senator Sexton, and if you print anything to the contrary, you'll need a shoehorn to get that recorder out of your ass."
The reporter's eyes widened. He clicked off his recorder, hiding a grin. "Thank you both." He disappeared.
Rachel immediately regretted the outburst. She had inherited her father's temper, and she hated him for it. Smooth, Rachel. Very smooth.
Her father glared disapprovingly. "You'd do well to learn some poise."
Rachel began collecting her things. "This meeting is over."
The Senator was apparently done with her anyway. He pulled out his cellphone to make a call. "Bye, sweetie. Stop by the office one of these days and say hello. And get married, for God's sake. You're thirty-three years old."
"Thirty-four," she snapped. "Your secretary sent a card."
He clucked ruefully. "Thirty-four. Almost an old maid. You know by the time I was thirty-four, I'd already---"
"Married mom and screwed the neighbor?" The words came out louder than Rachel had intended, her voice hanging naked in an ill-timed lull. Diners nearby glanced over.
Senator Sexton's eyes flash-froze, two ice-crystals boring into her. "You watch yourself, young lady."
Rachel headed for the door. No, you watch yourself, Senator.
The three men sat in silence inside their ThermaTech storm-tent. Outside, an icy wind buffeted the shelter, threatening to tear it from its moorings. None of the men took notice; each had seen situations far more threatening than this one.
Their tent was stark white, pitched in a shallow depression, out of sight. Their communication devices, transport, and weapons were all state-of-the-art. The group leader was code-named Delta-One. He was muscular and lithe with eyes as desolate as the topography on which he was stationed.
The military chronograph on Delta-One's wrist emitted a sharp beep. The sound coincided in perfect unison with beeps emitted from the chronographs worn by the other two men.
Another thirty minutes had passed.
It was time. Again.
Reflexively, Delta-One left his two partners and stepped outside into the darkness and pounding wind. He scanned the moonlit horizon with infrared binoculars. As always, he focused on the structure. It was a thousand meters away---an enormous and unlikely edifice rising from the barren terrain. He and his team had been watching it for ten days now, since its construction. Delta-One had no doubt that the information inside would change the world. Lives had already been lost to protect it
At the moment, everything looked quiet outside the structure.
The true test, however, was what was happening inside.
Delta-One reentered the tent and addressed his two fellow soldiers. "Time for a fly-by."
Both men nodded. The taller of the them, Delta-Two, opened a laptop computer and turned it on. Positioning himself in front of the screen, Delta-Two placed his hand on a mechanical joystick and gave it a short jerk. A thousand meters away, hidden deep within the building, a surveillance robot the size of a mosquito received his transmission and sprang to life.
Rachel Sexton was still steaming as she drove her white Integra up Leesburg Pike. The bare maples of the Falls Church foothills rose stark against a crisp March sky, but the peaceful setting did little to calm her anger. Her father's recent surge in the polls should have endowed him with a modicum of confident grace, and yet it seemed only to fuel his self-importance.
Copyright Dan Brown 2001. All rights reserved.
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