The bestselling thriller writer of all time - if you haven't read a Dan Brown, where have you been? --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition
By Dan Brown
Simon & Schuster Audio
Copyright © 2004 Dan Brown
All right reserved.
Toulos Restaurant, adjacent to Capitol Hill, boasts apolitically incorrect menu of baby veal and horse carpaccio,making it an ironic hotspot for the quintessentialWashingtonian power breakfast. This morning Toulos was busy - a cacophony of clanking silverware, espresso machines, andcellphone conversations.
The maitre d' was sneaking a sip of his morning Bloody Marywhen 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 LauraAshley blouse. Her posture was straight - chin raised ever soslightly - not arrogant, just strong. The woman's hair waslight brown and fashioned in Washington's most popular style- the "anchorwoman" - a lush feathering, curled under at theshoulders ... long enough to be sexy, but short enough to remindyou she was probably smarter than you.
"I'm a little late," the woman said, her voice unassuming. "Ihave a breakfast meeting with Senator Sexton."
The maitre d' felt an unexpected tingle of nerves. SenatorSedgewick Sexton.
The senator was a regular here and currentlyone of the country's most famous men. Last week, having sweptall twelve Republican primaries on Super Tuesday, the senatorwas virtually guaranteed his party's nomination for Presidentof the United States. Many believed the senator had a superbchance of stealing the White House from the embattledPresident next fall. Lately Sexton's face seemed to be onevery national magazine, his campaign slogan plastered allacross America: "Stop spending. Start mending."
"Senator Sexton is in his booth," the maitre d' said. "And youare?"
"Rachel Sexton. His daughter."
How foolish of me
, he thought. The resemblance was quiteapparent. The woman had the senator's penetrating eyes andrefined carriage - that polished air of resilient nobility.Clearly the senator's classic good looks had not skippedgenerations, although Rachel Sexton seemed to carry herblessings with a grace and humility her father could learnfrom.
"A pleasure to have you, Ms. Sexton."
As the maitre d' led the senator's daughter across the diningarea, he was embarrassed by the gauntlet of male eyesfollowing her ... some discreet, others less so. Few women dinedat Toulos and even fewer who looked like Rachel Sexton.
"Nice body," one diner whispered. "Sexton already find himselfa new wife?"
"That's his daughter, you idiot," another replied.
The man chuckled. "Knowing Sexton, he'd probably screw heranyway."
When Rachel arrived at her father's table, the senator was onhis cellphone talking loudly about one of his recentsuccesses. He glanced up at Rachel only long enough to tap hisCartier and remind her she was late.
I missed you, too,
Her father's first name was Thomas, although he'd adopted hismiddle name long ago. Rachel suspected it was because he likedthe alliteration. Senator Sedgewick Sexton. The man was asilver-haired, silver-tongued political animal who had beenanointed with the slick look of soap opera doctor, whichseemed appropriate considering his talents of impersonation.
"Rachel!" Her father clicked off his phone and stood to kissher cheek.
"Hi, Dad." She did not kiss him back.
"You look exhausted."
And so it begins,
she thought. "I got your message. What'sup?"
"I can't ask my daughter out for breakfast?"
Rachel had learned long ago her father seldom requested hercompany 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 Iset 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'dstop 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 herfather. "Dad, you wanted to see me? You said this wasimportant."
"It is." Her father's eyes studied her closely.
Rachel felt part of her defenses melt away under his gaze, andshe cursed the man's power. The senator's eyes were his gift- a gift Rachel suspected would probably carry him to theWhite House. On cue, his eyes would well with tears, and then,an instant later, they would clear, opening a window to animpassioned soul, extending a bond of trust to all. It's allabout trust,
her father always said. The senator had lostRachel'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 herposition. "Some prominent divorci looking for a young wife?"
"Don't kid yourself, honey. You're not that young anymore."
Rachel felt the familiar shrinking sensation that so oftenaccompanied 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 beforeit'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
thePresident. I work in Fairfax, for God's sake!"
"Politics is perception, Rachel. It appears
you work for thePresident."
Rachel exhaled, trying to keep her cool. "I worked too hard toget this job, Dad. I'm not quitting."
The senator's eyes narrowed. "You know, sometimes your selfishattitude really -"
"Senator Sexton?" A reporter materialized beside the table.
Sexton's demeanor thawed instantly. Rachel groaned and took acroissant from the basket on the table.
"Ralph Sneeden," the reporter said. "Washington Post.
May Iask you a few questions?"
The senator smiled, dabbing his mouth with a napkin. "Mypleasure, Ralph. Just make it quick. I don't want my coffeegetting cold."
The reporter laughed on cue. "Of course, sir." He pulled out aminirecorder and turned it on. "Senator, your television adscall for legislation ensuring equal salaries for women in theworkplace ... as well as for tax cuts for new families. Can youcomment on your rationale?"
"Sure. I'm simply a huge fan of strong women and strongfamilies."
Rachel practically choked on her croissant.
"And on the subject of families," the reporter followed up,"you talk a lot about education. You've proposed some highlycontroversial budget cuts in an effort to allocate more fundsto our nation's schools."
"I believe the children are our future."
Rachel could not believe her father had sunk to quoting popsongs.
"Finally, sir," the reporter said, "you've taken an enormousjump in the polls these past few weeks. The President has gotto be worried. Any thoughts on your recent success?"
"I think it has to do with trust. Americans are starting tosee that the President cannot be trusted to make the toughdecisions facing this nation. Runaway government spending isputting this country deeper in debt every day, and Americansare starting to realize that it's time to stop spending andstart mending."
Like a stay of execution from her father's rhetoric, the pagerin Rachel's handbag went off. Normally the harsh electronicbeeping was an unwelcome interruption, but at the moment, itsounded almost melodious.
The senator glared indignantly at having been interrupted.
Rachel fished the pager from her handbag and pressed a presetsequence of five buttons, confirming that she was indeed theperson holding the pager. The beeping stopped, and the LCDbegan blinking. In fifteen seconds she would receive a securetext message.
Sneeden grinned at the senator. "Your daughter is obviously abusy woman. It's refreshing to see you two still find time inyour schedules to dine together."
"As I said, family comes first."
Sneeden nodded, and then his gaze hardened. "Might I ask, sir,how you and your daughter manage your conflicts of interest?"
"Conflicts?" Senator Sexton cocked his head with an innocentlook of confusion. "What conflicts do you mean?"
Rachel glanced up, grimacing at her father's act. She knewexactly where this was headed. Damn reporters
, she thought.Half of them were on political payrolls. The reporter'squestion was what journalists called a grapefruit
- aquestion that was supposed to look like a tough inquiry butwas in fact a scripted favor to the senator - a slow lobpitch that her father could line up and smash out of the park,clearing the air about a few things.
"Well, sir ..." The reporter coughed, feigning uneasiness overthe question. "The conflict is that your daughter works foryour opponent."
Senator Sexton exploded in laughter, defusing the questioninstantly. "Ralph, first of all, the President and I are notopponents
. We are simply two patriots who have different ideasabout how to run the country we love."
The reporter beamed. He had his sound bite. "And second?"
"Second, my daughter is not employed by the President; she isemployed by the intelligence community. She compiles intelreports and sends them to the White House. It's a fairlylow-level position." He paused and looked at Rachel. "In fact,dear, I'm not sure you've even met
the President, have you?"
Rachel stared, her eyes smoldering.
The beeper chirped, drawing Rachel's gaze to the incomingmessage on the LCD screen.
- RPRT DIRNRO STAT -
She deciphered the shorthand instantly and frowned. Themessage was unexpected, and most certainly bad news. At leastshe had her exit cue.
"Gentlemen," she said. "It breaks my heart, but I have to go.I'm late for work."
"Ms. Sexton," the reporter said quickly, "before you go, I waswondering if you could comment on the rumors that you calledthis breakfast meeting to discuss the possibility of leavingyour current post to work for your father's campaign?"
Rachel felt like someone had thrown hot coffee in her face.The question took her totally off guard. She looked at herfather and sensed in his smirk that the question had beenprepped. She wanted to climb across the table and stab himwith a fork.
The reporter shoved the recorder into her face. "Miss Sexton?"
Rachel locked eyes with the reporter. "Ralph, or whoever thehell you are, get this straight: I have no intention ofabandoning my job to work for Senator Sexton, and if you printanything to the contrary, you'll need a shoehorn to get thatrecorder 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 inheritedher father's temper, and she hated him for it. Smooth, Rachel.Very smooth.
Her father glared disapprovingly. "You'd do well to learn somepoise."
Rachel began collecting her things. "This meeting is over."
The senator was apparently done with her anyway. He pulled outhis cellphone to make a call. " 'Bye, sweetie. Stop by theoffice one of these days and say hello. And get married, forGod's sake. You're thirty-three years old."
," she snapped. "Your secretary sent a card."
He clucked ruefully. "Thirty-four. Almost an old maid. Youknow by the time I was thirty-four, I'd already -"
"Married mom and screwed the neighbor?" The words came outlouder than Rachel had intended, her voice hanging naked in anill-timed lull. Diners nearby glanced over.
Senator Sexton's eyes flash-froze, two ice-crystals boringinto her. "You watch yourself, young lady."
Rachel headed for the door. No, you watch yourself, senator.