Page 118

The senator jumped. His assailant looked daggers at me, which moved up the scale to full-sized swords as the senator turned and flashed his best magazine-cover smile my way. “Of course, Miss Mason,” he said. He deftly twitched his fingers free of the handshaker, saying, “If you wouldn’t mind excusing me, Councilman Plant, I need to confer with a member of my press pool. Everyone, I’ll be right back with you.”

Fighting into the throng had taken almost five minutes. Getting out of it required nothing but the senator’s hand at the small of my back, propelling me along as we made our way to the clear space to the left of the dais. “Not that I mind the save, Georgia, since I was starting to worry about the structural integrity of my wrist, but what are you doing here?” asked Senator Ryman, his voice pitched low. “Last I checked, you’d stayed at the Center, which is why your brother’s been here annoying the staff and eating all the shrimp canapés all evening.”

“I did stay at the Center,” I said. “Senator, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but—” Someone shouted congratulations to the senator, who answered it with a grin and a broad thumbs-up. It was a perfect photo-op moment, and I snapped the shot with my watch’s built-in camera before I even thought about what I was doing. Instincts. Clearing my throat, I tried again. “Buffy was working for someone who wanted to keep tabs on your campaign.”

“You’ve told me this before,” he said, more briskly. I recognized the impatience in his eyes from dozens of media briefings. “It’s all some big shadow conspiracy looking to bring me down. What I don’t understand is why this is suddenly so pressing that you need to rush over here and risk making a scene on what might be one of the most important political evenings of my life. There are a great many movers and shakers here tonight, Georgia—a great many. These are the men who could hand me California, as you’d know, if you’d bothered to read the briefing papers and attend my speech.” If you’d bothered to do your job, said his subtext, so clearly that it might as well have been spoken aloud. I’d let him down. My reporting, which he’d come to depend on as one of the tools of his campaign—the objective reporter, won over by his politics and his rhetoric—was supposed to have been there, and it wasn’t.

The senator had heard my excuses with increasing frequency in the time since Buffy’s death, and it was clear that he was getting tired of them. More than tired; he was getting frustrated with them, and by extension, with me.

Talking faster now, in an effort to keep him from shutting me out before I could finish, I said, “Senator, I’ve had two of my people running traces for weeks now on every bit of data we could find. They’ve been following the money. That’s what it always comes back to—the money. And they’ve managed to find—”

“We’ll talk about this later, Georgia.”

“But Senator Ryman, we—”

“I said we’d talk about this later.” He was frowning now, his stiff, political smile, the one he used during debates, or when chastising recalcitrant interns. “This is neither the time nor the place for this discussion.”

“Senator, we have proof Tate was involved in what happened to Buffy.” The senator froze. Finally sensing that he might listen, I pressed my case. “We’ve had audio for a while, but my team found the payments. We found the contacts. Buffy wasn’t the start. Eakly was the start. Eakly and the ranch—”


The word was soft but implacable. I stopped dead, run up against the side of that refusal like I’d just slammed into a wall. After a frozen moment, I tried again, saying, “Senator Ryman, please, if you’d just—”

“Georgia, this is not the time, and it’s not the place, especially if those are the accusations you’ve come here to make.” His face was cold. I’d never seen him look that cold toward anyone who wasn’t a political rival. “David Tate and I may not have always seen eye to eye on this campaign trail, and God knows, I’ve always known there was no love lost between the two of you, but I’m not going to stand here and listen to you say these things about a man who spoke at my daughter’s funeral. I can’t have that.”

“Senator, that man was just as responsible for your daughter’s death as if he’d infected her himself.”

Senator Ryman’s shoulders tensed, and his hand actually rose several inches before he forced it down. He wanted to hit me; that truth was written so clear across his face that even Shaun could have seen it. He wanted to, but he wouldn’t. Not here, not in front of all these witnesses.

“It’s time for you to go, Georgia.”


“If the three of you aren’t off the premises in the next fifteen minutes, you’ll be spending tonight in the Sacramento County jailhouse, as I’ll have had your press clearance pulled.” His tone was calm, even reasonable, but there was no kindness in it, and kindness was the thing I was most accustomed to hearing from him. “When I get back to the Center, I’ll come by your trailer, and you’ll show me every scrap of proof you think you have.”

“And then?” I asked, despite my own better judgment. I needed to know how seriously he was willing to take this.

“And then, if I believe you, I’ll back you up when we call for the federal authorities, because what you’re saying, Georgia, what you’re accusing is terrorism, and if that accusation gets made without absolute proof behind it, well, there’s more than one man’s career it could destroy.”

He was right. If it got out that the Ryman campaign had been harboring a man who’d use Kellis-Amberlee as a weapon—hell, that a man who’d use Kellis-Amberlee as a weapon was actually on the ticket—it would ruin him. His political enemies would never let the scandal die. Some of them would probably say he’d supported Tate’s actions, even to the point of killing Rebecca, for the votes it bought him.