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“Relatively so,” I said, shaking four pills into my palm and slamming them down with a long gulp of icy water. Once I finished swallowing, I added, “Tense, but smooth. There haven’t been any real leads on who sabotaged our perimeter. Causes a bit of internal strife, if you understand what I’m saying.”

“Unfortunately, I do.” Mr. Stahl shook his head. “Whoever it was must have been careful to cover their tracks.”

“With good reason. People died in that attack. That makes it murder and that means they could be tried under Raskin-Watts. Most folks don’t commit acts of terrorism expecting to get caught.” I took another slower sip of water, waiting for the painkillers to kick in.

Mr. Stahl nodded, lips pressed into a thin line. “I know. Carl Boucher was a blowhard and an opinionated bastard, but he didn’t deserve to die like that. None of those folks did. Good or bad, people deserve better deaths than that.” He pushed away from the table, taking his coffee with him. “Well, I need to go meet up with my camera crew. We’re interviewing Wagman in half an hour, and she likes it when her news crews are prompt. You take care of yourself, Miss Mason, all right?”

“Do my best,” I replied, with a nod. “You’ve got my e-mail address.”

“I’ll keep in touch,” he assured me, and turned, striding off into the crowd. It swallowed him up, and he was gone.

I stayed where I was, sipping my water and considering the atmosphere of the room. In some ways, it was like a cross between a carnival and a frat party, with people of all ages, stripes, and creeds bent on having as much fun as they could before it was time to leave for less well-secured climes. Signs hanging from the ceiling directed voters of the various districts where they should go if they wanted to place their votes in the old, physical way, rather than doing them from home via real-time electronic ballot. From the way most folks were ignoring the signs, I guessed the majority had placed their votes online before hitting the convention center. The paper-voting booths are more of a curiosity than anything else, maintained because the law insists that anyone who wishes to do so be able to place their ballot via physical, nonelectronic means. What this really means is that we can’t get exact results on any election until the paper ballots have been tabulated, even when ninety-five percent of the votes have been already placed electronically.

The tobacco companies weren’t the only ones working the time-honored selling power of half-clothed female flesh to push their wares. Girls wearing little more than a bikini and a smile were weaving their way in and out of the crowd, offering buttons and banners with political slogans to the passersby. More than half the swag was finding its way into nearby trash cans or onto the floor. Most of the buttons that stayed on, I noted, were either promoting Senator Ryman or Governor Tate, who was definitely shaping up to be Ryman’s closest in-party competitor. Congresswoman Wagman had been able to ride her one-trick pony pretty far, but the buzz was pretty uniform in agreeing that it wouldn’t get her much further. You can take the “ p**n  star” platform a long way, but it’s never going to get you to the White House. Signs indicated it would either be Ryman or Tate for the Republican nomination.

The results of the day would probably solidify one of them in the lead and make the upcoming convention nothing but a formality. I’d been hoping for a third candidate to mix things up at least a little, but there hadn’t been any real breakouts on the campaign trail. Among the Republican voters—and even some of the Democrats and Independents—it was either Ryman’s brand of laid-back “we should all get along while we’re here,” or Tate’s hellfire and damnation that was attracting the attention, and hence the potential support, of just about everyone.

Tapping my watch to activate the memo function, I raised my wrist and murmured, “Note to self: See what you can do about getting an interview out of Tate’s camp sometime after the primary closes, whatever the results.” Technically, Shaun, Buffy, and I count as “rival journalists,” given that we’re mostly devoted to following Ryman’s campaign. At the same time, we’ve all taken public oaths of journalistic integrity, and that means we can—at least supposedly—be trusted to provide a fair and unbiased report on any subject we address, unless it’s in a clearly flagged editorial. Getting close enough to Tate to see how the man ticks might help with my growing objections to his political standpoints. Or it might not, and that could give me a renewed reason to rally for Ryman. Either way, it would make for good news.

My water was nearly gone, and I hadn’t come to the convention center to people watch and cadge free beverages from the local newspapermen, no matter how much of an improvement that was over life at the convoy. I tapped my ear cuff. “Call Buffy.”

There was a pause as the connection was made, and then Buffy’s voice was in my ear, asking, “What glorious service may this unworthy one perform for her majesty on this hallowed afternoon?”

I smirked. “Interrupt your poker game?”

“Actually, we were watching a movie.”

“You and Chuckles are getting a little cozy there, don’t you think?”

Buffy’s reply was a prim, “You don’t ask about my business, and I won’t ask about yours. Besides, I’m off-duty. There’s nothing to edit, and all my material for the week has already been uploaded to the time-release server.”

“Fine with me,” I said. Contrary to my earlier fears, the painkillers were preventing the headache from becoming more than an annoying throb at the back of my temples. “Can you get me a current location on the senator? I’m over at the convention center, and the place is a madhouse. If I try to find him on my own, I may never be heard from again.”

“I’d be able to track a government official because ?”


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