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An example: Rebecca Ryman fell off her horse during a show-jumping event at the Wisconsin State Fair three years ago. She was fifteen. I don’t understand the appeal of show-jumping—I don’t care for large mammals under any circumstances, and I like them even less when you’re stacking adolescents on their backs and teaching them to clear obstacles—so I can’t say what happened, just that the horse stepped wrong somehow, and Rebecca fell. She was fine. The horse broke a leg and had to be put down.

The euthanasia was performed without a hitch; as is standard with large mammals, they used a captive bolt gun to the forehead, followed by a stiletto to the spinal column. Nothing was hurt except the horse, Rebecca’s pride, and the reputation of the Wisconsin State Fair. The horse never had a prayer of reanimating. That hasn’t prevented six of our rivals from airing the footage from that fair for weeks on end, as if the embarrassment of a teenage girl somehow cancels out the fact that they didn’t make the cut. “Ha-ha, you got the candidate, but we can mock his teenage daughter for an honest mistake.”

Sometimes I wonder if my crew is the only group of professional journalists who managed to avoid the ass**le pills during training. Then I look at some of my editorials, especially the ones involving Wagman and her slow political suicide, and I realize that we took the pills. We just got a small portion of journalistic ethics to make them go down more easily. Emily knew she was safe with us because, unlike our peers, Shaun and I don’t abuse innocent people for the sake of a few marketable quotes. We have politicians to abuse when we need that sort of thing.

I checked my watch as I strode down the hall toward the main entrance. A shortcut through the press pen would take me to the governor’s offices, where his chief of staff would be happy to stall me for as long as possible. My interview wasn’t for a guaranteed sixty minutes; I’d need a lot more pull if I wanted to achieve something like that. No, I just got whatever questions I could ask and have answered in the span of an hour, no matter what else came up during that time. I wanted to make him wait no more than ten minutes. That would make a point but still leave me the time to get the answers I both wanted and needed to have. His chief of staff would not only want to make me wait, he’d want to make me wait for at least half an hour, thus gutting the interview and proving once more exactly who was in control of the situation.

There are moments when I look at the world I’m living in, all the cutthroat politics and the incredibly petty, partisan deal mongering, and I wonder how anyone could be happy doing anything else. After this, local politics would seem like a bake sale. Which means I need to stay exactly where I am, and that means making sure everyone sees how good I am at my job.

People called greetings my way as I cut through the press pen. I waved distractedly, attention focused on the route ahead. I have a reputation for aloofness in certain parts of the press corps. I guess I deserve it.

“Georgia!” called a man I vaguely recognized from Wagman’s press pool. He shouldered his way through the crowd, drawing up alongside me as I continued toward the door to Governor Tate’s offices. “Got a second?”

“Not so much,” I said, reaching for the doorknob.

He put a hand on my shoulder, ignoring the way I tensed, and said, “The congresswoman just dropped out of the race.”

I froze, swinging my head around to face him before tugging my sunglasses down enough to allow me an unobstructed view of his face. The overhead lights burned my eyes. That didn’t matter; I could see his expression well enough to know that he wasn’t lying. “What do you want?” I asked, pushing my glasses back up.

He looked over his shoulder toward the rest of the gathered journalists. None of them seemed to have realized that there was blood in the water. Not yet, anyway. They’d catch on fast, and once they did, we were cornered.

“I bring you what I have—and there’s footage, too, lots of stuff, all the votes, details on where she’s throwing what’s left of her weight—and you let me on the team.”

“You want to follow Ryman?”

“I do.”

I considered this, keeping my face impassive. Finally, incrementally, I nodded. “Be at our rooms in an hour, with copies of all your recent publications, and everything you’ve got on Wagman. We’ll talk there.”

“Great,” he said, and stepped back, letting me continue on my way.

Governor Tate’s security agents nodded as I stepped through the doorway into the governor’s offices, holding up my press pass for their review. It passed muster; they didn’t stop me.

Governor Tate’s quarters looked just like Senator Ryman’s, and were, I’m sure, close to identical to Wagman’s. Since presidential hopefuls are packed into contiguous convention centers these days, the folks organizing the conventions go out of their way to prevent the appearance that they’re “showing favor” to any particular candidate. One of our guys was going to come away the Crown prince of the party while the other went begging for scraps, but until the votes were counted, they’d be standing on equal footing.

The office was full of volunteers and staffers, and the walls were plastered with the requisite “Tate for President” posters, but the atmosphere still managed to be quiet and almost funereal. People didn’t look frightened, just focused on what they were doing. I tapped the button on my lapel, triggering its internal camera to start taking still shots every fifteen seconds. There was enough memory to keep it doing that for two hours before I needed to dump the pictures to disk. Most of the shots would be crap, but there would probably be one or two that I could use.

I killed a few minutes pouring myself an unwanted cup of coffee and doctoring it to my supposed satisfaction before walking over to show my press pass to the guards waiting at the governor’s office door.

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