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About the Author
Date of Birth:1970
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:B.A., University of Michigan; J.D., Columbia University
Read an Excerpt
The Zero Game
By Brad Meltzer
Copyright © 2004
Forty-four Steps, Inc.
All right reserved.
I DON'T BELONG HERE. I haven't for years. When I first came to
Capitol Hill to work for Congressman Nelson Cordell, it was
different. But even Mario Andretti eventually gets bored driving two
hundred miles an hour every single day. Especially when you're going
in a circle. I've been going in circles for eight years. Time to
finally leave the loop.
"We shouldn't be here," I insist as I stand at the urinal.
"What're you talking about?" Harris asks, unzipping his fly at the
urinal next to mine. He has to crane his neck up to see my full
lanky frame. At six feet four inches, I'm built like a palm tree and
staring straight down at the top of his messy black hair. He knows
I'm agitated, but as always, he's the perfect calm in the storm.
"C'mon, Matthew, no one cares about the sign out front."
He thinks I'm worried about the bathroom. For once, he's wrong. This
may be the rest room right across from the Floor of the House of
Representatives, and it may have a sign on the door that says,
Members Only-as in Members of Congress ... as in them ... as in
not us-but after all this time here, I'm well aware that even the
most formal Members won't stop two staffers from taking awhiz.
"Forget the bathroom," I tell Harris. "I'm talking about the Capitol
itself. We don't belong anymore. I mean, last week I celebrated
eight years here, and what do I have to show for it? A shared office
and a Congressman who, last week, pressed himself up against the
Vice President to make sure he didn't get cropped out of the photo
for the next day's newspaper. I'm thirty-two years old-it's just not
"Fun? You think this is about fun, Matthew? What would the Lorax say
if he heard that?" he asks, motioning with his chin to the Dr. Seuss
Lorax pin on the lapel of my navy blue suit. As usual, he knows just
where the pressure points are. When I started doing environmental
work for Congressman Cordell, my five-year-old nephew gave me the
pin to let me know how proud he was. I am the Lorax-I speak for the
trees, he kept saying, reciting from memory the book I used to read
to him. My nephew's now thirteen. Dr. Seuss is just a writer of
kids' books to him, but for me, even though it's just a trinket ...
when I look at the tiny orange Lorax with the fluffy blond
mustache ... some things still matter.
"That's right," Harris says. "The Lorax always fights the good
fight. He speaks for the trees. Even when it's not fun."
"You of all people shouldn't start with that."
"That's not a very Lorax response," he adds in full singsong voice.
"Don't you think, LaRue?" he says, turning to the older black man
who's permanently stationed at the shoeshine chair right behind us.
"Never heard of the Lorax," LaRue responds, his eyes locked on the
small TV that plays C-SPAN above the door. "Always been a Horton
Hears a Who guy myself." He looks off in the distance. "Cute little
Before Harris can add another mile to the guilt trip, the swinging
doors to the rest room bang open, and a man with a gray suit and red
bow tie storms inside. I recognize him instantly: Congressman
William E. Enemark from Colorado-dean of the House, and Congress's
longest-serving Member. Over the years, he's seen everything from
desegregation and the Red Scare, to Vietnam and Watergate, to
Lewinsky and Iraq. But as he hangs his jacket on the hand-carved
coat-rack and rushes toward the wooden stall in back, he doesn't see
us. And as we zip up our flies, Harris and I barely make an attempt
to see him.
"That's my point," I whisper to Harris.
"What? Him?" he whispers back, motioning to Enemark's stall.
"The guy's a living legend, Harris. Y'know how jaded we must be to
let him walk by without saying hello?"
"He's going to the can ..."
"You can still say hello, right?"
Harris makes a face, then motions over to LaRue, who raises the
volume on C-SPAN. Whatever Harris is about to say, he doesn't want
it heard. "Matthew, I hate to break it to you, but the only reason
you didn't throw him a Hi, Congressman is because you think his
environmental record is crap."
It's hard to argue with that. Last year, Enemark was the number one
recipient of campaign money from the timber, oil, and nuclear power
industries. He'd clear-cut Oregon, hang billboards in the Grand
Canyon, and vote to pave over his own garden with baby seal skins if
he thought it'd get him some cash. "But even so, if I were a
twenty-two-year-old just out of college, I still would've stuck my
hand out for a quick Hi, Congressman. I'm telling you, Harris, eight
years is enough-the fun's long gone."
Still standing at the urinal, Harris stops. His green eyes narrow,
and he studies me with that same mischievous look that once got me
thrown in the back of a police car when we were undergrads at Duke.
"C'mon, Matthew, this is Washington, D.C.-fun and games are being
played everywhere," he teases. "You just have to know where to find
Before I can react, his hand springs out and grabs the Lorax pin
from my lapel. He glances at LaRue, then over to the Congressman's
jacket on the coat-rack.
"What're you doing?"
"Cheering you up," he promises. "Trust me, you'll love it. No lie."
There it is. No lie. Harris's favorite turn of phrase-and the first
sign of guaranteed trouble.
I flush my urinal with my elbow. Harris flushes his with a full-on
grip. He's never been afraid to get his hands dirty. "How much will
you give me if I put it on his lapel?" he whispers, holding up the
Lorax and moving toward Enemark's coat.
"Harris, don't ..." I hiss. "He'll kill you."
There's a hollow rumble of spinning toilet paper from within the
stall. Enemark's almost finished.
As Harris shoots me a smile, I reach for his arm, but he sidesteps
my grip with his usual perfect grace. It's how he operates in every
political fight. Once he's focused on a goal, the man's unstoppable.
"I am the Lorax, Matthew. I speak for the trees!" He laughs as he
says the words. Watching him slowly tiptoe toward Enemark's jacket,
I can't help but laugh with him. It's a dumb stunt, but if he pulls
it off ...
I take that back. Harris doesn't fail at anything. That's why, at
twenty-nine years old, he was one of the youngest chiefs of staff
ever hired by a Senator. And why, at thirty-five, there's no one-not
even the older guys-who can touch him. I swear, he could charge for
some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth. Lucky me, old college
friends get it for free.
"How's the weather look, LaRue?" Harris calls to Mr. Shoeshine, who,
from his seat near the tiled floor, has a better view of what's
happening under the stall.
If it were anyone else, LaRue would tattle and run. But it isn't
anyone else. It's Harris. "Bright and sunny," LaRue says as he ducks
his head down toward the stall. "Though a storm's quickly
Harris nods a thank-you and straightens his red tie, which I know he
bought from the guy who sells them outside the subway. As chief of
staff for Senator Paul Stevens, he should be wearing something
nicer, but the way Harris works, he doesn't need to impress. "By the
way, LaRue, what happened to your mustache?"
"Wife didn't like it-said it was too Burt Reynolds."
"I told you, you can't have the mustache and the Trans Am-it's one
or the other," Harris adds.
LaRue laughs, and I shake my head. When the Founding Fathers set up
the government, they split the legislative branch into two sides:
the House and the Senate. I'm here in the House, which is in the
south half of the Capitol. Harris works in the Senate, which is all
the way over on the north. It's a whole different world over there,
but somehow, Harris still remembers the latest update on our
shoeshine guy's facial hair. I don't know why I'm surprised. Unlike
the monsters who walk these halls, Harris doesn't talk to everyone
as a political maneuver. He does it because that's his gift-as the
son of a barber, he's got the gift of gab. And people love him for
it. That's why, when he walks into a room, Senators casually flock
around him, and when he walks into the cafeteria, the lunch lady
gives him an extra ladle of chicken in his burrito.
Reaching Enemark's gray suit jacket, Harris pulls it from the
coat-rack and fishes for the lapel. The toilet flushes behind us. We
all spin back toward the stall. Harris is still holding the jacket.
Before any of us can react, the door to the stall swings open.
If we were brand-new staffers, this is where we'd panic. Instead, I
bite the inside of my cheek and take a deep gulp of Harris's calm.
Old instincts kick in. As the door to the stall opens, I go to step
in front of the Congressman. All I have to do is buy Harris a few
seconds. The only problem is, Enemark's moving too quickly.
Sidestepping me without even looking up, Enemark is someone who
avoids people for a living. Leaving the stall, he heads straight for
the coat-rack. If Harris is caught with his jacket ...
"Congressman ...!" I call out. He doesn't slow down. I turn to
follow, but just as I spin around, I'm surprised to see Enemark's
gray coat hanging lifelessly on the coat-rack. There's a sound of
running water on the right side of the room. Harris is washing his
hands by the sink. Across from him, LaRue rests his chin in his
palm, studying C-SPAN with his fingers covering his mouth. See no
evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
"Excuse me?" Enemark asks, taking his coat from the rack. The way
it's draped over his forearm, I can't see the lapel. The pin's
nowhere in sight.
I glance over at Harris, who's wearing a calm that's almost
hypnotic. His green eyes disappear in a soft squint, and his dark
black eyebrows seem to take over his face. Japanese is easier to
"Son, did you say something?" Enemark repeats.
"We just wanted to say hello, sir," Harris interrupts, leaping to my
aid. "Really, it's an honor to meet you. Isn't that right, Matthew?"
"A-Absolutely," I say.
Enemark's chest rises at the compliment. "Much appreciated."
"I'm Harris ... Harris Sandler ..." he says, introducing himself
even though Enemark didn't ask. Leaving the sink, Harris studies the
Congressman like a chessboard. It's the only way to stay ten moves
The Congressman extends a handshake, but Harris pulls away. "Sorry ...
wet hands ..." he explains. "By the way, Congressman, this is
Matthew Mercer. He does Interior Approps for Congressman Cordell."
"Sorry to hear that," Enemark jabs with a fake laugh as he pumps my
hand. Asshole. Without another word, he opens his coat and slides an
arm into the sleeve. I check the lapel. There's nothing there.
"Have a good day, sir," Harris says as Enemark slides his other arm
in. Enemark rotates his shoulder blades and pulls his suit jacket
into place. When the other half of the jacket hits his chest, a tiny
flash of light catches my eye. There ... on his other lapel ...
there's a tiny American flag pin ... a little triangle with an oil
well on it ... and the Lorax, whose big Dr. Seuss eyes smile at
I motion to Harris; he looks up and finally grins. When I was a
freshman at Duke, Harris was a senior. He got me into the fraternity
and, years later, got me my first job here on the Hill. Mentor then,
"Look at that," Harris says to the Congressman. "I see you're
wearing the logging mascot."
I turn toward LaRue, but he's staring at the ground to keep himself
"Yeah ... I guess," Enemark barks, checking the Lorax out for
himself. Anxious to be done with the small talk, the Congressman
leaves the bathroom and heads across the hallway to the House Floor.
None of us moves until the door closes.
"The logging mascot?" I finally blurt.
"I told you there's still fun going on," Harris says, looking up at
the small TV and checking out C-SPAN. Just another day at work.
"I gotta tell Rosey this one ..." LaRue says, rushing out of the
room. "Harris, they're gonna catch you sooner or later."
"Only if they outthink us," Harris replies as the door again slams
I continue to laugh. Harris continues to study C-SPAN. "You notice
Enemark didn't wash his hands?" he asks. "Though that didn't stop
him from shaking yours."
I look down at my own open palm and head for the sink.
"Here we go ... Here's the clip for the highlight reel ..."
Harris calls out, pointing up at C-SPAN.
On-screen, Congressman Enemark approaches the podium with his usual
old-cowboy swagger. But if you look real close-when the light hits
him just right-the Lorax shines like a tiny star on his chest.
"I'm Congressman William Enemark, and I speak for the people of
Colorado," he announces through the television.
"That's funny," I say. "I thought he spoke for the trees ..."
To my surprise, Harris doesn't smile. He just scratches at the
dimple in his chin. "Feeling better?" he asks.
He leans against the inlaid mahogany wall and never takes his eyes
off the TV. "I meant what I said before. There really are some great
games being played here."
"You mean games like this?"
"Something like this." There's a brand-new tone in his voice. All
"I don't understand."
"Oh, jeez, Matthew, it's right in front of your face," he says with
a rare glimpse of rural Pennsylvania accent.
I give him a long, hard look and rub the back of my sandy-blond
hair. I'm a full head taller than him. But he's still the only
person I look up to in this place. "What're you saying, Harris?"
"You wanted to bring the fun back, right?"
"Depends what kinda fun you're talking about."
Pushing himself off the wall, Harris grins and heads for the door.
"Trust me, it'll be more fun than you've had in your entire life. No
Excerpted from The Zero Game
by Brad Meltzer
Copyright © 2004 by Forty-four Steps, Inc..
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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