Matthew Mercer and Harris Sandler are playing a game almost no one knows about-not their friends, not their coworkers, and certainly not their powerful bosses, who are some of the most influential senators and congressmen on Capitol Hill. It's a game that has everything: risk, reward, and the thrill of knowing that-just by being invited to play-you've become a true insider. But behind this game is a secret so explosive it will shake Washington to its core. And when one player turns up dead, a dedicated young staffer will find himself relying on a tough, idealistic seventeen-year-old Senate page to help keep him alive...as he plays the Zero Game to its heart-pounding end.
Meltzer credits 143 people in his acknowledgments, a testament to massive research involving everything from the smallest details of our government's inner workings to the scientific complexities of chaos theory and advanced neutrino research. He's far too seasoned a pro (The Tenth Justice; The Millionaires) to ever let readers bog down in minutiae, though, using his impressive background material as rocket fuel for this rip-roaring novel of government intrigue. Best friends Matthew Mercer and Harris Sandler have worked for years as professional Capitol Hill staffers. With boredom and burnout threatening, they've joined a secret group of other like-minded workers to play the Zero Game, which uses congressional voting and government administrative procedure as the basis for placing bets. "We don't change the laws, or pass bad legislation, or stroke our evil goatees and overthrow democracy as we know it. We play at the margins; where it's safe-and where it's fun." The two decide to bet their life savings when a seemingly innocent appropriations item, the sale of an abandoned South Dakota gold mine, becomes part of the game. Because of his senior position as an appropriations committee staffer, Matthew is sure he has a lock on this one. Things go horribly wrong, and soon Harris and Viv Parker, a young Senate page, are on the run, fleeing from hired killer Martin Janos. Their flight takes them to the abandoned gold mine, where they find more mystery and near death 8,000 feet below the surface of the earth. Janos, their nemesis, is relentless, as is the action, and readers will be left breathless.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Grand Central Publishing
January 31, 2005
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Excerpt from The Zero Game by Brad Meltzer
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 a whiz.
"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 anymore."
"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 elephant . . ."
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?"