Authors: Gerald Petievich
First published in 1991 by Dutton, a division of Penguin Books USA, Inc.
375 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014, USA
All Rights Reserved
Copyright ©1991, 2001
This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, by mimeograph, or any other means without written permission.
For S/P4 John G. Petievich,
U.S. Army Military Police Corps
The position of Special Agent, U.S. Secret Service, requires that the incumbent cover designated security posts in connection with the protection of the President of the United States, whose safety is not only a matter of the utmost national concern but international in scope. If qualified, an agent may be assigned permanently as a member of the White House Presidential Protection Detail.
Special Agents so assigned may be exposed to physical combat, exchange of gunfire, and other hazards inherent with major assignments.
- U.S. Secret Service Manual, Sect. 402.56, para. 13
Outside, the White House night-lights, though unobtrusive, kept the grounds well-illuminated. Other than some midsummer traffic noise coming from Pennsylvania Avenue there was only the muffled sound of two-way radios carried by the uniformed officers as they moved from post to post at half-hour intervals. Inside, the First Family was ensconced in the privacy of their second-floor living quarters. Other than the working shift of Secret Service agents and a few maintenance and communications employees, the White House halls were dim and hushed.
U.S. Secret Service Agent Ray Stryker, a lanky, thirty-nine-year-old man with weathered features, was trudging down a long cement corridor in the White House basement: a labyrinth of offices and security cubicles, storerooms . . . and a bomb shelter designed to withstand a nearly ground-zero blast. In obedience to a recently initiated security procedure, he was perfunctorily checking (he didn't want to say "shaking") doors. His shift of duty on the White House Presidential Protection Detail was nearly completed. In fact, he'd signed off on the command-post log a few minutes early to make the final security check: anything to shorten the drudging four-to-midnight shift.
Stryker's right knee was aching as it had for the past three years ... ever since the President's trip to Peshawar, Pakistan. There, Stryker had been "working the running board," as close-in presidential motorcade security duty was called in the Secret Service. Running alongside the left rear fender of 90OX, the presidential limousine, keeping his eyes trained on the crowd line, he realized just an instant too late that the limousine had turned toward him slightly. He was helpless as the heavy bulletproof tire rolled over his foot and wrenched his entire left leg in a clockwise motion upward into the wheel well. Though the multiple bone fractures, set by a turbaned Pakistani doctor, had healed in the normal time, the knee had never been the same. But what the hell. Though in motorcades he was now limited to driving the limo or being a "gun man" inside the car, he could still play soccer as goalie, and the injury, though leaving with him a dull, continuous ache, hadn't affected his seniority on the White House Detail.
At the White House Situation Room, where he remembered President Bush spending thirty-six straight hours during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he tested the double combination locks on the tall steel doors. Secure. Using a ballpoint pen attached to the wall with a short string, he wrote his initials and the date, 8/12/96, on the Secret Service Form 1632 Secure Area Log.
Moving door-to-door farther down the hallway, he felt the fatigue that comes from sheer boredom. During Stryker's entire tour of duty today, the President's only activity outside his private quarters had been to come downstairs to attend a black-tie dinner honoring the newly elected President of Zaire. All attendees, including both Presidents, the first ladies, and the other guests, had looked weary of the affair from beginning to end.
Stryker's mind was on his next three-day weekend. He would take care of some errands Friday at his Fairfax, Virginia condominium. On Saturday he'd play soccer for the Fairfax Vikings, a team made up mostly of single government and military employees sponsored by Shaughnessy's Pub, where he spent a lot of time during off-hours. Sunday would be spent with his seven-year-old daughter Kelli, whom, per the divorce decree, he was allowed to visit twice each week. After taking Kelli home, if he felt like it he'd ask his next-door neighbor if she wanted to grab a pizza. Perhaps Flora would spend the night with him as she often did whenever her steady boyfriend was at sea.
Passing the open door of the White House Communications Center, Stryker waved casually to Ed Sneed, a strapping, uniformed army major whose sole duty, in the imminence of nuclear war, was to rush upstairs and give the President the secret military code needed to launch missiles and thus blow up the world. Sneed, his teammate on the Fairfax Vikings, gave a little salute.
Farther down the hallway, Stryker checked a line of doors known as the Special Projects Office. The locks were secure. Per the Secret Service Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), he was required to check the safes inside.
Stryker took out a three-by-five card on which he'd noted the day's code. Referring to the note, he tapped three number combinations on a cipher lock and waited a moment. There was a thud-click as the lock came open. Stryker pulled the heavy steel door to enter. Inside, he flicked on the light.
There were two desks in the room, and the floor was covered with a utilitarian red carpet common to White House offices. The walls were covered with maps hidden by black CLASSIFIED drapes. To the right was a door to a small conference room. Both it and the room he was in were soundproof. Moving to a row of security document safes lining the facing wall, he checked the printed logs taped to the top front drawers. Today's date was written on the last line for each log, next to the initials MK. Starting at the left and moving right, he tugged at the drawer handles.
One wasn't locked.
Feeling his heart quicken, he pulled open the heavy drawer. It was full of hanging file folders.
There was the sound of the steel door clicking shut. Stryker whirled and saw a familiar face ... and a gun being raised to the level of his head. "Don't," Stryker said, instinctively reaching for his own revolver.
With his breath at full stop, Stryker thought he heard a click, but he wasn't sure. Then there was a sudden excruciating stab of pain in his head and the world turned bright white and exploded . . . into a devastating sense of peace.
A fetid breeze wafted from the Potomac River.
Special Agent Jack Powers, U.S. Secret Service, ended his daily five-mile jog at a sidewalk newspaper rack in front of the enormous Watergate apartment complex. He was wearing blue nylon jogging shorts, a white T-shirt, and a pair of Nike running shoes he'd purchased on sale at Woodward and Lothrup. Soaked in perspiration, he stood on the corner, arms akimbo, taking deep breaths. The workout had relaxed him, freed him from stress. Though the rest of his day would be planned and overseen by others, the early morning was his.
He tugged gently at the waistband of his shorts, picked change from a tiny waist pocket, and dropped the coins in the news rack's coin receptacle. He raised the clear plastic cover and took a copy of the Washington Post.
Looking both ways, he crossed Virginia Avenue with the green light. Heading slowly along New Hampshire, as was his custom after the morning run, he scanned the front page. The President was even (51 percent to 49 percent) in a CBS campaign poll, and double-digit inflation and record high unemployment was continuing. The U.S. economy continued to be outpaced by a booming, barrier-free Europe led by a reunified Germany. The President's popularity had dropped consistently, owing to his stumbling approach to foreign affairs in the Middle East. With the presidential election only three months away and the polls showing the President even with his challenger, the Chief Executive's job would be to maintain balance and avoid any last-minute glitches that could push him from power.
Powers turned the page. Having protected five different Presidents, he knew that though Presidents were invariably men of unbridled ego and ambition who thrived on adversity, they were equally invariably deeply pierced by criticism. As Powers could attest, the presidency ate some men alive.
At the second stoplight, Powers paused over an article headlined PRESIDENT TO ADDRESS FOREIGN POLICY CRITICISM. In it, presidential press secretary Richard Eggleston stated the President's intention to address the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce on Friday of next week.
From rumors he'd heard recently while traveling with the President on the campaign trail, Powers surmised that since the speech was planned for a Friday, the President's real reason for traveling to the West Coast was to confer with the movie industry fat cats who financed his campaign, some of whom were rumored to be jumping ship. The entire trip, though undertaken for strictly partisan political purposes, would be paid for by the government, and the presidential party would probably spend the weekend at their usual lodging in Southern California, the newly refurbished Breakwater Hotel in Santa Monica. Accordingly, since the shift change for the White House Detail was scheduled every other Friday, Powers would still be working the day shift on the West Coast ... the same tour of duty as Louise Fisher, an attractive Santa Monica police officer whom he dated when in town.
But this presented a problem.
Though Louise was a veritable sexual athlete, she was incapable of making conversation about any topic except herself. Long ago, Powers had tired of her persecution stories centering on a male-chauvinist patrol lieutenant she believed was out to get her and of her incessant bragging about her prowess as starting center on the police volleyball team. For this reason, it was difficult to spend long periods of time with her.
Therefore, Powers decided to request a shift change to the 4 P.M. to midnight shift. This way, while in Santa Monica, he could enjoy sleeping with Louise at her beach condo after he got off work but could avoid spending long stretches of off-duty time enduring her depressing stories. Instead, he'd have the daytime hours free to meet other women at the beach.
If nothing else, twenty-two years of being a member of the Secret Service's White House Detail had taught him the importance of conscientious advance planning.
Powers had been in charge of advance security arrangements for the last California trip. The advance man arranged security at each and every location on the President's California itinerary and bore the final responsibility for his safety from the time the President arrived until Air Force One lifted wheels up on departure. Powers liked advance duties. As well as the challenge, it was an easy way to make a lot of overtime pay.
By the time Powers reached Washington Circle he'd finished skimming the newspaper. At the entrance to the Georgetown Arms, a drab brick-front apartment building like the others lining both sides of the street, he shoved the paper into a curbside trashcan. Then he lifted a metal dog-tag chain from around his neck and used one of the two keys attached to it to open the front door. The foyer reeked with the odor of mildewed carpet. At the elevator, he pressed a button and waited.
Turning to a large mirror on the facing wall, he saw his reflection-five foot ten with height proportionate to weight, a full head of closely cropped dark hair flecked with gray, thick eyebrows, clean features, and, except for the premature wrinkles around his eyes from years of scanning thousands of faces in thousands of crowds looking for potential assassin--no distinguishing traits. Hell, he was just another forty-four-year-old jogger.
In his drab rent-by-the-week apartment (it didn't make sense to lease a DC residence when he was only in town a few days each month), he lifted his soaking T-shirt over his head and hung it over the bathroom shower rod. Pulling two Velcro fasteners open, he freed himself from a custom-made elastic holster wrapped tightly around his midsection like a rib brace. From a pocket in the holster, he slipped out a snub-nosed .38 revolver wrapped loosely in Saran Wrap as protection from jogging perspiration.