Authors: Gerald Petievich
Copyright © 2003 by Charles Carr Productions, Inc.
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING ROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
357 Hudson Street, New York NY 10014, USA
This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Robert L. Tomsic-Army Ranger
Secret Service Agent, and loyal friend
I wish to thank Robert Crais, who sparked the idea for this novel, and Dianne Pugh, who provided me with valuable suggestions in two drafts. I'd also like to thank Emma Petievich for her valuable research assistance and editing, my former Army Intelligence colleague and legendary ATF Special Agent Charlie Fuller. Alice Hudson, Pam Petievich, Officer Patrick O' Hagan of the Hyattsville, Maryland, Police Department, Dr. Robert Gayles, and three U.S. Secret Service Agents (who must remain unnamed) for updating me on certain issues.
I could not have written this book without the tireless assistance of Mary Valentine, whose sound editorial advice helped me through the shadowy valleys.
I lived for the moment,
Now what can I tell,
Passion bloomed like a flower.
Until the petals fell.
The fascination drew me,
Along the shifty road to hell,
Those eyes bewitched me,
Until the petals fell.
The Collected Poems of Melinda T.
CHARLIE MERIWEATHER'S FEET ached as he stood post at the East Wing private quarters elevator. He glanced at his Timex. It was 8:06 A.M. He'd been on duty since last midnight, spending most of the time thinking about fly-fishing along a wide stream in Great Falls, Montana. Nineteen years in the U.S. Secret Service's White House Detail had taught him how to endure a tedious eight-hour shift.
Ronan Squires shuffled around the corner from the colonnade.
"You're pushed, Charlie."
"What's six minutes in the course of life?"
"Squires, you think the world revolves around you. Someday you'll realize it revolves around the Man."
"No need to get pushed out of shape."
Squires slid back an Early American tapestry on the wall, opened a gun box, and checked the Uzi submachine gun that was in it. He was thirty years old and wore a dark-blue business suit, a striped necktie, and highly shined, wing-tip shoes. Meriweather saw in Squires a younger version of himself.
"You're loaded with a thirty-round clip," Meriweather said. "The special orders remain unchanged. Or do you even know what they are?"
Squires closed the gun box. "The elevator post," he said as if reciting. "Duties: Limit access to the elevator and if an intruder breaches security, grab the Uzi and head upstairs to lock the President and the First Lady inside the Cage. How's that?" The Cage was a walk-in closet in the President's master bedroom that had been stocked with military communications gear, gas masks, and other survival items. Meriweather knew that such elaborate Presidential security precautions were necessary in the age of rising terrorism.
"You're going to go a long way in this outfit, Ronan."
"Being Irish and handsome, how could I fail?"
Meriweather coughed dryly. "Sorry I'm going to have to miss your rise to power. I'm retiring."
"And don't tell me I'm too young to pull the pin. The day comes when an agent gets fed up with all the White House politics. For me that day has arrived. I've had it right up to here. As soon as I take care of a few loose ends, Delores and I are loading up the fishing poles and heading to Montana."
"You'll get bored."
Meriweather smiled. "Compared to what? The excitement of standing here from midnight to eight while some political hack catches his Zs upstairs?"
"You're really gonna do it, aren't you?"
Meriweather winked at him, ambled to the stairwell, and then jogged down the stairs to the basement level. At a door marked with a brass nameplate that read STAFF AUXILIARY OFFICE, he tapped out a six-digit code on the cipher lock. The bolt retracted with a buzzing sound and he walked into the U.S. Secret Service White House Command Post, ground zero of the White House security system; an aquarium of electronic duty rosters, alarm maps, radio consoles, computer equipment, gun cabinets, and television monitors that were transmitting color views of hallways and rooms. He moved past a digitized Protectee Locator Board that tracked each member of the First Family from room to room within the White House and around the world, and stopped at an On Duty Agents roster, a large electronic display board with color photographs of every member of the Secret Service's White House Detail. Meriweather pressed a button that transferred his name to the OFF DUTY column.
Meriweather walked outside. A clammy summer rain had been clinging to the Potomac for the last few days, and some tourists taking photographs from behind the wrought-iron fence at Pennsylvania Avenue looked wet and uncomfortable. Meriweather walked up the driveway, stopped, and looked back across an expanse of perfectly manicured lawn. The White House had once been the largest residence in the entire country. He wondered whether in those days lunatics were drawn to it like a magnet as they were now. There were at least thirty incidents of individuals trying to break into the White House every year. During the last month agents had arrested a man who'd bolted from the White House tour line and charged the stairs, and a shrieking woman in a Superman costume who'd scrambled over the wrought-iron fence and made it halfway to the portico before being tackled.
At the Northeast guard booth, Meriweather gave a nod to the uniformed officer inside whose job it was to monitor a switch controlling the raising and lowering of the car-blocking iron beams. As Meriweather had learned in Secret Service school years earlier, the White House security system was based on the Secret Service Concentric Theory: powerful circles of defense extending inward to the President. The system included heat sensing, infrared, foot-pressure, and sound sensors, electronic fences, agents in mufti who infiltrated the White House tour groups to detect suspicious persons, officers on the roof armed with handheld surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down aircraft and surveillance cars that patrolled nearby streets.
Inside the White House, a fifty-man shift of Secret Service agents worked in three separate shifts, twenty-four hours a day, operating under detailed security advance plans that covered transportation, escape, and communications; every possible contingency that related to Presidential security. When the President traveled, the names of every person whom he came in contact with were checked through all national intelligence indices.
Presidential security was a science unto itself. Meriweather figured that without it, the President wouldn't last a week. But he'd had enough. Let someone else pace the White House halls and ride the running board of the limousine waiting to get blown up for the Man.
Walking along G Street, Meriweather stopped at the Margit Holakoui Flower shop, where Margit helped him pick out some orchids for Delores.
"When are you guys going to catch the terrorists who blew up the Federal Building?"
"Soon, I hope."
Terrorism was again the topic of the day for everyone in the country after five public buildings had been bombed in the last eighteen months; each incident attributed to right-wing extremists. Meriweather wrote out a card for Delores, and paid Holakoui the White House discount price in cash. There was no use running up a credit-card bill when one was retiring to live on fifty-percent pay.
He departed, and it began to rain. He held the flowers over his head as a shield. Walking along G Street, he passed some construction workers who were excavating a portion of the road. He knew that if they dug far enough, they would run into the escape tunnel that was to be used by the President in the event of a paramilitary attack on the White House. The standing orders were to evacuate the President using a secret door in the White House East Wing and the underground route to the basement parking lot of Secret Service Headquarters in the nearby Telco Bank Building. Thank God he'd never had to make that run, thought Meriweather.
At the corner was a four-story public garage where he always parked his car. Meriweather turned into the driveway, and was pleased to get out of the rain. He trotted up three flights of stairs rather than use the elevator. The third-floor parking spaces were filled. Moving along a row of cars, he heard the sound of a car door open and close, but saw no one. Reaching his Chevrolet Monte Carlo, he took out his key and inserted it into the lock. He sensed someone behind him and turned.
A man wearing a skin-colored mask was aiming a silencer-equipped revolver at him.
Meriweather's stomach muscles contracted. Over the years, standing post for five different Presidents - at stairwells, back doors, service entries, palatial backyards, and palace gates - there had been a thousand times when Meriweather had imagined what he would do if confronted by an armed gunman. One never really knew for sure how one would react. Meriweather reached for his SIG-Sauer 9mm automatic.
The gunman fired. The blast spun Meriweather backward and down.
On his back, immobilized and bleeding, he saw a childhood memory flash into his mind: missing the school bus in his hometown of Hyden, Kentucky. He was ten years old, running along the sidewalk, shouting at the bus driver. "
Mr. Osborne! Mr. Osborne. Wait!
The mask stared down at him.
"Sonofabitch," Meriweather said, his lips barely moving.
The silencer spit fire again. Meriweather's body roiled, and as his nervous system uncoupled from his brain, his final spark of thought was of him and Delores fly-fishing in an icy Montana stream, casting into clear water. Delores was the only woman he'd ever met who liked fly-fishing.
SECRET SERVICE SPECIAL Agent Martha Breckinridge lifted the plastic sheet and aimed a Kel-light at Meriweather's corpse. His right hand was reaching inside his jacket for his SIG-Sauer 9mm pistol. She'd known him and liked him, and seeing him lying dead sickened her. She knew the scene would stay with her forever. Some orchids wrapped in cellophane were a few feet away. The card with the flowers read:
Thanks for putting up with me through everything. Start packing, baby. We're heading for God's country.
Love you, sugar baby,
Police officers had blocked off the entire garage with evidence tape. Police detectives, crime-scene photographers, and Secret Service supervisors were milling about. To Breckinridge, it was an eerie, surreal scene.
Her partner, Rachel Kallenstien, joined her.
"A Department of Agriculture file clerk who was parking her car found the body."
"His wallet and gun weren't taken."
"Maybe the shooter chickened out."
"Rachel, a street robber isn't going to leave a gun on his victim."