by Gerald Petievich
A suicide is discovered in a top-secret White House file room. Rumors of a dangerous threat to the president have spread, and Secret Service agent Jack Powers is assigned to keep the brewing crises from the press. But death is just the tip of the iceberg --espionage is suspected of a beautiful woman who just may be the President's mistress. Acting on presidential orders, Powers follows a twisting trail that leads from the inner circle of the Oval Office to the outer fringes of international terrorism. But suddenly he finds himself trapped in a labyrinth of the deceit, murder, and betrayal that can destroy him at any moment.
"Terrific ... tightly spawn, with imaginative twists and turns ... dead ends, dead people, unlikely heroes ... great entertainment and insight into a world we rarely see!" - New York Times book Review
"Spectacularly readable ... spy-telling at its fast, surprise-strewn best!" - Los Angeles Times Book Review
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 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 900X, 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 right 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 him with 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 Operation Procedure (SOP), he was required to check the safes inside. Stryker took out a three-by-five card on which he'd noted the days' 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.