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
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.
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.