from the Prologue to "The Sentinel":
Meriweather's feet ached as he stood post at the East
Wing private quarters elevator. He glanced at his Timex.
It was 8:06 AM. 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 US 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.
six minutes in the course of life?"
you think the world revolves around you. Some day you'll
realize it revolves around the Man."
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.
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,"
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.
going to go a long way in this outfit, Ronan."
Irish and handsome, how could I fail?"
Meriweather coughed dryly.
I'm going to have to miss your rise to power. I'm retiring."
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 what? The excitement of standing here from midnight
to eight while some political hack catches his Zs upstairs?"
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 US 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 half way 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 hand-held 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, 24 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.
are you guys going to catch the terrorists who blew
up the Federal building?"
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
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's 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 back yards 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
The gunman fired. The blast spun Meriweather backward
On his back, immobilized and bleeding, a childhood memory
flashed 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.
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.