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by Gerald Petievich

A White House Secret Service agent specializing in electronic surveillance has been blown away by a masked gunman. The Aryan Clan, a neo-Nazi group, has taken credit. Secret Service Special Agent Pete Garrison fears it's more than a warning shot delivered by extremists. His first lead is an informant who claims that the Aryans have positioned one of their own in the White House. But it's the second lead that carries the most shattering implications - a blackmailer who knows of Garrison's love affair with the First Lady. He has the photos to prove it: evidence that would frame Garrison with the perfect motive for murder.

Garrison's last option: infiltrate the President's most powerful circles of defense…and outguess the killer's next move.

Read the Reviews

Praise for Petievich's previous novels:

"Powerful…a terrific sense of pace."
- Dean Koontz

"An impressive achievement."
- The New York Times

"A wham-bam thriller."
- Los Angeles Times

Gerald Petievich writes about The Sentinel:

With each of my novels, there has been a time when the idea first strikes-- not that a flash of thought is enough to flesh out a hundred thousand word novel - but when the basic concept; the essence of the drama clicks into the consciousness. For "Earth Angels", it was when my brother John, an LAPD officer, told me a story of how two detectives had once tried to initiate a gang conflict by forging gang graffiti on a wall. With "Shakedown" it was when I was working undercover on a Secret Service case and met a professional blackmailer who described his peculiar trade to me. Even today, after all the years, I can remember when I came up with the ideas for those novels.

I got the idea for "Sentinel" when I was sitting in a bar in LA's Chinatown with the novelist Robert Crais. It was a hot, summer night and the air conditioning in the bar wasn't working. Some people at the other end of the bar were watching a baseball game with the sound turned up to deafening. I was looking for an idea for a new novel and we began batting ideas back and forth, as writers often do when they know a colleague well enough to trust that he will be brutally frank. We discussed whether I should write another Charles Carr novel or a political thriller along the lines of my last novel, "Paramour." The problem was, after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, political truth had come to be stranger than fiction. I had to come up with a plot that would incorporate the political tenor of the times and still be unique.

As Zinky the bartender was mixing more drinks, Crais said: "What about focusing a story on the First Lady?" It was nothing but a passing comment, a half-suggestion, and an undeveloped literary idea. But, as we continued to chat, what he'd said about the First lady stayed at the back of my mind.

We finished our drinks and walked out the door after midnight. Strolling through the deserted streets of Chinatown to where we had parked our cars, my mind was still on what he'd said earlier. The novel had begun to form.

"I've got it," I said as we reached the parking lot.

"I thought you seemed a little preoccupied," Crais said.

"Thanks for the idea."

"What idea?'

I drove home and sat up the rest of the night making notes -- rough scratching, words and sentences, all relating to the First Lady and her feelings -- on what would eventually be The Sentinel.

From the beginning of the book on, I drew on the pentimento of memories I had of my 15 years in the US Secret Service; of the feeling of alienation when standing in a hallway at three AM, of the sheer boredom of being a bodyguard, of the wonderful, Class A gossip about those who Secret Service agents refer to as "protectees," of the moments of pride in the country and in the US Secret Service, that, with all of it's flaws, remains the finest executive protective team ever to operate.

Being a Secret Service agent-a bodyguard -- is an unusual position. Though it's possible to protect someone for months without having any social intercourse other than brief conversations about departure times and where staff and guests would ride in the limousine, sometimes a much closer relationship develops. I know of politicians who came to trust their Secret Service agents more than their highest-ranking staff members. And, like the fictional Agent Garrison, Secret Service agents have occasionally been known to get involved with women they have been assigned to protect. In one instance I have personal knowledge of, the wife of a famous world leader fell head over heels in love with her Secret Service bodyguard. When their affair became known, the Secret Service Director relieved the agent of his duties and hushed up the scandal. And there has been more than once romance between a Secret Service agent and a female member of the First Family. No matter what the environment, no matter what the class, time or place, people will be people. As has been proven during recent presidential administrations, both the members of the First Family and their protectors exist in an environment where forbidden romance, lust, jealousy and revenge is always just under the surface.

Excerpt from the Prologue to "The Sentinel":

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 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.

"You're pushed, Charlie."

"You're late."

"What's six minutes in the course of life?"

"Squires, you think the world revolves around you. Some day 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," 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."

"No shit?"

"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 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.

"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'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 9mm automatic.

The gunman fired. The blast spun Meriweather backward and down.

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.

"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.

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