Authors: James Patterson,Bill Clinton
reathe. Relax. Aim. Squeeze.
Bach lies on the rooftop, her breathing even, her nerves still, her eye looking through the scope of the rifle down at the baseball stadium, the left-field gate. Remembering the words of Ranko, her first teacher, the toothpick jutting out from the side of his mouth, his fiery red, stalklike hair—
a scarecrow whose hair caught fire,
as he once described himself.
Align your body with the weapon. Think of the rifle as part of your body. Aim your body, not the weapon.
You must remain steady.
Choose your aiming point, not your target.
Pull straight back on the trigger. Your index finger is separate from the rest of your hand.
No, no—you jerked the weapon. Keep the rest of the hand still. You’re not breathing. Breathe normally.
Breathe. Relax. Aim. Squeeze.
The first drop of rain hits her neck. The rain could accelerate events rapidly.
She moves her head away from the sniper scope and raises her binoculars to check on her teams.
Team 1 to the north of the exit, three men huddled together, speaking and laughing, by all appearances nothing more than three friends meeting one another on the street and conversing.
Team 2 to the south of the exit, doing the same thing.
Immediately below her perch, across the street from the stadium, out of her sight, should be team 3, similarly huddled together, ready to stop any escape headed in their direction.
The exit will be surrounded, the teams prepared to close in like a boa constrictor.
“He is leaving his seat.”
Her heart does a flip, adrenaline pumping through her, as the words spill from her earbud.
Everything slows to a crawl. Slow. Easy.
It will not go perfectly as planned. It never does. A small part of her, the competitor in her, prefers it when it doesn’t, when she has to make an on-the-spot adjustment.
“Headed for the exit,”
she hears through the earbud.
“Teams 1 and 2, go,” she says. “Team 3, hold ready.”
“Team 1, that’s a go,”
comes the response.
“Team 2, that’s a go.”
“Team 3 holding ready.”
She moves her eye up to the scope of her rifle.
She curls her finger around the trigger, ready to squeeze.
ugie and I move toward the exit, the left-field gate through which I entered, my smartphone in hand as instructed. A handful of people have already given up on the game with the first sprinkles of rain, but most of the thirty-some thousand are keeping the faith for the time being, so we are not leaving with a crowd. I would have preferred that. But it’s not my decision.
The composure and confidence Augie has shown are gone. As we get closer to the exit, closer to whatever is coming next, he has grown more nervous, his eyes darting about, his fingers wiggling with no purpose. He checks his phone, maybe to see the time, maybe to look for a message, but I can’t tell because his hands are cupped around it.
We pass through the stadium gate. He stops while we are still inside the alcove, outside now, looking out at Capitol Street but still protected within the stadium walls. Leaving the stadium is meaningful to him. He must feel safe in a crowd.
I look at the sky, now an endless black, a drop of rain on my cheek.
Augie takes a breath and nods. “Now,” he says.
He inches forward, passing beyond the alcove’s walls onto the sidewalk. Some people are moving about, but the number is small. To our right, the north, a large utility truck is parked by the curb. Next to it, a couple of sweaty sanitation workers are taking a cigarette break under a streetlamp.
To the south, our left, a DC Metro squad car is parked by the curb, nobody inside.
Pulling up directly behind the squad car is a van, parking by the curb about ten yards away from us.
Augie seems to be peering at it, trying to see the driver. I look, too. Hard to make out details, but the features are unmistakable—the skeletal outline of her shoulders, the sharp angles of her face. Augie’s partner, the Princeton woman, Nina.
Seemingly in response, the van blinks its high beams twice. And then turns off its lights completely.
Augie’s head drops down to his phone, lighting up in response to his fingers tapping. Then he stops, looks up, and waits.
For a moment, he is still. Everything is still.
Some kind of signal,
I think to myself.
Something is about to happen.
My last thought before everything goes black.
, Katherine Emerson Brandt…do solemnly swear…that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States…and will, to the best of my ability…preserve, protect, and defend…the Constitution of the United States.”
Kathy Brandt adjusts her jacket and nods at herself in the bathroom mirror inside the vice president’s private quarters.
It hasn’t been easy being vice president, though she is well aware that any number of people would trade places with her. But how many of those people came within a breath of winning the nomination only to see their dreams upended by a war hero with rugged good looks and a sharp sense of humor?
She vowed to herself, on the night of Super Tuesday, when Texas and Georgia came in late for Duncan, that she wouldn’t concede, that she wouldn’t endorse him, that—God help her—she wouldn’t join his
And then she did all those things.
And now she’s a parasite, living off her host. If he makes a mistake,
made the mistake. As if that’s not bad enough, she has to defend the mistake as if it were her own.
And if she doesn’t, if she separates herself and criticizes the president, she’s disloyal. The critics will lump her in with Duncan anyway, and her supporters will desert her for her failure to stand by her president.
It’s been a delicate dance.
“I, Katherine Emerson Brandt…do solemnly—”
Her phone rings. Instinctively she reaches for the phone on the vanity, her work phone, even as she recognizes that the ringtone belongs to her other phone.
Her personal phone.
She walks into the bedroom and picks up the phone by the bedside. She sees the caller ID. A flutter passes through her.
Here we go,
she thinks to herself as she answers the call.
lack, nothing but black.
Thirty thousand people roar in unison in the stadium behind me as everything plunges into darkness, streetlamps and buildings and traffic signals, all electricity dead for blocks. Headlights from car traffic on Capitol Street are halos of light as they pass, spotlights sweeping a stage, while smartphones are fireflies dancing about in the dark.
“Use your phone,” says Augie, his voice frantic, hitting my arm. “Come, hurry!”
We race in darkness toward Nina’s van, our phones in front of us for faint illumination.
A light goes on inside the van as the hydraulic side-panel door slides open for us. Now offset against the darkness around us, the Princeton woman’s features come into full relief, the sculpted waif-model face, her eyebrows knit tightly together in worry as she grips the steering wheel. She seems to be saying something, probably telling us to hurry—
—just as the glass of the driver’s-side window shatters and the left side of her face explodes, blood and tissue and brain matter spattering the windshield.
Her head lolls to her right, the seat belt restraining her, her lips still pursed in midspeech, her doe eyes staring blankly beside a bloody crater on the left side of her skull. A scared, innocent child, abruptly, violently, suddenly no longer scared, now at peace—
If you are obliged to receive the enemy’s fire, fall or squat down ’til it’s over.
“N—no—no!” Augie shouts—
I snap into focus, grab him by the shoulders, and pull him downward, falling against the DC Metro squad car parked north of the van, landing on top of him on the sidewalk. Around us, the pavement erupts with tiny explosions as the air hisses with projectiles. The windows on the squad car shatter, raining glass down on us. The stadium wall spits stone and powder at us.
The chaos of screams and cries, tires squealing, horns honking, all muffled by the percussion inside my head, the pounding of my pulse. The squad car slumps under the relentless barrage of bullets.
I push Augie flat on the sidewalk and scramble to find his pants leg, the gun holstered at his ankle. Through the rush of adrenaline comes the dull pounding between my ears, ever present during combat. It never leaves a veteran.
The Glock is lighter by a good measure than the Beretta I was trained on, with a better grip, and I’ve heard it’s accurate, but weapons are like cars—you know they have standard stuff like lights and an ignition and windshield wipers, but it still takes a few seconds to figure them out when they’re unfamiliar. So I burn precious moments getting a feel for it before I’m ready to point and shoot—
To the south, the light from the van’s side door shines out onto the sidewalk. From the shadows, three men come into focus, running toward us. One of them, large and muscular, has the lead on the other two men, running toward me into the van’s light, a gun held down with both hands.
I fire the gun twice, aiming for center mass. He staggers and falls forward. The other two I don’t see receding into the darkness…where are they…how many rounds do I have…are there others from the other side…is this a ten-round mag…where are the other two guys from the south?
I turn to my left as the top of the squad car takes two bullets,
and drape my body over Augie’s. I swivel my head to the left, to the right, to the left, searching through the darkness, more explosions from the sidewalk around us. The sniper is trying every angle to reach us but can’t. As long as we hold our ground crouched behind the car, the sniper, wherever he is, can’t hit us.
But as long as we hold our ground, we’re sitting ducks.
Augie pushes up. “We have to run, we have to run—”
“Don’t move!” I shout, pressing down on him, keeping him flat. “We run, we die.”
Augie holds still. So do I, in our cocoon of darkness. There is noise from the stadium, general chaos from the blackout, tires screeching, horns honking—but no bullets pelting the squad car.
Or the sidewalk around us.
Or the stadium wall opposite us.
The sniper stopped firing. He stopped firing because—
I spin back to my four o’clock and see a man coming around the driver’s side of the van, illuminated by the interior dome light, a weapon up at shoulder level. I pull the trigger once, twice, three times as light explodes from his weapon, too, bullets ricocheting off the hood of the squad car in an exchange of gunfire, but I have the advantage, crouched low in the dark while he’s standing by light.
I risk another glance over the hood, my pulse like a shock wave through my body. No sign of the shooter or of the third member of the south team.
The sharp squealing of brakes, men shouting, voices I recognize, words I recognize—
“Secret Service! Secret Service!”
I lower my gun and they are on me, surrounding me with automatic weapons trained in all directions while someone grabs me under the arms and lifts me, and I’m trying to say “sniper” to them but I’m not sure if it comes out, I’m thinking it but I can’t speak, and shouts of “Go! Go! Go!” as I’m carried into a waiting vehicle, blanketed on all sides by people trained to sacrifice their lives for mine—
And then blinding light, a loud hum, everything lit up again, as bright as a spotlight in my face, electricity restored all around us.
I hear myself say “Augie” and “bring him” and then the door is shut and I’m lying in the car and “Go! Go! Go!” and we are speeding away, driving on uneven ground, the grassy median in the middle of Capitol Street.
“Are you hit? Are you hit?” Alex Trimble frantically runs his hands over me, looking for any signs of wounds.
“No,” I answer, but he’s not taking my word for it, touching my chest and torso, forcibly turning me on my side to check my back, my neck, my head, then my legs.
“He’s not hit,” Alex calls out.
“Augie,” I say. “The…kid.”
“We have him, Mr. President. He’s in the car behind us.”
“The girl who was shot…get her, too.”
He lets out a breath, looking out the window behind him, adrenaline decelerating. “DC Metro can handle—”
“No, Alex, no,” I say. “The girl…she’s dead…get custody of her…whatever…whatever you have to tell DC Metro…”
Alex calls out to the driver. I try to process what’s just happened. The dots are there, strewn about like stars in a galaxy, but I can’t connect them, not right now.
My phone buzzes. I find it in the footwell of the backseat. Carolyn. Can only be Carolyn.
“I need…the phone,” I tell Alex.
He reaches for it and puts it in my still-trembling hand. The number Carolyn texts me is
My thoughts are too scattered right now to remember the name of my first-grade teacher. I can picture her. She was tall, a big hook for a nose…
I need to remember it. I need to respond to her. If I don’t—
Richards. No, Richardson, Mrs. Richardson.
The phone pops out of my hand. I’m shaking so hard I can’t hold it, can’t text on it. I tell Alex what to type into the phone, and he does it for me.
“I want to ride…with Augie,” I say. “The…man I was with.”
“We’ll rendezvous at the White House, Mr. President, and we can—”
“No,” I say. “No.”
“No what, sir?”
“We’re not going back…to the White House,” I say.