A PRESIDENTIAL MOTORCADE is a fascinating sight, particularly at night,
and particularly from the air.
Even from twenty miles out and ten thousand feet up-on approach to
Denver International Airport's runway 17R-both pilots of the Gulfstream
IV could clearly see the red-and-blue flashing lights of the entourage
on the ground at about one o'clock, beginning to snake westward down
The late November air was cool, crisp, and cloudless. A full moon bathed
the flat plains below and the Rockies jutting heavenward to the right
with a bluish tint and remarkable visibility.
A phalanx of two dozen police motorcycles led the way toward downtown
Denver, forming a V, with the captain of the motorcycle force riding
point. Then came a dozen Colorado State Patrol squad cars, four rows of
three each, spread out and taking up all three lanes of westbound
highway with more lights and more sirens. Two jet-black Lincoln Town
Cars followed immediately, carrying the White House advance team. These
were followed by two black Chevy Suburbans, each carrying teams of
plainclothes agents from the United States Secret Service.
Next-one after the other-came two identical limousines, both black,
bulletproof Cadillacs built to precise Secret Service specifications.
The first was code-named Dodgeball. The second, Stagecoach. To the
untrained eye it was impossible to know the difference, or to know which
vehicle the president was in.
The limousines were tailed closely by six more government-owned
Suburbans, most carrying fully locked-and-loaded Secret Service assault
teams. A mobile-communications vehicle followed, along with two
ambulances, a half dozen white vans carrying staffers, and two buses
carrying national and local press, baggage, and equipment. Bringing up
the rear were a half dozen TV-network satellite trucks, more squad cars,
and another phalanx of police motorcycles.
Overhead, two Denver Metro Police helicopters flanked the motorcade-one
on the right, the other on the left-and led it by at least half a mile.
All in all, the caravan lit up the night sky and made a terrible racket.
But it was certainly impressive-and intimidating-for anyone who cared to
A local FOX reporter estimated that more than three thousand Coloradoans
had just packed a DIA hangar and tarmac to see their former governor-now
president of the United States-come home for Thanksgiving, his last stop
on a multistate "victory tour" after the midterm elections. Some had
stood in the crosswinds for more than six hours. They'd held American
flags and hand-painted signs and sipped thermoses of hot chocolate.
They'd waited patiently to clear through incredibly tight security and
get a good spot to see the president step off Air Force One,
flash his warm trademark smile, and deliver one simple, Reaganesque
sound bite: "You ain't seen nothin' yet."
The crowd absolutely thundered with approval. They'd seen his televised
Thanksgiving-week address to the nation from the Oval Office. They knew
the daunting task he'd faced stepping in after Bush. And they knew the
America's economy was stronger than ever. Housing sales were at a record
high. Small businesses were being launched at a healthy clip.
Unemployment was dropping fast. The Dow and NASDAQ were reaching new
heights. Homeland security had been firmly reestablished. The long war
on terrorism had been an unqualified success. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban
had been obliterated. Osama bin Laden had finally been found-dead, not
Forty-three terrorist training camps throughout the Middle East and
North Africa had been destroyed by the U.S. Delta Force and British SAS
commandos. Not a single domestic hijacking had occurred in the past
several years-not since a U.S. air marshal put three bullets in the
heart of a Sudanese man who single-handedly tried to take over a U.S.
Airways shuttle from Washington Dulles to New York. And thousands of
cell members and associates of various terrorist groups and factions had
been arrested, convicted, and imprisoned in the United States, Canada,
Overseas, however, the news wasn't quite as good. The global economy
still struggled. Car bombs and assassinations continued to occur
sporadically throughout Europe and Asia as remaining terrorist
networks-unable to penetrate the U.S.-tried to find new ways to lash out
against the allies of the "Great Satan." One newspaper editorial said
the U.S. seemed to be playing "terrorist whack-a-mole," crushing the
heads of some cells at home only to see others pop up around the world.
This was true. Many Americans still felt unsafe traveling overseas, and
global trade, though improving, remained somewhat sluggish.
But within the U.S. there was now a restored sense of economic optimism
and national security. Domestically, at least, recessions were a thing
of the past and terrorism seem ed to have been quashed. Presidential
promises made were promises kept. And the sense of relief was palpable.
As a result, the president's job-approval ratings now stood steady at a
remarkable 71 percent. At this rate he'd win reelection in a landslide,
probably pick up even more House seats and very likely a solid Senate
majority as well.
Then the challenge would be to move to the next level, to bolster the
U.S. and international economies with his sweeping new tax cut and
simplification plan. Could he really get a single-rate, 17 percent flat
tax through Congress? That remained to be seen. But he could probably
get the country back just to low tax rates, say 10 percent and 20
percent. And that might be good enough. Especially if he abolished the
capital-gains tax and allowed immediate write-offs for investment in new
plants, buildings, equipment, high-tech hardware, and computer software,
instead of long, complicated, Jurassic Park-era depreciation schedules.
But all that was a headache for another day. For now, it was time for
the president to head to the Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver and
get some rest. Wednesday night he'd attend a Thanksgiving-eve party and
raise $4.2 million for the Republican National Committee, then join his
family already up at their palatial lodge, nestled on the slope of the
Rockies in Beaver Creek, for a cozy, intimate weekend of skiing and
turkey and chess. He could smell the fireplace and taste the sweet
potatoes and marshmallows even now.
* * *
The motorcade cleared the airport grounds at 12:14 Wednesday morning.
Special Agent Charlie McKittrick of the U.S. Secret Service put down his
high-powered night-vision binoculars and looked north, scanning the
night sky from high atop the DIA control tower. In the distance, he
could see the lights of the Gulfstream IV, a private jet chartered by
some oil-company executives that was now the first aircraft in the
holding pattern and waiting to land. Whenever the president, vice
president, or other world leader flew into an airport, all other
aircraft were prevented from landing or taking off, and the agency
tasked with maintaining complete security put an agent in the tower to
keep control of the airspace over and around the protectee. In this
case, until Gambit-the code name assigned to the president-was secure at
the Brown Palace, McKittrick would maintain his vigil in the tower and
work with the local air-traffic controllers.
The holding pattern was now approaching five hours in length, and
McKittrick had heard the G4 pilots repeat four times that they were
running low on fuel. He hardly wanted to be responsible for a foul-up.
It wasn't his fault the flight crew hadn't topped their tanks in Chicago
rather than flying straight from Toronto. But it would certainly be his
fault if something went wrong now. He glanced down at the radar screen
beside him and saw thirteen other flights behind the Gulfstream. They
were a potpourri of private and commercial aircraft whose pilots
undoubtedly couldn't care less about the White House victory lap or the
Secret Service. They just wanted their landing instructions and a good
"All right, open 17R," McKittrick told the senior air-traffic
controller, his voice suggesting an unhealthy combination of fatigue and
fatalism. "Let's get the G4 down and go from there."
He cracked his knuckles, rubbed his neck, and swallowed the last of his
umpteenth cup of coffee.
"TRACON, this is Tower. Over," the senior controller immediately barked
into his headset. Exhausted, he just wanted to get these planes on the
ground, go home, and call in sick the next day. He desperately needed a
vacation, and he needed it now.
Linked by state-of-the-art fiber optics to the FAA's Terminal Radar
Approach Control facility three miles south of the airport, the reply
"Tower, this is TRACON. Over."
"TRACON, we're bringing in the Gulfstream on 17 Romeo. Put all other
aircraft on notice. It won't be long now. Over."
"Roger that and hallelujah, Tower. Over."
The senior controller immediately switched frequencies to
one-three-three-point-three-zero, and began putting the Gulfstream into
an immediate landing pattern. Then he grabbed the last slice of cold
pepperoni-and-sausage pizza from the box behind McKittrick and stuffed
half of it in his mouth.
"Tower, this is Foxtrot Delta Lima, Niner Four Niner, on approach for 17
Romeo," said the Gulfstream. "We are going to increase speed and get on
the ground as quickly as possible. Roger that?"
His mouth full, the senior controller thrust his finger at a junior
controller by the window, who immediately jumped into action, used to
finishing his bosses' sentences.
The young man grabbed a headset, and patched himself in. "Roger that,
Foxtrot. You're cleared for landing. Bring her down."
Special Agent McKittrick didn't want to be here any more than these guys
wanted him to be. But they'd better get used to it-all of them. If
Gambit won his reelection campaign, he might as well open up his own
* * *
On board the Gulfstream, the pilot focused on the white strobe lights
guiding him in and the green lamps imbedded down both sides of the
He didn't have to worry about any other planes around him, because there
weren't any. He didn't have to worry about any planes taxiing on the
ground, because they were still in the Secret Service's holding pattern.
He increased speed, lowered the landing gear, and tilted the nose down,
taking the plane down from ten thousand feet to just a few hundred feet
in a matter of moments.
A few minutes more and the long night would be over.
* * *
Marcus Jackson munched on peanut M&M's and tapped away quietly on his
Sony VAIO notebook computer as the motorcade sped along at well over
seventy miles an hour.
As the New York Times White House correspondent, Jackson was
permanently assigned Seat 1 on Press Bus 1. That put him just over the
right shoulder of the driver, able to see and hear everything. But
having awoken at 4:45 a.m. for baggage call in Miami-and having visited
twelve states in the past four days on the president's Thanksgiving
Tour-Jackson couldn't care less what could be seen or heard from his
coveted seat. All he wanted to do now was get to the hotel and shut down
for the night.
Behind Jackson sat two dozen veteran newspaper and magazine reporters,
TV correspondents, network news producers, and "big foot" columnists-the
big, brand-name pundits who not only wrote their political analyses for
the Times and the Post and the Journal but also
loved to engage each other on Hannity & Colmes and
Hardball, O'Reilly and King, Crossfire and Capital
Gang. All of them had wanted to see the president's victory lap up
close and personal. Now all of them wanted it to be over so they, too,
could get home for Thanksgiving.
Some dozed off. Some updated their Palm Pilots. Others talked on cell
phones with their editors or their spouses. A junior press aide offered
them sandwiches, snacks, and fresh, hot coffee from Starbucks. This was
the A team, everyone from ABC News and the Associated Press to the
Washington Post and the Washington Times. Together, what
the journalists on this bus alone wrote and spoke could be read,
watched, or listened to by upward of 50 million Americans by 9 a.m.
So they were handled with care by a White House press operation that
wanted to make sure the A team didn't add to their generally ingrained
bias against conservative Republicans by also being hungry, cold, or in
any other way uncomfortable. Sleep was something national political
reporters learned to do without. Starbucks wasn't.
A former Army Times correspondent who covered the Gulf War, then
moved back to his hometown to work for the Denver Post, Jackson
had joined the New York Times less than ten days before Gambit
announced his campaign for the GOP nomination. What a roller coaster
since then, and he was getting tired. Maybe he needed a new assignment.
Did the Times have a bureau in Bermuda? Maybe he should open one.
Just get through today, Jackson thought to himself. There'll
be plenty of time for vacation soon enough. He glanced up to ask a
question about the president's weekend schedule.
Across the aisle and leaning against the window sat Chuck Murray, the
White House press secretary. Jackson noticed that for the first time
since he'd met Murray a dozen years ago, "Answer Man" actually looked
peaceful. His tie was off. His eyes were closed. His hands were folded
gently across his chest, holding his walkie-talkie with a tiny black
wire running up to an earpiece in his right ear. This allowed him to
hear any critical internal communications without being overheard by the
reporters on the bus. On the empty seat beside Murray lay a fresh yellow
legal pad. No to-do list. No phone calls to return. Nothing. This little
PR campaign was just about over. Do or die, there was nothing else
Murray or his press team could do to get the president's approval
ratings higher than they already were, and he knew it. So he relaxed.
Jackson made a mental note: This guy's good. Let him rest.
* * *
Special Agent McKittrick was tired.
He walked over to the Mr. Coffee machine near the western windows of the
control tower, out of everyone's way, itching to head home. He ripped
open a tiny packet of creamer and sprinkled it into his latest cup. Then
two packets of sugar, a little red stirrer, and voila-a new man.
Hardly. He took a sip-ouch, too hot-then turned back to the rest of the
For an instant, McKittrick's brain didn't register what his eyes were
seeing. The Gulfstream was coming in too fast, too high. Of course it
was in a hurry to get on the ground. But get it right, for crying out
loud. McKittrick knew each DIA runway was twelve thousand feet long.
From his younger days as a navy pilot, he figured the G4 needed only
about three thousand feet to make a safe landing. But at this rate, the
idiots were actually going to miss-or crash. No, that wasn't it. The
landing gear was going back up. The plane was actually increasing
its speed and pulling up.
"What's going on, Foxtrot?" screamed the senior controller into
When McKittrick saw the Gulfstream bank right toward the mountains, he
"Avalanche. Avalanche," McKittrick shouted into his secure
digital cell phone.
* * *
Marcus Jackson saw the bus driver's head snap to attention.
A split second later, Chuck Murray bolted upright in his seat. His face
"What is it?" asked Jackson.
Murray didn't respond. He seemed momentarily paralyzed. Jackson turned
to the front windshield and saw the two ambulances and the
mobile-communications van pulling off on either side of the road. Their
own bus began slowing and moving to the right shoulder. Up ahead, the
rest of the motorcade began rapidly pulling away from them. Though he
couldn't see the limousines, he could see the Secret Service Suburbans
now moving at what he guessed had to be at least a hundred miles an
hour, maybe more.
Jackson's combat instincts took over. He grabbed for his leather
carry-on bag on the floor, fished through it frantically, and pulled out
a pair of sports binoculars he'd found handy during the campaign when
the press was kept far from the candidate. He trained on the Suburbans
and quietly gasped. The tinted rear windows of all four specially
designed Suburbans were now open. In the back of each of the first four
vehicles were sharpshooters wearing black masks, black helmets, steel
gray jumpsuits, and thick Kevlar bulletproof vests. What sent a chill
down Jackson's spine, however, wasn't their uniforms, or their
high-powered rifles. It was the two agents in the last two vehicles, the
ones holding the Stinger surface-to-air missile launchers.
Excerpted from "The Last Jihad (Political Thrillers Series #1)" by Joel C. Rosenberg. Copyright © 2006 by Joel C. Rosenberg. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.