Six minutes from now, one of us would be dead. That was our fate.
None of us knew it was coming.
"Ron, hold up!" I called out, chasing after the middle-aged
man in the navy-blue suit. As I ran, the smothering Florida heat
glued my shirt to my chest.
Ignoring me, Ron Boyle darted up the tarmac, passing Air Force One
on our right and the eighteen cars of the motorcade that idled in a
single-file line on our left. As deputy chief of staff, he was
always in a rush. That's what happens when you work for the most
powerful man in the world. I don't say that lightly. Our boss was
the Commander in Chief. The President of the United States. And
when he wanted something, it was my job to get it. Right now
President Leland "The Lion" Manning wanted Boyle to stay calm. Some
tasks were beyond even me.
Picking up speed as he weaved through the crowd of staffers and
press making their way to their assigned cars, Boyle blew past a
shiny black Chevy Suburban packed with Secret Service agents and
the ambulance that carried extra pints of the President's blood.
Earlier today, Boyle was supposed to have a fifteen-minute sit-down
with the President on Air Force One. Because of my scheduling
error, he was now down to a three-minute drive-by briefing sometime
this afternoon. To say he was annoyed would be like calling the
Great Depression a bad day at the office.
"Ron!" I said again, putting a hand on his shoulder and trying to
apologize. "Just wait. I wanted to---"
He spun around wildly, slapping my hand out of the way. Thin and
pointy-nosed with a thick mustache designed to offset both, Boyle
had graying hair, olive skin, and striking brown eyes with a splash
of light blue in each iris. As he leaned forward, his cat's eyes
glared down at me. "Don't touch me again unless you're shaking my
hand," he threatened as a flick of spit hit me in the cheek.
Gritting my teeth, I wiped it away with the back of my hand. Sure,
the scheduling hiccup was my fault, but that's still no reason
"Now, what the hell's so damn important, Wes, or is this another
vital reminder that when we're eating with the President, we need
to give you our lunch orders at least an hour in advance?" he
added, loud enough so a few Secret Service agents turned.
Any other twenty-three-year-old would've taken a verbal swing. I
kept my cool. That's the job of the President's aide . . . a.k.a.
the body person . . . a.k.a. the buttboy. Get the President what he
wants; keep the machine humming.
"Lemme make it up to you," I said, mentally canceling my apology.
If I wanted Boyle quiet --- if we didn't want a scene for the press
--- I needed to up the ante. "What if I . . . what if I squeezed
you into the President's limo right now?"
Boyle's posture lifted slightly as he started buttoning his suit
jacket. "I thought you --- No, that's good. Great. Excellent." He
even painted on a tiny smile. Crisis averted.
He thought all was forgiven. My memory's way longer than that. As
Boyle triumphantly turned toward the limo, I jotted down another
mental note. Cocky bastard. On the way home, he'd be riding in the
back of the press van.
Politically, I wasn't just good. I was great. That's not
ego; it's the truth. You don't apply for this job, you're invited
to interview. Every young political gunner in the White House
would've killed to clutch this close to the leader of the free
world. From here, my predecessor had gone on to become the number
two guy in the White House Press Office. His predecessor in
the last White House took a job managing four thousand people at
IBM. Seven months ago, despite my lack of connections, the
President picked me. I beat out a senator's son and a pair of
Rhodes scholars. I could certainly handle a tantrum-throwing senior
"Wes, let's go!" the Secret Service detail leader called out,
waving us into the car as he slid into the front passenger seat,
where he could see everything coming.
Trailing Boyle and holding my leather shoulder bag out in front of
me, I jumped into the back of the armored limo, where the President
was dressed casually in a black windbreaker and jeans. I assumed
Boyle would immediately start talking his ear off, but as he passed
in front of the President, he was strangely silent. Hunched over as
he headed for the back left seat, Boyle's suit jacket sagged open,
but he quickly pressed his hand over his own heart to keep it shut.
I didn't realize until later what he was hiding. Or what I'd just
done by inviting him inside.
Following behind him, I crouched toward one of the three fold-down
seats that face the rear of the car. Mine was back-to-back with the
driver and across from Boyle. For security reasons, the President
always sat in the back right seat, with the First Lady sitting
between him and Boyle.
The jump seat directly across from the President --- the hot seat
--- was already taken by Mike Calinoff, retired professional race
car driver, four-time Winston Cup winner, and special guest for
today's event. No surprise. With only four months until the
election, we were barely three points ahead in the polls. When the
crowd was that fickle, only a fool entered the gladiator's ring
without a hidden weapon.
"So she's fast, even with the bulletproofing?" the racing champ
asked, admiring the midnight-blue interior of Cadillac One.
"Greased lightning," Manning answered as the First Lady rolled her
Finally joining in, Boyle scootched forward in his seat and flipped
open a manila folder. "Mr. President, if we could --- ?"
"Sorry --- that's all I can do, sir," Chief of Staff Warren
Albright interrupted as he hopped inside. Handing a folded-up
newspaper to the President, he took the middle seat directly across
from the First Lady, and more important, diagonally across from
Manning. Even in a six-person backseat, proximity mattered.
Especially to Boyle, who was still turned toward the President,
refusing to give up his opening.
The President seized the newspaper and scrutinized the crossword
puzzle he and Albright shared every day. It had been their
tradition since the first days of the campaign --- and the reason
why Albright was always in that coveted seat diagonally across from
the President. Albright started each puzzle, got as far as he
could, then passed it to the President to cross the finish
"Fifteen down's wrong," the President pointed out as I rested my
bag on my lap. "Stifle."
Albright usually hated when Manning found a mistake. Today, as he
noticed Boyle in the corner seat, he had something brand-new to be
Everything okay? I asked with a glance.
Before Albright could answer, the driver rammed the gas, and my
body jerked forward.
Three and a half minutes from now, the first gunshot would be
fired. Two of us would crumble to the floor, convulsing. One
wouldn't get up.
"Sir, if I could bend your ear for a second?" Boyle interrupted,
more insistently than before.
"Ron, can't you just enjoy the ride?" the First Lady teased, her
short brown hair bobbing as we hit a divot in the road. Despite the
sweet tone, I saw the glare in her leaf-green eyes. It was the same
glare she used to give her students at Princeton. A former
professor with a PhD in chemistry, Dr. First Lady was trained to be
tough. And what Dr. First Lady wanted, Dr. First Lady fought for.
"But, ma'am, it'll just take --- "
Her brow furrowed so hard, her eyebrows kissed. "Ron. Enjoy the
That's where most people would've stopped. Boyle pushed even
harder, trying to hand the file directly to Manning. He'd known the
President since they were in their twenties, studying at Oxford. A
professional banker, as well as a collector of antique magic
tricks, he later managed all of the Mannings' money, a magic trick
in itself. To this day, he was the only person on staff who was
there when Manning married the First Lady. That alone gave him a
free pass when the press discovered that Boyle's father was a petty
con man who'd been convicted (twice) for insurance fraud. It was
the same free pass he was using in the limo to test the First
Lady's authority. But even the best free passes eventually
Manning shook his head so subtly, only a trained eye could see it.
First Lady, one; Boyle, nothing.
Closing the file folder, Boyle sank back and shot me the kind of
look that would leave a bruise. Now it was my fault.
As we neared our destination, Manning stared silently through the
light green tint of his bulletproof window. "Y'ever hear what
Kennedy said three hours before he was shot?" he asked, putting on
his best Massachusetts accent. "You know, last night would've
been a hell of a night to kill a President."
"Lee!" the First Lady scolded. "See what I deal with?" she
added, fake laughing at Calinoff.
The President took her hand and squeezed it, glancing my way. "Wes,
did you bring the present I got for Mr. Calinoff?" he asked.
I dug through my leather briefcase --- the bag of tricks --- never
taking my eyes off Manning's face. He tossed a slight nod and
scratched at his own wrist. Don't give him the tie clip . . . go
for the big stuff.
I'd been his aide for over seven months. If I was doing my job
right, we didn't have to talk to communicate. We were in a groove.
I couldn't help but smile.
That was my last big, broad grin. In three minutes, the gunman's
third bullet would rip through my cheek, destroying so many nerves,
I'd never have full use of my mouth again.
That's the one, the President nodded at me.
From my overpacked bag, which held everything a President would
ever need, I pulled out a set of official presidential cuff links,
which I handed to Mr. Calinoff, who was loving every split second
in his folded-down, completely uncomfortable hot seat.
"Those are real, y'know," the President told him. "Don't put 'em on
It was the same joke he used every time he gave a set away. We all
still laughed. Even Boyle, who started scratching at his chest.
There's no better place to be than in on an inside joke with the
President of the United States. And on July 4th in Daytona,
Florida, when you'd flown in to yell, "Gentlemen, start your
engines!" at the legendary Pepsi 400 NASCAR race, there was no
better backseat in the world.
Before Calinoff could offer a thank-you, the limo came to a stop. A
red lightning bolt flashed by us on the left --- two police
motorcycles with their sirens blaring. They were leapfrogging from
the back of the motorcade to the front. Just like a funeral
"Don't tell me they closed down the road," the First Lady said. She
hated it when they shut traffic for the motorcade. Those were the
votes we'd never get back.
The car slowly chugged a few feet forward. "Sir, we're about to
enter the track," the detail leader announced from the passenger
seat. Outside, the concrete openness of the airport runway quickly
gave way to rows and rows of high-end motor coaches.
"Wait . . . we're going out on the track?" Calinoff asked, suddenly
excited. He shifted in his seat, trying to get a look
The President grinned. "Did you think we'd just get a couple seats
The wheels bounced over a clanging metal plate that sounded like a
loose manhole cover. Boyle scratched even more at his chest. A
baritone rumble filled the air.
"That thunder?" Boyle asked, glancing up at the clear blue
"No, not thunder," the President replied, putting his own
fingertips against the bulletproof window as the stadium crowd of
200,000 surged to its feet with banners, flags, and arms waving.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States!"
the announcer bellowed through the P.A. system.
A sharp right-hand turn tugged us all sideways as the limo turned
onto the racetrack, the biggest, most perfectly paved highway I'd
ever seen in my life.
"Nice roads you got here," the President said to Calinoff, leaning
back in the plush leather seat that was tailor-made to his
All that was left was the big entrance. If we didn't nail that, the
200,000 ticket holders in the stadium, plus the ten million viewers
watching from home, plus the seventy-five million fans who're
committed to NASCAR, would all go tell their friends and neighbors
and cousins and strangers in the supermarket that we went up for
our baptism and sneezed in the holy water.
But that's why we brought the motorcade. We didn't need
eighteen cars. The runway in the Daytona Airport was actually
adjacent to the racetrack. There were no red lights to run. No
traffic to hold back. But to everyone watching . . . Have you ever
seen the President's motorcade on a racetrack? Instant American
I didn't care how close we were in the polls. One lap around and
we'd be picking out our seats for the inauguration.
Across from me, Boyle wasn't nearly as thrilled. With his arms
crossed against his chest, he never stopped studying the
"Got the stars out too, eh?" Calinoff asked as we entered the final
turn and he saw our welcoming committee, a small mob of NASCAR
drivers all decked out in their multicolor, advertising-emblazoned
jumpsuits. What his untrained eye didn't notice were the dozen or
so "crew members" who were standing a bit more erect than the rest.
Some had backpacks. Some carried leather satchels. All had
sunglasses. And one was speaking into his own wrist. Secret
Like any other first-timer in the limo, Calinoff was practically
licking the glass. "Mr. Calinoff, you'll be getting out first," I
told him as we pulled into the pit stalls. Outside, the drivers
were already angling for presidential position. In sixty seconds,
they'd be running for their lives.
Calinoff leaned toward my door on the driver's side, where all the
NASCAR drivers were huddled.
I leaned forward to block him, motioning to the President's door on
the other side. "That way," I said. The door right next to
"But the drivers are over there," Calinoff objected.
"Listen to the boy," the President chimed in, gesturing toward the
door by Calinoff.
Years ago, when President Clinton came for a NASCAR race, members
of the crowd booed. In 2004, when President Bush arrived with
legendary driver Bill Elliott in his motorcade, Elliott stepped out
first and the crowd erupted. Even Presidents can use an opening
With a click and a thunk, the detail leader pushed a small security
button under the door handle which allowed him to open the
armor-lined door from the outside. Within seconds, the door cracked
open, twin switchblades of light and Florida heat sliced through
the car, and Calinoff lowered one of his handmade cowboy boots onto
"And please welcome four-time Winston Cup winner . . . Mike
Caaaalinoff!" the announcer shouted through the stadium.
Cue crowd going wild.
"Never forget," the President whispered to his guest as Calinoff
stepped outside to the 200,000 screaming fans. "That's who
we're here to see."
"And now," the announcer continued, "our grand marshal for today's
race --- Florida's own . . . President Leeeee Maaaaanning!"
Just behind Calinoff, the President hopped out of the car, his
right hand up in a wave, his left hand proudly patting the NASCAR
logo on the chest of his windbreaker. He paused for a moment to
wait for the First Lady. As always, you could read the lips on
every fan in the grandstands. There he is . . . There he
is . . . There they are . . . Then, as soon as the crowd
had digested it, the flashbulbs hit. Mr. President, over here!
Mr. President . . . ! He'd barely moved three steps by the time
Albright was behind him, followed by Boyle.
I stepped out last. The sunlight forced me to squint, but I still
craned my neck to look up, mesmerized by the 200,000 fans who were
now on their feet, pointing and waving at us from the grandstands.
Two years out of college, and this was my life. Even rock stars
don't have it this good.
Putting his arm out for a handshake, Calinoff was quickly enveloped
by the waiting crowd of drivers, who smothered him with hugs and
backslaps. At the front of the crowd was the NASCAR CEO and his
surprisingly tall wife, here to welcome the First Lady.
Approaching the drivers, the President grinned. He was next. In
three seconds, he'd be surrounded --- the one black windbreaker in
a Technicolor sea of Pepsi, M&M's, DeWalt, and Lone Star
Steakhouse jumpsuits. As if he'd won the World Series, the Super
Bowl, and the---
Pop, pop, pop.
That's all I heard. Three tiny pops. A firecracker. Or a car
"Shots fired! Shots fired!" the detail leader yelled.
"Get down! Get back!"
I was still smiling as the first scream tore through the air. The
crowd of drivers scattered --- running, dropping, panicking in an
instant blur of colors.
"God gave power to the prophets . . ." a man with black
buzzed hair and a deep voice shouted from the center of the swirl.
His tiny chocolate eyes seemed almost too close together, while his
bulbous nose and arched thin eyebrows gave him a strange warmth
that for some reason reminded me of Danny Kaye. Kneeling down on
one knee and holding a gun with both hands, he was dressed as a
driver in a black and bright yellow racing jumpsuit.
Like a bumblebee, I thought.
". . . . but also to the horrors . . ."
I just kept staring at him, frozen. Sound disappeared. Time slowed.
And the world turned black-and-white, my own personal newsreel. It
was like the first day I met the President. The handshake alone
felt like an hour. Living between seconds, someone called it. Time
Still locked on the bumblebee, I couldn't tell if he was moving
forward or if everyone around him was rushing back.
"Man down!" the detail leader shouted.
I followed the sound and the hand motions to a man in a navy suit,
lying facedown on the ground. Oh, no. Boyle. His forehead
was pressed against the pavement, his face screwed up in agony. He
was holding his chest, and I could see blood starting to puddle out
from below him.
"Man down!" the detail leader shouted again.
My eyes slid sideways, searching for the President. I found him
just as a half dozen jumpsuited agents rushed at the small crowd
that was already around him. The frantic agents were moving so
fast, the people closest to Manning were pinned against him.
"Move him! Now!" an agent yelled.
Pressed backward against the President, the wife of the NASCAR CEO
"You're crushing her!" Manning shouted, gripping her shoulder and
trying to keep her on her feet. "Let her go!"
The Service didn't care. Swarming around the President, they rammed
the crowd from the front and right side. That's when momentum got
the best of them. Like a just-cut tree, the crush of people tumbled
to the side, toward the ground. The President was still fighting to
get the CEO's wife out. A bright light exploded. I remember the
flashbulb going off.
". . . so people could test their faith . . ." the gunman
roared as a separate group of agents in jumpsuits got a grip on his
neck . . . his arm . . . the back of his hair. In slow motion, the
bumblebee's head snapped back, then his body, as two more pops
ripped the air.
I felt a bee sting in my right cheek.
". . . and examine good from evil!" the man screamed, arms
spread out like Jesus as agents dragged him to the ground. All
around them, other agents formed a tight circle, brandishing
semiautomatic Uzis they had torn from their leather satchels and
I slapped my own face, trying to kill whatever just bit me. A few
feet ahead, the crowd surrounding the President collided with the
asphalt. Two agents on the far side grabbed the First Lady, pulling
her away. The rest never stopped shoving, ramming, stepping over
people as they tried to get to Manning and shield him.
I looked as the puddle below Boyle grew even larger. His head was
now resting in a milky white liquid. He'd thrown up.
From the back of the President's pile, our detail leader and
another suit-and-tie agent gripped Manning's elbows, lifted him
from the pile, and shoved him sideways, straight at me. The
President's face was in pain. I looked for blood on his suit but
didn't see any.
Picking up speed, his agents were going for the limo. Two more
agents were right behind them, gripping the First Lady under her
armpits. I was the only thing in their way. I tried to sidestep but
wasn't fast enough. At full speed, the detail leader's shoulder
plowed into my own.
Falling backward, I crashed into the limo, my rear end hitting just
above the right front tire. I still see it all in some out-of-body
slow motion: me trying to keep my balance . . . slapping my hand
against the car's hood . . . and the splat from my impact. Sound
was so warped, I could hear the liquid squish. The world was still
black-and-white. Everything except for my own red handprint.
Confused, I put my hand back to my cheek. It slid across my skin,
which was slick and wet and raw with pain.
"Go, go, go!" someone screamed.
Tires spun. The car lurched. And the limo sped out from under me.
Like a soda can forgotten on the roof, I tumbled backward, crashing
on my ass. A crunch of rocks bit into my rear. But all I could
really feel was the tick-tock tick-tock pumping in my cheek.
I looked down at my palm, seeing that my chest and right shoulder
were soaked. Not by water. Thicker . . . and darker . . . dark red.
Oh, God, is that my --- ?
Another flashbulb went off. It wasn't just the red of my blood I
was seeing. Now there was blue . . . on my tie . . . and yellow . .
. yellow stripes on the road. Another flashbulb exploded as knives
of color stabbed my eyes. Silver and brown and bright green race
cars. Red, white, and blue flags abandoned in the grandstands. A
screaming blond boy in the third row with an aqua and orange Miami
Dolphins T-shirt. And red . . . the dark, thick red all over my
hand, my arm, my chest.
I again touched my cheek. My fingertips scraped against something
sharp. Like metal --- or . . . is that bone? My stomach nose-dived,
swirling with nausea. I touched my face again with a slight push.
That thing wouldn't budge . . . What's wrong with my fa ---
Two more flashbulbs blinded me with white, and the world flew at me
in fast-forward. Time caught up in a fingersnap, blurring at
"I'm not feeling a pulse!" a deep voice yelled in the distance.
Directly ahead, two suit-and-tie Secret Service agents lifted Boyle
onto a stretcher and into the ambulance from the motorcade. His
right hand dangled downward, bleeding from his palm. I replayed the
moments before the limo ride. He would've never been in there if I
"He's cuffed! Get the hell off!" A few feet to the left, more
agents screamed at the dogpile, peeling layers away to get at the
gunman. I was on the ground with the rest of the grease stains,
struggling to stand up, wondering why everything was so
Help . . . ! I called out, though nothing left my
The grandstands tilted like a kaleidoscope. I fell backward,
crashing into the pavement, lying there, my palm still pressed
against the slippery metal in my cheek.
"Is anyone --- ?"
Sirens sounded, but they weren't getting louder. Softer. They
quickly began to fade. Boyle's ambulance . . . Leaving . . .
they're leaving me . . .
"Please . . . why isn't . . . ?"
One woman screamed in a perfect C minor. Her howl pierced through
the crowd as I stared up at the clear Florida sky. Fireworks . .
. we were supposed to have fireworks. Albright's gonna be pissed .
The sirens withered to a faint whistle. I tried to lift my head,
but it didn't move. A final flashbulb hit, and the world went
"Wh-Why isn't anyone helping me?"
That day, because of me, Ron Boyle died.
Eight years later, he came back to life.
Excerpted from THE BOOK OF FATE © Copyright 2011 by Brad
Meltzer. Reprinted with permission by Warner Books, an imprint of
Hachette Book Group USA. All rights reserved.