By Brad Thor
Published by Pocket Books
January 2002; 0-743-43673-3; 432 pages
"You guys having an awesome day or what?" asked the young liftie as Scot Harvath and Amanda Rutledge shuffled up to get on the next chairlift. He was referring to the snow that had been falling all day.
"Light's kinda flat," replied Amanda.
Scot had to laugh. Amanda was relatively new to skiing, but she was picking up the lingo and the idiosyncrasies of a spoiled skier pretty quickly.
"What's so funny?" she said as the lift gently hit them in the back of the knees and they sat down, beginning the ride up to Deer Valley's Squaw Peak.
"You, that's what's so funny."
"Me? What do you mean?"
"Don't get me wrong, Mandie; your skiing's come a long way, but you've skied, what, maybe five or six times in your life?"
"And it's always been that east coast garbage. All ice, right?"
"Well, it's just funny to hear you complaining about the light when you are skiing on snow people would kill for."
"I guess it is kind of funny, but you've got to admit that it's tough to see anything in this weather."
On that point, Amanda Rutledge was one hundred percent correct. The snow had been falling steadily for a week. Hoping to indulge his passion for astronomy, Scot had brought his telescope on this trip. The lights back home in D.C. made it impossible to see anything in the night sky. Unfortunately, the weather in Park City had so far refused to cooperate. Today, in particular, it was really coming down. Visibility was extremely low, and the conditions worried Scot enough that he suggested the president and his daughter take the day off and wait to see what tomorrow brought. Regardless of what the head of his advance team had to say, though, the president made it clear that he and Amanda had come to ski and that's exactly what they were going to do.
Unfortunately for his ski plans, the coalition the president had cobbled together to get his fossil-fuel reduction bill -- the bill that signaled a financially devastating blow for the major oil companies, but would breathe long overdue life into America's alternative-energy sectors -- through Congress was starting to crack. The president's constant hand-holding of key "swing" voters was absolutely necessary if he was to see his legislation through. The predicted turnover in the upcoming congressional election spelled doom for the president's pet project. The simple fact was that this bill could pass only in this session.
Even though he had already shortened the length of his vacation before leaving D.C., the president was thinking about returning even earlier now. Scot understood the man's desire to get in as much skiing and quality time with his daughter as possible before returning to the capital.
"Are you dating anyone now?" asked Amanda.
The sudden change of subject caught Scot off guard and pulled his mind back from the president's problems and the weather.
"Am I dating anyone? Who wants to know?" he teased.
Blushing, Amanda turned away from his gaze, but kept speaking. "I do. I mean, you never seem to talk about anybody."
Scot started to smile again, but didn't let her see. He thought she must have been building up her courage all day to ask him.
Amanda had had a crush on Scot ever since he'd become part of daily life at the White House, and everybody knew it. More than once, the president had had to reprimand his daughter and remind her not to distract Scot while he was on duty. Amanda, or Mandie, as Scot called her, was a good kid. Despite having lost her mother to breast cancer only a couple of years ago, she seemed as normal as any other child her age. She was smart, athletic, and would someday grow into a beautiful woman. Scot decided to change the subject.
"That was one heck of a birthday party last night," he offered.
"It was pretty cool. Thanks again for the CDs. You didn't have to get me anything."
"Hey, it was your birthday. The big sixteen. I wanted to get you a car, but your dad's national security advisor thought that behind the wheel of your own machine, you might be too dangerous for the country. So, the Ferrari will just have to sit in my garage until we can change his mind."
Amanda laughed. "Not only were the CDs sweet, but I really appreciate the lessons today."
Before joining the SEALs and subsequently being recruited into the Secret Service, Scot had been quite an accomplished skier and had won a spot on the U.S. freestyle team. Against the wishes of his father, Scot had chosen to postpone college to pursue skiing. He had spent several years on the team, which trained right there in Park City, Utah. He did extremely well on the World Cup circuit and had been favored to medal in the upcoming Olympics. When Scot's father, an instructor at the Navy SEAL training facility in their hometown of Coronado, California, died in a training accident, Scot had been devastated. Try as his might, after losing his father, he hadn't been able to get his head back into competitive skiing. Instead, he chose to follow in his father's footsteps. After graduating college cum laude, he joined the SEALs and was tasked to Team Two, known as the cold-weather specialists, or Polar SEALs.
Scot knew that it was not only his familiarity with Park City, but also his background and experience that were key factors in his being selected to lead this presidential advance team. He also knew that was why President Rutledge had agreed to indulge his daughter's request for Scot to ski on her protective detail today and give her pointers.
Amanda had been overjoyed, and despite the "flat light," she felt the day had been perfect.
"You're an excellent student, so the lessons are my pleasure." Scot's radio crackled, interrupting their conversation. He held up his hand to let her know he was listening to his earpiece. Amanda remained quiet.
"Norseman, this is Sound. Over," came the scratchy voice via Scot's Motorola. Norseman was the call sign Scot had picked up in the SEALs, which had remained with him ever since. At five feet ten and a muscular one hundred sixty pounds, with brown hair and ice blue eyes, the handsome Scot Harvath looked more German than Scandinavian. In fact the call sign didn't derive from his looks, but rather from a string of Scandinavian flight attendants he had dated while in the SEALs.
The voice on the other end of Scot's Motorola identified as Sound, was the head of the president's protective detail, Sam Harper. Harper had taken Scot under his wing when he joined the team at the White House. The head White House Secret Service agent, whom Harper and Scot reported to, was William Shaw -- call sign Fury. When you put Harper together with Shaw, you got "The Sound and The Fury," and anyone who had ever screwed up on their watch knew exactly how appropriate that title was.
Communications had been fine over the past week, but for some reason the radios had been cutting in and out today. Maybe it was the weather.
"This is Norseman, go ahead Sound. Over," said Scot via his throat mike.
"Norseman, Hat Trick wants to know how Goldilocks is doing. Over."
"Mandie," said Scot, turning to Amanda, "your dad wants to know how you're holding up."
When then Vice President Rutledge came into office after having three times been named one of D.C.'s sexiest politicians, the hockey-inspired nickname Hat Trick, meaning three goals, became an inside joke among the people who knew him. Though Jack Rutledge found the media's focus on his looks somewhat embarrassing, he didn't object to the nickname, and so, via the Department of Defense, which issues the presidential and vice presidential code names, it stuck. After the president's wife passed away, word quietly spread among White House staffers that the president would not seek to return to Pennsylvania Avenue for a fourth time. The code name had turned out to be aptly prophetic.
Amanda's code name, on the other hand, was an obvious call. With her long, curly blond hair, she had been called Goldilocks for as long as anyone in the White House could remember.
"I'm a little hungry, but other than that pretty good," she said.
"Sound, Goldilocks is shipshape, though she'd like to get into the galley sometime in the near future. Over."
"Roger that, Norseman. The lifts close to the public at sixteen-thirty; that's twenty minutes from now. Hat Trick wants to know if Goldilocks wants to keep going, or if we should wrap it up. Over."
Scot turned to Amanda, "Your dad wants to know if you want to have them keep the lift open for us, or if you want to make this the last run and we'll ski back to the house?"
"My toes are getting kind of cold. I think I've had enough skiing for today. Let's make this the last run."
"Sound, Goldilocks wants to little piggy. Over." "Little piggy" referred to the children's nursery rhyme where the fifth little piggy went wee, wee, wee, all the way home.
"Roger that, Norseman. Hat Trick concurs. Let's meet at the last lap. Over."
"Last lap, roger that, Sound. Norseman out."
When Scot, Amanda, and their security detail reached the meeting point known as the last lap, the president, Sam Harper, and the rest of the team were already waiting for them.
"Hi, sweetheart," said the president as his daughter skied up, and he gave her a hug. "How's your skiing coming along? Notice any difference now that you're sixteen?"
"Sixteen doesn't make any difference, Dad. But I have gotten better."
"Is that so?" replied the president, glancing at Scot.
"Yes, sir, Mr. President. Amanda has come a long way this afternoon. I think she could take us all down Death Chute if she wanted to," said Scot.
"Death Chute?" said Amanda. "You've gotta be nuts. I wouldn't even snowplow down that thing!"
Several of the Secret Service agents laughed nervously. Death Chute was one of the most difficult of the off-piste chutes that fed back to the area where the presidential party was staying. The home the president was using was located in the ultraexclusive ski-in, ski-out Deer Valley community known as Snow Haven.
The Secret Service agents' nervousness was well founded. Death Chute required a tremendous amount of skill to navigate and would have been a nerve-racking challenge for even the best of them. Not only were there lots of rocks and steep vertical drops, but as the piste began to flatten out before dropping off again, there was a wide plateau filled with trees.
Quite an accomplished skier, the president loved tackling a new chute each day on his way back to the house. He skied easy runs with his daughter in the mornings, and then they split up after lunch so he could ski the more difficult trails. The superchallenging, end-of-the-day chutes he had to choose from were technically known as backcountry and not part of Deer Valley's marked and maintained trail system. Therefore, the chutes had not required a lot of work for the Secret Service to secure. All of the routes feeding into them were simply made off-limits to any other skiers.
As the president's confidence grew, so did his desire to tackle harder chutes. The "rush" he got was a rewarding way to end the day. All of the chutes he had tried up to this point were grouped in one area. Death Chute stood alone, a bit further to the east, and the Secret Service knew it was only a matter of time before the president decided he wanted to give it a whirl.
The only person who could possibly have given him a run for his money on Death Chute was Scot, and he was skiing with Amanda's detail today. Amanda would take the long, easy way down, as she had all week. That was okay. The last thing the president wanted was for his daughter to get hurt.
"So, honey," began the president, "what do you think? You take the high road and I'll take the low road, and I'll be sippin' hot chocolate afore ye?"
"I might beat you yet!" yelled Amanda as she gave herself a push and started shooting down the longer, yet safer of the two routes. Scot and the rest of his team smiled at the president's group and took off, quickly catching up with Amanda. She seemed hell-bent on beating her father back to the house, an impossibility unless she dropped over the rim of the bowl and shot straight down. Even with her growing skill and confidence, Scot knew she wasn't ready to tackle something that serious yet.
Amanda used her poles to push herself forward and picked up more speed. One of the agents skiing to the right of Scot shot him a look suggesting, Somebody's cruisin' for a bruisin' -- and before Scot could return the look, Amanda caught an edge and tumbled down hard. First she lost a pole and then a ski, then the other pole and the other ski.
When she finally came to a stop, her gear was scattered across thirty feet of snow uphill from where she lay. Scot caught up to her as she stopped sliding.
"Impressive! If you're gonna go, go big. That's what I always say."
Amanda was on the verge of tears, her pride hurting more than anything else.
"That's not funny," she said, sniffling.
"I'm sorry. You're right; it's not funny. Are you okay?"
"What do you care?" she said, wiping the snow from her face.
Scot started to laugh.
"It's not funny, Scot. Cut it out!"
"I know, I know. I'm sorry, Mandie. You were really flying, though. You looked good. Right up until the point you biffed. You know, we should have tagged your gear before you decided to have a yard sale."
"Stop it!" Amanda managed before breaking into a fit of laughter.
"Oh, so that was a mistake? There wasn't supposed to be a yard sale today? Whoa, then I better gather up the merchandise before we upset any of the neighbors."
He told Amanda to sit still and joined Secret Service agent Maxwell, who was uphill gathering her equipment. When Scot reached Maxwell, he saw that he was staring into the distance at the presidential party making their way down Death Chute.
"Glad I'm not on that detail," said Maxwell as he handed Scot one of Amanda's skis.
Scot dusted the snow out of the binding, checking for damage as he waited for the next ski. "Maxwell, the reason you're not on that detail is that when it comes to skiing, you suck."
"Fuck you, Harvath," said Maxwell as he shoved the other ski at him, confident he was out of Amanda's earshot.
"No, seriously. I heard that Warren Miller was looking to shoot a little footage of you for his next ski film. It's going to be a spin-off of that movie Beastmaster, only worse. He's going to call it Biffmaster. Nothing but your wipeouts -- "
"I'm not kidding. Nothing but three hours of wall-to-wall Maxwell face down in the snow."
"There'll be some of those trademark Maxwell-fully-geared somersaults, some awesome face plants...I think you could be up for an Oscar, my friend."
"Harvath, which part of fuck you do you not understand? I mean, I'm good to go on explaining either of the two words to you -- "
Scot laughed as Maxwell lost his balance reaching over to pick up one of Amanda's ski poles.
Looking off toward Death Chute, Scot, too, could see the president and his detail still making their way down. The detail was doing a good job of keeping up with him. Everybody was right on the money. As he turned to take Amanda's gear back to her, he glanced once more at Death Chute, just in time to see the president's group near the trees and two Secret Service agents wipe out.
Maxwell had already recovered and gone down to Amanda. He was handing over her poles when Scot skied up.
"Well, Maxwell, it looks like the heat will be off your skiing at dinner tonight."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I think I just saw Ahern and Houchins bite it going into that part of the chute with the trees. But, with all the snow falling, it's hard to tell."
"At least I'm not the only one who bought it this afternoon," said Amanda as she got to her feet and dusted the remaining snow off her jacket.
"I told you," said Scot, " the end of the day is when most wipeouts happen. You're more tired than you think, and some people push it a little too hard."
Agent Maxwell took the skis from Scot and let Amanda lean on his shoulder for balance as she put them on. "I hope nobody hit a tree," he said.
"That's a good point," responded Scot as he engaged his throat mike. "Sound, this is Norseman. Do we need to send the Saint Bernards and schnapps down for Ahern and Houchins? Over."
Scot's radio hissed and crackled. There was no response. He tried again.
"If either of them blew their knees, I've got a buddy here who's a great surgeon. Tell Ahern and Houchins I'll split the commission with them if they use my guy. Over."
He waited longer this time, but there was still nothing but static.
"Sound, this is Norseman; we saw two agents go down. Can you give us a sit rep. Over?"
Sit rep was short for "situation report." The president had probably pushed his guys just a little too far and just a little too fast for the end of the day. This really was the most common time for wipeouts. Ahern and Houchins were probably all right, but as head of the advance team, Scot felt responsible for every agent and wanted to know for sure.
"Sound, this is Norseman. Let's have that sit rep. Over."
Scot decided to change frequencies to the direct channel with the Secret Service command post. The blowing snow was beginning to pick up again. "Birdhouse, this is Norseman, come in. Over."
"Scot, I'm getting cold," said Amanda as she snapped into her bindings.
"Quiet a sec, Mandie."
Scot pressed the earpiece further into his ear, but all he got was crackling static.
"Birdhouse, repeat, this is Norseman, come in. Over." Scot waited.
"Birdhouse, repeat, this is Norseman. Can you read me? Over."
Agent Maxwell looked at Scot, who shook his head to indicate he hadn't made any contact.
"What do you think?" said Maxwell.
"I don't know, and I don't want to cry wolf to the rest of Goldilocks's detail just yet. I'll try my Deer Valley radio. If that doesn't work, then we harden up." Harden up was the Secret Service term for immediately closing ranks and body-shielding their assignment from any potential threat.
Scot tried three times to raise Deer Valley's ski patrol and then tried Deer Valley's operations station. There was no response. All of the radios were completely down. Scot let out a loud whistle, catching the attention of the rest of the detail agents, and gave the harden up command by waving his gloved index finger in a high circle the wagons motion above his head.
In a matter of seconds, Amanda's protective detail had her completely surrounded. There was an incredible array of weaponry drawn, from Heckler & Koch MP5s to SIG-Sauer semiautomatics, and even a modified Benelli M1 tactical shotgun. The men's eyes never stopped surveying the area as Scot explained that he had seen two of the president's detail agents go down and all radio communication was dark.
There probably was a simple explanation. Ahern and Houchins could just have wiped out, and the radios had been acting up all day, with the weather the most likely culprit, but that was not how the Secret Service was trained to think.
Operating procedure dictated that they take the fastest and safest route back to the command center immediately. With the loss of radio contact, Birdhouse would already have scrambled intercept teams to recover both details as quickly as possible. But they were still a long way off. It was time to move.
Amanda saw her chance to break in and asked, "Scot, what's going on?"
"Probably nothing, Mandie, but we need to get you back down to the house as quickly as possible," said Scot. "You've done an awesome job today. I'm really proud of you. Your skiing is red-hot. Now, the normal way we go home would take us a bit too long. If we ski through the bowl, I can have you sipping hot chocolate by the fire with your dad in fifteen minutes. What do you say?"
"This is about him, isn't it? Has something happened? Is he okay?"
"I'm sure he is, and the quicker we get back, the quicker you'll see for yourself. Do you think you can do the bowl with me? I'll be right next to you."
"I don't know. I think I can handle it."
Scot smiled reassuringly at Amanda and gave the order to move out. The detail dropped over the icy lip into the steep bowl. The wind grew more fierce and sent sharp blasts of snow into their faces. Amanda was slow, but at least she was moving forward. It was terrifying for her, but to her credit, she was doing everything Scot had taught her -- weight on the downhill ski in the turns, leaning forward into her boots, and keeping her hands out in front as if she were holding on to a tray.
Even though Amanda's cautious skiing slowed them down, it looked as if they were going to make it without incident.
Then the detail heard what sounded like the crack of a rifle, followed by the low rumble of a thunderhead. Scot had been around mountains too long not to recognize that sound.
© 2002 by Brad Thor
In a daring and chilling debut, Brad Thor draws us into a sinister labyrinth of political intrigue and international terrorism, serving up an explosive cocktail of unrelenting action -- and a shattering climax -- as one man is pushed to the edge.
On the snow-covered slopes of Utah, the unthinkable has just become a nightmarish reality: thirty Secret Service agents have been viciously executed and the vacationing president of the United States is kidnapped by one of the most lethal terrorist organizations in the Middle East -- the dreaded Fatah.
But one man, surviving agent and ex-Navy SEAL Scot Harvath, doesn't believe the Fatah is responsible for the attack. Driven by his professional code of duty and honor -- and a solemn vow to avenge his fallen comrades -- Scot creates his own rules to get some answers. But his search for the truth raises the blood pressure of his superiors...and casts his own life in mortal jeopardy. The deadly machinations have been set in motion by a shadowy coalition, comprising some of the highest-ranking officials in government and business -- men who operate above the law, men who realize the threat Scot poses to their hidden agenda...men who will do anything to stop him.
Now framed for murder and on the run, Scot goes for broke and takes his own brand of justice to the unlikeliest place of all -- the towering mountains of Switzerland. It is there that he finds an improbable ally in the beautiful Claudia Mueller of the Swiss Federal Attorney's Office. Together they must brave the subzero temperatures and sheer heights of treacherous Mount Pilatus -- and enter the den of the most notorious team of professional killers the world has ever known.(back to top)
Brad Thor travels internationally for a living. He is the creator and host of the award-winning travel television series Traveling Lite, which appears on more than 85 percent of public television stations across the country, as well as in Canada, Asia, South America, Europe, and the Middle East. He and his wife, a physician to the U.S. Ski Team, divide their time between their homes in Park City, Utah, and the Greek island of AntiParos.