"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 was ashen.
"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 backs 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.
"Talk to me, McKittrick."
Special Agent-in-Charge John Moore-head of the president's protective detail-shouted into his secure cellular phone as he sat in the front seat of Gambit's limousine, his head craning to see what was happening behind him.
Just hearing McKittrick yell "Avalanche"-the Secret Service's code for a possible airborne attack-had already triggered an entire series of preset, well-trained, and now instinctual reactions from Moore's entire team. Now he needed real information, and he needed it fast.
"You've got a possible bogey on your tail," said McKittrick from the control tower, his binoculars trained on the lights of the Gulfstream. "He's not responding to his radio, but we know it's working."
"What's that?" McKittrick asked, garbled by a flash of static.
"Intent? What's his intent? Is he hostile?" shouted Moore.
"Don't know, John. We're warning him over and over-he's just not responding."
Gambit lay on the floor, his body covered by two agents. The agents had no idea what threats they faced. But they were trained to react first and ask questions later. Moore scrambled over them all to get a better look through the tiny back window. For a moment he could see the lights of the Gulfstream bearing down on them. Suddenly the plane's lights went out, and Moore lost visual contact.
Glancing to his right, he could see Dodgeball-the decoy limousine-pulling up to his side as Pena Boulevard ended and the motorcade poured onto I-70 West. Both cars were moving at close to one hundred and thirty miles an hour.
The question facing both drivers was whether or not they could get off the open and exposed stretch of highway they were now on and get under the interwoven combination of concrete bridges and overpasses that lay just ahead at the interchange of I-70 and I-25. This would make an overhead attack more difficult, though not impossible. The challenge would be driving fast enough to get there and then being able to stop fast enough-or stop and back up fast enough-to get and stay under the bridges and out of the potential line of fire.
But what if the bridges were booby-trapped with explosives? What if the Denver Metro Police and Colorado State Patrol securing the bridges were compromised? Were they escaping an enemy, or being driven into the enemy's hands?
Moore reacquired the Gulfstream in his high-powered night-vision binoculars. It was gaining fast.
"Nighthawk Four, Nighthawk Five, this is Stagecoach-where are you guys?" Moore shouted into his wrist-mounted microphone.
"Stagecoach this is Nighthawk Five-we'll be airborne in one minute," came the reply.
-From THE LAST JIHAD: A Novel © 2002 by Joel C. Rosenberg. Reprinted by arrangement with Forge Books, a division of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.