Authors: Dee Garretson
For my father, Keith Garretson,
who would have seen himself and his influence
in many parts of this story
Meramec River, Missouri
Camp Misty Mount
The Presidential Lodge
The Command Center
The Situation Room
Catoctin Mountain Park
The Main Gate
The Tree House
Air and Ground
The Inner Zone
The Outer Zone
The Back Gate
Out of Place
The Front Line
The Golf Cart
The White House
5:41 A.M., CENTRAL TIME, AUGUST 22
The roar came from
deep in the earth, growing louder as it raced toward the surface. Within seconds the river began to tremble. Fish, only a few at first, then more and more, leaped out of the water, slapping back down onto it with sharp claps. As the earthquake struck, the land jolted violently. The ground heaved. Shock waves radiated out in all directions, spreading fast, shaking everything in their path.
THE PRESIDENTIAL LODGE, MARYLAND,
FOUR MINUTES LATER, 6:45 A.M., EASTERN TIME
The helicopter hovered two
feet above Theo's nose. The tiny rotors were buzzing, but Theo didn't stir, didn't open his eyes. He just kept sleeping. Luke, sitting cross-legged on his own bed with the remote control, moved the lever a fraction. The helicopter dropped down just enough so that the feather dangling from it brushed his friend's forehead. Still no reaction.
Except from Comet, Luke's dog, who jumped up on the bed, whining and bumping his arm. The helicopter took a dive, nearly crashing into
Theo's thick, curly hair. Luke pulled the lever back just in time. If the helicopter had gone into that hair, it would have been a goner, like one of those prehistoric creatures sucked down into a tar pit and turned into a fossil.
“Comet, stop, please, I need to concentrate. I'll get up in just a minute.” Still whining, the Jack Russell terrier circled around Luke. The bed began to shake. It made no sense. How could a small dog like Comet shake a big piece of furniture?
Luke tried to get up, but the floor shifted under him and he lost control, crashing the helicopter. On the other side of the room, the electric train table shook, and the railcars slid sideways into the wall. The trestle bridge shivered as a tiny plastic cow grazing in a pasture fell onto the track. Luke couldn't take his eyes off the cow wobbling back and forth in front of the train.
A siren blared outside and his mouth went dry, panic taking over. Adam Martens, one of Luke's Secret Service agents, opened the door as Comet dove under the bed.
“Luke, stand still,” Adam ordered.
Luke managed one gulp of air. “What's happening? What do we need to do?”
“Relax. Look at me. Take a deep breath. It's an earthquake.”
“An earthquake! Where's my dad?” Luke was already moving to the window to see if his father was in the pool for his morning swim.
“Stay away from the window until the shaking stops,” Adam ordered, but Luke was already there, holding the sill to steady himself. He could see his dad in the deep end, swimming toward the edge of the pool as waves sloshed out, drenching two Secret Service agents who knelt on the ground trying to reach his father.
The shaking stopped and the siren cut off abruptly. Luke watched the agents help his dad out of the pool, surrounding him as they moved toward the lodge.
“Look, he's fine,” Adam said as he came over to Luke. “A minor earthquake isn't going to faze the President of the United States.”
“That was pretty weird.” Luke relaxed. “I've never been in an earthquake before. I can't believe Theo slept through it all.”
The outside door to the lodge opened, and Luke heard his father's voice in the hall. “Is it confirmed? I have to get to the situation room; there should be reports already coming in. If we
felt it all the way here, the damage must be horrendous.” His father's tone was calm as always, but Luke knew that didn't mean anything. His father never sounded upset, so it was impossible for Luke to ever judge when something was really wrong.
“Sir, I think we should stay outside until we know the full extent of the quake.” Luke couldn't tell which agent spoke. “There may be aftershocks.”
“No, absolutely not. I'm not going to overreact to a small amount of shaking. Camp David is eight hundred miles from the epicenter. We're perfectly safe here.”
CATOCTIN MOUNTAIN PARK, MARYLAND,
ONE MILE EAST OF CAMP DAVID, 6:45 A.M.
The sign posted at
the entrance to the campground read,
EXTREME FIRE DANGER
. A park ranger had put up the sign two weeks earlier, when the drought entered its third month, turning the dead leaves and brush to perfect tinder.
Sam Trent's family was almost ready to leave. The day before, all fifty-one of his cousins and aunts and uncles had gone off to their homes in three different states.
“Check the fire pit one more time, Sam,” Michael Trent told his son, putting the last bag
in the car. They hadn't been able to resist building just one fire to roast marshmallows the night before they left. It wouldn't be a Trent family outing without marshmallows. They had been very careful, pouring water on the ashes before they went to bed.
Sam poked through the ashes with a stick. The fire pit wasn't really a pit; it was just a ring of stones on a bare patch of ground in front of cabin number three. The ashes in the middle were still clumped together from the water the night before, but on the edge of the pit Sam uncovered some embers they had missed.
“It's still going, Dad,” he yelled.
“Pour another bucket of water on it. Hurry, we need to get on the road if we're going to make it home today.”
Sam propped the stick up on one of the rocks, eager to go home. It was kind of creepy being the last ones left, surrounded by all the quiet in the woods.
The end of the stick started to glow, but Sam didn't notice. It took him only a minute to get some more water, and three minutes later they were all off in the car.
One squirrel chased another up on the porch of
cabin six, but both stopped in midrun as if playing freeze tag. The earthquake tremors started a millisecond later. The cabins, built of chestnut planks, wavered on their stone pilings, but settled back in place. The stick wobbled, and then fell off its prop, down onto one dry leaf.
The leaf burned in an instant, catching another leaf, until there was a circle of fire spreading outward in all directions. Slowly the thin layer of leaves on the ground caught fire, sparking for an instant like fallen fireflies, each leaf burning out quickly just as another one caught.
The squirrels, catching a whiff of the smoke, ran into the woods. A deer chewing on the bark of a sapling lifted her head, looking at the flames. When the fire reached the edge of the road and found a larger pile of leaves, it flamed, burning eagerly. The doe bounded off to the west, toward Camp David.
1145 MANAHAN ROAD,
ONE HALF MILE NORTH OF CAMP DAVID, 6:45 A.M.
“Be patient, Ralph, and
you'll get fed too.” The collie thumped his tail as Liz Nelson put the bacon in the hot skillet. The bacon sizzled and little bits of hot grease jumped about in the pan. “Maybe I'll even give you some bacon, since I have to go in to school today.” Liz taught fifth grade at Thurmont Elementary, and with school starting soon it was time to get her classroom back in order.
She was just debating whether to hang the solar system decorations or the fall leaf cutouts when the house began to shake. The old farmhouse
wavered back and forth as if a giant held it, rattling it as if it were a piggy bank. Liz fell toward the stove, trying to catch herself on the counter. Her left arm bumped the skillet, pushing it off the flames, spattering the sparking grease over the stove and into the wastebasket next to it. Liz couldn't move her arm back in time and the flames came up around it.
She screamed, jumping back, and Ralph barked at the stove as if under attack. Running to the sink, Liz turned the faucet on, letting the cold water pour over the scorched skin, tears welling up in her eyes.
Through the pain, she didn't see the flaming bit of grease catch on a paper towel in the wastebasket.
The collie came over and pressed close against her.
“It's okay, Ralph.” Liz turned off the water and examined her arm. The blisters covered both sides. “I think I need to go to the emergency room, buddy. I wish you could drive me.” She turned off the stove and grabbed the car keys off the holder by the back door.
“Come on, Ralph. You stay outside until I get back.” By the time the car pulled out of the
driveway, the paper towel was aflame, breaking into pieces. A gust of wind blew in through the window above the sink, sending a bit of burning paper into the curtains of the window above the table. One caught fire. Within four minutes, the rest of the kitchen began to burn. Ralph stood outside, paws on the windowsill, barking, but because the nearest neighbor was a quarter mile away and the back of the farmhouse bordered the woods of Catoctin Mountain Park, no one heard.
CAMP DAVID, 6:54 A.M.
The sirens blasted again,
and then shut off.
“Why did they go off? What's wrong? Should weâ” Luke stopped himself before Adam could hear the quavering in his voice. Luke hated the sirens. They were supposed to sound only in a real emergency, and he had imagined too many different emergencies to ever be able to ignore the noise. The fear usually sat in the back of Luke's head, a dark, solid lump he couldn't ignore. He didn't want Adam or anyone else to know how much he worried about terrorists and all the horrible things they could do to him, but he
suspected Adam, at least, knew anyway.
“There's nothing to worry about,” Adam said, tapping his earpiece. “The earthquake probably caused some minor problems with the sensors. If there were anything wrong, I would have heard about it already.”
Adam always said “don't worry,” but he was paid to worry. Once when Luke was six, he was watching his dad give a campaign speech at a county fair. A crazy person came out of the crowd, running with his hands outstretched and his fingers curled as if he was going to strangle Luke. An agent tackled the man and put handcuffs on him before Luke even understood what was happening. While the crowd went crazy, Adam picked Luke up and carried him away to the car, ignoring the chaos around them, telling Luke not to worry the whole time.
Now that Luke was twelve, and his dad was President, he knew his mom and dad worried about not just crazy people, but about terrorists who could take him to force his dad to do something terrible.
It was the main reason Luke loved Camp David. A mile of woods in every direction protected them from the outside world. To Luke, the fences were
like a high-tech moat. Two fences, one of them electric, separated the woods from the national park outside the boundary. The outer fence was wooden, posted with signs to warn about the real barricade, the electric fence pulsing with enough charge to stop any terrorists from getting inside. As long as he was inside the fences, nothing could get to him.
Luke knelt down to pet Comet. For some reason, running his hand through the dog's wiry white coat always made him feel better.
“Is Theo still asleep or is he just faking?” Adam asked. Theo hadn't moved an inch, as far as Luke could tell.
“He's asleep. He sleeps through anything, I think. I was just doing some experiments to see what would wake him up.” Luke got up and recovered the helicopter, feeling some of the tension go away. If Adam wasn't hearing anything bad through his earpiece, nothing
Adam admired the feather on the string. “Clever,” he said. “Reminds me of the time my sister was sleeping and I put a piece of tissue over her mouth to see if it would stop her snoring. You should have heard her scream when she woke up. She thought it was a moth.”
“Sweet.” Luke glanced at Theo.
“Wait a minute,” Adam said, laughing. “That wasn't a suggestion.”
Too worked up to keep still, Luke beat out a djembe drum rhythm on the edge of the train table.
“Hey, it's still early. Why don't you let him sleep and we can go for a run,” Adam said.
“Can we race? Sprints?” All the agents were in great shape, but Adam was the only one willing to race him, and getting outside sounded good.
“You just like to win, don't you?”
“Who doesn't?” Luke said, grinning. Even though Adam could beat him at a distance, sometimes Luke outran him over short spans. “I'll be dressed in just a minute. Who's on duty with you?” The agents usually worked in teams of two.
“Isabelle today,” Adam said.
Luke liked to tease Isabelle. She was so serious it was a challenge to get her to smile. “Tell her she needs the exercise,” he suggested.
“You tell her. If I say that, I'll be on the ground before I can blink.”
“Chicken,” Luke said. He knew Adam was just kidding. He'd been an Army Ranger before he
joined the Secret Service, and Luke doubted if anyone could throw a Ranger to the ground.
“Everybody's a chicken when it comes to Isabelle. She's pretty tough. Come on, get dressed. I'll let her know the plan.” Adam walked out, shutting the door behind him.
“Comet, you want to go for a run?” Luke asked, discarding his pajamas and pulling on his clothes. At the word “run,” the dog jumped up. Luke was sure Comet knew what “run” meant. Comet might not obey a lot of the time, but he was smart. Sort of smart, Luke corrected himself, as Comet picked up Luke's sneaker and carried it under the bed.
Luke wrestled back the shoe and finished dressing. His locator disk flashed in the mirror, and he tucked it out of sight under his shirt. The Secret Service monitored him constantly, and they insisted that he wear the GPS disk at all times. Luke hated wearing the thing, but whenever he tried to leave it off, an agent soon told him to put it back on. It was like having a baby monitor around his neck. So far Theo hadn't noticed it, though. Luke supposed he would have to explain the disk when they went swimming.
Still no motion from Theo, which was okay,
because he wasn't much for exercise. Luke hadn't known Theo for very long, but he had already figured that out. Theo was one of the smartest people he had ever met. Luke had joined the robotics club at school late in the spring, and he and Theo had hit it off right away. Theo didn't seem to care that Luke's dad was the President. He treated Luke just like everybody else, telling Luke when he was putting something together the wrong way, even telling Luke he thought his jokes weren't very good. They weren't, but no one else ever said so. Most of the other kids at school all laughed their heads off, like he was the funniest person on the planet.
The window rattled, startling him. Luke held still, waiting to see if the room would shake again, but nothing happened.
Out in the hall, Adam was talking to Christine Cooper, one of his dad's assistants. Luke didn't know what her official title was, but he thought of her as the timekeeper. She followed his dad around, reminding him of what he had to do, checking her watch so many times a day Luke was sure her arm moved up and down automatically even when she wasn't working.
“Good morning, Luke,” Christine said. “I was
just telling Adam your father wants to have lunch with you. I've put it on his schedule.”
“Why?” Luke was surprised. Even though they were supposed to be on vacation, he usually saw his dad only at dinner, and there were always other people around.
“He wants to check on how you're getting along with your summer reading list for school.”
“Oh.” It figured there was a practical reason, and it would just happen to be about something Luke hadn't done. His dad wouldn't be happy to find out Luke hadn't finished reading any of the books.
“Lunch is scheduled for twelve thirty. Don't be late.” Christine was already walking away, checking her watch.
Luke turned to Adam. He'd worry about the books later. “Are we cleared to go now?”
“Sorry, pal.” Adam tapped his earpiece again, listening with a frown. “I was just told we're supposed to stay put for a while. They have to run checks on all the sensor systems because of the earthquake, just to make sure everything is working correctly.”
“You mean we're stuck inside all day? I wanted to show Theo the tree house and then the garage,
and once we get the robot put together, we want to try it outside.” Luke had made a real effort to keep his hands off his new robot kit until Theo could help assemble it.
“We'll be able to go outside as soon as they're done with the inner zone,” Adam said. Luke knew the inner zone was a circle consisting of most of the buildings in the center of the camp. “They'll test the outer zone in the woods all the way to the fences after that. Maybe we can go for a run on the nature trail when that section is clear.”
“Great,” Luke said glumly. He took Comet back to his bedroom, slamming the door behind them.
“What's going on?” Theo asked. He sat up and felt around on his nightstand for his glasses. “Why are you up so early?” His hair sprang up in a fan around the top of his head, out of control.
“Did you know when you wake up you look like a bergruutfa caravan beast?” Luke asked. Theo wouldn't be able to top that one.
Theo put on his glasses and peered at Luke. “You shouldn't talk about hair. If those bits of hair that stick up on the top of your head were green instead of almost albino blond, you would make a perfect reptilian Rodian. Maybe you could just
be an albino Rodian. I'm going back to sleep.” Theo took his glasses off, lay down, and then sat up again. “I don't remember what planet the bergruutfa caravan beasts come from.”
“Ha!” Luke was thrilled. It wasn't often he knew more about
than Theo. “Teloc Ol-sen,” he said, trying to smooth down the cowlicks. Theo was right, unfortunately; they did look like Rodian antennae.
“Now I'm awake,” Theo said. “You never answered me. Why are you up so early?”
“Everybody but you is up, because there was an earthquake. You slept through it all. It was a long way away, so we only felt some shakingâbut there were sirens.”
Adam knocked on the door and then came in. “Morning, Theo. Luke, since we can't go for a run now, why don't you boys have breakfast?”
The window rattled again, harder this time, and Luke looked around for something to steady himself, in case it was another earthquake.
“It's just the wind,” Adam said. “The forecast is for high winds all day, but no storms. Nothing to worry about.”