Number One Observatory Circle was in chaos. A small army of black-suited men raced about, hand-to-ear, trying to hear the rapid-fire updates coming through their earpieces. They barked orders or gathered grimfaced in groups of two or three in the foyer, murmuring in low tones about the necessary next steps. Lights blazed throughout the house, mocking the hour displayed on the nearby atomically synchronized clock: 3:32 a.m.
In the midst of the madness Vice President John B. Sepeida struggled to get himself dressed, while just outside the door a roomful of people demanded his attention. Each had a matter of great urgency to communicate to him through the fog of interrupted sleep that still clouded his consciousness.
None of the competing communiqués, however, could match the gravity of the phone message that had ignited the situation just fourteen minutes earlier. Air Force One had disappeared from radar just minutes out of Vienna en route to the European Union capital in Brussels. The simultaneous loss of communications with all those on board, and corroborating eyewitness accounts of a midair explosion near Regensburg, Germany, left little doubt that the President of the United States had been killed. Whether it was an act of terrorism, or an untimely accident, would be determined in the coming hours. At the moment, Sepeida needed to get to the White House Situation Room to assume the reins of government.
As his motorcade sped toward 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Sepeida strove to get his head around the barrage of data and instructions that flowed ceaselessly from the aides, Secret Service personnel, and legal advisor—six people, in all—who accompanied him in the limo.
That he might soon be the President of the United States was difficult enough to grasp. But the sheer amount of instant knowledge required to assume that job was mindboggling. As Vice President, Sepeida always knew that such a day could come without warning. He wondered now if anyone could truly be prepared for that moment. Especially when it came in the middle of the night.
The streets of the capital were almost empty at this hour. The lead police vehicles were able to change the traffic signals to green ahead of their arrival, keeping the motorcade moving at a continuous clip of nearly sixty miles per hour down the wide, straight extent of Massachusetts Avenue NW.
The only interruption of that pace was at two roundabouts, the first of which they had just passed. The second came just six hundred yards later at Dupont Circle, where they would swing southward down Connecticut Avenue to the White House.
Now, as the Vice President’s vehicle slowed, entering the second traffic circle, he turned to his legal counsel and asked her opinion on a Constitutional matter.
Her answer was cut short by the sudden roar of an engine to their right. A large truck with headlights dark was barreling up New Hampshire toward them. The limo driver tried to react, but was hemmed in by the lead and trailing vehicles.
The truck slammed into the Vice President’s car so hard that, after flipping two and half times, it came to rest upside down in the Dupont Circle Fountain.