Remember the Time

Bill Whitfield, Javon Beard, Tanner Colby


December 22, 2006
McCarran International Airport
Las Vegas, NV

It was three days before Christmas, around ten o’clock at night, and I was sitting in a motorcade of four black Cadillac Escalades out on the tarmac. I’d been hired for a security detail. A client was flying into Las Vegas on a private jet from outside the country; I was there to escort him from the airport to a gated house in the Summerlin neighborhood, over on the northwest side of town. I was in the passenger seat of the lead SUV. The vehicle designated as the mother car—meaning the one that would transport the client— w as just behind me. I was scanning the air above us, looking for the plane.

People think of Las Vegas as nothing but neon lights, hot pavement, and desert. But in the winter? At night? Once the sun sets, the temperature drops quick. Out at the airport, it was well below freezing. I had the heater turned up full blast to keep out the cold while we waited. The fact that we’d been given vehicle access to the tarmac, that was unusual. It wasn’t something I was used to, even for big-name clients. But in this town, in this line of work,unusual is the norm. It’s Vegas. An armed motorcade like this one might be hired for a movie star or a CEO, an athlete or a politician.  Hell, I might’ve been hired to help a deposed dictator fleeing a revolution in some third-world country somewhere. I didn’t actually know who I was there to pick up.

A couple days earlier, I’d come home from a three-month assignment that spanned two countries and five states. All I wanted was to rest and spend time with my daughter. Then I got a call from an associate of mine, Jeff Adams. Jeff and I were tight, almost like family. We’d worked together many times. He asked me if I was available to lead a security detail for a high-profile dignitary arriving in Las Vegas in two weeks. I would pick him up and escort him from point A to point B. Jeff said, “I’ve been in touch with the client’s assistant, a man named John Feldman. I told him about your background. He wants you to fax him your résumé and a copy of your driver’s license so they can do a background check on you.” He gave me an overseas fax number, and I jotted it down.

“Who’s the client?” I asked.

Jeff paused. He said, “I can’t give you that information just yet. But trust me, you’ll be glad you took this one—and you’ll need to be armed.”

I was a little apprehensive about committing, not knowing who it was for. But I’d been in the business long enough to know that sometimes this was just how things worked. Until trust is established, information is on a need-to-know basis. You’re contracted for two hours, you show up, execute the assignment, and that’s that. I’d done plenty of details just like it. I told him to count me in.

Over the next two weeks, these people did a background check on me, brought me on board, and I began making the arrangements. Two days before the client was to arrive, Jeff and I did what’s known as a pre-advance detail, mapping out the best route from the airport to this person’s new home, driving the route together, making note of every stop sign, timing the traffic lights, mapping out any congested areas we might encounter along the way. We decided that I would handle transportation from the airport to the house, and Jeff would be waiting for us when we got there.

On the day of the detail, I arrived at the airport at seven-thirty. I’d told the car service to have its vehicles there by eight. When they arrived, I conducted a thorough inspection of each one. As I was doing that, I noticed that the rearview mirrors were equipped with video cameras aimed at the vehicle passenger seats. I called Jeff. “No cameras,” he said. “Period.” So I went vehicle to vehicle and disconnected each one.

At ten o’clock, we proceeded onto the tarmac. At 10:35, a Gulfstream V landed and taxied in our direction. I instructed the drivers to pull alongside the plane as the stairway was dropped.

I exited my vehicle and walked back to the mother car, which had stopped right at the foot of the steps. I stood there and waited, ready to open the rear door for the passengers. The flight crew and the other drivers started loading the luggage into the SUVs.

First to deplane was a man in his late forties, black guy, neatly groomed but not particularly noteworthy. Then a woman came out. She had a sleeping child in her arms, and she carried him carefully down the steps. They were followed by two other children, both about elementary school age. They all climbed in the car. I thought, Okay, that must be it. I went to close the door and one of the kids spoke up and said, “Where’s Daddy?”


I looked back up at the plane. This man was coming down. He was dressed in all black, his face covered with a black scarf. As he got closer, I noticed his feet: slip-on loafers, slender ankles and white socks sticking out of these high-water pants. He came down, passed me, and climbed into the SUV with the children. I closed the door, got back in the lead vehicle, and we left the airport. With the holiday traffic, it took us forty-five minutes to get to the house. Jeff was waiting. We pulled into the driveway; the gate closed behind us. My car stopped in front, and the mother car drove around the side to let the family out in private. I helped unload the luggage—there were at least thirty bags—and we brought it all inside. Then I went back out to the driveway. Jeff came out of the house. Over the two-way radio, he said, “We good?”

“Code 4,” I said.

At that point, I figured I was done. I got my subject from point A to point B. It’s a wrap. But the curiosity was killing me.

I walked over to Jeff and said, “So tell me. Who is that guy?”

Jeff got this big grin on his face. “Didn’t you see him?” he said.

I shrugged. “Sure. I saw a skinny dude, a chick, and three kids.”

Jeff leaned in and whispered, “That’s Michael Jackson.”

I just stared at him. “Get the fuck outta here!”

He put his right hand in the air. “Death before dishonor,” he said. “Real talk.”

I didn’t believe it. He laughed at me a bit. Then the assistant, Feldman, the first guy who’d come off the jet, called for us to come inside. As we went in, I was like, Yo, really? Am I really gettin’ ready to meet Michael Jackson?

We went inside and this same guy was coming over to me with no scarf covering his face, and I was like, Oh shit. There I was, standing in front of Michael Jackson, shaking his hand. It was surreal.

Jeff introduced us. In this soft, quiet voice, Mr. Jackson said, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.”

I said, “It’s an honor to meet you, sir. I’ve been a huge fan for a long time.”

Huge fan? I never said that kind of thing to clients. Doing what I do, I’ve gotten used to being around famous people. But my heart was pounding in my chest; the hairs on my neck were standing up.

I was trying to maintain my professionalism, but inside I was like a little kid. I was a huge fan. I still had my old Jackson 5 albums, the 45s and 33s, all of them. I still remembered watching him and his brothers on Soul Train, watching him do the robot to “Dancing Machine.”

We talked a bit about Motown Records, because I’d done some work for them and he’d seen that on my résumé. His children were behind him. Paris and Prince both said hello. Blanket was very reserved and quiet, hiding behind his father and giving a little wave.

Mr. Jackson said, “Kids, this is Bill. He’s our new security.”I was like, Huh? New security? What’s he talking about? I’d been told this was point A to point B. Pick up a check and go home. An alarm started going off in the back of my head. And then Mr. Jackson said—more like a statement than a question—“You’ll be staying the night, right?”

“Um . . . yes. Yessir.”

“Great,” he said. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

They all said good night and went upstairs. I looked at both Jeff and Feldman. I said, “We need to talk.” We went out and stood in the driveway, and I said, “What’s going on here? Where’s this dude’s security?”

“Nation of Islam was holding his security down for a while,” Jeff explained. “He got some flak about that, so he’s making some changes.”

Feldman apologized for any confusion and asked me if I’d be comfortable staying the night, and perhaps longer.

I said to Jeff, “Is that the real Michael Jackson? Don’t play with me, man. It’s too cold, and I’m in no mood to be running around Las Vegas with some Michael Jackson impersonator.”

“Trust me,” he said. “This is the real dude. He looked at your résumé, saw you were with Motown, and straight up said he wanted you for this.”

“Okay. So when does the rest of the team get here?”

Feldman looked at Jeff and then back at me and he said, “I thought you knew. There is no team. You’re it.”

What? Uh-uh. No, no, no. Now I was pissed off. I was being put in a position that I was not prepared for. There are people out there who love this guy with a passion, and there are crazy people who hate him, and they’ll do anything to get at him. Any time I’d seen Michael Jackson on TV, he had a whole crew of people with him. I was all by myself. I didn’t know the property or the interior layout of the house. I didn’t have any of the gear I’d need for a detail like this.

I started to get a bad feeling. Something’s not right, I thought. I’d been doing this too long to believe that Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, was traveling with no security. Just an assistant and a nanny? Where was the staff? The manager? The entourage?

What I didn’t know then, but what I would quickly learn, was that the Michael Jackson who flew into Las Vegas that night was not the same Michael Jackson who’d left the country the year before. There was no entourage that night because there was nobody, period. He was all alone. The most famous man on the planet, and we were the only ones who even knew he was back in the United States.

I agreed to stay, because what else do you do? The man told his children I was there to protect them. After a while, the assistant and the nanny left. They were staying at a hotel nearby. Then Jeff left too. He had another job he was already contracted for. Now it was just me. I did a sweep of the property, checked all the doors and windows, then set up on a folding chair in the garage. It was freezing. Garage wasn’t insulated. Twenty-eight degrees and I had on nothing but a two-piece suit, dress shirt, and tie.

Remember the Time Bill Whitfield, Javon Beard, Tanner Colby