It’s an hour into my regular shift as I knock on the door. “Open,” he replies.
“Looks like it’ll rain today,” he says, “shame, damn shame.”
A true politician, more than aware a wet motorcade is as good as no motorcade at all; image is paramount. People don’t really search for the truth, what they see determines their vote, and he needs votes. The First Lady has made the effort to attend his trip down South after all. She exits the bathroom, placing in an earring. “We’ll be out in an hour,” a look, a glance and I turn and exit.
We walkout underneath unexpected sunny skies, a crowd five deep greet them both as they exit, he in a new grey suit, her in pink and already one gets the impression it is her the crowd has come to see. The President is far from popular in these parts, one of the reasons he begged her to join in the festivities.
Per usual, he is all in, shaking anything thats looks remotely close to hand when it comes to walking the line and working for the crowd. This makes us all anxious, but voters are voters and the man simply cannot stand to be disliked – although in contrast he often belly laughs while he reminisces of those he’s screwed over along the way, a delicate balance – but then again his is a life lived on the high wire.
The man lived with a certain weary resignation toward an early death; he’d been so ill his whole life he’d come to terms with death in a manner ill-suited to someone so young. Three times he had received last rites and three times recovered.
Not one week ago he had been drinking kentucky whiskey in his suite and turned to me as he pointed out the window, “You know, if they really wanted me dead there’s nothing we could do, nothing you guys could do … all you’d need is one guy up a high rise with a rifle.” His index finger became barrel, he pointed and fired, turned and continued his drink. Here was a man who had often stared death in the eye and come away the victor.
We finally made it to the Presidential Limousine. No need for a bubble on such a bright day and so he and the First Lady sat with the sun at their back, the Governor and his wife in front with the driver and with a final wave and pearly white smile we were on our way. At least, the President was on his way; we had all become resigned to remaining inside or alongside the follow-up vehicle. The Limo ahead had designated running boards and handles for agents to use but we were under strict orders to stay behind. Follow up. Remain behind. Let the cameras and media get their cover image.
Dallas had turned on one hell of a day and if anything the crowd thickened as the motorcade proceeded, screams and shouts of acclamation, applause and cheers for their President and his beautiful bride, each returning a smile and a wave. The Governor in front was lapping it up, although even he must have known that no one had lined the streets in his honor that day, still a politician will take a couple of free waves, deserved or not.
We had reached the final turn of the motorcade, and everyone relaxed, it was a short drive till the underpass and then up on the motorway toward the Trade Mart for luncheon.
A blast … a firecracker perhaps …
All heads turned, I heard another blast and witnessed the President pull his arms up, elbows pointed, hands to throat. I jumped off the follow-up and sprinted toward the Limo.
A blood red crown, a mist as his head rocked back. I caught up to the Limo and jumped on the trunk, climbing on all fours toward the First Lady, herself on her knees in a vain attempt to gather the President’s brain and skull. Her eyes were saucers full of tears.
“Down!” I grabbed her and threw her back into the rear seat. “Down!” I screamed as I covered the President’s limp body with my own. As we sped away, I knew with certitude in some ways strangely calming in its clarity that this was all useless standard protocol. No matter how quickly we reached the hospital, no matter the surgeon’s abilities, no matter the technique used, he was dead.
I sat with her outside the operating theater. She still held pieces of scalp in her hand. She could not relinquish. Her dress was stained with blood, dry darkest red. “Let’s get you into a room, Ma’am,” I said softly, “Let’s get you changed.”
“No,” she replied, “Let them see what they’ve done.”