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Veil

Reginald Cook

'The real rulers in Washington are invisible, and exercise power from behind the scenes.'

Justice Felix Frankfurter, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happened, you can bet it was planned that way.'

Franklin Delano Roosevelt/ 32nd US President

Prologue

Thirty minutes before my scheduled seven thirty a.m. wake-up call, I rolled out of bed, my back stiff and aching. Like every day since assuming my new position, I knew I could look forward to a long, eventful, tiring schedule. But loved it. Dallas wasn’t my favorite city in the country. In fact, many of the locals despised me, and my advisors said the visit would not be a pleasant one. Someone even took out a full-page ad criticizing my work, even though my second in command was a much-loved Texan-one of their own. It didn’t matter. It came with the territory as my duty to serve, and serve them I did. My staff decided I should spend the night in Fort Worth, then fly to Dallas the following day. There I’d give a luncheon address at the Trade Mart to some of the city’s prominent business leaders. I wish we’d flown to Dallas the night before so I could rest a little and spend some quiet time with my wife, Jackie. As happens with most married couples, our marriage went through some difficult times, much of it my fault. My torrid schedule didn’t help matters, but after Dallas, we’d spend a couple of days to ourselves. I wanted to make amends for several, shall I say, indiscretions, so my mood was good despite the long day ahead.

I let Jackie sleep a little longer while I took a quick shower. When I finished, I found her awake, getting ready for the day, and kissed her on the forehead, then the lips. I marveled, as I often did, how even first thing in the morning she looked absolutely radiant. Yes, when the trip concluded, I definitely planned on spending more quality time with her. She dealt with so much day in and day out; raising a family, being a good wife, and balancing work and home with impeccable style and poise. We talked briefly while I dressed, mostly about our two children, Caroline, and John Jr. We marveled at how fast time flew by and how both of them grew up so fast. Like most parents, we wanted the best for them and knew they’d grow up to be fine adults. As we talked, I could tell she would’ve preferred passing on the events planned. She disliked media attention and hated having so much of our privacy open to the public. It was a sore spot between us, so I didn’t address the matter. I simply smiled, gave her an understanding look, and kissed her again. A knock at the door interrupted our brief moment, and my personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, asked if I’d say hello to several of her old friends. Evelyn, more than a secretary to me, was my friend, my confidant, and on more than one occasion, my protector, so of course I told her I’d be happy to oblige. After I finished getting dressed, I could see that Jackie would be running late-something to do with her hair. It annoyed me a little, but I kept it to myself. I gathered a few things and stepped out into the hallway to apologize to Marjorie Belew, wife of a local prominent attorney, and Jackie’s escort to a breakfast in Fort Worth. Considerate and gracious about the delay, she said she understood, although I could tell she was a little nervous. To lighten the tension I told a few of what I thought were my best jokes, and soon we laughed like we’d known each other for years. Evelyn arrived a few minutes later with her friends. I greeted them and happened to glance outside the hallway window, amazed at the number of people gathered to hear me speak. A light rain fell, but the crowd seemed unperturbed. It was much more than I expected.

Mrs. Belew escorted me outside; Jackie was still not ready. There were at least six or seven thousand people waiting, and when I took the stage they burst into a thunderous applause. Let me tell you, if anyone ever tries to convince you that ovations don’t affect them, they’re lying. I walked to the podium and the sun came out on cue. The crowd chanted, “Where’s Jackie? Where’s Jackie?” I pointed towards the hotel suite, still a little peeved she didn’t come down with me, and told them she was getting dressed, and that it took women longer. But of course, Jackie looked better. They all laughed.

After the speech came the part I really looked forward to at these events, meeting the people. I walked down into the crowd and shook hands with as many of them as I could. It drove my security team crazy, but I didn’t care. Touching them charged me up in a way nothing else could. It gave me strength.

We went back inside the hotel to one of the banquet rooms for breakfast. Famished, I looked forward to my usual soft-boiled eggs, bacon, dry toast with marmalade, orange juice, and coffee.

Jackie finally arrived to the delight of the crowd, and looked marvelous in a pink dress with navy blue lapels and a pink pillbox hat.

A true fashion queen, I doubt I would’ve been so popular without her.

We kissed. The crowd applauded wildly and chanted “Jackie! Jackie!

Jackie!” We went to the airport for the short flight to Dallas. When we arrived, I found myself even more shocked and amazed at the number of people waiting to see us. To say they turned out in full force would sell it short. They were everywhere, lined up along the streets as far as the eye could see. Well, not everyone tendered their support. I did notice this one gentlemen sitting on top of a car, an ugly despicable look on his face, a not too flattering sign in his hands. Hey, my father said you can’t please everybody, and you’re a fool if you try. My staff informed me everything was in order for the motorcade procession through downtown Dallas, and on to the Trade Mart. The clear sky signaled an absolutely gorgeous southern day, so I requested the top be removed from the car so we could enjoy it. Besides, it gave the crowd a better look at us.

Several members of my security staff objected, but I insisted. What good is a parade if you can’t see the band and floats? They weren’t very happy about it, but indulged me anyway. Someone presented Jackie with a beautiful bouquet of red roses, and she loved them, and decided she’d carry them with her in the car. Jackie and I sat in the back seat, she to my left. Bill Greer, one of my security staff, drove, and another member of the security team sat beside him.

Texas Governor John Connelly and his wife Nellie took the jump seats; Connelly sat directly in front of me.

Riding in a motorcade is always eventful. No, electric. Even the chronic pain in my back couldn’t put a damper on the moment and disappeared. People who care deeply about you and the country get a chance to see the man in-charge, and the man in-charge gets a chance to draw closer to the people he’s sworn to serve.

We drove along waving to the crowd, and I noticed a little girl holding up a sign. It read, “Mr. President, will you please stop and shake hands with me?” I told Bill to stop, and immediately, children swarmed the car. Trust me, that never gets old.

“They’re approaching Houston and Elm,” a garbled voice crackled across the car’s two-way radio. I looked at my wrist to check the time, but as usual, I’d forgotten my watch.

I waved to the crowd standing to my right. Jackie handled the left side, as was our way. I tried to make eye contact with as many people as possible. It made the moment personal. The people. It’s all about the people.

I turned to wave in the direction of a lovely blond haired woman wearing a bright red coat. Through the crowd noise I thought I heard her call, “Over here Mr. President!”

I raised my right hand to wave. A strange popping sound cut through the air. I tried to ask Jackie if she heard it, but something lodged in my throat and I couldn’t speak. Everything slowed down. My hearing fell hollow. My vision blurred. Something struck me hard from behind and I lurched forward. I heard screaming, and a searing pain exploded all over my body. I felt dizzy, light-headed, and couldn’t breathe. I was choking, on my own blood. I

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