When Joe Loughlin arrived at work on the Friday morning before the long Fourth of July weekend, it was definitely not written in his day planner that, at 10:10, he'd take a bullet for the President of the United States.

Hell, Joe hadn't even voted for the guy, being a registered Democrat, and he had tried to plan his day to avoid all the hoopla and security weirdness that would accompany the Presidential visit. With the crowds of summertime tourists, the weekend of the Fourth in Boulder was going to be bad enough, but with the President there as well, Joe just wished he could be on vacation for the whole thing, somewhere up in the mountains.

Later, Joe would tell anyone who asked, including reporter after reporter after reporter, that it really wasn't that big a deal, he'd have done it for anyone. Well, just about anyone, maybe not that junior U.S. Senator of theirs, though, some politicians being better off out of their misery.

Joe was getting to that age when two mugs of coffee in the morning, followed by sitting for an hour in a meeting, caused far too much pressure in his bladder to be ignored. Crossing the lobby on his way to the Men's Room, he was surprised when the Secret Service detail swept in, pushing him gently to the side of the room, over by the couch, so that the President and his retinue could have the right of way.

Then Joe noticed something strange, something that shouldn't happen. A little door popped open on the solar telescope display, and he could see what looked like the business end of a rifle barrel peeking out. Just above the door was a lens of some sort, and that wasn't supposed to be there either. Later, the Secret Service people would explain that they were too unfamiliar with all the gadgetry in the displays to have been able to distinguish the lens from all the other stuff, and during their sweep they simply hadn't had the chance to disassemble any of the scientific equipment on the mezzanine to see what was inside.

But Joe's sharp eyes, honed by years of deer and elk hunting in the Rockies and quite familiar with the displays up there on the mezzanine, recognized the fore-sight of the rifle, probably a bolt-action .30-06, he thought. So he did what any red-blooded American citizen would do if they saw a gun pointed at the President. First, he froze in amazement as he felt his adrenalin level skyrocket, and, because he hadn't made it to the Men's Room, he tried hard not to wet his pants. Then he panicked, grabbing the Secret Service agent standing in front of him.

"Uh, hey! Look up there! That looks like a rifle pointed this way, hidden inside that box up there," he managed to stage whisper and point simultaneously.

Because the agent had grabbed Joe back, they had hold of each other, and when the agent screamed "GUN!!" and lunged for the President, Joe was just sort of dragged along. In the ensuing tangle of bodies, Joe was in the line of fire when the rifle went off. Or, more precisely, Joe's right buttock was in the line of fire.

"So, Mr. Loughlin, how does it feel to be shot in the butt for the President?" was the first question the first reporter asked him, and it was repeated, in various forms, until Joe became thoroughly sick of it. To tell the truth, it hurt like hell, but Joe managed to keep both his sense of humor and his dignity, mostly. After all, it was really only a flesh wound, passing through a considerable layer of fat and some muscle, and then out again. His friends would never let him forget that the gunman had quite logically hit what was the biggest target in the room.

But the more immediate result of the rifle shot was a fusillade of semi-automatic weapons fire from the several Secret Service agents, leading to the destruction of the solar telescope display. The lobby of the National Center for Atmospheric Research would require a substantial amount of spackle, to patch all the holes in the plaster walls and ceiling, and a complete new coat of paint.

After the hubbub subsided, it was discovered that the rifle had been mounted inside the display with a miniature video camera sighted along the barrel. These, in turn, were connected to a gray box with a small antenna on the top, and there was a curious, home-made-looking triggering device on the rifle hooked to the box. At least that was the reconstruction. The barrage of lead had pretty much destroyed the original set-up, and it appeared that the contents of the box had been wired to self-destruct if disturbed. Except, that is, for the bottom of the box and the message laminated to its outside:

Dear Mr. President:

You've been SCREW'd!

Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

But none of this information would be released by the Secret Service for some months, long after Joe's wound had healed, leaving small, Presidential entrance and exit scars.

* * * * * * *