It began as an ordinary spring day in Washington, light showers, the usual lines of tourists at the White House, a routine speech by the president.

Then, gunfire. For six hours the nation watched and wondered. Would the president live? Would he survive and be disabled? Would the nation be plunged into constitutional crisis?

It was 2:24 p.m. Monday, March 30. Michael K. Deaver wasn't supposed to be at the Washington Hilton. He was supposed to be back in the White House working on the president's schedule. But it was a busy day at the office for chief of staff James A. Baker III, and Deaver, his deputy, had volunteered to go in his place with President Reagan when he addressed the Building Trades Council.

No one noticed the gunman before the firing began. No one particularly saw him, or knew he was there. On the sidewalk outside the lower entrance to the Washington Hilton, a Secret Service agent gave the routine radio signal that all was clear.

It was 2:25 p.m. Deaver will never forget what happened next.

"The president and I were walking out together," he recalls. "The press started asking their usual questions. I turned and moved [James S.] Brady up because he was the press secretary. I took three steps then the first shot went over my right shoulder. I knew what it was. I ducked down, with the help of a shove from a Washington policeman, who also was dropped to the ground. I smelled the powder. I never saw the gunman."

Secret Service agent Jerry Parr, head of the presidential detail, never saw the gunman, either. The gunman was shielded by the crowd.

Secret Service agents had looked over this crowd, as they always do. It is not easy to spot a concealed gunman in a friendly crowd. Thirty seconds before the president arrived at the hotel, Parr had received a favorable situation report.

"Rawhide follow to Rawhide advance," he said, using the code word for the president. "Situation report?"

"Situation negative," the advance agent replied.

The quiet ended in the rapid fire of a handgun and screams from the crowd. Within nine seconds six shots had been fired in rapid succession at the presidential party.

One shot hit Secret Service agent Timothy J. McCarthy, who thrust himself between President Reagan and the gunman, in the stomach.

One shot hit District police officer Thomas K. Delahanty in the neck.

One shot, although no one knew it immediately, bounced off the armored limousine and hit Reagan in the chest, penetrating his left lung. Yet another hit a window in a building across the street and fragmented.

And one shot, the shot that did the most damage, struck White House press secretary Brady over the left eye, penetrating his brain. Brady fell, with blood gushing from his head. An advance man, Rick Ahearn, put a white handkerchief under Brady's head. It quickly turned red with blood.

In a matter of seconds Parr had shoved Reagan into the limousine and pulled the door shut. He commanded the driver, Drew Unrue, to pull away, and the presidential limousine sped from the scene. A staff control car, with Deaver inside, followed.

"You son-of-a-bitch, you broke my rib," Reagan said to Parr inside the limousine. He was joking, but he was hurting from the blow.

Later in the week the president would tell Deaver that he hadn't realized he had been hit by a bullet but that he certainly knew he had been hit.

"It was a blow like I never felt," Reagan said. "It was like someone hitting me with a hammer as hard as they could."

Parry, not knowing that the president had been shot, originally ordered the limousine to return to the White House. But when he saw Reagan coughing blood, the bright-red oxygenated blood that comes from the lung, he and the president thought a rib had been broken by the protective shove. Parr told Unrue to drive to George Washington University Hospital instead of the White House. He radioed the control car and told Deaver where he was going. At the Hospital

At the shooting scene, agents has overwhelmed a young blond man later identified as John Warnock Hinckley Jr.They piled him into a police car and took him away.

Before the limousine reached the hospital, nurses had cleared space in the resuscitation bay for the shooting victims. A first radio message has told them there has been a shooting and that "some men" have been hurt. A second message informed them that one was the president of the United States. s

At 2:35 p.m. the limousine arrived at George Washington. Reagan was feeling pain in his chest and was having difficulty breathing. As he got out of the car, D.C. paramedic Roberto Hernandez recognized the limousine. On inaugural day he had been assigned to the ambulance that followed the new president around Washington.

"I literally froze," Hernandez said afterward. "I didn't believe what I was actually seeing.I noticed he looked very pale and he had an apprehensive look about him . . . The stare in his eyes was like he was in a slight daze."

Reagan got out of the car. He walked to the emergency room, his face drawn, Parr's arm around him. Incredibly, no one had thought to order a stretcher to be ready for him. When the president entered the emergency room, he fell to one knee.

"I can't breathe," he said.

For a moment the workers in the resuscitation bay were stunned. "Is that who I think it is?" one nurse asked. Then they sprang into action. Hernandez removed Reagan's shoes, socks and pants while his partner Eric Simmons cut off his shirt.

"All I could think of was Parkland," Deaver said, referring to the Dallas hospital where John F. Kennedy was taken.

But Deaver, a short, quite, patient man who knows Reagan better than anyone on the White House staff and was treated like a son by him, was busy with other matters. Cool and collected, Deaver found a telephone bay outside the emergency ward and called the White House. He reached Margaret Tutwiler, the secretary to chief of staff Baker.

"Keep this line open, Margaret," he said. "There's been a shooting, and the president's hurt. We don't think he was hit, but he may have broken a rib." At the White House

At the White House they already knew about the shooting. But they did not know much about what had happened or that the president had been shot.

Baker had been working in his office through the morning. At 1 p.m. he went to the White House mess to eat his usual lunch: a tunafish salad sandwich and buttermilk. Brady and his deputy, Larry Speakes, were finishing their lunch as Baker and Tutwiler arrived. They exchanged pleasantries, and Brady said he was going to the Hilton for Reagan's speech. p

The first word at the White House that something had gone wrong came in a telephone call from David Prosperi, an assistant press secretary. He was at the scene where the shots were fired, and he saw Brady go down.

Prosperi rushed into the hotel and grabbed the first telephone he found. It was a charge phone, so he gave the operator the White House press office number and billed the call to his home telephone.

"Get me Larry. It's an emergency," he said into the telephone.

Speakes was just coming out of a meeting with other White House aides in the Roosevelt Room on the automobile regulation package that is to be announced this week. Betsy Strong, a press aide, ran up and told him Prosperi was calling. He picked up the phone of Kathy Ahern, Brady's secretary.

"The president has been shot at and Brady has been hit," Prosperi said.

"Thanks," Speakes replied, and hung up. From the look on his face the others in the room knew it was a crisis.

"I don't know what it looked like, but it hit pretty hard," Speakes said.

Ahern began to weep.

White House staff director David R. Gergen was coming out of the same meeting Speakes had attended. The first instinct of both was to walk out on the colonade and watch the motorcade return, which they expected momentarily. Instead, Speakes telephoned Jack Warner of the Secret Service. Warner knew something had happened, but did not have the details.

Gergen ran down the corridor to Baker's office with the news. He burst into the office, almost knocking down Tutwiler, who had her back against the door.

Gergen went to find White House counselor Edwin Meese III, the president's top aide, who was with his deputy, Craig Fuller. They already knew. Baker ran down to the Secret Service command post in the basement to find out what had happened. It was about 2:35 p.m., the time of Reagan's arrival at the hospital. At the Hotel

Back at the Hilton, the ambulances had borne away the wounded men, leaving behind the remnants of the shooting: an umbrella, a dropped briefcase, the bloody sidewalk grate where Brady fell.

Prosperi, knowing that the presidential limousine had started out for the White House, mistakenly believed the president had arrived there, and so informed the press. One eyewitness, Ramon Flores, attempted to convince skeptical reporters that Reagan had been hit. He shrugged his shoulders when they did not believe him. At the Hospital

Within minutes at George Washington the resucitation area was crowded with members of the trauma team and Secret Service agents. As Dr. Dennis O'Leary related later, a nurse trying to take Reagan's blood pressure could not hear through the stethoscope because of the din and had to take it by feeling the pulse in Reagan's arm. It was only about 75 -- low enough to signal that the president was in danger of shock.

Quickly, trauma team members inserted an intravenous tube and began running fluid into the president's veins.They took blood samples to measure the blood oxygen content and to match Reagan's blood for a transfusion. Meanwhile, they called for O-negative blood, the type that can be given to anyone. Reagan's blood type is O-positive.

Dr. Joseph M. Giardano, the surgeon who heads the trauma team, was among the first to respond to the page, and he saw Reagan within five minutes of his arrival. By then, the president's blood pressure had risen to 100, but he was coughing up blood, his breathing was fast and labored, and the surgeons had discovered the slit-like wound under his left arm.

Giardano said that the likelihood of a collapsed lung and the danger that Reagan might be bleeding from his heart or a major blood vessel made it necessary to insert a chest tube at once.

Outside the resuscitation bay, Deaver and aide David Fisher kept the telephone lines open to the White House. Deaver had Nancy Reagan called immediately. He also asked Tutwiler to tell his secretary to call his wife, Carolyn, and tell her that he was unharmed, but Deaver's secretary, Shirley Moore, had already done so.

Meanwhile, Brady and McCarthy had arrived at the hospital, and Delahanty had been taken to Washington Hospital Center. Brady looked bad and his blood pressure was dangerously high. To the paramedics, McCarthy looked best of all.

"Are you still with us?" a fellow agent asked him. "Oh, yes," McCarthy quickly replied.

At 2:36 p.m. Mrs. Reagan arrived at the hospital. She wanted to see her husband immediately, but was told by Deaver that she could not. When she did get to see him, he greeted her with a line that may become a classic: "Honey, I forgot to duck." At the White House

At the White House, events moved swiftly. Tutwiler had left the first White House line open for Deaver, then she rounded up Baker, Meese, Gergen, Speakes and communications director Frank Ursomarso, who were in a hall beyond the Oval Office. She told them Deaver was on the telephone.

Baker went into his office and took one phone. Meese picked up the other phone on the same line. Baker was at his desk. Deaver told them that the president had been shot.

"Shit," said Meese.

"Oh, Jesus," said Baker.

Both men moved swiftly to do what was necessary. They agreed that the vice president had to be called, and that the Cabinet should assemble in the White House Situation Room.

Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. had called, and Baker called him back.

"It's very important how we handle this world-wide," Haig told Baker, who agreed.

Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan was the first Cabinet officer to reach Baker's office. Treasury is the boss of the Secret Service, and Regan had been told of the incident within two minutes of its occurrence. Regan was on a long distance call from Los Angeles when the call came, and he hung up and went immediately by car across the street to the White House.

At the hospital, Deaver put White House physician Daniel Ruge on the open line, and Baker took notes on what Ruge told him: "He [the president] has received a chest wound in the left chest. He is in stable condition. The blood pressure and pulse is okay. He is alert and fighting. Next stop could be the operating room. You ought to get right over here."

Haig arrived. Later, at the State Department, a spokesman announced that Baker and Meese had left the White House by the time Haig got there. It was an incorrect announcement.Regan, Baker and Tutwiler all remember that Haig arrived just before Baker and Meese left the office.

They talked briefly, and Meese and Baker agreed that Haig would be the "contact point" at the White House while they were at the hospital. No one said anything about anyone being "in control." But there was a brief discussion of the 25th Amendment, providing for presidential succession, because no one knew how badly Reagan was hurt. Bush would be back by the time they knew, everyone agreed.

Meese told Tutwiler to get them a car. "I'll handle it," Regan said. He directed an agent to get them a siren-equipped Secret Service car so they could speed through traffic to the hospital. Speakes and Lyn Nofziger were with Meese and Baker.

Nofziger is a longtime Reagan aide who proved a composed man in the day's crisis. He offered to help because "Brady is out of commission," and everyone was happy to have him. He and Speakes are old adversaries, but they buried their differences on that bloody day.

Haig, Regan, Gergen and intergovernmental relations aide Rich Williamson went down to the Situation Room in the White House basement.

At the hospital Deaver alternated his time between Nancy Reagan and the telephones. The grim mood was lightened on one occasion when a hospital clerk with a green form in his hand ran around trying to get some information on the patient. "Who is he?" the clerk wanted to know.

"R-e-a-g-a-n," Deaver spelled out.

"You are kidding," the clerk said.

"I'm not kidding," said Deaver.

Meanwhile, Dr. Neofytos T. Tsangaris, the hospital's acting chief of staff, had been summoned from a meeting by a brief announcement: "The president of the United States is in the emergency room." Tsangaris said he quickly realized that three separate operating rooms, one for each shooting victim, must be readied at once with nurses, technicians and equipment.

It was now 3:20 p.m. and Reagan was being prepared for surgery. He had an oxygen mask over his face when Baker saw him, but winked at his chief of staff.

At 3:30 p.m., approximately 45 minutes after he had been brought to the hospital, he was wheeled to the operating room. His bleeding had slowed somewhat, and he had received a transfusion of five units of blood.

"Please tell me you're Republicans," he joked to the masked surgical team surrounding him.

After that, according to operating room technician Michael Borowski, who helped with instruments during the operation, the president was quiet. "I saw Reagan looking around at everybody busy doing their thing . . . ," he recalled later. "I just kind of took his hand. He had sort of tears in his eyes . . . .He really had this look of appreciation on his face. That's what really touched me."

The first part of the operation required a tiny incision below the navel. Into the incision Giordano inserted about a quart of salt solution to determine whether any bullets had penetrated the abdominal cavity and caused bleeding there. When sucked out again, the fluid was clear, indicating no abdominal injuries.

A report was given to Baker and Deaver outside the operating room.

Nancy Reagan was told the good news, and tears came to her eyes.

Borowski said Reagan was then turned on his right side and redraped for the more major operation, the toracotomy. Assisted by Dr. Kathleen Cheyney, Dr. Benjamin L. Aaron cut a six-inch incision through the skin parallel with the ribs, extending horizontally from below the left arm toward the center of the chest. Then he used retractors to spread the ribs apart.

Aaron said he could feel splintering of the seventh rib where the bullet had nicked it and ricocheted into the chest. Outside the left lung, he found a large blood clot, and, after he removed it, he could see where the bullet had entered the lung. Quickly, he examined the heart and the major vessels nearby. They were untouched. All the bleeding was coming from the smaller vessels within the torn lung.

"We began to feel around for the bullet . . . and to our chargin we could not find that bullet within the lung," he said later. Aaron ordered an X-ray taken on the operating table. The bullet was visible, embedded in a portion of the left lung just behind the heart and "flattened almost as thin as a dime," he said.

At last Aaron felt the bullet and pulled it out. Then he removed some of the dead lung tissue, inserted a drain into the bullet's track, and closed the incisions. The president had been in the operating room for 3 1/2 hours, and apparently was out of danger. With a breathing tube in his throat, and still on a respirator, the president was taken to the recovery room.

There had been anxious moments for Nancy Reagan during this operation, moments she spent in a small private office the hospital made available to her and in the chapel, where she met Sarah Brady, whose husband had been erroneously declared dead in mid-afternoon reports on all three television networks.

For 53 minutes after the shooting not much was known at the White House press office. It wasn't until 3:18 p.m. that communications director Ursomarso stood on veteran press aide Connie Gerrard's chair in the upper press office to tell a packed crowded of reporters that Reagan had been shot.

Every television set was turned on as staff and reporters watched replay after replay. The room was full of people who work with Brady every day, and the replays, particularly those in slow motion, made all who were present think that his chances for survival were slight.

Some aides wept for their fallen press secretary. It was pouring rain outside now, and correspondents who usually would have broadcast from the White House lawn stood on chairs in the briefing room to get above the heads of the milling colleagues and talked to fill air time.

At 3:37 p.m. Gergen appeared in the crowded briefing room.

"Good afternoon," he said. "This is to confirm the statements made at George Washington hospital that the president was shot once in the left side this afternoon as he left the hotel. His condition is stable.

"A decision is now being made whether or not to operate to remove the bullet.The White House and the vice president are in communication. And the vice president is now en route to Washington." On Air Force Two

Going to Washington had not been George Bush's plan. On a day of routine politicking, he had slipped into his blue, Eisenhower-style official flight jacket, buckled his seatbelt and settled back for a moment of relaxation as his plane took off from Fort Worth at 2:41 p.m. EST for a short hop to Austin.

Behind him was a speech to cattlemen and the dedication of the former Hotel Texas as a national monument -- it was the hotel where John F. Kennedy had spent his last night before that fatal trip to Dallas. Ahead, in Austin, awaited an address to the Texas Legislature and a news conference.

Air Force Two was still climbing, a couple of minutes later, when Edward Pollard, head of the vice president's Secret Service detail, took an urgent message from the Fort Worth office. He was told of the assassination attempt, and was told that the president had not been hit.And he also was informed, incorrectly, that two Secret Service agents were down. Pollard immediately relayed this message to Bush.

Bush nodded quietly and began talking of the possibility of shortening his Austin stopover. The telephone line flashed again. This time it was Bush's press secretary, Peter Teeley, with a message identical to the one Pollard had given.

The vice president's chief legislation aide, Robert V. Thompson, rushed back to the VIP section in mid-plane and announced to the assembled Bush aides and three Texas congressmen that an attempt had been made on the president's life.

Up front, at 3:04 p.m., Haig telephoned Bush.There is no secure telephone line to Air Force Two, and Haig was guarded in his communication. tHe also had a very poor connection.

"I think you should come directly back to Washington," Haig said. "There's been an incident." He also told Bush that he would be sending him a message over the coded Telex machine that is the only secure channel of communications between Air Force Two and the ground.

Bush hung up and turned to his aides. "We are going directly back to Washington," he said. "I just spoke to Haig." It was a quarter of an hour later before he learned what had happened.

"Mr. Vice President, in the incident you will have heard about by now, the president was struck in the back," the Telex from Haig said. "Medical authorities are deciding now whether or not to operate. Recommend you return to D.C. at earliest possible moment."

Quickly, the word was passed through the plane. House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) walked into the front cabin, and Bush turned to him and said, "Why in the world would anybody shoot a man like Ronald Reagan?"

Air Force Two did not have enough fuel on board to make it to Washington nonstop, so the plane landed in Austin as scheduled, but only for refueling. Bush stayed on board, sipping on a diet cola and saying very little. At the White House

At the White House, Cabinet members and other high White House officials assembled in the Situation Room: Attorney General William French Smith, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis, National Security Council staff director Richard V. Allen, domestic adviser Martin Anderson, CIA Director William J. Casey, counsel Fred Fielding. Hours later, Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige would arrive.

There were so many people rushing back and forth that Allen tried to close the door to the Situation Room to keep some of the staff members out. Allen put a tape recorder on the table in the center of the room along with another that was already there.

Some knew they were talking for posterity, but others didn't even notice the recorders. What the men in the Situation Room wanted to know were three things: how badly was the president hit? Was the shooting a conspiracy or an individual act? Would Brady survive?

While first reports from the hospital seemed to be positive, everyone in the Situation Room was aware that the president was 70 years old and faced major surgery. They were trying to prepare for every contingency.

Smith and Fielding briefed the Cabinet members on constitutional succession and on the 25th Amendment, which spells out the procedures for the vice president's assuming office in case of presidential disability. The review was brief, because the Cabinet members spent much of the time on the telephone and, like millions of other Americans, before the television set.

Of those in the Situation Room, Smith knew Reagan best. He is Reagan's long-time attorney, a charter member of the "kitchen cabinet" and a close friend. He also has jurisdiction over the FBI, and was on the telephone immediately, checking on Hinckley.

The readout from the FBI showed that the suspect carried psychiatrists' cards in his pocket, which convinced them that he probably was acting on his own.

Smith was outwardly calm, but his thoughts, like Deaver's went back to the day John F. Kennedy was shot and the pall it cast over the nation. He was relieved to hear that Reagan was trying out one-liners on the doctors, knowing, as he would say later, "that this was a sign of normalcy."

Weinberger had been told by his secretary that he was wanted at the Situation Room. At first, he couldn't find a car, and thought of taking a taxi, but CIA Deputy Director Bobby Inman was visiting him, and he offered to take the defense secretary to the White House.

When Weinberger arrived, Haig was making telephone calls on the only secure phone in the Situation Room. Weinberger stepped outside to call Gen. David Jones, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They discussed the combat-readiness of American forces, and Weinberger, after receiving unspecified classified information on a little white slip of paper, directed Jones to order "a little higher state of readiness," but one that was short of a full alert.

Other Cabinet members were making similar determinations in their areas of responsibility.

Regan told Treasury Undersecretary for Monetary Affairs Beryl Sprinkel to tell the Federal Reserve that the dollar should be supported on foreign exchange markets. Afterward, Regan described his action as "a normal procedure that has been done before" when some crisis threatens the dollar's value.

The order meant that the Federal Reserve bought dollars with other currencies, though not in massive amounts.

The attention of the officials in the Situation Room then turned to the television set, which showed Speakes in the press room fending off questions. He hadn't been told much, and some of the questions concerned possible emergency actions the nation was taking in the crisis. He was asked the key question of whether the U.S. military had been placed on higher readiness.

"Not that I'm aware of," Speakes replied.

His response drew criticism from both Weinberger and Haig, but the secretary of state was especially agitated. He said that "the next time someone opens their yap" they had better make sure that what they are saying is true. Weinberger then left the room to make a telephone call.

"We've got a problem, and it's now," Haig said, turning to Allen. "We had better go upstairs and get this straightened out."

Haig and Allen double-timed upstairs to the press room, which the secretary of state, who had undergone open-heart surgery, later thought might have accounted for his subsequent shaky appearance on television. He reached the briefing podium at 4:14 p.m.

In a voice cracking with emotion, he told the nation and the world: "I just wanted to touch upon a few matters associated with today's tragedy. First, as you know, we are in close touch with the vice president, who is returning to Washington. . . . We have informed our friends abroad of the situation, the president's condition, as we know it [is] stable, now undergoing surgery.And there are absolutely no alert measures at this time that we're contemplating."

Haig was then asked who was making decisions for the government at the time, and responded, "Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, in that order, and should the president decide he wants to transfer the helm to the vice president, he will do so. He was not done that. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the vice president and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course."

Haig's appearance astounded Baker and Meese, who were watching at the hospital. And it flabbergasted Haig's colleagues in the Situation Room, none of whom had been consulted before he left on his self-appointed mission.

"What's Al doing up there?" asked Lewis.

Weinberger, returning from his telephone call to Jones, looked up and saw Haig on the screen and asked, "Why are they running that old tape of Al Haig?"

It's not a tape, he was told. Haig's up there.

"He can't be, he was right here," said Weinberger, still disbelieving. As he watched, Haig told reporters in the briefing room that no change in military alert procedures was contemplated.

Weinberger knew that this was untrue because he had just ordered the increased state of readiness, but had done so without telling Haig.

When Haig returned to the briefing room, Weinberger was waiting. In a dramatic moment of angry but controlled confrontation. Weinberger demanded that Haig explain why he had said what he had in the briefing room.The two men kept their voices down, but their differences were clear and sharp. Despite Haig's announcement, Weinberger told him, he had increased the readiness of American military forces.

"That's just what I said we weren't doing," Haig said.

"I didn't know you were going up there," Weinberger replied, adding that he didn't think it "was appropriate" for Haig to be going before the television cameras in the manner he had done. For good measure, he also said that Haig had misstated the order of presidential succession, prompting Haig to respond: "you should read the Constitution."

Afterward, both Haig and Weinberger would try to minimize the exchange, which lasted only a few minutes. Haig responded to criticisms of his appearance by saying that he was winded from running up the stairs.

"I may have been quivery, but I've been through 50 times worse than that," he said. At the Hospital

At the hospital, Haig's impromptu briefing was one of the bad moments for the watching White House aides. An even worse one came in the press room when the television networks incorrectly announced Brady's death. Some aides were furious. Others wept silently as they continued to work.

Baker, however, knew better than the networks. He had just had a report that Brady was holding his own, and he called the Situation Room and told them to disregard the report. Hospital interns who heard the reports asked the surgeon operating on Brady if he hadn't heard that his patient was dead.

At about 4:30 p.m. former president Richard M. Nixon called the hospital, asking for Nancy Reagan. She was unable to come to the telephone, but Baker did.

"Please convey my concern that I know is shared by all Americans," Nixon said.

At 5:20 p.m. the bullet was removed from the president and the medical reports were positive. Baker called the Situation Room and told them they didn't have to worry themselves any more with the 25th Amendment.

Meese called the vice president, whose plane was still an hour out of Washington.

Cradling the phone in his cabin after he received the news, Bush turned to his aides and said, "The bullet's been removed. The operation was a success. The president is fine."

It was now agreed at the hospital that the president's top aides should split up. And it was also agreed that any further briefings on the president's condition should be by the doctors, even though this meant keeping the press waiting for another hour.

Deaver and Nofziger, whose experience was an asset in White House press relations, remained at the hospital, where Nofziger related the first of the Reagan jokes in surgery. Meese went to the vice president's residence to brief Bush upon his arrival.

Meese met Bush at the residence, and together they rode in an armored limousine back to the White House. Meese had sent a helicopter for the vice president to Andrews Air Force Base, and a Bush aide had suggested that the chopper fly directly to the White House.

"No, I don't want to do that," Bush said. "Only the president flies onto the South Lawn."

It was 7 p.m. when Bush arrived in the Situation Room. In rapid-fire order Allen ticked off an agenda that had been discussed previously: the president's health, an update on the world intelligence situation, the status of U.S. military forces, the status of what the press and public had been told, the status of information given privately to members of Congress, the outlines of the statement which had been drafted for Bush, the question of whether it was appropriate for Bush to visit Reagan at the hospital, information about Mrs. Reagan and the family, the cancellation of Bush's planned trip to Geneva and an update on the next day's schedule, which Bush would fulfill.

At 7:30 p.m., with Brady still fighting for his life, Dr. Dennis O'Leary, clinical dean of George Washington, briefed the press.

At 8:45 p.m., Meese, Baker and Weinberger met in Baker's office for a drink and a discussion of the next day.

At about this time, Nancy Reagan left the hospital with their son, Ron, and his wife, Doria. In a corridor, she encountered the parents of the wounded Secret Service agents, and said gratefully that their son had saved her husband's life. McCarthy's father sobbed. Then, on the ground floor, she met Brady's mother, Dorothy.

"Hi, Nancy," said Mrs. Brady, in a manner that was strikingly composed, "we are just praying for both of them."

Nofziger remained at the hospital to brief reporters on Brady. At 9:30 p.m. he gave the first relatively optimistic report on Brady's condition.

At 8:50 p.m. the president, with the anesthesia worn off, scribbled a note to his doctors in the recovery room.

"All in all, I'd rather be in Philadelphia," it said, in the words of a famous movie line by W.C. Fields.

Everyone laughed. When the message was relayed to the Situation Room, Smith said, "I know he's going to be alright."

At 3 a.m. Tuesday, the tubes in Reagan's mouth were removed. The president's first words were about his assailant.

"Boy, what's his beef?" Reagan asked.