The Nation: Scenes from the Hidden Years

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(12 of 15)

Alongside the bed was his special amplifier for the movie sound track, its controls in easy reach. For years he had lain in bed watching movies, immersed in a series of two-dimensional worlds that he chose himself and totally controlled. He ran his favorites over and over, the sound turned up to accommodate his impaired hearing, the dialogue booming and reverberating in the darkened room. He had run his No. 1 choice, Ice Station Zebra, more than 150 times, until his functionaries knew the entire sound track by heart.

But now the screen was dark, the amplifier silent. His body was starved, dehydrated and atrophied to a pitiful skeleton resembling those of the victims of Dachau and Buchenwald. He weighed barely ninety pounds. His one-time 6' 4" frame had shrunk three inches. His legs and arms were pipestem thin, so fragile that a strong child might have snapped them like a wishbone. On his back were two severe bedsores that had plagued him for years. His pelvis jutted sharply, uncushioned by flesh. On his right side one could see the outline of a metal surgical pin that had repaired, after a fashion, the hip bone he had snapped more than two years earlier in a fall.

Margulis stood inside the bedroom door, a dozen feet or so from his employer. He could see the shallow rise and fall of Hughes' thin chest. He watched the figure on the bed for four or five minutes. Then Hughes opened his eyes and stared for a long time at the ceiling. Finally he turned his head to the left, away from Margulis. He reached out a thin arm to a Kleenex box and took out a hypodermic syringe tucked in under the open flap. It was filled with a clear liquid. Hughes held it for a while in his left hand, contemplating it. He turned it several times and tilted it, as if to assure himself that the syringe was charged. Then he reached across his chest and inserted the needle laterally into the outside of his right arm alongside the shrunken bicep.

The movement apparently exhausted him. He fumbled clumsily with the plunger but couldn't depress it. He tried several times and gave up. The syringe hung for a moment from his right arm, and then dropped to the bed.

Margulis then summoned Aide George Francom. Hughes turned his head and stared at him.

"I didn't get it," he said, making a weak gesture toward his right arm. He was not aware that the syringe had fallen from his arm. "Give it to me, George," he said.

Francom shook his head firmly. "That's a doctor's job," he said. Although Hughes couldn't hear him, he could see his gesture of refusal. He turned to Margulis. "Give me all of it, Gordon," he commanded.

"I won't fool with that crap," Gordon told Francom, and turned to walk out.

"Hey, Gordon," Hughes called weakly. "Hey, ay, ay, ay."

[Gordon] had known about the drug injections for years. One day he had come upon Hughes and his syringe by happenstance. At first Hughes had hidden the syringe away whenever he saw Gordon. But after a while he abandoned his dissembling and had shot himself up openly in Gordon's presence. Hughes used the syringe in his arm and also, in a routine that made Gordon cringe, shot drugs into his groin, usually on the upper inside of his thighs.

Hughes' drugs were the province of the doctors, or at least some

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