The Nation: Scenes from the Hidden Years

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summon Dr. Thain back to Acapulco. Jack Real was instructed to rustle up a jet plane, and the aides located Dr. Thain through his secretary. The plane picked up the doctor in Fort Lauderdale late Sunday night and rushed him back to the Mexican resort and his dying patient. [When it became plain that Hughes would have to be moved, he was washed and barbered.] Equipment for intravenous feeding was flown in from Los Angeles.

Near dawn Monday, the doctors decided to call in outside help. One of them summoned Dr. [Victor Manuel] Montemayor [house doctor for a number of Acapulco resort hotels]. He arrived at the Hughes penthouse at 6 a.m. He spent two hours examining the emaciated billionaire and later said he was "aghast" at his condition. He was shown the blood analysis disclosing the failure of Hughes' kidneys, and his own examination showed that Hughes was drastically dehydrated, with a pulse so weak that the Mexican doctor could get no reading in several attempts to take his blood pressure.

The doctors explained to him, he told reporters later, that Hughes was a difficult patient, "that some times he refused medicine and food. And once he had refused, that was final. Nobody could change his mind."

Despite Dr. Montemayor's dismay at the lack of decisive action, hours passed before the billionaire was moved. To the very end, the entourage went through the old familiar rituals of secrecy, masquerade, and concealment. Before they removed Hughes, they reserved a suite at the Houston Methodist Hospital for him in the name of "J.T. Conover." They put a Houston ambulance on a stand-by alert at the airport for an unnamed patient "suffering from diabetes."

At 9 a.m. an aide aroused Gordon Margulis by telephone. He dressed hurriedly and went to The Office and found a scene bordering on panic. "Everyone was swarming around like a bunch of blue-assed flies, shredding papers and documents," he said. He went into the bedroom. For the first time since the final crisis had closed in, Hughes was wearing an oxygen mask. It was connected to a huge oxygen cylinder Margulis had never seen before, twice the size of the stand-by equipment the Hughes party normally carried.

After a while word was passed to the penthouse that an ambulance was waiting. A guard was sent down to make sure that there were no onlookers. With this ritual observed, someone took off the oxygen mask so Hughes could be moved. Gordon Margulis lifted the frail seventy-year-old billionaire, as light as a child, and put him on a stretcher. He and an aide carried it to the service elevator. Margulis raced back, wrestled the huge oxygen cylinder aboard, and Hughes was put back on it.

The decision to hospitalize Hughes had come too late; his heart gave out while the jet raced toward Houston. According to Dr. Thain, he died at 1:27 p.m., a half-hour out of Houston airport. Late in the day of the death, [Arelo] Sederberg [the Summa spokesman] was authorized to state that Hughes had died of a "cerebral vascular accident," medicalese for a stroke. But the official autopsy attributed his death to renal (kidney) failure and said nothing about a stroke. The Summa officials did not reconcile this contradiction.

Hughes' body was claimed by his Houston relatives, and he was buried in a private

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