The Nation: Scenes from the Hidden Years

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 15)

ordered a series of wide-mouthed jars filled with isopropyl alcohol. When Stewart used a comb, he was to dip it into the alcohol before using it again, to "sterilize" it.

While Stewart was trimming his hair on either side of his head, Hughes carefully folded his ears down tight "so none of that hair will get in me."

Stewart trimmed his beard to a short, neat Vandyke and gave his hair a tapered cut well above the collar line.

A few days later an emissary gave Stewart $ 1,000.

When Hughes moved to the Desert Inn in November 1966, he constructed elaborate precautions in his penthouse.

The ninth-floor button was removed from the elevators that served the new high-rise addition. Only those with a key could take the elevators above the eighth floor. Directly facing the elevator door, when one emerged, was an armed guard at a desk.

Beyond the guards' desk, Hughes had a partition installed with a locked door. This served a dual purpose. If anyone managed to manipulate the elevator lock or acquire a copy of the key, they would be isolated in the landing space with the guard. The second purpose of the partition was to preclude Hughes' guards from glimpsing Hughes in the event he left his darkened bedroom. In his four years at the Desert Inn, his own guards, stationed only a few yards away, never saw their employer.

The eighth-floor bedroom immediately below Hughes' room was kept vacant and locked. This was to forestall any "enemies" from eavesdropping with special listening equipment.

The aides occupied the middle room of a three-room suite called Penthouse One. [It was the command post, referred to as The Office in the aides' jargon.] It had a door with a peephole grill. Anyone passed through the partition door had to undergo a second inspection before being admitted to The Office.

Whatever his other phobias, Hughes did not suffer from claustrophobia. His bedroom was the smallest on the penthouse floor. It measured only 15 by 17 feet ("infinite riches in a little room"), considerably smaller than the usual "master" bedroom in a low-priced tract house. Even this meager lebensraum was further cramped by stacks of newspapers and magazines.

To summon his aides he had a small silver bell, but he rarely used it. Alongside his lounge chair he kept a brown paper bag for his "contaminated" Kleenex insulation. When he wanted an aide, he snapped his finger smartly against the bag. His overlong fingernails produced a drumlike whaap whaap that brought an aide on the double.

His eyesight was bad, but he would not wear glasses. He used a number of magnifying glasses that he called "my peep-stones," one of which had a battery-powered light for use when the dim-lit bedroom was too dark. Except for rare occasions, he spurned his collection of hearing devices. "He could understand if you stood face to face and talked loudly," Stewart says. "But often he would say, 'Aw shit, write it out for me.' "

Surrounded by self-created disorder, he wanted certain things just so. He liked his documents neatly and precisely stacked. From behind the closed door of his bedroom, sometimes for an hour or more, would come a muffled thump, thump, thump. The first time Margulis heard it, he asked, "What the hell is

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12
  13. 13
  14. 14
  15. 15