The Nation: Scenes from the Hidden Years

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must have the most immediate attention.

"Bob, I know this sounds odd, but I cannot remember the 3rd item. It is equally important with the other 2. So that makes it even more surprising that I have forgotten it. However, I will remember it very soon and convey it to you just the minute my brain starts to work."

Sometimes Hughes would sit for hours, silent and brooding, in his little Desert Inn bedroom. He would gather the long hair streaming down his back, pull it up over the top of his head, then let it fall, gather it up, let it fall. [Then] he would pick up the phone and tell Maheu: "Bob, I'm lonesome."

Hughes soon found himself unwittingly involved in a power struggle that pitted Gay, an old-line Hughes executive, and Davis, the chief legal counsel, against Maheu for control of the empire. The executive aides blocked Maheu's communications with Hughes and convinced Hughes that Maheu had been stealing from him. Enraged, Hughes ordered Davis and Gay to fire Maheu, but first Hughes secretly slipped out of Las Vegas on the eve of Thanksgiving Day, 1970, to avoid the fireworks.

The door to Hughes' bedroom opened and the billionaire was brought out on a stretcher. His grey hair, a foot and a half long, was incongruously topped by a snap-brim brown Stetson, the kind that had been his trademark back in the 1930s when he was breaking world records as a pilot. (Months earlier Mell Stewart had scoured Las Vegas men's shops to find the Stetson. Hughes had insisted that the proper out-of-date hat be found for him.) His eyes were sunken, with dark circles under them, and his weight was down around 115 pounds. He was clad in a pair of blue pajamas, and from what Gordon could see, his legs and lower arms were almost bone thin.

He was lying face up on the stretcher with a pillow covered by a plastic bag under his head. "He was in bad shape, but he was lucid and coherent," says Margulis. "We picked him up. I took the front end of the stretcher with Eckersley, Holmes, and Francom at the other end."

The penthouse floor has two interior fire escapes. One opens off the elevator landing where the guard was stationed. The other is at the far end of the corridor and exits on the Strip side of the Desert Inn. The departure was made by this path so that Hughes could not be seen by his own guard.

The silent group moved out of The Office, turned right and went down the fire escape. Margulis went first, holding the front of the stretcher high to keep it level. They descended carefully, a step at a time, for nine floors, like a solemn religious procession bearing aloft a sacred relic or ikon.

"It's pretty narrow in here," Hughes piped up during the descent. "I guess it's a good thing I've lost weight."

"Keep your arms at your side," Margulis cautioned him, "and we'll make it all right."

On the ground floor a lookout signaled all-clear, and the pace quickened. The stretcher was swiftly placed in a waiting, unmarked van. Eckersley, Holmes, and Francom piled in, and the van slid out onto the deserted Strip and headed for Nellis [Air Force Base near Las Vegas].

At Nellis the two pilots were ordered to walk off in the darkness and face away from the plane. With Hughes sequestered in the rear of the plane, the two

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