The Nation: Scenes from the Hidden Years

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said he liked the big room and the view and said it would make a nice sitting room for him. He hadn't had a sitting room for years, and he'd always had the windows taped and never looked out.

"They warned him that somebody could fly past the sitting room in a helicopter and shoot his picture with a telephoto lens. 'Here's your room,' they told him, and took him into another little blacked-out bedroom, with the draperies all taped down tight. He just went along with them, and they had him back in his cave again. After a while he got into bed, and called for a movie, and everything was just the way it had been for years."

Upon his arrival in Canada, government authorities granted Hughes the customary six-month tax holiday. Two weeks before it ended, he flew back to Managua, where no one bothered him about taxes. Then, in the early morning of Dec. 23, 1972, a series of earthquakes, rated at 6.25 on the Richter scale, struck the Nicaraguan capital, destroying 75% of the city and leaving 7,000 people dead.

Hughes had narrowly escaped injury when the quake toppled his movie sound amplifier. [Jim] Rickard had caught it just as it was about to fall on the billionaire.

"Hughes was lying in bed naked," Stewart said. "The room was still heaving and it felt as if the hotel was going to collapse in a heap. The boss had to be the calmest man in Managua. He kept saying that he would be all right. He didn't show any anxiety about getting out of the hotel. He asked me 'What is the extent of the damage?'

"I dashed to the window, looked out, and told him the whole town was falling down. I don't know whether he didn't hear me or didn't understand, but this didn't seem to bother him. He said something about watching a movie."

Stewart tried to get the naked billionaire dressed, but couldn't find any of his drawstring shorts. Hughes kept saying that he was all right, he'd borrow Stewart's underwear.

"I yelled at him that mine wouldn't fit him," Stewart said. "We could have put two Hugheses in one pair of my shorts."

Stewart finally located a pair of shorts, Hughes' old bathrobe and his sandals, and got the emaciated billionaire dressed. Before he would leave, he demanded that Stewart retrieve his metal box of drugs.

"That box was always the first thing the boss thought about. He wouldn't move anywhere without that box," said Stewart.

Hughes was put on a stretcher and, since the quake had knocked out the elevators, carried down a cluttered stairwell.

The Hughes party had two Mercedes in the parking lot. They put Hughes in the back seat of one of them and Stewart with him, and drove to an adjoining baseball field. Aftershocks from the quake were still shaking the hotel and they parked in the open so the hotel wouldn't crash down on them.

When the quake waned, Stewart went back into the hotel and retrieved a pillow and a blanket for Hughes. As soon as he was made comfortable, he went to sleep.

Eckersley dropped off Hughes and Stewart at the Somoza house, where Stewart secluded the billionaire in a large cabana alongside the pool.

Hughes seemed strangely aloof from the devastation around him. "He never asked once about the death toll," Stewart said. "At

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