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Authors: Margaret Truman

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BOOK: Murder at the Watergate
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Winkler now leaned forward, elbows on the table. “I don’t have this officially, Mac—I mean, no one’s sent around a memo. But the gentleman who was killed was here on what might be termed government business.”

“Whose government?”

“Ours. No, correction. Quasi-government business.”

“I stopped using ‘quasi’ years ago, Herman. Things either are or they aren’t.”

Winkler laughed, said, “Everything in DC is quasi to me. At any rate, his name was Garza. A union organizer in Mexico City. He’d ended up on the wrong side of the PRI and had to be gotten out of the country.”

“What did he do to get on the wrong side?”

“Started telling tales out of school about corruption, kickbacks, business as usual there. He was in Washington to talk to people at a think tank.”

“What think tank?”

“The new one with Mexico as its only agenda. The Mexico Initiative. Haven’t heard of it?”

“No. Then again, I haven’t heard of most of the associations in DC. Name a cause or interest, there’s a group here to lobby for it. What’s
their
story?”

“Oh, gathering information, I suppose. They’d like to see the president’s soft-glove approach to Mexico changed.”

“Sounds like Joe Aprile would enjoy hearing what they have to say.”

“I was thinking the same thing. A friendly wager, Mac, on when Aprile and the president have their public falling out?”

“Won’t happen. Aprile is a loyal lieutenant. He won’t challenge the president’s policies until he’s sitting in the Oval Office himself.”

“Maybe not the best strategy. Remember Humphrey and Johnson, Vietnam. Didn’t serve Hubert very well to defend Johnson’s stance.”

“You’ve heard something that says the VP won’t wait until he’s elected before going to the mat with the president?”

“Nothing specific. I’m in the mood for key lime pie.”

“By all means. It’s good here.”

Outside, in the beginnings of a light drizzle, Winkler asked when Smith was leaving for Mexico.

“Nine days. Annabel’s coming with me, at our expense, of course.”

“Another scandal averted.”

Mac nodded. “Should be an interesting trip for more reasons than the elections.”

“How so?”

“The day after the election, Annabel and I are heading for San Miguel de Allende.”

“Second honeymoon?”

“It would be our first. No. Annabel’s been there a few times in the past buying art and artifacts for the gallery. She says it’s beautiful, very quaint, artistic.”

“Sounds lovely.”

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.” He looked up into
the gray sky. “We’d better get moving before it opens up. Good to see you, Herman. Best to Helen.”

“Same to Annabel, Mac. What I told you inside … between us?”

You didn’t say anything, thought Mac. “Of course,” he said.

Mac turned up the collar of his suit jacket against a real rain that had suddenly begun to fall. He didn’t have far to go to reach the Watergate, was there in minutes, riding the narrow escalator down from Virginia Avenue to the Watergate Mall, a self-contained shopping area in the middle of the complex, and surrounded by its buildings. The rain had sent people scattering from where they’d sat beneath white umbrellas at white metal tables sipping coffee taken out from the large Safeway or smaller deli, or having an alfresco lunch from Chen’s Chinese fast food.

Watergate’s own mall was lagniappe appreciated by everyone living there, the Smiths no exception. Mac stopped in at Watergate Valet to pick up shirts he’d left a few days ago; bought a bottle of red wine in the wine and beverage store where the Watergate’s own brands of bourbon, scotch, and gin were prominently displayed; said hello to his barber; perused the enticing signs in the window of the travel agency; purchased a small bouquet of flowers for Annabel; and unsuccessfully fought the temptation to make a final stop at the city’s famed Tivoli Watergate Pastry Shop to buy two small pieces of homemade honey-and-orange chocolate in case a sweet tooth need came on after dinner.

Rufus lumbered to his feet to greet Mac. After the ritual scratches behind the ears and the dispensing of a
treat, Mac put the flowers in a vase with water, hung his shirts in the closet, and was about to settle in the third bedroom, which served as an office-study, when the phone rang. He picked it up in the kitchen.

“Smith.”

“Mac. Chris Hedras.”

“Yes, Chris. How are you this wet day?”

“Is it raining? I haven’t been out. Mac, the vice president is going to initiate a series of breakfast meetings, informal get-togethers to discuss policy issues. He asked me to call to see if you could attend.”

“I’m not much on policy, but I’m flattered to be asked. Where and when?”

“Tomorrow morning will be the first. I’ve booked the private room in Aquarelle, in the hotel. He wants to get as far away from anywhere official as possible. Bob Dole held his campaign breakfast meetings there.”

Didn’t do him much good, Mac thought. The former Republican senator from Kansas, and presidential candidate, was a neighbor in the Watergate’s south building.

“I can make it,” Mac said. “What time?”

“Seven?”

“Early to bed, then. How are things going?”

“Pretty good. Bring you up to date in the morning.”

That morning’s meeting at State had resulted in the participants walking away with briefcases filled with background information, mission goals, and protocols. Nothing like a quiet, rainy afternoon to wade through such material, Mac thought, picking up his briefcase from where he’d dropped it in the kitchen and carrying it to the office.

He settled in his chair and turned on a small color TV set on the desk. It was perpetually set to CNN, although he usually found himself switching back and forth between that all-news channel and C-SPAN, particularly if Congress was in session. The House of Representatives was carried gavel-to-gavel by C-SPAN 1, the Senate on C-SPAN 2. A regular CNN program devoted to politics had just begun. The co-anchor’s lead item played in the background as Smith started to empty his briefcase. But the words coming from the tiny speaker quickly drew his attention to the screen.

 … allegations of illegal fund-raising in the last Scott-Aprile campaign have been floating around Washington for months now, and there’s been a growing movement on the part of Republicans in Congress to launch a formal investigation into those allegations.… Earlier today, Indiana Congressman Don Curtain announced he would seek House approval for an investigation by his Government Reform and Oversight Committee into ties between the Democratic National Committee and foreign contributors to the president’s campaign, notably from Mexico. With us now is Congressman Philip Broadbent, Democrat from Wisconsin, a member of that committee and a staunch supporter on the Hill of the administration’s foreign policies. Thank you for being here.

BROADBENT
: My pleasure.

ANCHOR
: Congressman, you heard your Republican colleague Don Curtain call today for an investigation into allegations of Mexican money having been
illegally funneled into the Scott-Aprile campaign. Your reaction?

BROADBENT
: I was disappointed in hearing it. It’s just an example of the Republican-controlled Congress playing politics. The reality is that nothing will be accomplished by another partisan political witch-hunt costing the American taxpayers millions of dollars, without any substantive result.

ANCHOR
: Congressman Curtain also said that his committee’s investigators have uncovered sufficient evidence to warrant a call for a special prosecutor.

BROADBENT
: All innuendo and veiled threats without specifying what this so-called evidence is. It amounts to a slur campaign against this sitting president, and the vice president’s run for the presidency next year.

ANCHOR
: Democrats don’t have the votes in the House to derail an investigation. What can you do?

BROADBENT
: Let the American people know just how unnecessary and costly an investigation will be, the partisan reasons behind it, and trust they’ll let their elected officials know they’re against it.

ANCHOR
: Two names of prominent Mexican-American businessmen were mentioned during Congressman Curtain’s press conference. Are you familiar with them and their alleged ties to the White House?

BROADBENT
: I know both. They’re fine, upstanding gentlemen who have been supportive of the Democratic Party, legally, I hasten to add. The Republicans want to sabotage the strong economic ties this administration has forged with Mexico, and they don’t care who is smeared in the process. I think this represents a low point in this Congress.

ANCHOR
: Thank you, Congressman Philip Broadbent, Democrat of Wisconsin.

BROADBENT
: Thank you!

That night, Mac mixed perfect Manhattans for them—five ounces of blended whiskey, an ounce each of sweet and dry vermouth, carefully measured, and a dash of bitters for each drink. The elegantly shaped cocktail glasses had spent a half hour in the freezer before use. Mac mixed the drinks in a mixing glass filled with ice, held a coiled-spring strainer over the top, and poured to the rim of each glass. A lemon twist completed the creation; he hadn’t used cherries as a garnish in years.

“Perfection as usual,” Annabel proclaimed after tasting.

“Accolades accepted,” Mac said.

After a dinner of pasta, salad, and crunchy French bread, he and Annabel sat on the terrace and looked out over the river to the lights of Georgetown, and the Key Bridge to Rosslyn, Virginia. The rain had stopped earlier in the evening, giving way to a warm, humid breeze. An almost full moon came and went behind fast-moving black clouds.

As usual, the day’s news had dictated much of the subject matter for their dinner table conversation, which continued outside.

“You didn’t speak with anyone in Joe’s office about it?” she asked.

“No. I considered calling Chris Hedras but decided not to. I assume it will come up at breakfast in the morning.”

“God, it’s a brutal business, isn’t it?” she said, wrapping her arms about herself.

“What is? Running an art gallery?”

“Running for president. It’s like facing a firing squad. You stand there open and exposed while they line up to take their shots.”

“Not for the faint of heart. Or faint of wallet.”

“Not for anyone with any sort of heart. Mac, do you think there’s any truth to what Curtain is charging?”

“I wouldn’t know. The president’s the consummate politician, which translates into knowing how to rake in the money from a great many disparate sources, including foreign interests. He probably doesn’t know where half the contributions to his campaign come from.”

“And Joe?”

“I don’t think he’d accept money unless it was aboveboard, and he’s able to keep track of it himself. The problem is, if the president did look the other way when Mexican money was raised, maybe even encouraged it, Joe Aprile gets painted with the same brush. It’s worse for him. The president risks only being treated with less kindness in the history books. Joe Aprile risks losing his run for the White House. Pretty high stakes, wouldn’t you say?”

“Joe could distance himself from the scenario, couldn’t he? I mean, if there’s any validity to the claims, he’d have to.”

“From what I can discern, he might already be considering it. I had lunch today with Herman Winkler.”

“Oh? How is Herman?”

“Good. Sends his best. I had a sense from him that a
public split on Mexico between the president and vice president might not be too far off.”

“That would make things interesting.”

“Too interesting. Feel like dessert?”

“What are you offering?”

“Honey-orange chocolate from downstairs.”

“You devil.”

“Two small pieces. Not big enough to contain any calories.”

“You always say broken cookies don’t have calories.”

“They don’t. Come on, share my vice.”

“Only if you promise it isn’t your only vice tonight.”

She winked, ran her hand provocatively along his thigh, and followed him into their new home.

16
That Same Evening
The Watergate—East Building—South Wing

“The trade alliance party in seven-ten, please.”

“Go right on up.”

The clerk behind the desk in the Watergate’s east apartment building pushed a buzzer, unlocking the glass door leading from the lobby to the elevators. Laura Flores checked her appearance in one of the lobby’s mirrored columns, and liked what she saw. Twenty-eight, five-five, and trim, she’d chosen to wear this evening a black silk pants suit recently purchased at Rizick Brothers, a favorite of workers at the city’s myriad foreign embassies. It had stretched Laura’s budget, but she’d lately been invited to a number of evening parties that called for a fancier wardrobe than she was used to wearing.

But few would notice her suit. It was her hair that always attracted attention, thick and shiny and blue-black, healthy hair in which she took pride.

She thanked the clerk and stepped into a waiting elevator, pushed the button for the seventh floor, and drew a deep breath.

It had been a cyclonic week at the offices of The Mexico Initiative, located in a commercial building on M Street, NW. News of Morin Garza’s murder in the Watergate parking garage had brought normal activity to a halt, spawning a series of phone calls, feverish meetings, and intense speculations.

Laura, whose title was research director, had spent that afternoon meeting with the Initiative’s president, Ramon Kelly.

Kelly’s father, a young, childless widower, had traveled to Mexico in the late fifties, following the death of his American wife, to take a job with a multinational oil consortium under contract to develop Mexico’s burgeoning petroleum industry in the state of Chiapas. While there he met and married Consuelo Martinez. They had one child, Ramon, who lived with his parents in that southern Mexican state until going to the United States at the age of eighteen to attend the University of Chicago on a scholarship. In those eighteen years in Mexico, he’d seen enough poverty and despair to last a lifetime, the vivid, lingering visions of it determining his life’s work. He earned a master’s in social work and launched a professional career involving a number of nonprofit organizations dedicated to bettering the lot of Mexico’s impoverished campesinos, its peasant farmers, and other indigenous groups.

BOOK: Murder at the Watergate
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