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Authors: Margaret Truman

Murder at the Watergate (23 page)

BOOK: Murder at the Watergate
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“I took a chance that you might be in the hotel,” Ferguson said. “I called a few times and left messages.”

“We were out to dinner.”

“Any chance of a little private time together?”

Smith looked at Annabel. “Now?” he said to Ferguson.

“Tonight. Doesn’t have to be this moment.”

“I suppose so. Why don’t I take Annabel back to the apartment and—”

“You two go talk,” she said. “I’ll stay right here and soak up the music.”

“Sure you don’t mind, Mrs. Smith?” Ferguson asked.

“Not at all. Just don’t forget I’m here.”

“Impossible,” Mac said. He kissed her cheek and followed Ferguson from the lounge, the sound of many out-of-tune voices singing “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” filling the lounge and lobby.

Smith and Ferguson went out to the circular drive in front of the main entrance. It was a clear night, a cool hint in the air of the coming season.

“Where to?” Mac asked.

“Let’s just walk.”

They went to stairs leading down to the Watergate’s mall, empty and dark at that time of night. Ferguson stopped at a metal table, looked around three hundred and sixty degrees, then up to low roofs overhanging the mall.

They sat.

Mac had been gone only a few minutes when a young man approached Annabel at her table. “Would you mind if I shared this table with you? It’s the only empty seat in the place.”

Annabel hesitated, then smiled and said, “Please do.”

He took the vacant chair and waved for the waitress. “Buy you a drink?”

“Thank you, no,” Annabel said. “I’m afraid my husband will be returning shortly, but you’re welcome to stay until he does.”

“Cognac, please,” the man told the waitress. “And a glass of water.” To Annabel: “Sure I can’t buy you something? It’s the least I can do.”

She shook her head. “One nightcap is enough.”

They said nothing else to each other until Stevie Wonder took a break. Annabel turned to the man: “Do you live in the Watergate?”

“Yes. The south building.”

“Then we’re neighbors,” she said, extending her hand. “Annabel Reed-Smith.”

“Pleased to meet you. I’m new to the building.”

“So are we. Do you work close by?”

“Pretty close. You?”

“I have an art gallery in Georgetown. Pre-Columbian art.”

“I like art.”

“So do I. That’s obvious, I suppose, owning a gallery.”

“What does your husband do?”

“He’s an attorney. Well, he was. He teaches now. Law at GW.”

“ ‘First, kill all the lawyers.’ ”

“Pardon?”

“Shakespeare, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.
Henry IV
. Literally, ‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.’ By the way, I’m an attorney, too.”

“I thought you owned a gallery.”

“I was a lawyer before that.”

“No offense.”

“None taken. Stevie Wonder is going to play again. I’d like to listen.”

* * *

“What you’ve told me is shocking, Jim.” Smith and Ferguson had gotten on a first-name basis.

“And obviously part of a pattern. Will you meet with Ramon?”

“Of course.”

“He left Mexico City late this afternoon, flew to New York. He’ll be on the next shuttle. He’s coming straight to my apartment. He should be there in two, two and a half hours.”

“Where is the apartment?”

“The west building.”

“You live in the Watergate, too?”

“Just temporarily. A short-term sublet.”

“I didn’t think short-term sublets existed in the Watergate.”

“It can be arranged.” He gave Smith the apartment number.

“I won’t go back with you,” Ferguson said, standing. “Please give my best to your wife and apologize for dragging you out in the middle of a concert—and the middle of the night.”

“She’ll understand. It’s not the first time.”

The young man at Annabel’s table stood when Mac arrived. “I confiscated your chair,” he said. “Your wife was gracious enough to let me sit down.”

“Yes, she is a gracious lady.”

“Thank you,” the man said to Annabel. To Mac: “It’s all yours.”

Mac sat next to his wife.

“What’s his name?” Mac asked.

“I don’t know. He didn’t say. He lives in the south building. Hasn’t been there long.”

“I ran into him a few days ago.”

“Oh?”

“I held the elevator for him. He didn’t thank me.”

“He was polite enough to me. He suggested killing all the lawyers.”

“He suggested
what
?”

“Quoting Shakespeare. Poorly.”

“Why would he say that to you?”

“I told him you were a lawyer.”

“Oh, that justifies it. Ill-mannered twerp.”

“He’s a neighbor. Be neighborly.”

“We have to leave.”

“All right.”

“I’ll be going out later.”

“Later? Tonight?”

“Yes. I’ll explain when we get home.”

They paused close to the piano while leaving the lounge.

“Isn’t he wonderful?” Annabel said.

“Who, the guy with the polyester hair?”

“No. Stevie Wonder.”

“Yes, he certainly is. Come on, lady, I’ve got some things to tell you.”

29
Later That Same Night
The West Building—the Watergate

The apartment in the Watergate’s west building to which Smith had been summoned had all the trappings of the quintessential safe house. The furniture was of rental variety and quality, cheap and functional—two green-vinyl club chairs, a couple of wobbly floor lamps, Scandinavian-inspired kitchen table and chairs, cotton throw rugs, a small TV, and faded color photographs of Washington tourist attractions bunched together on a wall of the living room.

It was one of the smaller apartments in the Watergate’s residential buildings. Gigi Winston of Winston and Winston, the Watergate’s preeminent real estate agency, had shown Mac and Annabel fifteen apartments when they were looking to buy, including even the smaller ones to give them a sense of the range of what was available. A 950-square-foot one-bedroom without a view was going for $135,000. A luxurious two-bedroom on the river was priced at $695,000. Plenty to choose from.

Ferguson was alone when Mac arrived. “Thanks for coming,” he said.

“My dog got a rare treat tonight,” Mac said. “A walk after midnight. Where is Kelly?”

“On his way. He went home first. He’ll be here in a few minutes. Drink?”

“No, thanks. You don’t live here.”

“No. It’s a—convenience. For out-of-town guests.”

“Uh-huh. Have anything cold? Club soda? Ginger ale?”

“Pepsi.”

“Sold.”

Ferguson had no sooner handed Smith a glass when the lobby attendant buzzed: “Mr. Kelly to see you.”

“Send him right up.”

As always happened when someone initially met Ramon Kelly, his curious facial features were noticed first, then the rest of him. He wore what he’d worn on the flight, wrinkled chino pants, a nubby red-and-green V-neck sweater that had seen too many wash cycles, and high tan work boots. His face drooped with fatigue; he hadn’t bothered to comb his red hair since the attack earlier that day.

Kelly and Smith shook hands after Ferguson’s introduction. Kelly looked at Ferguson, then said to Smith, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t know you.” To Ferguson: “Would you please explain?”

“Sure,” Ferguson said. “Let me get you a drink. Pepsi?”

“A beer?”

“Yes.”

Smith and Kelly took the club chairs. Ferguson pulled up one of the dining table chairs to form a tight circle. “Let me explain Mac Smith’s presence, Ramon. He’s a distinguished member of the faculty at George Washington University. He’s also a close personal friend of
the vice president. He’s on the observer team for the Mexican elections, sits on a commission studying American-Mexican relations, and … and he’s undertaking an assignment for the vice president as his special envoy.”

“To Mexico?” Kelly asked.

“Yes,” Smith said.

Kelly sat back and drew a deep breath. He’d replayed the attack in his mind over and over since leaving Mexico. Now it was time for him to recount what had happened. It was time to be debriefed.

“The point is,” said Ferguson, “Mac Smith is very much wired into what’s going on. Because he’s going to Mexico, I wanted him to hear firsthand what happened to you today. Start from the beginning, from the moment you climbed on a plane here in Washington. Every detail. I’ll run a tape. We’ve got all night.”

Mac thought of Annabel asleep in their bed and hoped it would be quicker than that.

Kelly’s play-by-play of his trip took a half hour. Smith was impressed with his recall and use of language. This was a bright young man who’d almost lost his life today in Mexico City. Had the assassination attempt succeeded, Mac knew, it would have meant that two members of the group known as The Mexico Initiative had been killed. And, of course, there had been Morin Garza, who’d also lost his life, allegedly because of what he was about to tell The Mexico Initiative. Even the most dedicated believer in coincidence couldn’t justify this series of events.

Ferguson turned to Smith. “Pretty chilling, huh?”

“Yes.”

“Of course, it’s nothing new in Mexico these days.”

“That’s the most chilling thing of all,” Smith said. “Mr. Kelly, you say Laura Flores’s father became angry with you, tossed a drink in your face, and ordered you from his house. He’s also, as you indicate, a man who owes his wealth and position to the PRI. His daughter might have been murdered by the very people closest to him, or at least her death ordered by those people. Do you think he was the one who set the gunmen on you?”

“It’s possible.”

“I’d say probable,” Ferguson said.

“But you also say he was gracious in welcoming you and asked about his daughter’s recent life. That doesn’t sound to me like someone planning an assassination of his guest.”

Kelly managed a small smile, held up his empty bottle to Ferguson in a gesture asking for another, and responded to Smith’s comment.

“I like to think the best of people, Mr. Smith, but—”

“Please call me Mac.”

“Sure. I’d like to think Flores was seriously grieving and couldn’t possibly think of having me killed. But you can’t make that assumption about anybody in Mexico these days, at least not the ones tied to the PRI. They’ve got so much to lose if the party goes down in this election. But more important are the ramifications if this country changes its stance on Mexico, gets tough, demands real reform, not the sort of lip service it’s been getting. Remember, Flores knew I was coming to Mexico, knew exactly where I’d be this afternoon.”

Smith thought for a moment. “Was he the only person who knew your schedule today, Ramon?”

It was Kelly’s turn to ponder for a second. “No, of
course not. The people in my office knew I was going to Mexico, but I didn’t tell them I was seeing Flores.” He laughed. “There’s only two others in the office besides myself.”

“Who else knew?” Smith asked.

“I did,” Ferguson replied.

“We had lunch yesterday,” said Kelly. “I told him I was going. But I don’t think I mentioned what I’d be doing there.”

“You said you’d be seeing Flores,” Ferguson said.

“Right, I did.”

“Who else?” Smith asked.

“The airline, I guess,” Kelly said. “But they don’t give out that kind of information.”

“Chris Hedras knew,” Ferguson said. “I called him in Mexico City after we had lunch.”

“Anyone else?” Smith asked.

Ferguson and Kelly looked at each other.

“I don’t think so,” Kelly said. “It was a last-minute trip, spur of the moment. I packed a little bag and took off after calling Flores to ask if I could see him.”

Smith asked Ferguson, “Who else did you tell besides Chris?”

Ferguson shrugged. “No one that I can recall. No, I’m sure I didn’t mention it to anyone else. No reason to.”

“Why Chris Hedras?” Smith asked.

“Because he’s part of the team.”

Smith stood and walked to the window, which was covered with heavy drapes. He parted the folds and peered at the neon sign of the Howard Johnson’s Premier Hotel across Virginia Avenue.

Kelly said, “I have to figure that it was Flores who told
people where I’d be. Maybe he didn’t do it with the intention of setting me up to be killed, but it’s only natural for him to tell close associates I’d be visiting his house. That’s all it would have taken. Let’s face it, I’m not the most popular person in Mexico these days.”

Smith turned. “Do you have any information, Ramon, that would link up the attack on you with Ms. Flores’s death?”

“Sure. We both work for—she
worked
for—the Initiative. It’s no secret we’re an information-gathering organization with the goal of changing U.S. policy toward Mexico. She’d come up with some powerful new proof of corruption involving PRI leadership and the private sector. Some of it even had to do with her own father.”

“Did her father know this?” Smith asked, reclaiming his chair.

“I don’t think so. What I haven’t been able to figure out was why Laura was at that party the night she was killed. The Initiative and the Mexican-American Trade Alliance aren’t exactly on the same page.”

“It was the guy she was dating,” Ferguson said.

“What guy?” Kelly tensed in his chair.

“The fellow she was seeing from the Mexican-American Trade Alliance,” Ferguson said. “Chapas. Jose Chapas.”

“Laura was dating
him
?” Kelly said, incredulous.

“That’s the information I get from police sources. Nothing official, of course, but the source is good.”

“Damn!” Kelly said, hitting the arm of his chair with his fist. “She never told me.”

Ferguson and Smith said nothing.

“She was at the party with him?” Kelly asked.

“The way I hear it,” said Ferguson, “she didn’t go to the party with him. But he’d invited her.”

“What about questioning him?” Kelly said.

“The police did, of course. He left the party before she did.”

Smith said, “I asked you, Ramon, who knew of
your
movements in Mexico City today. But what about Laura Flores? Who knew where she’d be that night, and the damaging information she’d uncovered? By the way, what was that information—
specifically
?”

BOOK: Murder at the Watergate
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