Fear And Loathing In Washington: It Was A Nice Place. They Were Principled People, Generally

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Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 164 from July 4, 1974. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.

For reasons that will never be clear to anyone — and especially not to the management and other guests in this place — the National Affairs Desk is operating once again at the Royal Biscayne Hotel, about 900 crooked meters from the Nixon/ Rebozo compound on the other side of the island. The desk itself is a round slab of what appears to be low-grade jacaranda wood.

The centerpiece is a bright orange electric typewriter that I rented several days ago from a business-machine store on 125th Street in North Miami. It is a Swedish "Facit" — a deceptively sharp-looking machine about five times slower in both directions than the IBM Selectric and totally useless for any kind of speed-lashed gonzo work. For all its style and voltage, the Facit is about as quick in the hands as one of those 1929-model Underwoods that used to be standard equipment in the city room of the New York Mirror. Nobody knows exactly what happened to all those old Underwoods when the Mirror died of bad age, but one rumor in the trade says they were snapped up at a dime on the dollar by Norman Cousins and then resold at a tidy profit to the Columbia Journalism Review.

Which is interesting, but it is not the kind of thing you normally want to develop fully in your classic Pyramid Lead. . . and that's what I was trying to deal with, when I suddenly realized that my typewriter was as worthless as tits on a boar hog.

Besides that, there were other mechanical problems: no water, no ice, no phone service, and finally the discovery of two Secret Service men in the room right next to me.

I was getting a little paranoid about the phone situation. It followed a series of unsettling events that caused me to think seriously about going back to Washington when Nixon left the next day, rather than staying on in order to open a special account in Bebe Rebozo's bank over in the shopping center across Ocean Drive. The Key Biscayne Bank seems like as good a place as any to do business, primarily because of the unusual investment opportunities available to special clients.

I have applied for "special" status, but recent developments have made me less than optimistic. Several days ago, on my first visit to the Nixon compound, I got no further than the heavily guarded gatehouse on Harbor Drive. "Are they expecting you?" the state trooper asked me.

"Probably not," I said. "I thought I'd just drop by for a drink or two, then have a look around. I've never seen the place, you know. What goes on in there?"

The trooper seemed to stiffen. His eyes narrowed and he stared intently at the black coral fist hanging on a chain around my neck. "Say. . . ah. . . I'd like to see your identification, fella. You carrying any?"

"Of course," I said. "But it's out there in the car. I don't have any pockets in these trunks." I walked across the hot asphalt road, feeling my bare feet stick to the tar with every step, and vaulted into the big bronze convertible without opening the door. Looking back at the gatehouse, I noticed that the trooper had been joined by two gentlemen in dark business suits with wires coming out of their ears. They were all waiting for me to come back with my wallet.

To hell with this, I thought, suddenly starting the engine. I waved to the trooper. "It's not here," I shouted. "I guess I left it back at the hotel." Without waiting for an answer, I eased the car into gear and drove off very slowly.

Almost immediately, the big railroad-crossing-style gate across Nixon's road swung up in the air and a blue Ford sedan rolled out. I slowed down even more, thinking he was going to pull me over to the side, but instead he stayed about 100 feet behind me — all the way to the hotel, into the parking lot, and around the back almost into the slot behind my room. I got out, thinking he was going to pull up right behind me for a chat — but he stopped about 50 feet away, backed up, and drove away.

Later that afternoon, sitting in the temporary White House press room outside the Four Ambassadors Hotel in downtown Miami about 10 miles away, I told New York Times correspondent Anthony Ripley about the incident. "I really expected the bastard to follow me right into my room."

Ripley laughed. "That's probably where he is right now — with about three of his friends, going through all your luggage."

Which may have been true. Anybody who spends much time around the Secret Service and acts a little bent has to assume things like that. . . especially when you discover, by sheer accident, that the room right next to yours is occupied by two S.S. agents.

That was the second unsettling incident. The details are vaguely interesting, but I'd prefer not to go into them at this point — except to say that I thought I was becoming dangerously paranoid until I got hold of a carbon copy of their room-registration receipt. Which made me feel a little better about my own mental health, at least. It is far better to know the Secret Service is keeping an eye on you than to suspect it all the time without ever being sure.

It was the third incident, however, that caused me to start thinking about moving the Desk back to Washington at once. I was awakened in the early hours of the morning by a telephone call and a strange voice saying, "The president is going to church. You'll have to hurry if you want to catch him."

What? My mind was blank. What president? Why should I want to catch him? Especially in a church?

"Who the hell is this?" I said finally.

"Tony," said the voice.

I was reaching around in the darkness for a light switch. For a moment I thought I was still in Mexico. Then I found a light switch and recognized the familiar surroundings of the National Affairs Suite. Jesus! I thought. Of course! Key Biscayne. President Nixon. It all made sense now: The bastards were setting me up for a bust on some kind of bogus assassination attempt. The agents next door have probably already planted a high-powered rifle in the trunk of my car, and now they're trying to lure me over to some church where they can grab me in front of all the press cameras as soon as I drive up and park. They they'll "find" the rifle in the trunk about two minutes before Nixon arrives to worship — and that'll be it for me. I could already see the headlines: Nixon Assassination Plot Foiled; Sharpshooter Seized At Key Biscayne Church. Along with front-page photos of state troopers examining the rifle, me in handcuffs, Nixon smiling bravely at the cameras. . .

The whole scene flashed through my head in milliseconds; the voice on the phone was yelling something at me. Panic fused my brain. No! I thought. Never in hell.

"You crazy son of a bitch!" I yelled into the phone. "I'm not going near that goddamn church!" Then I hung up and went instantly back to sleep.

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From The Archives Issue 18: September 28, 1968