On a bright May morning, in the year 1972, J. Edgar Hoover was found dead, sprawled on the carpet in the handsome two-story colonial brick house on Thirtieth Place N.W., Washington DC. One of the most powerful men ever to hold office, appointed or elected, in the United State of America, or any other country for that matter, was discovered by his gardener, James Crawford.
Now Crawford was not in the habit of walking into the Boss’s private sanctum, but it was well past the time when Mr. Hoover usually started his day and Anne, the housekeeper, although anxious concerning his tardiness to the breakfast table, was not about to check on him herself. It was common knowledge in the Hoover household that while the Boss had a large and remarkably varied wardrobe, it did not include pajamas.
Crawford knocked on the bedroom door. There was no response. He knocked again.
“Mr. Hoover?” Crawford put his mouth close to the door and called. “Mr. Hoover, it’s Crawford.”
Still no answer. Crawford eased the door open a close of inches and called again.
“Mr. Hoover? Annie’s got a nice breakfast set out. It’s getting cold.”
Crawford heard something. It was faint, so faint as to be almost not there, but it was. A voice. Someone softly singing. He opened the door wider and stepped into the room.
The bedroom curtains were still closed, but in the wedge of light from the hallway Crawford saw an arm stretched out on the floor near the corner of the bed.
He rushed to the side of the man who had, in columnist Jack Anderson’s words, turned the Federal Bureau of Investigation from “a collection of hack, misfits and courthouse hangers-on into one of the world’s most effective and formidable law enforcement organizations. Under his reign, not a single FBI man ever tried to fix a case, defraud the taxpayers or sell out his country.”
Crawford knelt. He gently lifted Hoover’s hand. It wasn’t cold but it was limp and unresponsive.
“Oh my lord. Annie!” He ran to the door and called downstairs. “Annie! Call Mr. Wilson!”
If you read the biographies and ask the historians, that was that. J. Edgar Hoover was dead. Conrad Wilson, Hoover’s longtime confidant and effectively his second in command at the Bureau, was notified and the world was shaken.
But James Crawford had taken a course in CPR at the YMCA just of couple of months earlier as part of his training to become a Boy Scout leader for his nephew ‘s troop. Working on a plastic and fabric dummy was a world away from trying to pump life into the Father of the FBI, but what had that training been for if not situations like this?
Crawford knelt again. He leaned over Hoover and pinched his nose. Hoover’s nose, that is, not his own. He gently opened Hoover’s mouth by pulling down on his chin. Two deep breaths to steady his nerves, and then one he held as he leaned in.
No more than an inch away from lip contact Hoover began to sing. Softly, so softly that if Crawford had not been so close he might not have even heard.
“A,B,C,D,E,F,G,” Hoover sang to the children’s Alphabet Tune, or “Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star”, whichever you prefer. Still singing, he repeated, fading even more, “G,G,G,G,g,g,g.”
And once again he lay still.
“It’s gonna be all right, Boss. I’ll be right back. You just wait here.”
But as Crawford began to rise, Hoover’s right arm swung suddenly up and grabbed him by the back of the neck, pulling him down until his ear was as close to Hoover’s mouth as his lips had been moments earlier.
“Listen,” said Hoover.
“Yes. I’m listening, Boss. I’m so glad you’re alive.”
The grip tightened.
“G,” Hoover rasped. “After…g.”
Crawford nodded as best he could with the death grip on his neck. “You bet, Boss.” After g? What the hell did that mean?
“After…” Hoover’s voice was fading into near vapor. “…g”
“After g,” Crawford repeated, hoping this would comfort Hoover. Maybe he would let go of his neck.
Hoover’s eyes rolled a little. It was creepy.
Then it came to Crawford. After G. Of course. “H, Boss,” he said. “H comes after G.”
The grip tightened fiercely, making Crawford gasp, then released, and it was then that J. Edgar Hoover lay truly dead.
Conrad Wilson arrived within minutes of receiving the call. He took two steps at a time up the stairs. Crawford and Anne were standing outside the bedroom door. Annie was weeping softly. Crawford’s arm was around the housekeeper’s shoulders. His obligation as a man the only thing keeping him from weeping openly himself.
Without a word, Wilson went into the room, drew aside the comforter Crawford had draped respectfully over Hoover’s body, and placed a finger against his neck. He took a silver business card case out of his jacket and held it in front of Hoover’s mouth and nostrils for a few seconds. Then he replaced the comforter and went back out to the hallway.
“Which of you found him?”
“I did, Mr. Wilson,” said Crawford. “He was just lying there, stretched out on the floor. It was terrible.”
“I’m sure it was, James, I’m sure it was. Now, I must ask you something and it is very important that you answer truthfully.”
“Yes, Mr. Wilson.” Crawford nodded solemnly.
“Was Mr. Hoover dead when you found him?”
“Well, sir, not exactly.”
“And just exactly what do you mean by ‘not exactly’?”
“Well, sir, I thought he was, but when I got real close, you know, right next to him, he wasn’t. Dead, I mean.”
“How did you know? Did he move? Did he say anything? Anything at all?”
Crawford assumed an expression of deep thought, as if recalling events decades old instead of something quite remarkable that had occurred only minutes earlier. He was caught in a dilemma and wanted to buy some time. He was devoted to the Boss, believed him to the be the finest American ever to live. Mr. Hoover had been the Guardian of Democracy without whose firm guidance the entire country would undoubtedly have fallen into wretched anarchy many times over. Was it right that it should be known that the last utterance from such a great man had been a child’s alphabet rhyme and that he got stuck at the letter G? He couldn’t tell Wilson that J. Edgar Hoover had died like that. It wasn’t right.
“He didn’t say anything, sir. He just kind of reached out to me and then he closed his eyes and he was dead.”
Conrad Wilson studied Crawford for a long moment. An almost imperceptible look of relief passed across his face.
“All right, then,” he said. “Annie, you call Mrs. Gandy. I will contact Mr. Mohr and the Attorney General. I suppose we have to tell the President too.”
“It’s the end of an era,” said Crawford. “The Boss is gone and there won’t ever be another like him.” Annie nodded. “I’m going to miss him.” Annie nodded again.
Wilson gave the gardener and housekeeper a paternal smile of comfort. “We’ll all miss him, James. But remember, nobody ever really leaves us, especially not a person like Mr. Hoover.”
“My grandma used to say we all make ripples,” said Annie. “Like a pebble thrown in a pond. The pebble sinks, but the ripples go on and on.”
Wilson nodded. “Your grandmother was a wise woman,” he said. “And I think we can safely assume that Mr. Hoover made lots of ripples in some very big ponds.”
“Grandma also said we have to be careful,” said Annie. “Because you never know what your ripples might do or where they might go. Sometimes they even come back.”
“Well,” said Wilson. “I suppose they could. I hadn’t quite thought about it that way, but yes, I suppose they could.”
Somewhere around thirty years later
"Hey, Ted. Marci wants to see you."
Ted Hogwood was sitting on the floor of the aisle marked “Poetry Collections” in the Literary Lighthouse Bookstore in the North Beach district of San Francisco. It had been a effort to ease his six-foot eight, three hundred and twenty pound frame down so he could stock the dozen or so hardcover books that were waiting to be squeezed in among the rest of the stiff spined tomes lining the bottom two shelves. He looked up at the twenty-something girl hovering next to him. She was rocking slowly back and forth on the balls of her feet and seemed to be taking inventory of the silver studs in her left ear with her right hand.
"How should I know?" The girl shrugged and switched her attention to her right ear. "You're probably fired or something."
She shrugged and drifted back to her post at the register.
Ted pushed himself off the floor. Predictably, his left knee reminded him of the excess weight he made it bear with a crack and a stab of pain. He muttered a resigned and well practiced profanity, then gave himself a moment to get his legs truly under him before heading to the back of the store. The door to the office was slightly open so he knocked on the door frame.
“Come in,” said Marci.
Ted stepped into the store manager's office, a small space furnished with an old metal desk dominated by a computer. There were two secretary chairs with beaten down padding and tired frames. The walls were covered with plain but sturdy shelves packed with books and binders, with just enough space left for a small stereo. Marci had eclectic musical tastes, so Ted never knew what she would have playing either in the store or her office. Now he nodded appreciatively at the sound of a jazz trio: guitar, bass, and drums. Just his style.
"'Soft Winds'," Ted said. He held up a big paw and lowered his head to indicate concentration. Eight bars passed. Paw down, head up. "Barney Kessel with Ray Brown on bass and Shelley Manne on drums. Am I right?"
Marci smiled at the big man standing in the doorway. The first time she had seen him, just eight months ago, she had been awed by his size and slightly intimidated by his scowling expression, which seemed to hover halfway between menace and melancholy. Balanced against Ted's appearance had been the lines on his job application which listed professional basketball player and jazz musician as his former and current occupations.
During the interview Ted confirmed that he had indeed been working-on and off for the past twenty years or more-as an itinerant jazz guitarist, supplementing his income with whatever other work he could find. None of the other jobs, he said, were of any real consequence. And yes, for five seasons he had played in the NBA, on seven different teams. A blown anterior cruciate ligament ended his career and so, the NBA not yet having evolved into the Every-Player-a-Millionaire-with-a-Guaranteed-Contract status it soon after grew into, he had been scrambling to make a living since. The one constant factor was his music, but more often than not it failed to provide a living wage.
A couple of weeks after she hired Ted, Marci chanced upon him in his moonlighting role as jazz guitarist at a nightclub called The Sassy Loaf. He was a picture of blissful concentration as he produced sure rhythm and sweet, warm solo lines. Ted had not noticed her, she doubted he noticed anything beyond his blond and gold instrument, and she never told him she had witnessed his other life.
“Right, as usual,” said Marci. "Have a seat, Ted." She pushed her wheeled chair the couple feet across to the stereo and switched it off.
Ted perched carefully on the other secretary chair. It squealed and tilted, objecting under Ted's bulk. He planted his feet eighteen-inches apart, flat on the floor, and placed his ham-sized hands on top of his tree-trunk thighs.
Marci drummed her fingers lightly on a stack of papers in front of the computer monitor. The top sheet was covered halfway with a bold, computer generated print underscored with a signature that consisted of nothing but gradually diminishing waves and troughs.
"Ted," she said, "it was just, Monday I believe, when we had a conversation about proper customer interaction. Do you remember that conversation?"
"Yes, I do." Ted rolled his eyes. "The person who thought I was making fun of his purchase."
"Much the same comment we've had from all these folks." Marci indicated the pile of papers. "Thirty-four, at last count. Not including the customers who have spoken to me personally about your, shall we say, lack of professional detachment regarding their purchases."
“I try Marci, and I know you have to stock some of this crap. Sorry.” She nodded. “But you've got to admit, it's pretty tough to keep a straight face when somebody brings a copy of Everybody's Wrong But Me, or Your Liberal Neighbors, Abandoning God, Destroying America to the counter. The people buying this dreck actually believe some kind of thought went into it beyond separating them from their cash and common sense.”
“I understand, but when I get a letter like this,” Marci picked up the top sheet from the file folder, “less than a week after our last talk, I'm afraid I have to take some action.” She read from the letter. “‘You may not be familiar with the fact that rolling one's eyes and snorting is not considered decent behavior in a customer-service oriented business. The oversized, middle-aged troll'…“ Marci winced sympathetically, “…‘that you have working in your store obviously thinks he has license to make just such thinly veiled editorial comments concerning my choice of reading material. I have tolerated it in the past, but enough is enough. Please be informed that I have license to choose another bookstore and will not only do so, but will also persuade all of my friends and acquaintances to do the same.’”
“Wait, don't tell me.” Ted held up his Man Thinking hand again, slowly, so as not to throw off his balance on the gallant, inadequate chair. “This has got to be the moron who bought How To Be First in Line, EVERYTIME.”
Marci put the paper back on top of the pile and shook her head.
“Ted, this can't go on.”
“He also bought Feel, Think, Do and Work to Play/Play to Work,” Ted said, reinforcing his case.
“That’s not the point. The point is that he is a customer. What he chooses to buy doesn't matter. What matters is that I can't let this happen in my store. I've tried to make allowances, Ted, you know I have. You do bring some very positive qualities to the place. But I can't afford to spend so much of my time and energy putting out all the fires you ignite.”
“Point well taken.” Both hands went up in submission, again slowly, mindful of his perch. Then the left hand came down, the right staying up in pledge. “Promise. I will keep my opinions to myself. The last thing I want to do is make your life more difficult.”
“Ted,” Marci said. “You don't understand what it is I'm having to say here.”
“I completely understand, Marci. Business is business and I've just got to control myself no matter how stupid?”
Ted’s chair tilted forward and deposited the big man, suddenly, and in a very undignified manner, on his keester.
That evening, when Ted and Sarah, his beloved Gibson L5-CES jazz guitar, reported to the Blue Raspberry Cafe for the low paying, two night a week gig his quarrelsome, unnamed quintet had had for the last three months, he was informed by the wife of the couple that owned the establishment that her husband had run off with Roscoe, the group’s fiftyish, tie-dye favoring drummer. At the moment she was feeling antipathetic towards the male of the species, jazz players in particular, and could not guarantee Ted's safety if he chose to remain on the premises. She seemed only marginally aware of the large, rather rusty kitchen knife in her hand. Ted felt it best to leave before she became fully alive to the fact.
The George Bush (the elder) Intelligence Center
The next day (April 13th)
Hank Berringer, recently minted Assistant Deputy Director of the CIA, looked at the round, slightly glistening man sitting in front of his desk. Berringer made as if to lift up a dark green, one-inch three-ring binder that was sitting on his desk and then seemed to think better of it. Instead he tapped it.
“Just how sure are you about the accuracy of this report?” he asked the round man, whose name was Tad Rushmore. Mr. Rushmore was Senior Research Historian for the CIA, and had held that post for over twenty years.
“I did have my doubts, at first,” said Rushmore. “Just another apocryphal Hoover story to go with all the rest. But as you can see there is a nearly perfect statistical match in all of the important evaluative criteria. Add that to the current trails I found leading to Australia and Massachusetts and the conclusion is inescapable.”
“And this all started when J. Edgar Hoover tried to rig the 1948 presidential election?”
“That was the genesis of the situation,” said Rushmore.
“But he failed.”
“In his objective, yes. But the fact that he was able to manipulate the system as far as he did is, well...”
“Not exactly the sort of news the American people are interested in hearing,” Hank filled in the blank. “Or the administration.”
“The fallout could be considerable.”
“That‘s one way of putting it,” said Berringer. His finger was poised to tap the binder again, but instead eased it away a couple of inches.
What it said in the binder was that in the late 1940's FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had commissioned a group of agencies-strictly without congressional knowledge or approval-which were answerable only to him. The agencies had been established around the country in twenty-six key voting regions and their sole purpose had been to influence, by any means possible, the outcome of the 1948 Presidential election. Hoover had apparently tired of Harry Truman's intrusive and restrictive style of leadership and was intent on ousting him in favor of a more pliable occupant in the White House. The Alphabet Agencies, so called because Hoover had simply assigned each of them a letter as identification, had been covertly funded with money from pork barrel projects that never existed, inserted into bills introduced on the House and Senate floors by members of Congress beholden to Hoover for earlier favors, mostly of the Mum's the Word variety. Only one of the honorable members of Congress had thought it proper to ask just what Mr. Hoover intended to do with his under the table money. His curiosity had been considerably dampened by the next day arrival of a packet of photographs, anonymously delivered to his office, which featured himself and a person who was not anyone's wife caught in moments of tender ecstasy. A promise of express home delivery of a second set was included in the envelope.
The Alphabet Agencies were generously funded, but in a triumph of the democratic system they did not succeed. And all would have been well if the only place one could find this potentially damning bit of American history was in the report on Hank Berringer's desk.
“I wouldn't have even brought it to your attention,” said Rushmore, “if this curious combination of factors wasn‘t in play.”
“You did the right thing,” Berringer said. To himself he thought, “But I wish to hell you had plopped this cowpie on somebody else's desk.” According to Rushmore's research the Alphabet Agencies, or at least one of them, had survived to present day. So chances were somebody knew something that could deeply compromise the position of The United States as World Leader and Sterling Example. Well, further compromise it, anyway.
It was Hank Berringer's job to make sure that didn't happen.
Actually, it was his job to find someone else to do it. In this case Hank knew it would have to be someone completely unconnected with any United States intelligence agency. Which just added another layer or two of unpredictability. Wasn't that just great.
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