A Domino Falls, But Hardly The First One
Eduardo was having a bad day at work, though it hadn’t started out that way.
Earlier, he and his employees and colleagues had enjoyed Maine lobster, scotch, and an after-dinner cigar or two – all perks that came with the job. But that was the high point of Eduardo’s day. As things went along after that, his colleagues had made some terrible mistakes and decisions. Eduardo’s own advice to just call it a day had gone unheeded, he and his colleagues would probably need to spend the next week or so cleaning up after themselves.
But as he pulled his car into his driveway at home in the early morning hours of that summer Saturday, Eduardo thought he’d already done some good on mopping up the mess made at work earlier. He’d called another friend from work, Doug, and felt good that the work issues he’d had that day would soon be tidied up. And if Doug couldn’t solve everything, Rich, the new guy, could. And that would be that.
Eduardo went inside his home and put on his pajamas and washed down half a sleeping pill with a cup of water and went to bed. At first he’d been worried, but now as he thought through things he figured that within a few hours or even a couple of days, things would be OK. And so just before sunrise on June 17, 1972, E. Howard Hunt – “Eduardo” to the Cuban ex-patriates whom he’d enlisted to help him stage a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters – went to bed that night thinking that with just a little luck the mess they’d made at the ritzy new hotel complex in downtown DC earlier that morning would blow over pretty quickly.
Frank Wills had an easy job, but he didn’t care for it too much. He worked the overnight security shift at the new Watergate Hotel complex in DC. It was an easy gig – so easy, in fact that he worked alone every night, “armed” with only a can of mace on his belt. His job involved walking around the sprawling buildings and plaza of the “hotel”, which had been designed as a sort of DC answer to Rockefeller Center in New York. In addition to the hotel facilities, the sprawling set of buildings housed apartments and penthouses and restaurants and bars, as well as an upscale shopping area and various business and law offices. Wills’ typical night would have him note in a log “all-clears” for a variety of checkpoints, noting the time on each when he returned to the guard station.
This particular Friday night/Saturday morning was pretty quiet – which Wills kind of expected (he’d worked as a security guard at the Watergate for almost a year, unlike the way it’s portrayed in the series “Gaslit”). The Watergate sits in a nice part of town, and though there’d been a couple of robberies shortly after it had opened the previous year, nothing of note had happened since Wills had taken the gig. The 24-year-old Georgia native had a suspicion that the only reason the hotel had security guys like him at all was due to those high-profile burglaries the year before, right after the luxury apartments in the building had leased. Wills had been told that the President’s own secretary – Rose Mary Woods – had been one of the victims of those burglaries, and had lost a box of expensive jewelry in the caper.
But that was last year, and things had tightened up at The Watergate since. And it was a Friday night/Saturday morning in mid-June. During summers, this part of DC was a ghost town, especially since it was 1972 – an election year. Except for tourists, DC was typically empty for such times. But tourists usually couldn’t afford a hotel like The Watergate, either. It was going to be an easy night.
Some time after midnight as he made his first rounds of the hotel, Wills noticed a door leading from a garage to an interior stairwell at the hotel had duct tape on the lock. This wasn’t unusual, and Wills had seen stuff like this before. Residents of the apartment and penthouse areas would be moving in or out – or moving in new furniture – and tape the door locks during the day during the Watergate’s allowed moving hours and then forget to clean up after themselves. Wills removed the tape from the door lock, completed his rounds and logged his “all clears”, and headed across the street to grab a coffee and sandwich from an all-night place there.