Onassis could barely walk, Papadimitriou recalls, but when the door opened and he saw the crowd outside, "He shrugged his shoulders, letting the coat fall to the ground, pulled himself up and walked to the car like a palikari (warrior). In the car he slumped down and looked very feeble, but when he pulled up to the plane, he took off the coat again and walked up the stairs alone, refusing to be helped."

Of all Onassis' innumerable possessions-jewels and priceless objects d'art-the only one that he chose to take with him on his last journey, toward death, was a small red cashmere Hermes blanket that he had been given a month earlier, for his birthday. It was a gift not from his wife, Jackie, but from the woman he had loved more deeply and for more years than any other in his life: Maria Callas.

When Onassis and his wife and daughter reached Paris, he insisted on going to his apartment at 88, Avenue Foch, saying he had work to do, and that he'd enter the hospital tomorrow. He rode in a separate limousine from Jackie and Christina, arriving 30 minutes before them.

Inside the apartment, from his bed, Onassis made a phone call to a Paris number he didn't have to look up. The phone rang at 36, Avenue Georges Mandel-only a few blocks away. It was the home of Maria Callas, who had been waiting for his call. The phone was answered by her butler, Ferruccio Mezzadri. "They talked for a while in Greek," Ferruccio told me, "and after she hung up she told us the Signore was going to the American Hospital. She was very upset."

Maria later told friends that she had begged to see Onassis right away, but he told her that "E Hira" (the Widow) was with him. But he knew that Jackie was eager to leave him behind as soon as she could-a complaint that Maria had heard before. As soon as his wife headed back to New York, Aristo promised, he would try to find a way to get her into the hospital. It wouldn't be easy to evade the press and his sisters, anxious to avoid any scandal, but they had to try. He needed to talk to her, he said. Maria promised him she would stay in her apartment until he called.

After Jackie and Christina arrived, Onassis slept for a while, then he asked for a capsule of Pyridostigmine, a slow-release anti-cholinergic agent that would give him a burst of energy through the night so that he could find the strength to deal with a few last items of business. He called for his closest aides to be brought into the bedroom one by one.

The next morning Onassis was driven to the American Hospital in Neuilly. While Jackie and Christina distracted the press at the main entrance, Onassis entered through a side door with several aides. When one of them offered a wheelchair, he waived it off, according to one of his young assistants from New York, Nicholas Papanikolaou. "No, I'll go in on my own steam," he said, "but it's going to take four to bring me out."

Meanwhile, at 36, Avenue Georges Mandel, Maria Callas sat by the phone and waited.

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