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In February 2000, reporter-turned-editor Bob Woodward traveled to Santa Rosa to learn the answer to a question that had dogged him for nearly 30 years.

Why had W. Mark Felt, then a top FBI official, agreed to leak information, becoming the key informant that would eventually lead to the downfall of President Richard M. Nixon?

In a booth at the Stony Point Grill, over a $47 lunch, Woodward asked his questions and came to this disappointing conclusion: His "Deep Throat" had lost much of his memory and was no longer capable of providing the answer.

Woodward's book about Felt, "The Secret Man," appeared in bookstores Wednesday, further detailing the relationship between the reporter and the famous source who has called Santa Rosa home since 1990. The book was rushed into print after the Felt family revealed Felt's long-held secret May 31.

New York-based PublicAffairs Books has paid the Felt family an undisclosed amount for book rights and a film option, a deal that could be worth $1 million. The book is expected to be in stores in February.

Felt's daughter, Joan Felt, said no one in the family had yet read Woodward's book, and she would not comment on it. She has previously said that her father is lucid, cogent and fully capable of making decisions.

"From what we have heard, Bob Woodward's book will prove a good, basic complement to the book we are writing. As always, my father is proud of Bob's very successful career," Felt said.

The publication and release of Woodward's book Wednesday came as Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter, was jailed for refusing to reveal her sources to a grand jury. It also coincided with the death of Felt's former boss at the FBI, L. Patrick Gray, a Nixon loyalist Felt may have thought was undermining the agency's investigation of Watergate. Felt's frustration with Gray is cited as one of the possible reasons he gave information to Woodward.

But time apparently heals, and Wednesday the Felt family offered its condolences to the Gray family.

"Our family extends our sincerest sympathies to the family of Mr. Gray," Joan Felt said.

Woodward's book paints a portrait of the real-life relationship between Woodward and Felt during the Watergate years and, in the final chapters, his contact with Felt in Santa Rosa.

Woodward had for some years been uncertain of Felt's feeling toward him. Felt had abruptly hung up on him immediately after "All the President's Men" was published, Woodward wrote.

But he regretted never delving into Felt's motives, he wrote.

Their first meeting in years came Feb. 27, 2000, after Woodward had delivered a lecture at UC Davis. Felt was then 86.

Woodward had his driver park his Lincoln Town Car at Northwest Community Park and walked 10 blocks to the Felt home, operating under the old rules of secrecy Deep Throat had always insisted upon.

He chitchatted with Joan Felt, and then took Mark Felt to lunch, where he began reminiscing about old times - only to find that Mark Felt didn't seem to remember much.

He thought perhaps Felt - the old FBI man - was being cautious and after lunch, back at Felt's Redford Place home, he began to tape record an interview he later used in the book.

But no answers came to the questions that haunted him.

"Do you remember why he (Nixon) had to resign?" he asked.

"I don't remember that at all," Felt answered, according to Woodward's book.

He asked Felt why he'd helped him back in the 1970s.

"This is all vague in my recollection," Felt replied.

He asked Felt if he had "any papers, files, notes?"

"No, nothing at all," Felt replied.

He could not find the answers he sought, Woodward wrote. "Why were you Deep Throat? What was your motive? Who are you? Who were you?"

On April 30, 2002, Woodward got a call from Mark Felt Jr., Joan Felt's son, saying Mark Felt had acknowledged to the family that he was Deep Throat.

On May 31, Vanity Fair released the article by family attorney John O'Connor that revealed Felt was Deep Throat, a code name used by Woodward that later became synonymous with the Watergate scandal.

Local booksellers think Woodward's book will be a hit.

Copperfield's Books in Montgomery Village has 80 copies, a large number for that store, said Sharon Rompelman, assistant manager.

No one had bought a book by midday, but Rompelman said she didn't really expect much in the way of sales until the weekend.

"This is a political book, and not so much for the everyday reader," Rompelman said. "On weekends people come in for a specific book."

She said sales of Woodward's first book about Watergate, "All the President's Men," had jumped as soon as Felt's identity was revealed.

"It went into reprint instantly. Everyone wanted to read that," Rompelman said.

One copy of "The Secret Man" had been sold by midday at Barnes & Noble Bookstore in downtown Santa Rosa. The store has 100 copies on hand and 20 on order. "That's big for us," said department manager Bob Sheeks.

Sheeks said he plans to read the book.

"I grew up during Watergate. Some of our younger associates don't even know what it was, but it was so important. It brought down a president and that doesn't happen every day."