Montgomery County police were investigating suspicions that politician Ruthann Aron was plotting to have a lawyer "eliminated" when Aron unexpectedly contacted a man she believed to be a contract killer and raised the stakes, according to secretly recorded tapes played yesterday in her murder-for-hire trial.

"There are two jobs," Aron told the supposed hit man. The second one, she said, should look like an accident.

"You want a car accident?" asked police detective Terry Ryan, posing as the hit man.

"Yeah," she answered from the pay phone a few blocks from her Potomac home.

"What about a suicide?" he asked.

"If it would pass muster," she said, "but preferably the first."

Where could he find this person? "Montgomery," Aron answered in clipped phrases. "Medical. . . . He works in an office building next to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital." Then she gave his name: "A like apple, R-O-N," she said. "First name, B like boy, A-R-R-Y." Look for a taupe Acura, she told him. Barry Aron had night meetings planned for June 9 and 17. "Probably the car would be in the lot," she said.

She never mentioned that urologist Barry Aron was her husband.

For more than an hour yesterday, Ruthann Aron, 55, held her head in her hands as jurors listened to the most dramatic and damaging tapes yet of Aron negotiating a $20,000 contract on the lives of her husband and Arthur G. Kahn, a Baltimore lawyer who had testified against her in a civil case.

Jurors heard how the one-time U.S. Senate candidate took the code names "Sam" and "10" as she finalized the deal with the undercover detective and her go-between. They heard her desire to read her targets' obituaries as proof of their deaths, her promises that she wasn't going to "play any games" and her deep suspicions that she could be set up.

Aron's attorneys have conceded that the tapes don't lie. Aron, they have said, indeed tried to hire a hit man. But they have argued that police may have entrapped her in conversations that are not on the tapes. Beyond that, Aron's attorneys have argued, childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her father and a previously undisclosed brain injury made her mentally ill and not criminally responsible for her actions.

Why, defense attorney Barry H. Helfand pointed out yesterday, would a clearly thinking person drop off a hit man's $500 down payment at a Gaithersburg hotel and stand out in her own disguise?

Scott Frothingham, the front office manager at the Washingtonian Center Marriott Hotel, testified that a woman in a floppy straw hat, glasses and trench coat approached him, pressed a manila envelope on him and asked him to take it to the front desk. Because he was struggling with a guest's luggage, Frothingham said, he suggested she take it there herself. She declined, handing it to him along with a $1 tip. Defense attorney Judith R. Catterton, apparently seeking to demonstrate the absurdity of the outfit, dressed herself before the jury in the wrinkled trench coat and floppy white hat. "Let's see if we can re-create the look," Catterton said as she put on the clothes. "Something like this?" "With glasses," Frothingham replied, smiling. Catterton asked if he thought it was "odd" behavior, on a warm June day. Frothingham agreed, adding, "It didn't really faze me until after the fact." Before the jury entered the room yesterday, Helfand reminded Circuit Court Judge Paul A. McGuckian that the defense had privately asked for a mistrial late Monday, a request that had gone unnoticed by courtroom observers. While on the stand Monday, William H. Mossburg Jr., the man whom police say Aron approached to find her a hit man, had blurted out allegations that Aron had tried to kill her husband earlier by serving him poisoned chili -- before she approached Mossburg about finding a "professional." McGuckian denied the mistrial request. The judge had denied an earlier defense motion for a mistrial when a court clerk mentioned the chili charge in front of the freshly picked jury. Aron is set to stand trial in April on a separate charge of attempted murder in connection with those allegations. Aron's trial on solicitation to commit murder continues today with testimony expected from Kahn, Barry Aron and John Harrison, an Alexandria lawyer who also had once testified against Ruthann Aron and whose name allegedly appeared on Aron's hit list. Editorial aide Karen Hilliou contributed to this report. Are We Talking About an Obituary?'

A conversation on June 7, 1997, between Ruthann Aron and Montgomery County police detective Terry Ryan, who was posing as a hit man:

{Aron tells Ryan she wants to "read about someone in the obits."} TR: I'm not playing games. . . . RA: I hope you don't think I am. TR: At this point, I don't, but you need to give me some assurances that you mean business. RA: I understand why you ask that, and you have to realize, and I don't want you to take offense at this, I need to know I can trust you. Obviously, you need the same thing. TR: You don't know me. I don't know you. RA: That's better that way. TR: That's good. I am satisfied on my end because of the way you came to it. RA: Okay. And I feel somewhat {unintelligible}. TR: Okay. We can do some things to assure your end. RA: Okay. TR: How about this? . . . {I have} no idea who we are talking about. RA: Right. Is that gonna matter? {Unintelligible conversation takes place.} RA: Yeah, but if it has to be an accident? TR: If it has to be an accident? RA: Yeah. {Pause.} I shouldn't say "has to be," preferred. TR: That's a big terminology. . . . Let's say 10 is a cap. RA: Okay. TR: And understand that I am not gonna keep coming back to the well. RA: Oh, gee, I hope not. TR: But if there's expenses associated with {unintelligible} an accident. RA: I understand. TR: Hotel rooms, {unintelligible}. RA: I understand. TR: {Unintelligible.} RA: I understand. TR: Okay. RA: Not a problem. So, if it's gonna be or it's preferred to be an accident at 10K plus whatever expenses there may be. {More conversation.} TR: Okay. Are we talking about an obituary? RA: Right. TR: Okay. That's all you need for confirmation? RA: Correct. TR: Okay. Here's how we can proceed. I need to know who I am looking at. RA: Hmm, hmm. TR: . . . information that I can get from you in advance {unintelligible} less expense on your part. In other words, if I don't have to do a lot of homework. . . . RA: Yeah. TR: Then, uh -- RA: You're talking about a, like a {unintelligible} or maybe a photo. TR: Yes. {Unintelligible.} RA: Got that. I figured that might {unintelligible}. TR: Even a good physical description if you don't have a picture. If I am not sure after I take a look, then I'll try to reach you {unintelligible}. RA: Where will I meet you after today? Tell me what works for you. TR: Are photographs feasible, or is that difficult? RA: I will try. . . . What I thought I would do is see if I can accomplish that this week. TR: Okay. If that's something you don't have access to, you don't have to. RA: I might be able to get access to. That's what I have to check. TR: {Unintelligible.} RA: Say again. There's someone standing talking loud. I can't hear you. TR: I would caution you that, or do I need to caution you, to be careful on how you obtain {the photo}. CAPTION: Ruthann Aron is charged with trying to contract for two killings. CAPTION: Police say Aron asked William H. Mossburg Jr. to help find a hit man to kill her husband and a lawyer.