“Fletch, my man! Good! You got here!”


Shirtless and shoeless, Fletch was standing in a midtown motel room in a middle-sized town in a middle-sized state in Middle America. He had turned on the shower just before the phone rang.

“I want you to go to Dad’s suite,” Walsh Wheeler said. “Immediately. 748.”

“Why don’t you say ‘Hello,’ Walsh?”

“Hello.” The sounds behind Walsh were of several people talking, men and women, the clink of glasses, and, at a distance, heavy beat music—bar noises.

“Why don’t you ask me if I had a nice flight?”

“Stuff it. Isn’t time for all that.”

“Are we enjoying a crisis already?”

“There’s always a crisis on a political campaign, Fletch. On a presidential campaign, all the crises are biggies. You’ve only got a few minutes to learn that.” Despite the background noises, Walsh was speaking quietly into the phone. “Wait a minute,” he said. At the other end of the phone someone was speaking to Walsh. Fletch could not make out what the other person was saying. His mouth away from the phone, Walsh said. “Any idea who she is?” There was more conversation wrapped in cotton. “Is she dead?” Walsh asked.

Steam was coming through the door of Fletch’s bathroom.

“Who’s dead?” Fletch asked.

“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Walsh said. “Your plane was late? You’re late.”

“Landed unexpectedly in Little Rock. Guess the pilot had to drop off some laundry.”

“You were supposed to be here at six o’clock.”

“Your dad’s very popular in Little Rock. Took a survey of an airport security cop. He said, ‘If Wheeler doesn’t become our next President, guess I’ll have to run for office myself.’ What a threat!”

Speaking away from the phone again, Walsh Wheeler said, “Whoever she is, she has nothing to do with us. Nothing to do with the campaign.”

Fletch said, “I wish I knew the topic of this conversation.”

“I’m downstairs in the lounge, Fletch,” Walsh said. “I’ll handle things here, but you get yourself to Dad’s suite tout.”

“It’s ten-thirty at night, isn’t it?”

“About that. So what?”

“I’ve never met the candidate. Your esteemed pa. The governor.”

“Just knock on the door. He doesn’t bite.”

“And then what do I say to the next President of These United States? ‘Wanna buy a new broom?’”

“Never known you to be at a loss for words. Say, ‘Hello, I’m your new genius press representative.’”

“Barging in on The Man Who at ten-thirty at night without even a glass of warm milk—”

“He won’t be in bed, yet. Doctor Thom’s still down here in the bar.”

“Now, look, Lieutenant, a little clarification of orders would make the troops a little more lighthearted in their marching.”

“This could be damned serious, Fletch. Someone just said the girl is dead.”

“Death is one of the more serious things that happen to people. Now, tell me, Walsh, what girl? Who’s dead?”

Walsh coughed. “Don’t know.”


“A girl jumped off the motel’s roof. Five minutes ago, ten minutes ago.”

“And she’s dead?”

“So they say.”

“Terrible! But what’s that got to do with your father? With you? With me?”

“Nothing,” Walsh said firmly. “That’s the point.”

“Oh. Then why don’t I take a nice shower, climb into my footy pajamas, and meet your dad at a respectable hour in the morning? Like between coffees number one and two?”

“Because,” said Walsh.

“Oh, that’s why! Walsh, a death in the motel where the candidate is staying shouldn’t even be commented on by the candidate. People die in motels more often than they get warm soup from room service. I’m not saying one thing has to do with another—”

“I agree with you.”

“I mean, you don’t want to make a story by overreacting, by having me rush to your dad’s suite in the middle of the night when I don’t even know the man.”

Walsh coughed again. His voice lowered. “Apparently she jumped, Fletch. They’re saying from the roof right over Dad’s suite. Over his balcony. Photographs have already been taken of the building. Arrows will be drawn.”


“Arrows that swoop downward.”


“The bored press, Fletch. Starving for any new story. Any new angle.”

“Yeah. Implication being the young lady might have used the balcony of the candidate’s room as a diving board to oblivion. Certain newspapers would make something of that. Newsbill.”

“I knew you had something other than pretzels between the ears.”

“Potato chips.”

“Go to Dad’s suite. Answer the phone if it rings. Say you’re new on the job and don’t know what anybody’s talking about.”

“Easy enough. True, too.”

“I’ll try to have his phone turned off at the switchboard. But not all switchboards are incorruptible.”

“I seem to remember having corrupted one or two myself. Suite number what?”

“748. I’ll be right up. As soon as I ace the switchboard and do my casual act in the bar. Convince the press we’re not reacting to the girl’s death.”

“Walsh? Give it to me straight. Does the girl have anything to do with us? I mean, the campaign? The presidential candidate?”

Walsh’s voice dropped even lower. “It’s your job, Fletch, to make damned sure she didn’t.”