“Where’s Dr. Thom?”
“Coming right up.”
“I want to go to sleep.”
Walsh Wheeler had entered his father’s suite without knocking. Fletch saw that Walsh knew the door was unlocked.
In the living room, Walsh handed his father a piece of paper from the top of the sheaf he was carrying. “Here’s your schedule for tomorrow.”
The governor dropped the paper on the table without looking at it.
Walsh handed Fletch two sheets of paper, one from the top of the pile, one from the bottom. “Here’s Dad’s schedule for tomorrow… and Mother’s schedule for tomorrow. Have these copied and under the door of every member of the press by six in the morning. All the press are on the eighth floor of this motel.”
“Is there no one on the eighth floor but members of the press?”
“I don’t know. I guess so. No reason why you shouldn’t deliver to every door on the eighth floor. We’re not trying to keep Dad’s whereabouts a secret. Leave some downstairs on the reception desk, too. And have some on you to hand out to the local press.” Walsh poured out two Scotches with soda and handed one to Fletch. “Oh, yeah. At the back of the campaign bus there’s a copying machine. For your use and your use alone.” Walsh smiled at his father. “James’s first major press announcement was that if any member of the press touched his copying machine, James would disarm him or her—literally.” Walsh sipped his drink. “Maybe you should make the same announcement.”
“Don’t tell Fletch to do anything the way ol’ James did it. One thing might lead to another.”
“A copying machine and a quick wit,” Walsh said. “That’s all you need to be a press representative, right?”
“He’s got a quick wit,” the governor said. “He makes me laugh.”
“Oh, yeah.” Walsh sat next to the best reading lamp. He made himself look comfortable, legs crossed, drink in hand, papers in lap. “How do you guys like each other so far?”
The governor looked at Fletch and Fletch looked at the governor.
“Don’t know how the press will accept him,” the governor said. “Fletch looks like breakfast to someone with a hangover.”
Smiling, Walsh looked up at Fletch. “What do you think, Fletch?”
“Well,” Fletch drawled, “I think Governor Caxton Wheeler can get this country moving again.”
“I believe it!” Walsh laughed.
“I’ll say one thing,” the governor chuckled. “There’s been so much cow dung on the floor since he came into the room, I had to take off my store-bought shoes!”
Fletch looked from one to the other. “Where are your shoes?” he asked.
Father and son continued their moment of easy, genuine admiration, love for each other, enjoyment in each other.
Fletch sat down.
“Okay, Dad, let’s go over your schedule for tomorrow, just quickly. We’ve only got a few days before the primary in this state. We’ve got a real chance to win, but we haven’t won yet. Without killing you, we’ve got to make the best use of your time.”
Slowly, the governor sat up and took the schedule in his hands. He yawned. His cigar stub was burned out in the ashtray.
“Seven forty-five,” Walsh said, “you’ll be at the main gate at the tire factory. These guys are worried about two things: foreign import of tires, of course; and they’re afraid their union bosses will call a strike sometime in April.”
“Union boss name?” the governor asked.
“Wohlman. By the way, Wohlman’s wife has just left him, and some of the membership say this is making him act meaner and tougher toward management than they want.”
Dully, the governor said: “Oh.”
“At eight-thirty, you’re having coffee with Wohlman, first name Bruce, and …”
Only glancing at the items on the governor’s schedule for next day, Fletch listened. Walsh seemed the perfect aide. He had the answers to most questions the governor asked. “Where’s breakfast?” “There will be a breakfast box on the bus.” He made notes to get the answers he did not know. “How far does a farm family have to go to get to a medical facility ’round there?” “I’ll find out.” Walsh did not balk at taking anything on himself. And he was not insistent, but gently urging when the governor began to balk. “Why am I at Conroy School at ten o’clock? I keep telling you, Walsh, ten-year-olds don’t vote. Isn’t there some better use of my time this close to the primary?” “Their parents do, Dad, and so do the teachers, and all their relatives. And they’re all more interested in the future generation and education than they are in bank failures in Zaire. That’s what they’re living and working for.” “I’ll be late for the downtown rally in Winslow. Then I’ll have to do more I-couldn’t-find-my-toothbrush jokes.” “We’ll have a band playing until you get there.” Sitting on the divan, the governor seemed to get more old, fat, and tired as the session went on.
Walsh, on the other hand, seemed to have attained some level of nirvana. His tone of voice did not alter. His speech pace, even with the governor’s interruptions, was consistent. His concentration was as steady as an athlete’s in midgame.
Walsh had changed since his days in uniform, of course. He was heavier by twenty pounds; his hair was thinner. His skin was gray. There was something in Walsh’s eyes that had not been there before. Instead of being just ordinary human eyes, looking around casually, seeing and not seeing things, Walsh’s eyes now seemed overfocused, too bright, rather as if whatever he was looking at was getting his full concentration. Fletch wondered whether in fact Walsh was seeing anything.
“If all goes well,” Walsh concluded, “we’ll have you at the hotel in Farmingdale by six. The mayor of Farmingdale is throwing a dinner for you. Well, he’s throwing a dinner for himself, a fund-raiser, but you’re the main attraction.”
“What do I have to do the next morning?”
“Thought you might like to catch up with the newspapers. Bed rest.”
“Put a hospital visit in there,” the governor said. “Farmingdale must have a hospital. Special attention on any kids with burns.”
“Yes, sir.” Walsh made a note.
The governor rubbed his eyes. “Okay, Walsh. Anything else I’m supposed to know?”
Walsh glanced at Fletch. “There’s something you’re not suppose to know.”
The governor looked at each of them. “What am I not supposed to know?”
“A girl jumped off the roof of this motel about an hour and a half ago.”
“Twenties. They say.”
“Apparently she jumped from the roof right over your windows.”
The governor looked at Fletch. “So that’s why you showed up at my door tonight? Checked the balcony. The door.” He looked at Walsh. “Turned off the phone. You guys are working together already.”
“People had been on your balcony,” Fletch said quietly. “Your front door was unlocked.”
“You don’t know anything about it,” Walsh said.
“In fact, I do,” the governor said. “I heard the sirens. Saw the ambulance lights flashing. How can I pretend it didn’t happen?”
“I guess she actually jumped just as you were coming into the hotel.”
“No one said she jumped,” Fletch said. “Someone told me the girl was naked and had been beaten before she hit the sidewalk.”
“Anyone we know?” the governor asked.
“A political groupie?” asked Fletch.
“Yeah,” Walsh said. “There are people who think political campaigns are fun. They follow the campaign—literally. They travel from town to town with the candidate’s party, try to get into the same hotels—generally just hang around. Women mostly, girls; but men too. Sometimes they turn into useful volunteers.”
“Was this girl a volunteer?” the governor asked.
“No. Dr. Thom saw the body. Said he thinks she’s been with us less than a week. Never saw her doing anything for the campaign.”
“Don’t want you to know her name, Dad. When reporters ask you about her, I don’t want the expression on your face that you’d ever heard her name before.”
“Okay. Can we do something nice? Send flowers—?”
“Nothing, please. She was just someone who happened to be in the motel. Fletch has the job, as of right now, of denying this girl had anything to do with the campaign. And without making an issue of it.”
Fletch said, “You said the woman had been trailing this campaign for almost a week.”
Walsh said: “That’s the problem.”
A thin man in an oversized sport coat, carrying a little black bag, entered the suite. He too did not knock.
The governor said to him, “Want to go to sleep, Dr. Thom.”
“Go to sleep you will,” said the doctor. “You’re not getting eight hours every night.”
“I will tomorrow night,” the governor said. “If all goes well.”
“Come on,” Walsh said to Fletch. “We’ve got one or more things to do.”
As Walsh and Fletch were leaving the suite, Dr. Thom was saying, “You’ve got to get eight hours every night, Governor. Every night. If Walsh can’t work it out for you, we’ll have to get someone else to run your campaign.”
“Okay,” Dr. Thom said. “Okay. I’ll give you something after lunch tomorrow….”