“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the press,” Governor Caxton Wheeler said heartily.
From the back of the bus, a man’s voice snarled: “Men and women of the press.”
“Women and men,” corrected the woman sitting next to Freddie Arbuthnot.
“Persons of the press …?” offered the governor.
Fletch was standing next to the governor at the front of the bus. At six-thirty in the morning the governor apparently was slim, tanned, bright-eyed, and fully rested. He did not use, or need to use, the tour bus’s microphone. Also, he did not leave much room for the person standing beside him at the front of the bus.
As a politician will, he filled whatever space was available to him.
“Don’t forget the photographers,” wire service reporter Roy Filby said. “They don’t quite make it as persons.”
“Dearly beloved,” said the governor.
“Now you’re leaving out Arbuthnot!” said Joe Hall.
“All creatures great and small?” asked the governor.
“Why’s that man up there calling us a bunch of animals?” Stella
“It gives me great pleasure,” the governor said, “to introduce one of your own colleagues to you—”
“Hardly,” said Freddie Arbuthnot.
“—I. M. Fletcher—”
“Politicians will say anything,” said Ira Lapin.
“—whom we’ve employed to hand out press releases to you—”
“He spelled Spiersville wrong already this morning!” shouted Fenella Baker. “It’s ie, everybody, not eel”
“—do your research for you, free of charge, dig out an answer to your every question, however obtuse and trivial, and generally, to say things about me I’d blush to have to say myself.”
“He’s a complete crook,” said the man wearing the Daily Gospel badge.
“Now, I know some of you miss ol’ James,” continued the governor. “I do too… more than you’ll ever know.” The governor pulled his touch-of-sentiment face. To Fletch, seeing the expression in profile, it seemed the governor was too obviously clocking the seconds he held the expression. “But, as you know, ol’ James decided he wanted to go somewhere more agreeable.”
“Yeah,” Lansing Sayer said. “When anyone goes to play tennis, James wants to go play tennis.”
“So,” said the governor, coloring slightly behind the ear, “I’ll leave ol’ Fletch in your hands.” Walsh had told Fletch to ride the press bus that morning. “Try not to chew him up and spit him out this morning. Can’t promise you that lunch is going to be that good.”
“Hey, Governor,” shouted Joe Hall. “Any response yet to the President’s statement on South Africa last night?”
Waving, the governor left the bus.
Fletch picked up the microphone. The bus driver turned on the speaker system for him.
“Good morning,” Fletch said. “As the governor’s press representative, I make you the solemn promise that I will never lie to you. Today, on this bus, we will be passing through Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, New York, and Keokuk, Iowa. Per usual, at midday you will be flown to San Francisco for lunch. Today’s menu is clam chowder, pheasant under glass, roast Chilean lamb, and a strawberry mousse from Maine. Everything the governor says today will be significant, relevant, wise, to the point, and as fresh as the lilies in the field.”
“In fact,” Fenella Baker said, trying to look through the steamy window, “it’s snowing out.”
The other side of the motel’s front door, Doris Wheeler was climbing into the back of a small, black sedan. Today the campaign would head southwest in the state; the candidate’s wife would go north. The governor would ride the campaign bus, in front of the press bus.
“Any questions you have for me,” Fletch continued, “write backwards and offer to your editors as think-pieces. Just ask your editors to label such fanciful essays as ‘Analysis.’”
“Fletch, is it true you’re a crook?” Roy Filby asked.
“No,” said Fletch, “but if any of you run short of cash, just ask me and I’ll put you in contact with people who will supply you with all you want at a modest charge of twenty-percent interest daily.”
“Oh, you work for a credit card company, too?”
“Is it true you saved Walsh Wheeler’s life overseas?” Fenella Baker asked.
“That’s another thing,” Fletch said. “I will never evade any of your questions.”
He turned the microphone off and hung it up.