“How does it feel to be an adversary of the press?” From her seat on the bus, Freddie Arbuthnot grinned up at Fletch.

“Some people,” announced Fletch, “think I always have been.”

“This is Betsy Ginsberg,” Freddie said about her seatmate, a slightly overweight, bright-eyed, nice-looking young woman.

“Terrific stuff you write,” Fletch said to her. “I’ve never read a word of it, but I’ve decided to say things like that on this trip.”

Betsy laughed. The diesel engine straining to move the bus out of the motel’s horseshoe driveway was making as much noise as a jet airplane taking off.

Freddie pressed her elbow into Betsy’s ribs. “Move,” she said. “Let me be the first to sink teeth into this new press representative.”

“You’re just saying that,” Betsy said, moving out of her seat, “because he’s good-lookin’.”

“Is he?” said Freddie. “I never noticed.”

Fletch slumped into the seat vacated by Betsy. “I don’t know,” he said to Freddie. “I don’t think I’m gonna make it as a member of the establishment. It’s all too new to me.”

After doing his copying and delivering chores the night before, Fletch finally had taken his shower and climbed into bed with all the folders Walsh Wheeler had given him. There was a folder stating the candidate’s position on each campaign issue, as well as on issues that had not arisen and probably would not arise. Some of the positions were crisp, concise, to the point. Others were longer, not as well focused, and had to be read two or three times before Fletch could discover exactly where the candidate was hedging his position. There were personnel folders, with pictures and full biographies, of each member of the candidate’s staff”. And there were other folders, not as well organized, on most of the members of the press traveling with the campaign. Some of these too had photographs, personal items regarding their families, political leanings, a few significant clippings. Fletch may have been asleep when the phone rang to wake him up. He wasn’t sure.

“So far,” he said to Freddie, as the press bus rolled along the highway, “I’ve received two lectures on absolute loyalty.”

“What do you expect?” she asked.

Fletch thought a moment. “I don’t believe in absolutes.”

“You’re in a position, all right,” she agreed, nodding. “Between the fire and the bottom of the skillet. As a reporter, you’re trained to find things out and report ’em. As a press representative, you’ve got to prevent other reporters from finding certain things out. Adversary of the press. Against your own instincts. Poor Fletch.”

“You’re a help.”

“You’ll never make it.”

“I know it.”

“That’s all right.” She patted him on the arm. “I’ll destroy you as painlessly as possible.”

“Great. I’d appreciate that. Are you sure you’re up to it?”

“Up to what?”

“Destroying me.”

“It will be easy,” she said. “Because of all those conflicts in yourself. You’ve never tried to be a member of the establishment before, Fletch. I mean, let’s face it: you’re a born-and-bred rebel.”

“I bought a necktie for this job.”

She studied his solid red tie. “Nice one, too. Looks like you’re already bleeding from the neck.”

“Got it in the airport in Little Rock.”

“Limited selection?”

“No. They had five or six to choose from.”

“That was the best?”

“I thought so.”

“You only bought one, though, right?”

“Didn’t know how long this job would last.”

“Glad you didn’t make too big an investment in your future as a member of the establishment. Are you going to tell me about last night?”

“What about last night? I saw you to your room and got the door closed in my face.”

“Last night a woman landed dead on the pavement outside your candidate’s seventh-floor motel room window. Don’t you read the papers?”

“I read the papers. Today’s big story is about a hockey riot—”

“To hell with today’s big story,” Freddie said. “I’m interested in tomorrow’s big story.”

“Tomorrow’s big story will be about how badly the police behaved at the hockey riot.”

Freddie talked to herself in the bus window. “This here press representative thinks he can get away with not talking about the young woman who got thrown to her death through the governor’s bedroom window last night.”

“Come off it. I don’t know anything.”

“You ought to.”

“I noticed none of you hotshots asked the governor about it this morning.”

“Questions at this point would be ridiculous.”

“Of course.”

“At least, questions directed at him.”

“But I’m fair game?”

“The definition of a press representative. You are game as fair as any, seasoned, roasted, carved, and chewed.”

“Freddie, I only know what I heard on television this morning. Her name was Alice Elizabeth Fields—”


“In her late twenties.”


“From Chicago.”

“You got that part right.”

“She was naked when she landed on the sidewalk. Apparently, she had been brutally beaten beforehand.”

“She wasn’t raped,” Freddie said. “Don’t you find that odd?”

“I find the whole thing terrible. Sickening.”

The two big buses hurried down the highway through the swirling snow. Behind them were a few cars filled with more staff, volunteer workers, one or two television vans.

“And, Fletch, it is possible her point of departure was the balcony outside the governor’s suite.”

Slowly, he said, “Yes. The governor had had press and other people in for drinks earlier in the evening. I happen to know the front door to the suite was left unlocked.”

“I see. Thanks for being frank with me.”

“I know you don’t print speculation.”

“And”—Freddie sighed—“she had been traveling with the campaign all week.”

“Not traveling with the campaign. Just following it. She was some sort of a political groupie. She had no position with the campaign.”

“As far as we know. I recognized her when I saw her picture in this morning’s Courier.”

“Had you ever spoken to her?”

“Two or three days ago. In whatever town we were in. I was using the motel’s indoor pool. So was she. I said, ‘Hi’; she said, ‘Hi’; I dove in, did my laps, when I got out, she was gone, I think.”

“How would you characterize her?”

“A wallflower. I think she wanted to be with the campaign, but didn’t know how to be assertive enough to become a volunteer or something.”

“Any chance of her being a real camp follower? A prostitute?”

“Definitely not. But you’d have to ask the men.”

“I will.” Suddenly Fletch wanted a cup of coffee. “A local matter,” Fletch said. “To be investigated by local police. Someone said she hit the pavement just after the governor came into the hotel. While he was still in the lobby, or in the elevator or something.”

“May I quote that?”


“Why not?”

“Because I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“Truer words you never spoke.”

“Seeing I’m being so frank with you, how about telling me why Fredericka Arbuthnot, investigative reporter for Newsworld, specialist in crime, especially murder and other forms of mayhem, is assigned to the presidential campaign of Governor Caxton Wheeler?”

“Having any luck in finding out?”

“I’m asking the only person I know. You.”

“You’ve gone to the source.”

“The horse’s mouth, as it were.”

“Going to wear me down with relentless questioning?”

“Going to give it a try.”

“The answer’s simple: there’s been a murder.”

“That was after you arrived, Ms. Arbuthnot. Not even you, I think, awesome reporter that you are, can predict where and when a murder is going to happen a week before the event.”

“Oh, dear,” she said. “You don’t know.” She leaned over and began rummaging in the yellow and blue sports bag at her feet. “I didn’t think you did.” She sat up with a damaged notebook in her hand. And out of it she took a newspaper clipping. She handed it to him. “Almost a week ago,” she said. “Another murder. Very similar.”

He read the item from The Chicago Sun-Times:

Chicago—The body of a woman was found by hotel employees this morning in a service closet off a reception room at the Hotel Harris. Police say the woman was brutally beaten about the face and upper body before being strangled to death.

The night before discovery of the body, the reception room had been used by the press covering the presidential campaign of Governor Caxton Wheeler.

Chicago police report the woman, about thirty, wearing a green cocktail dress and high-heeled shoes, was carrying no identification.

Fletch’s desire for a cup of coffee was becoming acute. He handed the clipping back to her. “The press,” he said. “How did you pick up an item like that?”

“You don’t know about Newsworld’s fancy new electronic systems.”

She was putting the clipping back into the falling-apart notebook, and the notebook back into the sports bag.

Fletch was having the sensation of thinking without thought. “Up-to-date?”

“So fantastic they take out each other’s plugs and then say good night to each other.”

“That’s up-to-date.”

Still leaning over, Freddie appeared to be reorganizing her sports bag. “Be kind to your office computer,” Freddie said. “It may be related to someone high up in the National Federation of Labor.”

“We’re being overcome by machines.”

Freddie sat up again. “They’ll have their day. Or so they predict. And they’re always right. Right?”

“No. Freddie, how far have the Chicago police got with this other murder?”

“Talked with my friend Sam Buck this morning. They still haven’t identified the woman.”

“Fingerprints on the neck?”

“She was strangled with a cord.”

“Oh. Have the Chicago police assigned anyone to this campaign?”

“They can’t. Different jurisdictions. They have to treat it as strictly a local matter. They’re concentrating on hotel staff.”

Fletch looked at what he could see of the other people on the press bus, their heads tipped to read, a man’s leg extended into the aisle. “It’s a pretty safe bet the murderer isn’t a member of the Hotel Harris staff.”

“I’d take that bet,” Freddie said. “I reported the details of the murder last night to Detective Buck in Chicago this morning.”

“Will they assign someone to the campaign now?”

“He said the ways in which the women were murdered are not similar enough.”

“Two women beaten and then murdered? I see a similarity.”

“One was fully clad, the other naked. One was strangled, the other pushed to her death. Stranglers seldom use any other method of doing people in.”

“Was the woman in Chicago raped?”


Across the aisle, one row ahead of them, sat a heavy man in a bulky overcoat. He was staring straight ahead, expressionless. His eyes bulged. He looked like a frog on a pod.

“Freddie, most likely we have a murderer traveling with us.”

“It’s that possibility, old man, that has me here. Any reporting I do on the campaign itself, I will consider just routine.”

Fletch nodded toward the frog-on-the-pod across the aisle. “Is that the Russian?”

“Solov,” said Freddie. “Correspondent from Pravda. Here to report on the campaign, get a line on The Man Who for the Kremlin. Wonderful free country, we have here.”

“Does he always stare that way?”

“I don’t know if he always has,” Freddie laughed. “He does now. He’s fixated.”

“On what?”

“He discovered certain channels on American cable television. The pornographic ones. He’s up all night, every night, watching it. Don’t ever get the hotel room next to him. Electronic slap-and-tickle all night long. They say he’s been catatonic since he arrived.”

“I wonder if he builds up enough of a head of steam to beat women to death.”

“Oh, not Boris. I understand he’s written several articles on the moral degeneracy of America. He thinks we all look at that stuff.”

“Would you say he’s sexually aberrant?”

“Yes, he’s sexually abhorrent.”

“I said aberrant.”

“Who cares?”

Roy Filby came down the aisle and stopped by Fletch’s chair. “Hey, Fletcher. Going to give us the real lowdown on the Mooney murder?”

A huge factory was looming on the flat, snowy horizon.

Fletch said, “Great stuff you’re writing these days, Roy.”

Roy laughed and banged Fletch on the shoulder. “Great house parties you give, Fletch. Someday invite me to one.”

“I’ve given my last house party in Key West,” Fletch said.

Roy continued down the aisle. There was a rest room in the back of the bus.

“I suppose these murders could be coincidences,” Fletch said.

“Could be,” said Freddie. “Not likely.”

“I hope so,” said Fletch.

Studying his face whimsically, Freddie asked, “So how do you like your new job now?”

“Not much. Freddie, let’s you and I agree not to be adversaries on this matter. Tell me what you know as you find out.”

“Okay,” she said. “If you tell me what you know.”

“I will. At least I think I will.”

“And you know downright well, Fletch, that the moment’s going to come when I have to print what I know.”

“Sure. But I know you won’t go off half-cocked. I’m not too keen on people who beat up women.”

The bus was beginning to slow. There was an enormous metal tire standing on the roof of the factory.

“What are you thinking now?” she asked.

“It’s your job to report. It’s my job to protect the candidate and his campaign as much as I can. If the murderer is a member of the press, then it’s no problem for the candidate. The press is assigned to the campaign. If the murderer is a volunteer”—Fletch waggled his hands just above his lap—“then it’s not so bad. The candidate didn’t necessarily have anything to do with his selection. If the murderer is a member of his immediate staff, then it’s very, very bad. It would mean his judgment of people isn’t too reliable. People would say, ‘If he put such a person on his staff, think whom he might name Secretary of Defense.’”

Still studying him, Freddie asked, “And if the murderer is the candidate himself?”

Fletch was looking at his still hands in his lap. “Then you’d have one helluva story,” he said quietly.