By the time he got off the bus, Fletch could see the governor’s nose was already red with cold. Snow was blowing from the northwest and there was a fresh inch or two on the ground. Lights were on in the old red-brick factory. Not a bit dwarfed by the big factory, the governor stood in the main gate, shaking hands with most of the factory workers as they arrived. He was wearing a red-and-black checked, wool hunting jacket over his suit vest, and thick-soled black workers’ boots. To the workers who shook his hand as they passed by, the governor said such things as “Mornin’, everything okay with you? Gimme a chance to be your President, will ya?” and the workers answered such things as “Mornin’, Governor, like your stand on the waterway.” “Got to make more jobs, you know? My brother hasn’t found a job in over two years.” “With ya all the way; my aunt’s runnin’ your campaign over in Shreve, ya know?” “Hey, tell Wohlman we don’t want a strike, okay?” Some of those who did not shake hands waved as they passed by and said such things as “How’re doin’, Caxton? Good luck! You’ll never make it!” Others were too shy to shake the governor’s hand, or say anything. And others scowled at him or at their boots as they went through the gate.

Ten meters away, close enough to see everything and hear almost everything, the press stood shivering in a herd, their noses aimed into the wind like sheep hunkered in a stormy pasture, in case The Man Who got shot, or seized by his heart, or overtaken by some indiscretion.

Standing in the factory gate, the governor looked peculiarly alone. No one was standing near him—not his wife, not Walsh, not his speechwriters, volunteers….

The campaign staff were all on the warm, well-lit bus.

“Where do we pick up the congressman?” Lee Allen Parke yelled. He was standing in the front of the bus with two women volunteers, one about thirty, the other about sixty.

“At the school,” Walsh said. In his shirt sleeves, he stood in the middle of the bus, revolving slowly, like a teacher during students’ workbook time.

From the folders he had studied, Fletch could match names to faces.

At a little table, speechwriters Phil Nolting and Paul Dobson were in heavy, quiet discussion. They were both drawing lines on a single piece of paper on the table. They looked like architects roughly designing the structure of a building.

Barry Hines, the campaign’s communication chief, sat in a reclining chair talking on the telephone.

Along the side of the bus, three women sat at pull-out tables, typing.

That morning’s newspapers littered the bus’s floor.

Dr. Thom was not in the forward section of the bus.

As Fletch moved down through the noise and confusion of the bus, Walsh shouted, “You all know Fletch!”

None of them did. In response to the shout, they all looked at Fletch and returned to what they were doing. Now they knew him.

“Hey, Walsh!” Barry Hines yelled from the telephone. “Vic Robbins! Upton’s advance man?”

“What about him?” Walsh asked.

“His car just went off a bridge in Pennsylvania. Into the Susquehanna River.”


“Unless he was wearing a scuba tank.”

“Confirm that, please,” Fletch said to Barry. “Pennsylvania State Police.”

Barry Hines pushed a button on the telephone in his lap and dialed O.

Walsh pointed to the last typist in the row. Instantly she pulled the paper she was working on out of her typewriter and inserted a fresh piece.

Walsh dictated: “Upon hearing of the tragic death of Victor Rob-bins, Governor Caxton Wheeler said, ‘There was no one who had better technical understanding of American politics than Victor Rob-bins. The heartfelt sympathy of Mrs. Wheeler and myself go out to Vic’s family, and to his friends, who were legion. I and my staff will do anything to help Senator Upton and his staff in response to their great loss.’”

“Yeah,” Barry Hines said, pushing another phone button. “He’s dead.”

Walsh took the typed statement from the woman and handed it to Fletch. “Why am I doing your work for you?” He smiled. “Immediate release to the press, please.”

Paul Dobson asked, “Should Caxton mention Robbins’s death in the Winslow speech, Walsh?”

“Naw.” Hand rubbing the back of his neck, Walsh turned in a small circle in the middle of the bus. “Just wish Upton weren’t going to get all that free press in Pennsylvania, of all places. Why the hell couldn’t Robbins have driven himself off a bridge in a smaller state? South Dakota?”

Phil Nolting said, “Some advance men will do anything to make a headline.”

“Yeah,” said Dobson. “Let’s send a suggestion to Willy in California. California’s a big state, too. Must have some bridges.”

“More active press, too,” Nolting said. “The weather’s nicer.”

Fletch was standing at the copying machine, running off the Victor Robbins press release.

The factory whistle blew. Through the steamy window, Fletch saw the governor turn and go through the factory gates by himself.

“Where’s he going?”

The press herd had turned their noses from the wind and were looking toward the campaign bus.

“In to have coffee with the union leader,” Walsh answered, not even looking. “What’s his name—Wohlman. He’ll also have coffee with management.”

“Coffee, coffee,” said a huge-chested man in a black suit who had stepped through the stateroom door at the back of the bus. “Coffee is bad for him.”

“You know Flash Grasselli?” Walsh asked. “This is Fletcher, Flash.” Fletch got his hand crushed in the big man’s fist. “Flash is Dad’s driver, etc.”

“And friend,” Flash said.

“Couldn’t do without Flash,” Walsh said, and the big-chested man nodded as if to say, Damn right.

“Glad to meet you,” Fletch said.

At the front of the bus, while Fletch was trying to get by, Lee Allen Parke was saying quietly to the two volunteers, “Now, you make sure the congressman is made right comfortable, you hear? No matter what time of the morning he comes aboard, you have an eye-opener mixed and ready for him. If he doesn’t want it, he won’t drink it….”

The press was gathered around the foot of the steps of the campaign bus.

“Where’s the statement?” Fenella Baker demanded. Her lips were blue with cold.

“What statement?” Fletch asked.

“The governor’s statement regarding Vic Robbins’s death.” Fenella was staring at the papers in Fletch’s hands. “Idiot.”

“How do you know about Robbins’s death?” Fletch asked. “We got the news only three minutes ago.”

“Give us the damned statement!” Bill Dieckmann shouted. “I’ve got the first phone!”

“You know the governor couldn’t possibly have made a statement,” Fletch said. “He’s in the factory!”

“Are you playing with us?” Ira Lapin yelled.

“No,” Fletch said. “Here are the statements.” He tried to hand them out, but they were grabbed from him.

Bill Dieckmann said to Betsy Ginsberg, “You I can outrun.”

“With a strong tail wind,” Betsy said.

“You must have wires screwed into your heads,” Fletch muttered.

Andrew Esty scanned the statement, then looked up at Fletch. There was rage in his face. “There’s no religious consolation in it! In the statement!” Esty wore a Daily Gospel button even in the lapel of his overcoat.

“God,” Fletch said.

At varying speeds, the members of the press slid through the snow and wind to the telephones inside the factory’s main gates.

Except Freddie Arbuthnot. She stood in the snow, grinning up at Fletch.

“Not interested?” Fletch asked.

“Already phoned it in,” Freddie said. “Such a statement has three parts. Compliment the deceased’s professional expertise. Consolation for family and friends. Offer of help to opposing campaign. Did I miss anything?”

Fletch watched as a dirty, old taxi pulled up at the factory’s main gate. The factory was an expensive taxi ride from anywhere.

“Amazing bunch of savages. Screaming for the governor’s statement on a matter they knew the governor couldn’t even know about yet.”

“Ah, Fletch,” Freddie said. “You’re turning establishment already.”

A man had lifted a battered suitcase out of the taxi. Money in hand, he was arguing with the driver.

“Who’s that?” Fletch asked.

Freddie turned around. “That,” she said definitely, “is bad news. Mr. Bad News, himself.” Turning back to Fletch, she said, “Mr. Michael J. Hanrahan, scourge of respectable journalists everywhere, lead dirt-writer for that chain of daily lies and mischief, the scandal sheet going under the generic name Newsbill.”

Carrying his suitcase in one hand, a portable typewriter in the other, overcoat hems flapping in the wind, the man was lumbering toward the campaign bus. The taxi driver was shouting something at him, which could not be heard in the wind.

“That’s Hanrahan? I hoped never to meet him.”

Hanrahan turned his head and spat toward the taxi driver.

“I thought Mary Rice was covering us for Newsbill.”

“Mary’s a mouse,” Freddie said. “Hanrahan’s a rat.”

“ ’lo, Arbuthnot.” With either a smile or a grimace, Michael J. Hanrahan tipped his profile toward her, looking at her out of the corner of his eye. “Made it with any goats lately?”

“Always a pleasure to witness your physical and mental degeneracy, Hanrahan,” Freddie answered. “How many more hours to live do the doctors give you?”

Hanrahan didn’t put down either his suitcase or his typewriter case. He shivered in his overcoat.

The skin of his face was puffy, flushed, and scabrous. Between the gaps in his mouth were black and yellow teeth. His clothes looked as stale as last month’s bread.

“Never, never use a toilet seat,” Freddie advised Fletch, “after Hanrahan has used it.”

Hanrahan laughed. “Where’s this jackass Fletcher?” he asked her.

“I’m the jackass,” Fletch said.

Hanrahan closed his mouth, tried unsuccessfully to breathe through his nose, then opened his mouth again. “Oh, joy,” he muttered. “This kid doesn’t even go to the bathroom, I bet. Probably been taught not to. It isn’t nice.” He put his chin up at Fletch, who was still on the stairs of the campaign bus, and tried to give Fletch a penetrating look with bloodshot eyes, each in its own pool of poison. “Boy, are you in trouble.”

“Why’s that?” Fletch asked.

“ ’Cause you’ve never dealt with Hanrahan before.”

“Dreadful stuff you write,” Fletch said.

“All you’ve had to deal with so far are these milksop pussycats mewing for your handouts.”

“Meow,” said Freddie.

“You’re gonna work for me,” Hanrahan said. “You’re gonna work your shavvy-tailed ass off.”

“What do you want, Hanrahan?”

“I want to sit down with your candidate. And I mean now.”

“Not now.”

“Today. Within a few hours. I need to ask him some questions.”

“About what?”

“About dead broads,” Hanrahan snapped. “That broad in Chicago. That broad last night. The brutally slain debutante your candidate leaves behind him everywhere he goes.”

Newsbill’s electronics must be good as Newsworld’s,” Fletch said to Freddie.

Newsworld’s doesn’t use such colorful words,” Freddie said. “Archaic though they may be.”

“Hell, Hanrahan,” Fletch said, “that matter’s already wrapped up.”

Hanrahan squinted. “It is?”

“Yeah. They took Mary Rice into custody an hour ago. Your own reporter. From Newsbill.”


“He’s right, Hanrahan. We all know how far you Newsbill writers will go to make a story. Mary just got caught this time.”

“The police knew the murderer was Mary because she left someone else’s notes at the scene of crime,” Fletch added.

Even Hanrahan’s neck was turning red. “You know how many readers I got?” he shouted.

“Yeah,” Freddie said. “Everyone in the country who can’t read, reads Newsbill. Big deal.”

“They all vote,” Hanrahan insisted to her.

“More’s the pity,” Freddie said to the ground.

“I want to get together with your candidate now,” Hanrahan said. “And no more juvenile crap from you!”

“Doubt the candidate will have all that much time for you, Hanrahan.”

“What’s the matter?” Hanrahan took a step forward. “Doesn’t little boyums like the smell of big bad man’s breath?”

“Highly indicative, I’m sure,” Fletch said.

“You put me together with your candidate, let me work him over with my bare knuckles, or tomorrow Newsbill’s readers are going to be told Governor Caxton Wheeler refuses to answer questions about two recent murders on his campaign trail.”

“You just do that, Hanrahan.” Fletch turned to climb the bus steps. “It will be the first time you’ve ever written the truth.”