“Sounds like gangland, doesn’t it?” chuckled Governor Wheeler after the door was closed. “A member of the opposition gets knocked off and we’ve got a wreath ordered before we know where to send it.” He sat in the chair Fletch had just vacated and indicated Fletch should sit on the bed. “American politics is a bit of everything: sports, showmanship, camp meeting, and business negotiation.” He bent over and began taking off his boots. “Ask me some questions.”

“Ask anything?”

“Anything your heart desires. You know a man more from his questions than from his answers. Who said that?”

“You just did.”

“Let’s not make a note of it.”

“I’ve got a simple question.”


“Why do you want to be President of the United States?”

“I don’t, particularly.” The Man Who was changing his socks. “Mrs. Wheeler wants to be Mrs. President of the United States.” Smiling, he looked up at Fletch. “Why do you look so surprised? Most men try to do what their wives want them to, don’t they? I mean, after ten, fifteen years in the same business, most men would quit and go fishin’ if it weren’t for their wives driving them to the top. Don’t you think so?”

“I don’t know.”

“Never married?”

“Once or twice.”

“I see.” The governor, socks changed, shoes on, laces tied, sat back in the swivel chair. “Well, Mrs. Wheeler worked hard during the two congressional campaigns, and the three campaigns for the statehouse, and she worked hard in Washington and in the state capital. It’s her career, you see, as much as mine. For my part, I began to see, five or six years ago, that I might have a crack at the presidency, so I deliberately started sidling toward it, positioning myself for it. I’m a politician, and the top job in my career is the presidency. Why not go for it?”

“You mean, you have no deep convictions …”

The governor was smiling. “The American people don’t want anyone with deep convictions as President of the United States. People with deep convictions are dangerous. They’re incapable of the art of governing a democracy because they’re incapable of compromise. People with deep convictions put everyone who disagrees with them in prison. Then they blow the world up. You don’t want that, do you?”

“Maybe I don’t mean convictions that deep.”

“How deep?”

“Ideas …”

“Listen, Fletch, at best government is a well-run bureaucracy. The presidency is just a doorknob. The bureaucracy is the door. The doorknob is used to open or close the door, to position the door this way or that. But the door is still a door.”

“All this stuff about ‘highest office in the land’ …”

“Hell, the highest office in the land is behind a schoolteacher’s desk. Schoolteachers are the only people who get to make any real difference.”

“So why aren’t you a schoolteacher?”

“Didactic but not dogmatic is the rule for a good politician. Who said that?”

“No one yet. I’m still thinking about it.”

“The President of the United States should be a good administrator. I’m a good administrator. So are the other gentlemen running for the office, I expect.”

“And you don’t care who wins?”

“Not really. Mrs. Wheeler cares.” The Man Who laughed. “Your eyes keep popping when I say that.”

“I’m a little surprised.”

“You really wouldn’t want an ambitious person to be President, would you?”

“Depends on what one is ambitious for.”

“Naw. I’m just one of the boys. Got a job people expect me to do, and I’m doin’ it.”

“I think you’re pulling my leg.”

Again The Man Who laughed. “Maybe. Now is it my turn?”

“Sure. For what?”

“For asking a question.”

“Do I have any answers?”

“We established last night you’ve taken this job on the campaign to feed some ideas into it. Last night, going to sleep, I was wondering what ideas you have.”

“Really sticking it to me, aren’t you?”

“Sometimes you know a man by his answers.”

“Governor, I don’t think you want to hear Political Theory According to Irwin Maurice Fletcher, scribbler and poltroon.”

“I sure do. I want to hear everybody’s political theory. Sooner or later we might come across one that works.”

“Okay. Here goes.” Fletch took a deep breath.

Then said nothing.

The governor laughed. “Called your bluff, did I?”

“No, sir.”

“Talk to me. Don’t be so impressed. I’m just the one who happens to be running for office.”

“Okay.” Fletch hesitated.


“Okay.” Then Fletch said in a rush, “Ideology will never equalize the world. Technology is doing so.”


Fletch said nothing.

In the small stateroom in the back of the presidential campaign bus, The Man Who looked at Fletch as if from far away. “Technology is equalizing the world?”

Still Fletch said nothing.

“You believe in technology?” the governor asked.

“I believe in what is.”

“Well, well.” The governor gazed at the steamy window. “Always nice to hear from the younger generation.”

“It’s not a political theory,” Fletch said. “Just an observation.”

Gazing at the window, the governor said, “There are many parts to that observation.”

“It’s a report,” Fletch said. “I’m a reporter.”

Only dim light came through the steamed-over, dirt-streaked bus window. No scenery was visible through it. After a moment, the governor brushed his knuckles against the window. Still no scenery was visible.

“Run for the presidency,” The Man Who mused, “and see America.”

The stateroom door opened. Flash Grasselli stuck his head around the door. “Anything you want, Governor?”

“Yeah. Coffee. Black.”

“No more coffee today,” Flash said. “Fresh out.”

He withdrew his head and closed the door.

The Man Who and Fletch smiled at each other.

“Someday …” the candidate said.

“Why is he called Flash?”

“Because he’s so slow. He walks slow. He talks slow. He drives slow. Best of all, he’s very slow to jump on people.” The governor frowned. “He’s very loyal.” He then swiveled his chair to face Fletch more fully. “How are things on the press bus?”

“Could be better. You’ve got a couple of double threats there, that I know of.”


“Fredericka Arbuthnot and Michael J. Hanrahan. Freddie’s a crime writer for Newsworld and Hanrahan for Newsbill. ”

“Crime writers?”

“Freddie is very sharp, very professional, probably the best in the business. Hanrahan is utterly sleazy. I would deny him credentials, if I thought I could get away with it.”

“Try it.”

Newsbill has a bigger readership than the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times put together.”

“Yeah, but Newsbill’s readers are too ashamed to identify themselves to each other.”

“So has the Daily Gospel a huge readership, for that matter.”

“How did we attract a couple of crime writers? Did somebody pinch Fenella Baker’s uppers?”

“The murder last night, of Alice Elizabeth Shields, was the second murder in a week that happened on the fringes of this campaign.”

“‘On the fringes,’” the governor repeated.

“They may not be connected. Apparently, Chicago police don’t think so. There’s a strong possibility they are connected. Strong enough, at least, to attract the attention of Freddie Arbuthnot and Michael J.”

“‘Connected.’ To the campaign?”

“Don’t know.”

“Who was murdered in Chicago?”

“A young woman, unidentified, strangled and found in a closet next to the press reception area at the Hotel Harris.”

“And the woman at the motel last night was murdered?”


“You’re saying I should get myself ready to answer some questions about all this.”

“At least.”

“So get me ready.”

“All right. Tell me about your arriving back at the hotel last night.”

The governor swiveled his chair forward again. “Okay. Willy drove me back to the hotel after the Chamber of Commerce speech.”

“Willy Finn, your advance man?”

“Yeah. He flew in as soon as he heard James was out on his ear. We had a chance to talk in the car. After he left me last night, he flew on to California.”

“Any idea what time you got to the hotel?”

“None at all. I think Willy was to be on an eleven-o’clock flight.”

“You entered the hotel alone?”

“Sure. Presidential candidates aren’t so special. There are a lot of us around. At this point.”

“Go straight to the elevator?”

“Of course. Shook a few hands on the way. When I got to the suite and opened the door, I saw flashing blue lights in the air outside. Through the living room window. I turned on the lights and changed into my robe. I looked through things people had stuffed into that briefcase.”

“You weren’t interested in what caused the flashing blue lights, the sirens?”

“My life is full of flashing blue lights and sirens. I’m a walking police emergency.”

“Are you sure?”

“What do you mean?”

“You didn’t go out onto the balcony, lean over the rail and look down?”


“Why weren’t you wearing your shoes when I got there?”

The governor grinned puckishly. “I always take my shoes off before I go to bed. Don’t you?”

“It wasn’t because they were wet from your being out on the balcony?”

“I wasn’t out on the balcony.”

“Someone was. The snow out there was all messed up.”

“As I said, a great many people were in that room earlier. I might have even gone out on the balcony myself earlier. That I don’t remember.”

“You didn’t stop at any point on your way to your suite? On another floor, to see someone? Anything?”

“Nope. What’s the problem?”

“It doesn’t work out, Governor.”

“Why not?”

“Time-wise. Either you passed a mob on the sidewalk gathered around a dead girl …”

“Possible, I suppose.”

“But not likely.”

“No. Not likely.”

“Or, while you were in the lobby, people—including Dr. Thom— rushed out of the bar to the sidewalk to see what had happened.”

“I didn’t see either thing.”

“One thing or the other had to be true, for you to see the flashing police and ambulance lights from your suite when you got there.”

The governor shrugged. “I bored the Chamber of Commerce people to death, but I don’t think I killed anybody after that.”

“How come Flash wasn’t with you last night? Isn’t he sort of your valet-bodyguard?”

“I don’t like having Flash around all the time. Sometimes I like to sneak a cigar. Also, he doesn’t get along too well with Bob.”

“Dr. Thom.”

“Yes. Bob calls Flash a cretin.”

Fletch sat more forward on the edge of the bed. “Hate to sound like a prosecutor, Governor, but did you have personal knowledge of Alice Elizabeth Shields?”

The governor looked Fletch in the eye. “No.”

“Do you know anything at all about her murder?”

Again the steady look. “No.” In an easier tone, he said, “You seem awfully worried. What should I do? Do you think I should make a statement?”

“Not if it looks like this.”

“What should I do? You say we’ve got these two crime writers attached to us. They’re going to write something, sometime …”

Fletch said, “I think it would look politically good for you to make a special request; ask the Federal Bureau of Investigation to come in and investigate.”

“God, no.” The governor pressed back in his chair and then forward. He bounced. “F.B.I. crawling all around us with tape recorders and magnifying glasses? No way! Nothing else would get reported. Nothing I say or do. The story of this campaign would become the story of a crime investigation. It would overwhelm everything I’m doing.”

“I’m sure a discreet enquiry—”

“Discreet, my eye. Just one of those gumshoes comes near this campaign … The press would sniff him out before he got off the plane.”

“At some point in the campaign, you get to have Secret Service protection—”

“I’m not going to call for it before anybody else does. I’m in no more danger than any of the other candidates. What would be my excuse? I saw a man at the Chamber of Commerce dinner last night carrying a gun?”

“Did you?”


“There’s a man named Flynn, used to this upper-level sort of thing, I think—”

“No, no, no. Aren’t my reasons for not doing so clear?”

“Two women have been murdered—”

“‘On the fringes of the campaign’—your own words.”

“It might happen again.”

“You run a big campaign like this through the country, and everything happens. Advance men fall off bridges into icy rivers—”

Flash stuck his head around the stateroom’s door again. “Coming up to that school, Governor.”


Flash came in, closing the door behind him.

“You straight-arm this, Fletch. I’m sorry about the whole thing. I do not take it lightly. But we cannot let this campaign get sidetracked by something that is utterly irrelevant to it. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

The governor stood up. Flash had taken the governor’s suitcoat off a hanger on the back of the door, brushed it, and was holding it out for him. “Interesting talking to you,” the governor muttered.

“My privilege,” Fletch said quietly.

The governor had his hands in the pockets of his suit coat. “Got any money?” he asked.


“I mean coins. Quarters. Nickels. Dimes. Thought I’d try something out at the school. Got any coins, Flash?”

“Sure.” Fletch gave the governor all the coins he had, except for one quarter. Flash gave the governor all his coins.

“And, Fletch, keep those two crime writers away from me.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Arbuthnot and Hanrahan.” The governor was smoothing his jacket. “Sounds like a manufacturer of pneumatic drills.”