Approaching him, Governor Caxton Wheeler grinned at Fletch. “How do you feel?”

“Like Adam’s grandfather.”

At the foot of the campaign bus’s steps, the governor was still grinning when he turned to his son. Walsh and Phil Nolting and Paul Dobson looked like a wall that had come tumbling down at the blast of a single trumpet. Each face had the same expression of stressed shock.

“How’d I do?” the governor asked.

Walsh’s eyes darted around, seeing if any of the press were within earshot. Outside their little circle was a group of thirty to forty retarded adults who had been brought from their institution to meet the presidential candidate.

“You’ve got to tell us when you’re going to do something like that, Dad.”

“I told you I had an idea.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t mention you were going to drop a bomb—a whole new departure.”

“A new speech.” Phil Nolting’s eyes were slits.

“Sorry,” the governor said. “Guess I was really thinking about it while that congressperson was babbling on about the waterway.”

“The question always is—” Paul Dobson said in the manner of a bright teacher. “You see, we’ve got to be prepared to defend everything you say before you say it.”

“You can’t defend the truth, anyway?” the governor asked simply. “I can.”

“Hi, Governor,” one of the retarded persons, a man about thirty-five, said. “My name is John.”

“Hi, John,” the governor said.

“It might have been a great speech, Dad, I don’t know. We all just feel sort of punched out by your not telling us you were going to do it.”

“I wasn’t sure I was going to do it.” The governor smiled. “It just came out.”

“We’ll get a transcript as fast as we can,” Dobson said. “See what we can do about it.”

The governor shrugged. “It felt right.” He put out his hand to one of the retarded persons, a woman about thirty. “Hi,” he said. “Are you a friend of John’s?”

Aboard the campaign bus, coordinator of volunteers Lee Allen Parke was connecting a small tape recorder to a headset. A typist was at her little desk, ready to work.

“Lee Allen,” Fletch said. Parke didn’t answer. “Just a simple question.”

“Not now,” Lee Allen said. “No questions now, please.” He said to the typist, “We’ve got to have an exact transcript of whatever the governor just said, sooner than soonest.” He placed the headset over the typist’s ears. She settled the earphones more comfortably on herself.

All the buttons on the telephone in Barry Hines’s chair were flashing. The phone was not ringing. Barry Hines was nowhere in sight.

“Ah, Lee Allen—” Fletch began.

Lee Allen pressed the play button and listened through a third earphone. “Loud and clear?” he asked the typist. She nodded in the affirmative. “My God,” he said, listening. “What is the man saying?”

“Lee Allen, I need to know about Sally Shields, Alice Elizabeth Shields—”

“Not now, Fletcher! All hell has broken loose! The governor just went off half-cocked, in case you didn’t know.”

“No. I didn’t know.”

“First he’s caught bribing schoolkids. Then the hard-drinkin’, sexpot congressman we were told to expect turns out to be somebody’s great-grandmother. By the way, there’s a pitcher of Bloody Marys in the galley, if you want it. Then he makes like Lincoln at Gettysburg at Winslow in a snowstorm. And the day’s barely begun!”

“Well begun,” Fletch consoled, “is half done.”

“Not by my watch.” To the typist, who was listening and typing, Lee Allen Parke shouted, “Can you hear?” She nodded yes with annoyance. “We need every word,” he said. “Every word.”

“You could have answered me by now,” Fletch said firmly.

Lee Allen Parke still held the earphone to his head. “What? What, what, what?”

“Did Alice Elizabeth Shields apply to you for a job as a volunteer, paid or otherwise?”

“How do you spell Riyadh?” the typist asked.

“No,” Lee Allen said impatiently.

“She didn’t?”

“Some of the volunteers reported the caravan was being followed by a Volkswagen. That’s all I know about her.”

“He said something new?” Bill Dieckmann shouted. His face looked like someone had knocked his hat off with a snowball.

He was one of the group returning to the press bus from the bar-café.

“I guess he did,” Fletch admitted.


Betsy Ginsberg said, “Nu?”

Bill Dieckmann’s face looked truly alarmed.

“New,” said Fletch. “I’m not sure how germaine….”

“Ow,” Stella Kirchner said. “Who’s got a tape?” She looked sick.

“All those people presently usurping telephones in downtown Winslow,” Fletch said. “I expect.”

Betsy said, “Have you a tape? Honest, Fletch, I promise we won’t spring a story like presidential-candidate-bribes-schoolchildren on you again if you let us hear your tape.”

“Ain’t got one,” Fletch said. “Transcripts will be ready in a minute.”

“‘Transcripts,’” Dieckmann scoffed. “My editors should read it on the wires while I’m airmailing them a transcript—right?”

“Not on my wire,” moaned Filby.

“What did the governor say?” Kirchner asked.

“Well,” Fletch said, “roughly he said the world is getting it together despite man’s best ideas.”

They all looked at him as if he had spoken in a language foreign to them.

“Nothing about the waterway?” Filby looked about to faint.

“Nothing about the waterway,” Fletch said.

“Shit,” said Filby. “I already reported what he said about the waterway—what he didn’t say about the waterway.”

Fletch led her onto the campaign bus.

“Oooo,” said Betsy in fake cockney. “Don’t they live well, though? Telly and everything.”

Walsh was chatting with Lee Allen Parke.

“Walsh,” Fletch said, “this is Betsy Ginsberg.”

“I know Betsy.” Walsh gave Fletch an odd, questioning look. “Not as a person,” Betsy said.

“Yeah,” said Fletch. “She does nice table settings.”

The governor got on the bus while Fletch was collecting copies of the transcripts from the volunteers.

“Come on back here, clean-and-lean,” the governor said.

They went into the stateroom together. The governor closed the door. “Sit a minute.”

“I’m supposed to be handing these out.” Fletch indicated the transcripts in his hand. “Sir.”

“They can wait.” The governor took off his overcoat and dropped it on the bed. “Tell me what you think.”

“I think you’re damned eloquent. Sir.”

The governor dropped himself into the swivel chair. Fletch did not sit.

“Thank you.”

“Take a germ of an idea like that—”

“More than a germ, I think.”

“You’re brilliant,” Fletch blurted.

“Thank you. Now tell me what you think.”

Fletch felt himself turning warm. “Frankly, I, ah—”

“You—ah?” The governor was looking at him with patient interest.

“I—ah—didn’t know a presidential campaign is so impoverished for ideas. Sir.” The governor laughed. “I mean, I thought everything was sort of worked out from the beginning; you knew what you were saying, had to say, from the start.”

“You were wrong. Does that surprise you?”

“I’m never surprised when I’m wrong.”

“Part of the process of a political campaign is to go around the country listening to people. At least, a good politician listens. You said something this morning that struck me as eminently sensible. Something probably everybody knows is true, but no one has yet said. Probably only the young have grown up with this new reality in their guts, really knowing it to be true.”

“Yes, sir. Maybe.”

“I think people vote for the man who tells them the truth. What do you think?”

“I hope so. Sir.”

“I do too. Politicians aren’t philosophers, Fletch. They’re not supposed to be. No one wants Tom Paine in the White House. Or Marx. Or Eric Hoffer. Or Marcuse. But they don’t want anyone in the White House who doesn’t pursue general truths, or know a general truth when he trips over one, either.” Rocking gently in his swivel chair the governor watched Fletch standing stiffly at the stateroom door, and chuckled. “I think I enjoy shakin’ you up. I bet everybody who has ever met you before has thought you real cool, boy.” Fletch swallowed hard. “That right?”

“I … may … I … ah—”

The governor laughed and held out his hand for a transcript. “Let me have one of those.”

Fletch handed him one from the top. He nearly dropped the pile.

The governor began reading it. “Better see what I said.”