“I completed, duplicated, and delivered tomorrow’s final schedules,” Fletch said. “I also issued the three special releases Nolting and Dobson have been working on. You saw them. On Central America, exploitation of Native American lands, on the Russian economic situation. I also made up some nice-guy stuff about your dad for the feature press—”
“Like what?” Walsh asked sharply.
They were in Walsh’s bedroom on the twelfth floor of the hotel, sitting at the table under the shaded light.
“I told them how your dad used to give you your allowance. Make the coin disappear between his hands and then pretend to find it in your ear or something. Okay?”
“Okay.” Walsh’s eyes were darting around the areas of the room outside the light.
“Idea being to take the stink out of that scene this morning at Conroy School,” Fletch said. “To imply he treats all kids as he would his own.”
“I understand,” Walsh said with a touch of impatience.
“Did you go through Sully?” Walsh asked.
“I guess you could say that. I went through Sully.”
“Your first run-in with Sully?”
“What a bitch,” Walsh said.
“Oh, you know that.”
“Fletch, I think you’d better plan to spend some time with my mother tomorrow. Get to know her a little. See her as she really is.”
“I would like that,” Fletch said.
“I’ll arrange it.”
“My phone was ringing constantly, Walsh. All the world’s pundits wanting to know the source of your dad’s ‘New Reality’ speech.”
“Did you tell them?”
“I said as far as I know it’s the result of the governor’s own thought.”
“Is it?” Again, Walsh’s question was quick and sharp.
“What was the source of the idea, Fletch?” And again Walsh’s eyes were roaming restlessly around the room outside their circle of light.
“I said something. He asked. Maybe it was the germ of the idea. On the bus this morning. Your father was asking me what I thought. I’d never been asked what I thought by a presidential candidate before.”
“You were flattered.”
“Who wouldn’t be? Of course, I didn’t have time to think the idea out.”
“You’re not a speechwriter.”
“What was I supposed to do?”
“The speechwriters are responsible for the consistency of what the candidate says.”
“Anyway, Walsh, less than two hours later in Winslow your dad stands up and issues this perfectly eloquent speech, developing a couple of things I had said—”
“He was angry at the congressperson. He was angry at the way the press handled the Conroy School incident. He was fighting back. We —I had put too much pressure on him over Victor Robbins’s death to make the nightly news with something, anything.”
“Of course you did. Piece of history. By your own hand. When history books pose the question, ‘Why didn’t Caxton Wheeler become President of the United States?’ your grandchildren can read the answer. ‘Because of an ill-considered speech in a snowstorm in a little town called Winslow where he criticized Christianity and the democratic process.’”
“Hey, Walsh. Maybe I just do that to authority. Any authority. Maybe I just get near authority and unconsciously start planting bombs. Your dad is one authority I like. I don’t want to destroy him.”
“Oedipus. Is that it?”
“Maybe. I’m a born-and-bred wise guy. I’ve never done well with authority. You should know that better than anyone. You remember Hill 1918. But I remember I got the platoon too stoned to go out on that earlier patrol. I knew it was suicidal.”
“You were right.”
“You almost got court-martialed for it.”
“The platoon that did go out got blown away.”
“Hell, Walsh. I’m a reporter. I can’t be a kept boy. Telling these reporters I love the stuff they’re writing when most of them couldn’t write their way out of a detention hall.”
Walsh was looking into the dark of the room, clearly not hearing, not listening.
“What I’m trying to say is maybe I should pack my pistols and ride off into the sunset.”
Walsh asked, “What was that thing you did between Betsy Ginsberg and me?”
“Got you to say hello to each other.”
Walsh shook his head slowly.
“That too, Walsh.” Still Fletch was not sure how much of Walsh’s attention he had. “A lady I knew before this campaign ever started refused to have supper with me tonight because of my job. Because of the position I’m in. What do you do about the isolation, Walsh?”
“Fletch, I think your sex life can take a rest.”
“I might get sick.”
“So get sick.”
“Another lady offered me her body for an interview with your mother in the morning.”
“Of course not.”
“See? You’re sick already.”
“I think I ought to go back to bayin’ at the moon, Walsh.”
Walsh’s eyes came back into the light, focused on the table surface. “You just gave Dad the coins. You didn’t hand them out to the kids. To some of the kids. You just gave him the ideas. You didn’t make the speech.”
Fletch stretched his fingers. “Maybe that’s what I like about your dad. He’s a bit of a rebel, too. His mind’s up there somewhere, kissin’ the truth. At least he’s not the complete phony I expected the front-runnin’ politician to be. Once in a while he actually says what occurs to him as the truth.”
Abruptly Walsh sat up in his chair. “You’re always making jokes. Is that how you escape?”
Slowly, carefully, Fletch said, “No. That’s why the chicken crossed the road.”
For the first time since Fletch had entered the room, Walsh looked him fully in the face. Then he grinned.
Fletch said, “Now that I have your attention …”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Walsh. “You have my attention.”
“James called me tonight. From Iowa. He’s in Iowa to attend Victor Robbins’s funeral.”
“Bastard. He’s there to get himself a job with the opposition.”
“I wondered about that.”
“You bet. As sure as God made anchovies.”
“He talked a long time. Gave me some advice. Answered some questions.”
“Said he loves Dad more than he loves himself. Will do anything he can to help out. Call him anytime. Am I right, or am I right?”
“He’d love a pipeline to this campaign. Don’t talk to him.”
“Except I think he was telling the truth. Twenty-three years—”
“Means nothing in history. A pimple on Tuchman’s tuchis.”
Walsh shook his head no rapidly. “He was out to get my mother. Can’t have that. No such thing as being loyal to my father, to the campaign, while you’re sluggin’ away at my mother.”
“You trying to get James his job back? Your job?”
“Maybe it’s impossible.”
“It’s impossible. The jerk self-destructed. People make mistakes in this business. But to go after the candidate’s wife with bare knuckles, that’s the way you get a one-way ticket home.”
“Walsh, listen to me.”
“He says your mother’s temper is getting worse, that people, the press are beginning to know about it …”
Again Walsh was shaking his head no. “When you’ve got dozens of people talking at once, somebody’s got to yell.”
“That scene tonight in your father’s room—”
“Aw, that’s just Ma’s way of blowin’ off steam. Everyone’s gotta blow off steam.” Fletch was watching Walsh’s eyes. “What harm did it do?” Walsh asked. “So people now think the candidate watches Archie Bunker on television. So what? Makes him seem human.”
Fletch said, “Your father isn’t human, Walsh?”
Walsh said: “He’s human.”
“But only Flash Grasselli knows how human, is that right?”
Walsh glanced at Fletch. “I see the press has been pumping you on Dad’s sojourns away from home. I should have warned you.”
“Do you know where he goes, Walsh?”
“Sure. There’s a place he goes. Belongs to a friend. He goes there, fishes, relaxes, reads history. Works on political strategy.”
“How do you know that?”
“He’s told me. Just doesn’t want anyone to have his phone number. He calls us. We don’t call him. He calls regularly. Doesn’t want the press to know. Can’t blame him.”
“Who’s this friend?”
“Someone he knew in school. In law school. One of his lawyer friends, I think.”
The phone rang. Walsh jumped to answer it. “Be right up,” he said into the phone. He hung up and said to Fletch: “Mother.”
Remaining seated, Fletch asked, “When do you get to sleep, Walsh?”
Walsh said, “Plenty of time for that in the White House.”