Fletch got off the elevator on the fifth floor to go to his own room.
Down the corridor a man was leaning against the wall. His back was to the elevators. His right hand was against the wall, his arm fairly straight. His left hand was raised to his head.
Fletch went to him. “Bill?”
Bill Dieckmann’s eyes were frosted over. They were not focusing at all. Clearly he did not recognize Fletch. Maybe he knew someone was there.
Bill’s knees jerked forward. Fletch did not catch him. He was too surprised. He put his own hands around Bill’s head and went to the floor with him. Together they landed softly.
Fletch disentangled himself and sat up. Bill Dieckmann was unconscious. Some, but not all, of the pain was gone from his face.
The room key in Bill’s jacket read 916.
Dieckmann was heavy. Fletch raised him in the fireman’s lift.
With Dieckmann over his shoulders, Fletch waited for the elevator.
“I thought you left the campaign, Mr. Esty.” Fletch pushed the button for the ninth floor.
“I was ordered back.”
Esty did not seem to notice that Fletch had a large man over his shoulders. He had barely made room for them in the elevator.
“Nice to have you back,” Fletch said from behind the folds of Bill’s suit jacket.
“It’s not nice to be back.”
“But,” said Fletch, “you have a job to do.”
“Do you really think,” Esty asked, “we should allow this anti-American, anti-Christian campaign to go unreported?”
“Are we on the ninth floor?”
There was a moment before Esty admitted they were on the ninth floor.
Fletch said, “Gotta call ’em as you see ’em.” He staggered with his load of Bill Dieckmann through the elevator door.
Fletch lowered Bill Dieckmann onto the bed in Room 916.
Then he picked up the telephone.
“What are you doing?” On the bed, Bill’s eyes were open, wary.
“Calling Dr. Thom,” Fletch said.
“What are you doing in my room?”
“You collapsed, Bill. On the fifth floor. You’ve been unconscious.”
“Put the phone down.”
The hotel’s operator had not yet answered. “Are you sure?” Fletch asked.
“Put it down.”
Fletch hung up.
“Now get out.”
“You might say thanks for the ride, Bill. I carried you up here.”
“Thanks for nothing.”
“Bill, I’m not your wife, boss, brother, friend … you know the rest of the speech?”
“No,” Bill said. “You’re not.”
“Something’s wrong with your head, man. Twice I’ve seen you trying to twist it off. Tomorrow you might succeed.”
“You’ve said that before. It’s no secret you’re having trouble, Bill. Dr. Thom may be a strange man, but he’s not going to call your managing editor first thing with a complete medical report. Doctors still have to keep their mouths shut, even Dr. Thom.”
Dieckmann appeared to be listening.
“Anyway,” Fletch continued, “suppose you succeed at twisting your head off one of these times? Think of the disgusting sight. You walking around with your head in your hands, down around your pockets. Blood bubbling up from your neck and dribbling all over your suit. I know you’d still get the story, Bill. But think of the ladies. You want Fenella Baker to see a thing like that? Might make her face powder fall off. That would be really sickening.”
Head in hands, Bill said, “Get out of here, Fletch. Please. Go bother somebody else. Go bother Ira Lapin. He’s got bigger problems than I have.”
“What are his problems?”
“Housemother you’re not.”
“Agreed. But, Bill, you just collapsed. You weren’t even on the right floor. You had no idea what you were doing. Before you went unconscious, you didn’t even recognize me.”
“Okay, okay. What am I supposed to do about it?”
“Get medical attention. This primary campaign isn’t worth your life, Bill. You know what I mean? At least to you, it isn’t.”
“I’m all right.”
“You’re about as all right as a snowman on the Fourth of July.”
“Leave me alone.”
“Okay. If you say so.” At the door, Fletch said, “You sure there’s nothing I can do?”
“Yeah. There’s something you can do.”
“Tell me if I’m on the right campaign. Who’s going to win this damned primary?”
“Gee, I dunno, Bill.”
“Then you’re no good to me.”
“But I can tell you that after this primary election, there’s another one. And then another. And another … Good night, Bill.”