“No, no eggs for me,” Ira Lapin said. He and Fletch were in a booth in the hotel’s coffee shop. “My doctor gave me a big warning against cholesterol. No bacon, either. I forget what’s wrong with bacon. I’m sure something is. No coffee, of course.” He ordered oatmeal, unbuttered toast, and tea. “What is cholesterol, anyway? Little boomies that gang up trying to get through the doorways to your heart?”

“I think it gives you hardening of the head or something.”

“I’d never notice,” Ira said. “If my head were any harder I could never sneeze.”

Fletch ordered steak and eggs, orange juice, and coffee.

“What is it with you young people?” Ira asked. “Can’t afford to go to a doctor and never enjoy breakfast again?”

“My worry is the population explosion,” Fletch said.

“And that’s your answer to the population explosion? Commit suicide at breakfast?”

“Not suicide,” Fletch answered. “I just don’t hope to take up space beyond my allotted time.”

Ira nodded sagely. “An original point of view.”

“Everybody has to worry about something.”

“These doctors kill you,” Ira said. “Everything’s bad for you. Booze is bad for you. Tobacco. Coffee. Red meat. The egg is bad for you. What can be more innocent than the egg? It isn’t even born yet.”

“Milk, cheese, chocolate. Water. Air.”

“They want us to go straight from our incubators to our coffins. No outside influences, please; I’m living.”

“Tough life.” The waitress brought them their tea and coffee. “Doubt we’ll ever adapt to it.”

“I take from the unhealthiest doctor I could find. He’s a wreck. Fat as the federal budget. He smokes like a public utility; drinks as if he has as many different mouths as a White House source. When he breathes, you’d think someone is running a caucus in his chest. Thought he’d be easy on me. Tolerant. Relaxed. Not a bit of it. Still he gives me that old saw, ‘Don’t do as I do; do as I say.’ I guess I should. Already he’s invested in a burial plot, he tells me. And he’s only thirty-two.”

Breakfast came.

“How do you like the campaign so far?” Ira Lapin asked the candidate’s press representative.

“Getting some surprises,” Fletch said.

“Like …?”

“Caxton Wheeler’s brighter than I thought. More honest. More sane.”

“You didn’t know him before?”


“You knew his son.”


“What do you think of the press, now that you’re seeing us from a different angle?”


“What do you mean, cute? Or are you referring only to La Arbuthnot?”

“That incident yesterday with the governor and the kids and the coins. The magic show he put on. I would never see that as a national issue.”

Ira nodded. “I reported it. I didn’t report it as an issue. I just reported it. Let people make of it what they will.”

“You mean, the editors, news directors …”

“It’s the little things that count,” Ira Lapin said. He had spooned cream and sugar onto his oatmeal, cream and sugar into his tea. He had put a quarter of a pot of jam on his toast. Blissfully, he was eating everything. “You know you’ve been thrown in here as a sacrificial lamb. Yes. You have. You’ve been thrown to the wolves. To me. To us. You’re surprised? Eat your steak. Steak for breakfast. You’d drive my doctor to drink. Never mind. For him it’s not a long ride. We’re at the point in the campaign where they need someone young in your job. A throwaway. Nothing wrong with James except he was tired. His tricks were tired. He was boring us. You’re young, and people say you have a crazy mind. You do. Ignore the doctor because you worry about the population explosion. You’ll keep us entertained, all right. There’s a story you gave Solov a bottle of eyedrops. You do that?”


“They can make up stories about you. Deflect from the candidate. After these stupid, high-energy primaries are over, you’ll be used as the scapegoat. You’ll be what’s wrong with the campaign. You’ll be gotten rid of as a concession to the press, an answer for everything that’s wrong. Then they’ll march the professionals in. You think I don’t know what I’m talking about?” Fletch was eating and listening, not registering surprise to the degree Ira Lapin wanted. “They have one ready. You ever hear of Graham Kidwell? He’s already on the campaign as media consultant. I’ll bet you this piece of toast, what’s left of it, Wheeler’s already talked with him this morning, maybe twice. Kidwell is sitting in a big Washington office, partner in a rich public relations firm, primed for the job of press secretary to the President of the United States. You think you’re going to the White House? Think again. I’ve seen it before. ‘A presidential campaign is a crusade of amateurs.’ Where did he get that? Some amateur. Caxton Wheeler’s an amateur like a Georgetown madame. And his wife, the dragon lady. She could make the finals in any contest you happened to run. Including mud wrestling. During the primary campaigns, in all these rinky little towns, a good campaigner wants to give the impression of amateurism. Makes the campaign seem more real. More like a people’s movement. Gets the volunteers out, the bucks up. The people see the fumbling around, say, ‘Gee, I can help,’ throw down their shovels and golf clubs, and go to work for the candidate. Later, only professionalism sells. Then the image of competence is needed. So right now, in this road show, you’re the lead amateur.” Ira drained his teacup. “Thought I’d let you know.”

“Thanks,” Fletch said cheerily enough. “I expect you’re right.”

“No probably about it. I know I’m right. Campaigns at first need idealism and youth. Once the primaries are won, cynicism takes over and idealism gets a bus ticket home. You don’t mind being used?”

“Everybody gets used,” Fletch said. “Depends on what you get used for.”

“Idealism,” scoffed Ira Lapin. “Idealism goes home on a bus.” Ira poured the last drops from his teapot into his coffee cup. “I feel sick.”

“You don’t look well.”

“What I need is some coffee.” He signaled the waitress. “I should contribute to the population explosion?” The waitress came over and he ordered a pot of coffee. Then he said to Fletch: “You know my wife was murdered.”

“No. My God. When?”

“Two years, five months ago. A block from our apartment in Washington. Stabbed by a mugger.”

“Stabbed to death?”

“She was stabbed. Would you believe it was hitting her head on a stone step when she fell down that killed her? Stone steps leading to a house.”

Fletch shook his head. “How do you accept a thing like that?”

“You don’t. You don’t accept it. You don’t think about it. You just leave it out there somewhere, like a part of town you never visit. You put the anger, the rage, the fury in another part of town, and you never visit it.” The waitress brought the pot of coffee and a fresh cup and saucer for Ira. “Thank you,” he said to her. “You’re killing me.” He poured the coffee slowly into his cup. “I was in Vienna with the President when I got the cable. Did you ever see a piece of paper you couldn’t believe at all? I mean, no matter how many times you read it, it just sits there like an impossible lie? I don’t even remember the trip home. I remember Marty Nolan of the Boston Globe packing my bags for me.”

“Any kids?”

“Grown. They were devastated. Who was their mother to get stabbed? A nice little person.”

“Did they ever catch the guy who did it?”

“A man was seen running away carrying a purse. Maybe she had fifty dollars in the purse. I doubt that much. He didn’t steal the new tablecloth she had just bought. The whole thing was unnecessary. We already had a tablecloth.”

“I dunno,” Fletch said. “I’m real sorry for you, man.”

“It’s not that.” Ira waved his hand in front of his face. “It’s just that every time I hear of one of these murders—women getting killed—just stirs the whole thing up again.”


“Jeez. You can’t come down to breakfast without hearing about some woman getting killed down the corridor.”

“What do you mean?” Fletch asked.

“You didn’t hear? Some reporter you must have been. A chambermaid got killed last night. Strangled.”

“In this hotel?”

“Yeah. The kitchen help found her when they came in this morning. At four o’clock. In a service elevator. Two nights ago was it?—a woman gets pushed off the roof of the motel we were in. I don’t know. We go through this whole election process as if we were civilized human beings. What good does it do? It’s just a big pretense that we’re civilized.”

Fletch wanted to say, Wait a minute….

“What’s the matter with you?” Ira asked. “Now you look sick. What happened to your tan? Didn’t know it was the kind you could rub off. Better take some of my coffee.”

“No. Thanks.”

“Take it. You look like your heart just sat down and took off its shoes.”


“Sure. Have some coffee. No good for me anyway. My doctor says it makes me nervous.”