“How do, Mr. Persecutor.” Fletch had taken the moment to lie down on his bed at the Melville First Hotel and return Alston Chambers’s call. “Only got a minute. Got to meet Walsh and a couple of members of the press in a bar about a matter of death and death. And death.”

“How’s it going, Fletch?”

“Feel like I’m dancin’ to the ‘Three Page Sonata,’” answered Fletch. “Have to do more listenin’ than dancin’.”

It was five o’clock. The rally at Melville’s public auditorium was to begin at eight o’clock.

From three to four that afternoon, Fletch had sat through a call-in radio talk show with The Man Who in the town of McKensie. Many of the people who called in had intelligent, pertinent questions regarding Social Security, farm subsidies, federal highway funds. A significant percentage called The Man Who with personal problems. “My wife is working now, we need the extra income, you know, to eat? This means my kids come home from school to an empty house, we ask a neighbor to watch over them, but she has arthritis, she can’t move none too fast, we never know what they’re doin’, you know? Why can’t things be like they were? When I was a kid, my mother was home…” The high incidence of crime came up more than once, naturally, and the governor made the most of the opportunity, referring to the chambermaid found murdered in his hotel that morning. For an hour The Man Who made a sincere effort to answer all questions, public and private.

And then the slow crawl by car over dark roads from McKensie to Melville. Flash drove. In the backseat, the governor read. In the front seat, Fletch watched the fifty-five-mile-per-hour signs approach at thirty miles per hour.

At the Melville First Hotel, messages were waiting for Fletch. Asking him to contact journalists traveling with the campaign (Lansing Sayer, Fenella Baker, Stella Kirchner). Asking him to contact other journalists calling in from around the country (plus one from Mexico City and one from the Times of London). There were three messages asking him to return the calls of Rondoll James in Iowa.

He had returned Alston Chambers’s call.

Alston said, “Thought I’d tell you I followed up on that question I asked you last night.”

“What question?”

“About Walsh’s sudden departure from the field. After our three days hanging in the trees.”

“Sure. He was tired. He’d had enough of it. His poppa had the political pull to bring him home. I would have gotten out of there at that point, too, if I could have. Any of us would have.”

“Yes, but not quite. Walsh sassed a superior officer.”

Fletch blinked. “Who didn’t?”

“I talked to Captain Walters. He runs a book distribution center in Denver now, by the way.”

“Nice man. Used to get reading books for all of us. Never lost his cool.”

“Yeah, well he says that at one point, Walsh did.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Laced into Major Leslie Hunt.”

“First time I ever heard her name pronounced with an H.”

“That she was. You remember her.”

“Awful bitch. Resented soldiers being men.”

“Remember the thing she was always going on about?”

“Yeah. Mess tent had to be in the middle. Regulations. Forget the snipers. Mess tent in the middle to impress the enemy. As they shot at us. Impress them with our stupidity.”

“Two guys from K Company got shot on their way to breakfast. One in the leg, not bad; one in the back, pretty bad.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“Walters says that’s what started it off. Walsh yelled at Major Hunt in staff meeting.”

“He got sent home for that? Should have gotten a free night at the Officers’ Club.”

“No. Later he threatened her.”


“With a rifle butt. That’s where his dad’s pull came in. There were two or three witnesses. Captain Walters said that charges might have been brought against Walsh, probably would have been, if his dad weren’t in Congress on some military appropriations committee.”

“Hell, Walsh had been through three of the worst days in any man’s life. The major was a stupid bitch. Never been to the front herself, so she wanted to make heroes in the chow line.”

“All true. Thought I’d tell you.”

“So Walsh lost his temper at her. Good for him.”

“Walters remembers you. Asked for stories about you. I said there weren’t any.”

“Walsh isn’t so stupid,” Fletch said. “Scared the shit out of a bitch, and got a quick ride home. His momma didn’t have no fools.”