“Going my way?” Fletch asked the girl with the honey-colored hair and the brown eyes, standing next to her blue suitcase in the airport terminal.
“No,” she answered. “I’m on my way up.”
“I’m glad to see you,” he said.
He set down his own luggage.
After seeing Doris and Caxton Wheeler off in the dark, rented sedan, Flash driving away at a funereal pace, Fletch had returned to his room at Melville’s First Hotel and slept well beyond checkout time. His sleep was troubled. The hard edges of Walsh’s eyes when he first turned and saw Fletch in the auditorium basement penetrated every corner of his sleep. The pained crawl of the dark sedan carrying the Wheelers back across midland America weighted Fletch’s sleep with sadness.
Awaking, he ordered steak and eggs and orange juice and milk and coffee, made his travel arrangements by phone, then settled his hotel bill with the cashier, paying for his extra few hours use of the room himself.
“You’re good at that.”
“I think it’s what I do best.”
“Fletch,” she said, “I’m sorry about your friend. I’m sorry about Walsh.”
“I’m sorry about everything,” he said. “The women. Caxton Wheeler.”
A large group of people were waiting just outside one of the arrival gates. Some of them wore UPTON FOR PRESIDENT badges.
On the fringes of the welcoming group were Roy Filby, Tony Rice, Stella Kirchner. Andrew Esty stood separate from the others, his nose pointed at the arrival gate, wearing more the expression of a judge than a reporter. His heavy overcoat buttoned tightly around him, Boris Solov leaned against a car rental counter. His eyes were closed.
“Did you get your story?” Fletch asked Freddie.
“Yeah. Thanks for tipping me off to be at the courts at three A.M. There are some stories I’d rather not write.” She smiled at him. “But if a story has to be written, I don’t mind scooping the world with it.”
“I appreciate this story’s being written fairly and accurately,” Fletch said.
“Poor Michael J. Hanrahan.” Freddie did not succeed in restraining a laugh. “He didn’t get to file any story at all, did he?”
“Michael J. Hanrahan,” Fletch said, “is in jail. For striking a fireman. For interfering with an official performing his duty. For being drunk and disorderly in a public place.”
“Poor Michael J. Hanrahan,” Freddie giggled.
“I’m very grateful to him. I tried to arrange bail for him while I was at the police station, but the local police seemed to think he needed a few days’ rest. He was shouting from the cell, ‘Doesn’t anyone around here read Newsbill?’ He was in no condition to be put back on the street.”
“Mr. Bad News missed his biggest bad news story.”
“At least Mary Rice wrote the story for Newsbill as the tragedy it is.”
Across the terminal, the welcoming committee was beginning to stir, bunch up at the arrival gates. Television lights were switching on.
The tall, tanned, graying man stopped in the center of the television lights. Hands behind his back, he said a few words into the microphones held out to him. Fletch and Freddie could not hear what he was saying. Either of them could have written the words: “… this great, personal tragedy that has befallen Caxton Wheeler, his wife, family, staff, friends, the murdered women, everyone involved. A great human tragedy …”
Then the candidate, a man who, reached for hands to shake. Gracefully he moved across the terminal, smiling and waving. His staff and welcoming committee streamed after him. The members of the press traveling with him straggled along at the rear of the procession, carrying their own luggage, looking bedraggled.
The other side of the terminal’s big windows, a campaign bus, a press bus, a couple of television vans, the odd cars of volunteers awaited the candidate and his party.
“I’ll have to come back here,” Freddie said. “To cover the trial.”
“And you’ll have to be here for the trial, Fletch. I was just thinking that.”
“We’ll just keep bumping into each other, I guess.”
After a moment, she said, “I’m on the flight to Chicago. It’s all booked up.”
“Then on to Springfield,” she sighed. “To interview a woman just being released from prison after forty years.”
“Me too,” Fletch said. “I’m going to Springfield.”
“You are not.”
“How do you know?”
“Because you think I’m going to Springfield, Illinois, don’t you?”
“I’m going to Springfield, Massachusetts. The flight to Chicago is booked, and there are only fifteen minutes in Chicago between flights.” She laughed. “Oh, Fletch! Caught you this time. Thought you were clever, did you? Now you know where I’m going, but it’s too late for you to sneak around and get tickets for yourself.”
“I just happen to be going to Springfield, Massachusetts,” Fletch said. “It’s pretty there, this time of year.”
She stopped laughing at him. She searched his face to see if he was serious. Then she blinked. “Are you on my flight to Chicago?”
Fletch took his tickets out of his jacket pocket and showed them to her. “Melville to Chicago to Boston to Springfield,” he said. “Massachusetts.”
She studied the tickets. “These are my flights.”
“Mine, actually. You mean to tell me, you are going my way?”
She looked up from the tickets at him. “How did you do that?”
“Know where I’m going and arrange identical tickets for yourself?”
Outside, Senator Simon Upton’s campaign bus was pulling away from the curb.
“Gee, Freddie.” He took the tickets away from her and shoved them into his own pocket. “Why do you want to make a mystery out of everything?”