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Authors: Gregory Mcdonald

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Fletch and the Man Who

BOOK: Fletch and the Man Who
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GREGORY MCDONALD
Fletch and the man who

The author of twenty-six books, including eleven
Fletch
novels and four
Flynn
mysteries. He has twice won the Mystery Writers of America’s prestigious Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Mystery Novel, and was the first author to win for both a novel and its sequel. He lives in Tennessee.

Books by Gregory Mcdonald

Fletch
Fletch Won
Fletch, Too
Fletch and the Widow Bradley
Carioca Fletch
Confess, Fletch
Fletch’s Fortune
Fletch’s Moxie
Fletch and The Man Who

Son of Fletch
Fletch Reflected

Flynn
The Buck Passes Flynn
Flynn’s In
Flynn’s World

Skylar
Skylar in Yankeeland

Running Scared
The Brave

Safekeeping
Who Took Toby Rinaldi? (Snatched)
Love Among the Mashed Potatoes (Dear M.E.)

Exits and Entrances
Merely Players
A World Too Wide

The Education of Gregory Mcdonald
(Souvenirs of a Blown World)

1

“Fletch, my man! Good! You got here!”

“Where?”

Shirtless and shoeless, Fletch was standing in a midtown motel room in a middle-sized town in a middle-sized state in Middle America. He had turned on the shower just before the phone rang.

“I want you to go to Dad’s suite,” Walsh Wheeler said. “Immediately. 748.”

“Why don’t you say ‘Hello,’ Walsh?”

“Hello.” The sounds behind Walsh were of several people talking, men and women, the clink of glasses, and, at a distance, heavy beat music—bar noises.

“Why don’t you ask me if I had a nice flight?”

“Stuff it. Isn’t time for all that.”

“Are we enjoying a crisis already?”

“There’s always a crisis on a political campaign, Fletch. On a presidential campaign, all the crises are biggies. You’ve only got a few minutes to learn that.” Despite the background noises, Walsh was speaking quietly into the phone. “Wait a minute,” he said. At the other end of the phone someone was speaking to Walsh. Fletch could
not make out what the other person was saying. His mouth away from the phone, Walsh said. “Any idea who she is?” There was more conversation wrapped in cotton. “Is she dead?” Walsh asked.

Steam was coming through the door of Fletch’s bathroom.

“Who’s dead?” Fletch asked.

“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Walsh said. “Your plane was late? You’re late.”

“Landed unexpectedly in Little Rock. Guess the pilot had to drop off some laundry.”

“You were supposed to be here at six o’clock.”

“Your dad’s very popular in Little Rock. Took a survey of an airport security cop. He said, ‘If Wheeler doesn’t become our next President, guess I’ll have to run for office myself.’ What a threat!”

Speaking away from the phone again, Walsh Wheeler said, “Whoever she is, she has nothing to do with us. Nothing to do with the campaign.”

Fletch said, “I wish I knew the topic of this conversation.”

“I’m downstairs in the lounge, Fletch,” Walsh said. “I’ll handle things here, but you get yourself to Dad’s suite
tout
.”

“It’s ten-thirty at night, isn’t it?”

“About that. So what?”

“I’ve never met the candidate. Your esteemed pa. The governor.”

“Just knock on the door. He doesn’t bite.”

“And then what do I say to the next President of These United States? ‘Wanna buy a new broom?’”

“Never known you to be at a loss for words. Say, ‘Hello, I’m your new genius press representative.’”

“Barging in on The Man Who at ten-thirty at night without even a glass of warm milk—”

“He won’t be in bed, yet. Doctor Thom’s still down here in the bar.”

“Now, look, Lieutenant, a little clarification of orders would make the troops a little more lighthearted in their marching.”

“This could be damned serious, Fletch. Someone just said the girl is dead.”

“Death is one of the more serious things that happen to people. Now, tell me, Walsh, what girl? Who’s dead?”

Walsh coughed. “Don’t know.”

“Walsh—”

“A girl jumped off the motel’s roof. Five minutes ago, ten minutes ago.”

“And she’s dead?”

“So they say.”

“Terrible! But what’s that got to do with your father? With you? With me?”

“Nothing,” Walsh said firmly. “That’s the point.”

“Oh. Then why don’t I take a nice shower, climb into my footy pajamas, and meet your dad at a respectable hour in the morning? Like between coffees number one and two?”

“Because,” said Walsh.

“Oh, that’s why! Walsh, a death in the motel where the candidate is staying shouldn’t even be commented on by the candidate. People die in motels more often than they get warm soup from room service. I’m not saying one thing has to do with another—”

“I agree with you.”

“I mean, you don’t want to make a story by overreacting, by having me rush to your dad’s suite in the middle of the night when I don’t even know the man.”

Walsh coughed again. His voice lowered. “Apparently she jumped, Fletch. They’re saying from the roof right over Dad’s suite. Over his balcony. Photographs have already been taken of the building. Arrows will be drawn.”

“Oh.”

“Arrows that swoop downward.”

“Oh.”

“The bored press, Fletch. Starving for any new story. Any new angle.”

“Yeah. Implication being the young lady might have used the balcony of the candidate’s room as a diving board to oblivion. Certain newspapers would make something of that.
Newsbill
.”

“I knew you had something other than pretzels between the ears.”

“Potato chips.”

“Go to Dad’s suite. Answer the phone if it rings. Say you’re new on the job and don’t know what anybody’s talking about.”

“Easy enough. True, too.”

“I’ll try to have his phone turned off at the switchboard. But not all switchboards are incorruptible.”

“I seem to remember having corrupted one or two myself. Suite number what?”

“748. I’ll be right up. As soon as I ace the switchboard and do my casual act in the bar. Convince the press we’re not reacting to the girl’s death.”

“Walsh? Give it to me straight. Does the girl have anything to do with us? I mean, the campaign? The presidential candidate?”

Walsh’s voice dropped even lower. “It’s your job, Fletch, to make damned sure she didn’t.”

2

She was alone in the elevator when the door opened.

In the corridor, Fletch was pulling on his jacket. For a moment, he thought his eyes were playing a joke on him: the girl with the honey-colored hair and the brown eyes.

“Freddie!” he exclaimed. “As I live and breathe! The one and only Freddie Arbuthnot.”

“Fletch,” she said. “It is true.”

“Going my way?” he asked.

“No,” she answered. “I’m on my way up.”

He scooted through the closing doors. In the elevator, the button had been pushed for the eighth floor.

“I’m glad to see you,” he said.

“You never have been before.”

“Listen, Freddie, about that time in Virginia. What can I say? I was wrong. That journalism convention—you know, where we met?—was full of spooks, and I had every reason to think you were one of them.”

“I’m an honest journalist, Mr. Fletcher.” Freddie tightened her nostrils. “Unlike some people I don’t care to know.”

“Honest,” he agreed. “As honest as fried chicken.”

“Well known, too.”

“Famous!” he said. “Everybody knows the superb work Fredericka Arbuthnot turns in.”

“Then, why didn’t you know who I was in Virginia?”

“Everybody knew except me. I was just stupid. I had been out of the country.”

“You don’t read
Newsworld?”

“My dentist doesn’t subscribe.”

“You don’t read the
Newsworld Syndicate?”

“Not on crime. Gross stuff, crime. Reports on what the coroner found in the victim’s lower intestine. I don’t even want to know what’s in my own lower intestine.”

“I make my living writing crime for
Newsworld
.”

“You’re the best. Everyone says so. The scourge of defense attorneys everywhere.”

“Is it true Governor Wheeler is making you his press representative?”

“Haven’t met the old wheez yet.”

The elevator door opened.

“One look at you,” she said, “and he’ll send you back to playschool.”

He followed her off the elevator onto the eighth floor. “What are you doing in whatever town we’re in, Freddie? Interesting trial going on?”

Walking down the corridor, she said, “I’ve joined the campaign.”

“Oh? Given up journalism? Become a volunteer?”

“Not likely,” she said. “I’m still a member of the honest, working press.”

“I don’t quite get that, Freddie,” Fletch said a little louder than he meant to. “You’re a crime reporter. This is a political campaign.”

She took her room key from the pocket of her skirt. “Isn’t a political campaign somewhat like a trial by jury?”

“Only somewhat. When you lose a political campaign in this country, you don’t usually go to the slammer.”

She turned the key in the lock. “Do I make you nervous, Fletcher?”

“You always have.”

“You’re going to tell me you don’t know anything about the girl who was murdered in this motel tonight.”


Murdered?”

“You don’t know anything about it?”

“No.”

“She was naked and beaten. Brutally beaten. Don’t need a coroner to tell me that. I saw that much with my own eyes. I would guess also raped. And further, I would guess she was either thrown off a balcony of this motel, or, virtually the same, driven to jump.”

Fletch’s eyes were round. “That only happened a half hour ago, Freddie. You couldn’t have gotten here that fast from New York or Los Angeles or—or from wherever you hang your suspicions.”

“Oh, you do know something about it.”

“I know a girl fell to her death from the roof of this motel about a half hour ago.”

“Dear Fletch. Always the last with the story.”

“Not always. Just when there’s Freddie Arbuthnot around.”

“I’d invite you into my room,” Freddie said, “but times I’ve tried that in the past I’ve been wickedly rebuffed.”

“What else do you know about this girl?”

“Not as much as I will know.”

“For sure.”

“Good night, Fletcher darling.”

Fletch stood foursquare to the door which was about to close in his face.

“Freddie! What is a crime reporter doing covering a presidential primary campaign?”

Door in hand, she stood on one tiptoed foot and kissed him on the nose.

“What’s a newspaper delivery boy doing passing himself off as a presidential candidate’s press secretary?”

3

“Who is it?” The voice through the door to Suite 748 was politely curious. Fletch was used to hearing that voice making somber pronouncements about supersonic bombers and the national budget.

“I. M. Fletcher. Walsh told me to come knock on your door.”

The door opened.

Keeping his hand on the doorknob, his arm extended either to embrace or restrain, Governor Caxton Wheeler grinned at Fletch while his eyes worked Fletch over like a football coach measuring a player for the line. Fletch fingered his collar and regretted having put back on the shirt he had been wearing all day.

BOOK: Fletch and the Man Who
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