“God knows. I don’t.”

“What did I do?”

“You quoted somebody who’s been dead two years.”

“I did not.”

“Tom Bradley.”

“Yeah. The Chairman of Wagnall-Phipps.”

“Been dead two years.”

“That’s nuts. First of all, Frank, I didn’t quote Bradley directly—I never spoke to him.”

“That’s a relief.”

“I quoted memos from him.”

“Recent memos?”

“Recent. Very recent. I dated them in my story.”

“Dead men don’t send memos, Fletch.”

“Who says he’s dead?”

“The executive officers of Wagnall-Phipps. The guy’s wife. You make the Tribune look pretty foolish, Fletch. Unreliable, you know?”

Fletch realized he was sitting in the office chair. He didn’t remember sitting down.

“Frank, there’s got to be some explanation.”

“There is. You took a short-cut. You took a big short-cut, Fletcher. Young guys in the newspaper business sometimes do that. This time you got caught.”

“Frank, I quoted recent, dated memos initialed ‘T.B.’ I had them in my hands.”

“Must have been some other ‘T.B.’ Anyway, you did this sloppy, casual story about Wagnall-Phipps, Incorporated, referring throughout to Tom Bradley as the corporation’s top dog, quoting him throughout, and he’s been dead two years. Frankly, Fletcher, I find this very embarrassing. How is the public supposed to believe our weather reports if we do a thing like that? I mean I know you’re not a business reporter, Fletch. You never should have been assigned this story. But a good reporter should be able to cover anything.”

Fletch put the wallet on the desk and rubbed his left hand on his thigh, removing the sweat.

“Let’s talk about it as a suspension, Fletch. You’ve done some good work. You’re young yet.”

“How long a suspension?”

“Three months?” The managing editor sounded like he was trying the idea out on Fletch.

“Three months. Frank, I can’t survive three months. I’ve got alimony to pay. Car payments. I haven’t got a dime.”

“Maybe you should go get another job. Maybe suspension isn’t such a good idea. I haven’t heard from the publisher yet. He probably won’t like the idea of just suspending you.”

“Jeez, Frank. This is terrible.”

“Sure is. Everyone around here is laughing at you. It’s going to be hard to live a story like this down.”

“Frank. I feel innocent. You know what I mean?”

“Joan of Arc you’re not.”

“At least give me a chance to check my sources.”

“Like who?” Frank Jaffe chuckled. “Saint Peter? You get him on the line, I want to know.”

“Okay, Frank. Am I suspended, or fired or what?”

“Let me try out suspension and see how it flies. The publisher’s in Santa Fe with his wife. The financial editor wants your head on a plate. You’re probably fired. Call me next week.”

“Thanks, Frank.”

“Hey, Fletch, want me to send you your pay-check? Janey can stick it in the mail to you.”

“No, thanks.”

“I just thought coming into the office would be sort of embarrassing for you.”

“No, thanks. I’ll come in.”

“No one ever said you’re short of guts, Fletch. Well, if you do come in to the office, wear your football helmet and your steel jockstrap.”


A G N A L L-H I P P S. GOOD morning.”

“Mister Charles Blaine, please.”

Fletch succeeded in keeping his voice steady. Still in the accounting office of the Park Worth Hotel he had dialed Long-distance Information and then called Wagnall-Phipps using his newspaper’s telephone credit card. With his fingers he picked his sweater away from his sweaty skin.

“Mister Blaine’s office.”

“Is he there?”

“I’m sorry, Mister Blaine has left for the day.”

Fletch glanced at his watch. “It’s only eleven thirty in the morning.”

“I know,” the secretary said. “Mister Blaine has the flu.”

“It’s terribly important I talk with him. This is jay Russell. I’m on a charity committee with Mister Blaine—the Committee to Preserve Antique Silver Clouds.”

There was a long pause. “Silver clouds?” the secretary asked. “How do you preserve them?”

“They’re a kind of car,” Fletch said. “A kind of Rolls Royce.”

“Oh,” said the secretary. “For a minute there I thought you were really on to something.”

“May I have Mister Blaine’s home phone number?”

“No, I’m sorry. That’s against company policy.”

“This is terribly important.”

“So’s company policy. At least to me. You wouldn’t want to get me fired.”

“I wouldn’t want to get anybody fired. Believe me. Mister Blaine will be very glad to hear from me. I can assure you there will be no recriminations if you give me his number.”

“I know there won’t be any recriminations—if I don’t give it to you at all.”

Fletch hung up.

His hand still on the receiver, Fletch said, “Damn, damn, damn!”

He checked his own billfold. He had two twenties, a ten, a five, and two one dollar bills, plus a blank check. He tried to remember whether he had a balance in his checking account of one hundred and twenty dollars, or if that had been the month before, or even the month before that. Sometime he had had a balance of one hundred and twenty dollars. At most he had less than two hundred dollars in cash, one paycheck due, and no job.

He picked up the phone and dialed a local number. He rang five times.

“Hello?” Moxie’s voice said sleepily.

“Are you just waking up?”

“I don’t know. What are you doing on the phone? Why aren’t you in bed beside me?”

“Always a good question.”

“Where are you?”

“Park Worth Hotel.”


“I dunno. I went out to the car to check the computer terminal for messages. I found a wallet. That led me to the Park Worth Hotel. It’s a long story.”

“It’s always a long story with you, Fletch.”

“Some days you shouldn’t get up in the morning.”

“Most days you shouldn’t get up in the morning. Is something wrong with you, Fletch?”

“Ha—ha,” he said cheerily, “what could be wrong?”

“What’s wrong?”

“Just one or two minor things. I’ll explain later. Do you still want to drive down the coast with me today?”

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