“Yeah. What time do you have to be back in the office?”

“In about three months.”


“We’ve got plenty of time. Why don’t you get up, pack, make us a picnic lunch, a picnic supper, a picnic breakfast—”

“Can’t we stop along the way?”

“Not to eat.”

“All I’ve got is a jar of peanut butter. I’ve been letting the supplies run down.”

“Bring the whole jar. I’ll pick up the bread and orange juice.”

“Traveling with you sounds like a real treat.”

“Fifth class all the way. I’ll be by in about an hour.”

“An hour and a half.”

“It doesn’t take that long to pack a jar of peanut butter.”

“It does when I lost the top of the jar six weeks ago.”

“How can you lose the top of a peanut butter jar?”

“I think I mistook it for an elephant, and you know those elephants—”

“Yeah,” said Fletch. “Always getting lost. Don’t be too long. Thought we’d stop on the way down, beach I know, for a swim.”

“You have that much free time?”

“I have time,” said Fletch. “And it’s all free.”


’M   S O R R Y,”   L E T  C H said. “I didn’t expect my phone call to take that much time.”

Jacques Cavalier was sitting behind his olive wood desk, but in the chair where Fletch had been sitting was a short, middle-aged man with an angelic face. He was looking at Fletch with curiosity, and Cavalier was looking at Fletch with concern.

“Are you all right, Mister Armistad?” Cavalier asked.

“Sure, sure,” Fletch said. “Just hot in that other room.”

“Mister Armistad,” Cavalier insisted. “You’re pale. Have you had a shock?”

“Oh, that,” Fletch said easily. “My boss just told me that a friend … of mine has been fired.”

“How very distressing,” said Cavalier. “Tell me, Mister Armistad: what do you do for a living?”

“I park cars.”

“A humble enough job.” Cavalier smiled. “Why was your friend fired?”

“He tried to park two cars in the same space. Almost succeeded. Chuck never did have a very good memory.”

“This is Mister Smith, our house detective.” Cavalier consulted his note pad. “Mister Geoffrey with a G, Armistad—our honest friend who parks cars for a living.”

“Hiya,” said the middle-aged man with the angelic face.

Fletch sat in the free chair.

“I’ve repeated to Mister Smith your remarkable story, Mister Armistad. He is, you might say, incredulous.”

“Lemme see the wallet,” Smith said.

Fletch handed it to him. The detective counted the twenty five bills individually.

“Okay.” Smith placed the wallet on the desk. “I’ve checked. A man giving his name as James St. E. Crandall checked into the hotel at four P.M. three days ago. He checked out this morning just before Jacques called me. Paid cash.” Smith read from the itemized bill in his hands. “He had room service for breakfast for one, for both mornings he was here. Yesterday he had a pair of trousers pressed. The night he arrived he had one beer brought to his room about ten-thirty, so we can guess he retired early. He had no other bar-bill or restaurant charges in the hotel. He made six local calls, all in all, and no long-distance calls. He gave as his address 47907 Courier Drive, Wramrud. He put down nothing on the line for Company Name, Business Affiliation.”

Fletch had signaled Cavalier for a piece of paper and pen and was writing down the address.

“I’ve checked his room,” Smith continued. “Nothing out of the ordinary. Usual wrinkled sheets and towels.”

“He was known to your people at the Reception Desk?”

Smith said, “I asked the cashier, who checked Crandall out, for a description. He said the guy was either fifty and balding or seventy and stooped. I guess two people were checking out at the same time.”

“But someone on your Reception Desk knew him.”

“Why do you say that?” Smith asked.

“You said Crandall paid cash when he left. Reception desks like to run a credit card when a person checks in—don’t they?”

Smith glanced at Cavalier.

“This is a first class hotel, Mister Armistad.”

“You don’t have first class crooks?”

“We try to bother our guests as little as possible. Of course, sometimes we get stuck …” Cavalier raised his hands and shrugged. “… but we consider it worth it not to distrust everybody. Our guests trust us; we should trust them.”

Fletch asked, “How many people pay their hotel bills in cash?”

“A good many,” said Cavalier. “At this hotel. We still have the little old ladies in tennis shoes, you know—and they’re not all little old ladies—who do not put themselves in the way of being mugged by either someone in the street, or, a credit card company.”

“We have other guests who pay cash, too.” Smith chuckled at Cavalier. “Every hotel has those—here on private business, we call it.”

“Breakfast for one,” Fletch said. “Two days running. Doesn’t sound like Crandall was sharing his room with anyone.”

“Doesn’t necessarily mean anything,” Smith said. “There are lots of other hours in a day.”

“Yeah, but what percentage of your guests pay in cash?”

“About ten percent,” said Cavalier.

“More like fifteen,” said Smith.

“Mister Smith is obliged to think on the seamier side of things,” Cavalier said.

“So there was nothing really unusual about this guest, James St. E. Crandall.”

“Yeah,” laughed Smith. “He ducked out on somebody trying to return twenty-five thousand dollars cash to him. That’s a new experience for us.”

Cavalier had been studying Fletch. “Hope you don’t mind my saying, Mister Armistad, but you’re not my idea of a parking lot attendant.”

“Have you known many parking lot attendants?”

Cavalier smirked. “Not intimately.”

Taking the wallet off the desk, Fletch stood up. “Thank you both for your help,” he said.

Cavalier asked, “You’re taking the wallet?”

“What else?”

“Well, I don’t know.” Cavalier looked at Smith. “I’m sure I don’t know what to do. This isn’t a simple matter of Lost and Found. I suppose I had been thinking the next thing we would do would be to notify the police.”

“Oh, I’m going to the police,” said Fletch.

“Sure,” Smith said.

“I came here, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did come here.” Cavalier ran his middle finger over his creased brow. “And you did find the money. And not on hotel premises … you say.”

“Not within twenty blocks of here.”

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