Fletch and the Widow Bradley
When Fletch finds a wallet with $10,000 in cash inside, he doesn't realize it's the last piece of good luck he's going to see for a while. Because when he calls in to the News-Tribune, he discovers a story he's written is causing quite a sensation, and not the good kind. He might just be out of a job permanently.
Fletch and the Widow Bradley
If Tom Bradley, the chairman of Wagnall-Phipps and one of Fletch's principal sources, and not incidentally, the source of his paper's embarrassment, is dead, who's been signing his name to company documents, and why doesn't the company treasurer seem to know? If he's alive, how come his widow, Enid, has Tom's ashes on the mantel?
Fletch and the Widow Bradley
Fletch may have more questions than answers on his hands, but he knows he's a pretty good reporter, and if he's going to get his reputation back, not to mention his job, he's going to have to get to the bottom of more than one mystery.
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July 09, 2002
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Excerpt from Fletch and the Widow Bradley by Gregory Mcdonald
"HELLO," FLETCH SAID. "My name is Armistad."
Behind his desk in his office, the manager of the Park Worth Hotel neither stood nor answered. His eyes telegraphed cold rejection of Fletch's sweater, with no shirt under it, jeans and sneakers. Clearly, in the manager's eyes, Fletch was not up to being a guest in the Park Worth Hotel, or a worthy candidate for a job. Dressed that way, he was not particularly welcome in the hotel lobby.
"Your name is Cavalier?" Fletch asked. A triangular piece of wood on the man's desk said the visage you'd see upon raising your eyes a mite would be that of Jacques Cavalier. Besides the olive wood desk in the manager's office was a large safe, opened, odd stacks of printouts, and a plaster cast of Donatello's David perched on a bookshelf full of National Social Registers.
The manager twitched his head as if recovering from a flick on the nose. "Yes?"
Fletch sat in one of the two semi-circular backed chairs. He held the wallet in his left hand. "As I said," Fletch said, "my name is Armistad." He pointed with the wallet to the manager's telephone pad. "You might take that down."
"You're not a guest here," the manager said.
"Geoffrey Armistad with G," Fletch said. "One Three Four Nimble Drive, Santa Monica."
He watched carefully while the manager made the note.
"I'm awfully sorry," the manager said, while dotting the i's. "You do come on like a storm, Geoffrey Armistad with a G, but we're not short of busboys or bellhops, and, if you want kitchen work, you should apply to Chef."
"James Saint E. Crandall," Fletch said.
"James Crandall. Found his wallet this morning beside my car. Not the usual wallet." Fletch opened it like a paperback book and indicated the plastic shield over the identification insert. "Name says James Saint E. Crandall. Only that. No address. No credit cards, pictures, etc.
Looking at it, Cavalier said, "It's a passport wallet."
"So it is," said Fletch.
"And you think this Mister -- ah -- Crandall is a guest of the Park Worth Hotel?"
"Yes and no. In this little pocket is a key." Fletch dug it out with his fingers and held it up. "The key reads Park Worth Hotel, Room 2019."
"Yes," drawled Jacques Cavalier. "Your object is a reward."
"My object," said Fletch, "is to return the wallet to its owner."
"That seems simple enough," said the manager. "I'll check and make sure Mister Crandall is registered here. If he is, you may leave the wallet with me, and I'll see that he gets it."
"It does seem simple, doesn't it?" Fletch stared over the manager's head at the wall. "You haven't asked what's in the wallet."
Again Cavalier twitched his head. "A passport?"
Again Fletch opened the wallet. "Ten one thousand dollar bills this side . . ." He fanned the bills on his fingertips. ". . . Fifteen one thousand dollar bills this side."
"Oh, dear." The manager looked at Fletch with surprised respect. "I'm sure Mister Crandall will be very grateful to you."
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?"
"Indeed I would."
"You mean . . ." Cavalier cleared his throat. "He refused to negotiate a reward with you."
Fletch leaned forward and put his elbows on the desk.
"I came into your hotel about forty-five minutes ago," Fletch said. "Called Room 2019. A man answered. I asked him if he was James Saint E. Crandall, and he said he was. I told him I'd found his wallet. He seemed pleased. He asked me to wait in the coffee shop. He'd be down in five minutes. I told him I'm wearing a dark blue sweater. I waited in the coffee shop a half hour. Two cups of coffee. Not bad coffee, by the way."
"He never showed up. After a half hour, I called his room again. No answer. I went up and knocked on his door. No answer."
"You must have missed him. When people say five minutes . . ."
"When a stranger is waiting to return twenty-five thousand dollars of your money in cash?"
"I don't know."
"Anyway, I checked at your desk. Between the time I first called Crandall and asked at the desk, he had checked out."
"Oh, dear," said the manager. "How very odd."
The manager put his hand on the telephone. "I'm calling Mister Smith," said the manager. "He's our hotel detective. We'll see what he can find out."
"Good." Fletch stood up. "While you're doing that, do you mind if I make a phone call? I need to call my boss."
"Of course." The manager indicated another small office. "There's a phone in there."
"Don't you find it amusing our hotel detective's name is Smith?"
Fletch grinned at him.
"People's names frequently amuse me," said Jacques Cavalier.
"HELLO, JANE. FRANK wants to talk to me?"
"Who is this?"
"Gone two days and you don't recognize my voice."
"Oh, hullo, Fletch. How are things up north?"
"Real excitin'. Would you believe I was in a place last night that featured a bald nude dancer?"
"Female or male?"
"What's exciting about a naked bald male?"
"I don't see what baldness has to do with it," Jane said.
"He didn't mention anything to me about wanting to talk to you."
"The message was waiting for me in the portable terminal this morning. Call Managing Editor Frank Jaffe immediately. Most urgent."
"Oh, you know, everything becomes 'most urgent' with him after a few drinks."
"That's why he's a good managing editor."
"I'll see if he remembers why he wanted you," Jane giggled.
On hold, Fletch was obliged to listen to nine bars of The Blue Danube Waltz. A telephone innovation. The business side of the newspaper thought it real classy. The reporters thought it for the birds. Maybe it soothes someone calling up to order advertising space, but someone calls newsside with a hot story, like The State House is burning down or The Governor just ran away with the Senator's wife and he finds himself dancing a four-square in a telephone booth. It's hard to report temporary sensations and minor perfidies after having just heard violins work through The Theme from Doctor Zhivago.
"Hello, Fletch, where are you?" growled Frank Jaffe. Years of treating himself to whiskey had seared the managing editor's vocal chords.
"Good morning, esteemed leader. I'm in the accountant's office at the Park Worth Hotel."
"What're you doing there?"
"Filed from here last night. Incredible front-page story on the race track opening a new club-house. You mean it wasn't the first thing you read this morning?"
"Oh, yeah. It was on page 39."
"Can't make caviar from pig's feet."
"Jeez, you didn't stay at the Park Worth, did you?"
"No. Just stopped by to give away twenty-five thousand bucks."
"That's good. Only the publisher gets to stay at the Park Worth. Even he doesn't."
"Your message said I should call you. Urgent, you said."
Fletch waited. Frank Jaffe said nothing.
"Hello, Frank? You want me to pick up another story while I'm up here? What is it?"
Frank exhaled. "I guess the lead of this story is -- you're fired."
Fletch said nothing. He inhaled. Then he said, "What else is new? How's the family?"
"Goofed. You goofed, Fletcher. You goofed big."
"How did I do that?"
"God knows. I don't."
"What did I do?"
"You quoted somebody who's been dead two years.
"I did not."
"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. 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."
"Hey, Fletch, want me to send you your pay-check? Janey can stick it in the mail to you."
"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."
"WAGNALL-PHIPPS. 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 Longdistance 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?"
"Just one or two minor things. I'll explain later. Do you still want to drive down the coast with me today?"
"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."