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  • Fletch and the Widow Bradley
  • Written by Gregory Mcdonald
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Written by Gregory McdonaldAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Gregory Mcdonald

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On Sale: May 05, 2010
Pages: 160 | ISBN: 978-0-307-52386-0
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

1

"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.

"Beg pardon?"

"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."

"He's not."

"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."

"Thank you."

"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."

"Isn't it."

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."

"Thank you."

"Mister Armistad."

"Yes?"

"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.

2

"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.

"Where's Frank?"

"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."

"Oh, yeah."

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."

"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."

3

"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."

"Why?"

"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?"

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

"In about three months."

"What?"

"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."
Gregory Mcdonald|Author Q&A

About Gregory Mcdonald

Gregory Mcdonald - Fletch and the Widow Bradley

Photo © Michael J. Balzano (illustration)

Gregory Mcdonald was born on February 15, 1937, in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. He attended Harvard University, having been accepted at the age of sixteen, but insists his real education came through the international yacht troubleshooting business he created and ran to support himself at Harvard. Described by critics as the inventor of the sunlight mystery, Mcdonald has published twenty-six books – fifteen of which are mysteries. Mcdonald’s first book, Running Scared (1964) was hugely controversial when it first came out, because of its argument for rational suicide and its critique of the Ivy League and its complementary institutions for their role in creating a cold, dehumanized, and self-destructive society. The reaction so shocked Mcdonald that it took him ten years to publish his next book. Seven of those ten years, from 1966 to 1973, were spent working at the Boston Globe as a columnist, critic, and contributor to the paper’s Sunday magazine. While at the Globe, Mcdonald became the first member of the major media to write against the Vietnam War. Mcdonald was also among the first American journalists to write in support of civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights. For these efforts, he has received humanitarian and people’s rights awards. In 1974, Mcdonald introduced the character I. M. Fletcher, who would become an iconic figure in American popular culture, in his book Fletch. This work won the 1975 Edgar Allan Poe award from the Mystery Writers of America. In 1976, Mcdonald published its sequel, Confess, Fletch, which won the Edgar in 1977, marking the only time the award has gone to a novel and its sequel. Mcdonald’s books are comprised mostly of dialogue. A self-described post-cinematic writer, he believes that readers have been exposed to so many images through movies that long, descriptive passages are unnecessary to set scenes. This is only one of many aspects of Mcdonald’s writing that make his books unique and groundbreaking.

With his signature character Fletch, Gregory Mcdonald created one of the best-known figures in crime fiction. Sexy, smart (some might say too smart for his own good), witty, and resourceful, Fletch finds himself in and out of predicaments that your average guy would avoid like the plague. The nine Fletch novels, originally published between 1974 and 1986, have been one of the most successful mystery series of all time, selling 100 million copies worldwide. They were also the basis of two successful films starring Chevy Chase. In addition to the Fletch series, Gregory Mcdonald is the author of numerous other mystery novels, including two Son of Fletch novels and three featuring Inspector F. X. Flynn. He died in 2008.

Author Q&A

Q: Where did the idea for Fletch come from?
A: I was a journalist for the Boston Globe for seven years. I’d be sitting around in the City Room at three o’clock in the morning and we’d tell these crazy stories about this reporter who always, of course, worked for some other newspaper, who would do crazy things. One example was that he would call the city desk and tell them about a murder, identify the murderer, and then ask the city desk not to send photographers out to the house until the widow got home and discovered the body. Over the years this idea grew that there was a witty character here that might be fun for people to read, and the idea of Fletch just grew in my head for a long time before I ever put pen to paper. And when it won the Edgar Allan Poe award, I got letters, lots and lots of letters from people asking for more Fletch.

Q: Did you have any idea of another Fletch book, when you wrote the first one?
A: Absolutely not. If I had, I wouldn’t have left the son-of-a-gun in Rio de Janeiro with three million bucks in his jeans. I had a terrible puzzle as to how to continue the story, with this major thing that happened to Fletch. I couldn’t afford to go to Rio, with a wife and two kids and all that. So I spent the summer discussing this matter with my dog, and I finally—I think in September—I came to the realization that made it all possible. If Fletch didn’t care about money when he didn’t have any, then he shouldn’t care about money when he does have some. And it shouldn’t have changed his personality much, and it didn’t, in fact.

I’d set that book in Boston, because that was where I happened to be at the time and the only place I could afford to go, as it was only a one-toll road.

Some authors write the same book over and over and over again, and I was determined I wasn’t going to do that. I figured if I bored the reader that would be a big sin. So I was even more pleased when the second book, Confess, Fletch also won the Edgar. It was the first, and the last, situation in which a book and its sequel had each won the Edgar.

Q: How do you write?
A: When I get an idea I try to forget it. If it keeps coming back, fuller and fuller over two or three years, and I get to the point of being so focused on it that I can’t tie my shoes, then I start working on it. I figure anything I forget in this process is not worth remembering. I write three days, wear myself out, do something else the next day, then spend another three days writing. The seven-day week has never worked out for me.

Q: What did you think about the Fletch film starring Chevy Chase?
A: The film “Fletch” was made ten years after the first novel appeared and the Fletch novels were international bestsellers. Chevy Chase and director Michael Ritchie and all hands made a classic film out of it.

Q: And now Kevin Smith is slated as writer/director of the next Fletch movie. Have you been personally in touch with him? Will you work with him?
A: Yes. Kevin made an extremely courteous call to me. I enjoyed it. He sounded energetic, informed. I assured him that I am, of course, interested in his creative input in making a Fletch movie, but that I shall never impose upon him. If he has questions as to why I did this or that, or simply wants a touchstone I shall be available to him.

Q: What question do you get asked again and again?
A: These books have been enormously important to people, and I am always asked, “What do they mean?” When you write a book, you only know what you’re intending to do, you don’t know what you’ve done until two or three years later, when people have told you what you’ve done, what it means to them. I’ve had a lot of these kinds of experiences with the Fletch books, amazing experiences. I’ve heard how much these books have meant in the old USSR, as it was collapsing. For example, the great nine million person circulation Pravda, during its last days, was continuing to publish Fletch when they didn’t have the ink to publish the news, and they were publishing Fletch in the daily newspaper with blank pages for the rest of the paper. You know, of the awards that I have won, the one that has meant the most to me came in 1991, when the Moscow Review of Literature elected me “Best Foreign Author, Not Dead.”

Anyway, what does Fletch say? I understand what he says is, “A victim do not be.” Don’t be a victim. If you have a situation or a problem, work your way around it with wit, grace, intelligence, and maybe have some fun with it.

Q: Over the course of the last five years you have gradually forced all of the Fletch books out of print. Why did you want this to happen?
A: Because I had never planned on such a big thing happening in my life, or to have these books be successful here and everywhere, I began, purposely, with the help of my manager, driving them out of print. Which didn’t make me very popular. They were still selling well and doing well. People still wanted them, but they were here or there and everywhere, and no publisher wanted to buy them all together. And I can’t tell you, now that I went through these years of purposely getting the rights back, how happy I am to have them at Vintage, where they are being treated as a collective whole, an entity.

Q: Why has it taken so long for the fourth Flynn book to come out?
A: Everywhere I have gone for the last how many years, always the second or third question is, “When is a new Flynn book coming?” And there hasn’t been one. The reason there wasn’t a fourth Flynn book for so long was because the third Flynn book, Flynn’s In, was declared an instant classic before it was even published, and frankly that sort of intimidated me. And I thought I should maybe stand pat and leave that the way it was. It took me some years, actually, to get over the intimidation and to hear again from people how much they loved Flynn and Jennifer Flynn—the world is crazy about Jenny Flynn and her relationship with her father and of course her twin brothers. Finally I did come to work out, happily and joyously, a new Flynn book which has never been published, but will be published for the first time with Vintage next spring..

Q: When you were a kid professionally skippering sailing ships off the coasts of the United States, Europe, Latin America, ever, in your wildest dreams, did you expect to become an internationally famous author?
A: I expected to write. I never felt I had a choice. To me, writing is not a job, occupation, profession. It’s a response to life. My response to life. “Internationally famous?” No. No way. I was determined not to play the insider’s game, you know, New York, Los Angeles, nothing in between but United Airlines. I love to work, hate celebrity.

Q: You wrote for the Boston Globe for seven years. In those seven years you were nominated for the Pulitzer five times.
A: All that says is I didn’t win the Pulitzer five times.

Q: In 1985 Warner Books published a collection of your journalism. You were the first in the major media to write openly against the War in Vietnam. You also wrote on behalf of women’s rights, gay rights, and of course black American and Hispanic rights. You were beat up in the parking lot of the Boston Globe for your stand against the war. How did that make you feel?
A: I never wrote for or against anything. My daddy was a journalist and I am a journalist. However much I would like to have the comfort, I do not belong to a political party, church congregation, shul, or mosque. Such would give people a false prism through which to view and judge my works. The Boston Globe hired me to get the story from the streets, and I did. The people on the streets were against the war, in favor of women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights. They were angry at the press for not getting it. I just wrote down what the street people said and the Boston Globe published it.

Q: What is your purpose in writing?
A: To respond to people’s needs. Maybe to get people to stop hitting each other over the heads. To entertain. Sometimes to make you laugh.

Q: You now live on an antebellum farm in Southern Middle Tennessee?
A: Yes, a real farm with cattle and horses. Each has four legs sticking out. Each morning, we count the legs, divide by four to see how many we’ve got.

Q: Do you work this farm yourself?
A: Well, less than I used to. I still have enough kid in me that I like to go out and get hot, sweaty, muddy once in a while, you know, accomplish something real, physical, visible by the end of the day. Sometimes, you know, it’s as much as thirty years before I know if something I’ve written means anything.

Q: Sailor, Harvard grad, critic, author, farmer. How do you put all this together?
A: What’s the line? I’m not afraid of death, I’m afraid of not having lived.


  • Fletch and the Widow Bradley by Gregory Mcdonald
  • July 09, 2002
  • Fiction - Mystery & Detective
  • Vintage
  • $11.00
  • 9780375713514

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