Fletch's Fortune

One

“C.I.A., Mister Fletcher.”

“Um. Would you mind spelling that?”

Coming into the cool dark of the living room, blinded by the sun on the beach, Fletch had smelled cigar smoke and slowed at the French doors.

There were two forms, of men, sprawled on his living-room furniture, one in the middle of the divan, the other on a chair.

“The Central Intelligence Agency,” one of the forms muttered.

Fletch’s bare feet crossed the marble floor to the carpet.

“Sorry, old chaps. You’ve got the wrong bod. Fletch is away for a spell. Letting me use his digs.” Fletch held out his hand to the form on the divan. “Always do feel silly introducing myself whilst adorned in swimming gear, but when on the Riviera, do as the sons of habitués do—isn’t that the motto? The name’s Arbuthnot,” Fletch said. “Freddy Arbuthnot.”

The man on the divan had not shaken his hand.

The man in the chair snorted.

“Arbuthnot it’s not,” said the man in the chair.

“Not?” said Fletch. “Not?”

“Not,” said the man.

The patterns of their neckties had become visible to Fletch.

His nose was in a stream of cigar smoke.

There were two cigar butts and a live cigar in the ash tray on the coffee table.

Next to the ash tray, on the surface of the table, was a photograph, of Fletch, in United States Marine Corps uniform, smiling.

Fletch said, “Golly.”

“Didn’t want to disturb you on the beach with your girl friend,” said the man in the chair. “The two of you looked too cute down there. Frisking on the sand.”

“Adorable,” uttered the man on the divan.

Both men were dressed in full suits, collars undone, ties pulled loose.

Both their faces were wet with perspiration.

“Let’s see some identification,” Fletch said.

This time he held his hand out to the man in the chair, palm up.

The man looked up at Fletch a moment, into his eyes, as if to gauge the exact degree of Fletch’s seriousness, then rolled left on his hams and pulled his wallet from his right rear trouser pocket.

On the left flap was the man’s photograph. On the right was a card which said: “CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, United States of America,” a few dates, a few numbers, and the man’s name—Eggers, Gordon.

“You, too.” Fletch held out his hand to the man on the divan.

His name was Richard Fabens.

“Eggers and Fabens.” Fletch handed them back their credentials. “Would you guys mind if I got out of these wet trunks and took a shower?”

“Not at all,” said Eggers, standing up. “But let’s talk first.”

“Coffee?”

“If we wanted coffee,” said Fabens, standing up, “we would have made it ourselves.”

“Part of the C.I.A. training, I expect,” Fletch said. “Trespass and Coffee-Making. A Bloody Mary? Something to raise the spirits on this Sunday noon?”

“Cool it, Fletcher,” said Eggers. “You don’t need time to think.” He put the tip of his index finger against Fletch’s chest, and pressed. “You’re going to do what you’re told. Get it?”

Fletch shouted into his face, “Yes, sir!”

Suddenly Eggers’ right hand became a fist and smashed into precisely the right place in Fletch’s stomach with incredible force, considering the shortness of the swing.

Fletch was hunched over, in a chair, trying to breathe.

“Enough of your bull, Fletcher.”

“I caught a fish like him once.” Fabens was relighting his cigar. “In the Gulf Stream. He was still wriggling and fighting even after I had him aboard. I had to beat the shit out of him to convince him he was caught. Even then.” He blew a billow of cigar smoke at Fletch. “Mostly I beat him on the head.”

“Yuck,” said Fletch.

“Shall we beat you on the head, Fletcher?” Eggers asked.

Fletch said, “Anything’s better than that cigar’s smoke.”

Eggers’