After a few delays and without the benefit of a rehearsal, it looks like Fletch is finally getting hitched. It's a small affair, just a few friends, the bride's parents, the groom's mother, and, just maybe, his father. Except Fletch's father is supposed to be dead.
But somebody delivered the letter, signed Fletch (senior) and containing an invitation (and a pair of plane tickets) to visit the old man in Nairobi for the honeymoon. Never mind Fletch and his bride were planning a ski trip to Colorado.
No sooner does the couple land in Africa (togged out for skiing!), then the search for Fletch's father begins. There's a murder at the airport, reports of the old man's incarceration, and the hospitality (and evasiveness) offered by pop's best friend, who flies them across the continent, just a step or two behind (or maybe ahead of) the old rascal.
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What astounded Fletch was that the letter written to him was signed Fletch.
"Do you, Irwin Maurice Fletcher, promise to love, honor, serve, and support in all the ways a man can support a woman . . ." the Preacher shouted. Down the bluff the wind was whipping up whitecaps on the Pacific Ocean. A curtain of hard rain was visible a couple of miles offshore. ". . . cherish, respect, encourage, relinquish all interests and endeavors which do not serve the marriage, until death do you part?"
"Who wrote this?" Fletch asked.
At his side, wind whipping her skirt, Barbara said, "I did. You never gave me a chance to discuss it with you."
"Let's discuss it now."
Behind them on the bluff overlooking the sea stood their wedding guests, coat collars up, holding on to their hats.
"Be a good sport," Barbara said. "Say you do. We'll have plenty of time to discuss it."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
Barbara said to the Preacher, "He says, 'I do.' "
The Preacher looked at Fletch. "Do you do?"
"I guess I do."
"And do you, Barbara Ralston, promise to be a wife to this man, to the best of your abilities?"
The Preacher then began to read interminably from some word-processor printout. Some rabbits built their hutch in a dell. Spring rains came, and the hutch got flooded out. They built a new hutch in a high place. The winds knocked it over . . .
Watching the storm approaching from the sea, Fletch suspected the wedding party was going to get flooded out andblown over, too.
The wedding had been planned for two o'clock Saturday afternoon. Fletch had gotten all his copy in by two o'clock, shaved in the men's room at the newspaper, and had reached his wedding at two-forty.
"Surprised to see you here," Fletch said to Frank Jaffe, the editor of the News-Tribune. "Thought you pretend employees don't exist Saturdays."
"I've been standing in for you at various police stations and courts the last three days," Frank said. "Thought I might have to stand in for you today at your wedding, too."
"You almost did." Two pickup trucks with their tailgates down were parked across the field. In the bed of one truck, delicatessen food was laid out; in the bed of the other, plastic glasses, liquor, and ice. "Are all the various charges against me dropped? Can I get through an airport without being arrested?"
Frank tasted his drink. "Good follow-up on that lawyer's murder in this morning's edition. Got the big Sunday wrap-up in for tomorrow?"
"How about the big expose of Ben Franklyn for tomorrow?"
"Ben Franklyn will be exposed in Sunday's newspaper, Frank. Pages and pages of it. With pictures."
"You've been working day and night since Monday."
"You look half asleep."
"Frank . . ."
"Have a nice honeymoon." Frank smiled. "You need the rest."
Alston Chambers said, "Fletch, thanks for coming. Being best man at a wedding without a groom was becoming a real strain."
"If you come across any hot stories on your honeymoon," Frank said, "be sure and phone them in. We may have found your talent in investigative reporting."
Alston looked down at Fletch's jeans and sneakers. "Didn't have time to change, uh?"
"Alston, I'm here, I shaved, I'm employed, I get to go on a honeymoon."
"I mean avalanches. Mud slides." Frank finished his drink. "Major earthquakes. Airplane crashes. Train wrecks."
Alston said, "I left some clothes for you at the City Desk. Didn't they tell you?"
Frank continued, "Mass murders. Acts of terrorism, like, you know, airport bombings."
Alston took Fletch by the elbow. "Your bride, having noticed you're here, would like you to go over and stand next to her in front of the Preacher. That's integral to the wedding."
"Be sure and phone in," Frank said. "If you get any good stuff."
Fletch said to his mother, "I'm surprised to see you here."
A long-stemmed flower bobbing from her hat hit Fletch in the eye as Josephine Fletcher leaned forward to kiss her son. "I wouldn't miss your first wedding for anything."
"This is the only wedding I have planned," Fletch said.
She waved airily. "After this, you're on your own."
" 'After this'?"
Josie scanned his clothes. "I guess you're dressed appropriately for a picnic next to the sea."
She was dressed in watered silk.
"I've been working."
"Barbara's mother was quite certain you wouldn't show up at all. She says you never do."
"Where is she? I've never met the lady."
"So she says. She's the one over there, in jodhpurs."
Josie scanned the bush. "I don't see where she parked her elephant."
Cindy took Fletch's other elbow. "The Preacher says, if you don't get over there, all hell will break loose."
Fletch turned and shook her hand. "Can't thank you enough, Cindy, for everything. You've helped Barbara get ready for our skiing honeymoon. You've helped me keep my job."
Cindy took the hand of a young woman standing next to her. "I feel this is as much our wedding as yours."
"It is." Fletch shook the hand of the other woman. "Have a nice life."
"Fletch," Alston said, looking harried, "this person says she has to meet you right now. Her name is Linda."
"I don't suppose this is a very good time to tell you this." Linda pulled his shirt out of his jeans. She cupped the palms of her hands against the skin of his waist. "I'm in love with you."
"You've never seen me before."
"I see you now. This is it, for me. Wildly, passionately in love." Her eyes said she was serious.
"Alston, how much are you paying this person?" Alston sighed.
Fletch said to Linda, "I'm just about to get married."
"Really?" Sticking her chin out, she slid her hands up his sides.
"That's why we're all here," Fletch said. The wind was beginning to come up. "Standing around in this horrible place."
Alston said, "I think weddings make some people romantic."
Linda asked, "When are you returning from your honeymoon?"
"Two weeks. We're going skiing in Colorado."
"Don't break anything," she said.
"I'll try not to."
"Because I'm going to be your next wife."
"I've decided that." Linda looked like what she was saying was entirely reasonable. "In fact, you might as well skip this wedding with Barbara altogether."
"Boy," Alston said. "Getting you married is something I'll never try again."
"Was she serious?"
"Call me when you get back," Linda said. "I work with Barbara."
"Oh, nice." Fletch was being guided strongly by the elbow across the field. "Actually, she is beautiful."
"Barbara?" Alston asked.
Fletch said, "Linda."
The wind had come up enough so Fletch had to speak loudly to the woman in jodhpurs. "Hello, Barbara's mother! How are you?"
The woman looked at him as if accosted. "Who are you?"
Fletch tucked in his shirt. "Don't worry. You're not gaining a son."
"Oh, my God."
"Nice to meet you, too."
In front of the Preacher, Fletch pinched Barbara's bottom.
She wriggled. "Nice you could make the time."
"Hey, I filed two terrific stories this week." He shook hands with the Preacher.
To one side stood a man Fletch did not recognize. Standing alone, he was watching, not socializing. Middle-aged, he wore khaki trousers, khaki shirt, blue necktie, and a zippered leather jacket. His eyes were light blue. He held a sealed manila envelope.
Fletch said, "I just got a marriage proposal."
"Are you seriously considering it?" Barbara asked.
The bride wore walking shoes, leg warmers collapsed around her calves, skirt and sweater. She carried a bouquet of flowers.
Fletch said, "Nice posies."
"They're forget-me-nots. Alston remembered them."
Fletch looked across the field at the pickup trucks. "Someone arranged for caterers, too."
Fletch looked at Alston. "Guess I picked the right best man."
Alston shrugged. "Didn't have anything else to do. I'm an unemployed lawyer.
"And," Barbara said, "Alston has packed all your skiing things. And brought them to the airport. And checked them in."
Fletch looked at Cindy. "I'm getting chewed out here."
"Without Alston and Cindy . . ." Barbara's voice trailed off in the wind.
Alston touched the Preacher's arm as if searching for a starter button. "Sir?"
The Preacher smiled. "I've learned to wait until the bride and groom stop arguing. It makes for a nicer ceremony."
Alston said, "The weather . . ."
The Preacher looked out to sea. "Ominous."
The end of the allegory regarding rabbits was entirely blown away in the wind, despite the Preacher's shouting. Fletch wondered if he would ever know where the rabbits finally set up hutch.
The wind abated enough so that the Preacher could be heard to yell, "With the powers invested in me by the State of California, I now declare you man and wife. What God has put together, let no man put asunder."
A heavy raindrop fell on Fletch's nose.
Immediately Linda broke between the bride and groom and kissed the groom on the mouth.
"What about woman?" Fletch tried to say.
Cindy was kissing Barbara.
Hand on the back of his neck, Linda said, "Next time, baby. You and me."
The Preacher was kissing Barbara.
Alston shook Fletch's hand. "I do divorces."
"My vows seemed longer than her vows."
"I'm sure it always seems that way."
Barbara's mother was kissing Barbara.
The middle-aged man dressed in khaki came through the crowd. He handed Fletch the envelope.
"Thanks," Fletch said.
Immediately there were splotches of rain on the envelope.
Alston was kissing Barbara.
In the envelope were two passports, two thick airline ticket folders, a wad of bills, and a letter.
Fletch said, "Barbara?"
Frank Jaffe was kissing Barbara.
The man in khaki already was up on the road getting into a sports car. He had said nothing.
"Barbara . . ."
What a moniker your mother hung on you. As soon as I heard that was who you were to be, Irwin Maurice, I said to myself, There's nothing I can do for him. With a name like that, either he'll be a champ or a dolt.
Which is it?
I'm mildly curious.
After having missed out on your whole life, I didn't want to break a perfect record by attending your wedding.
How curious are you?
Enclosed is a wedding present, which you may take anyway you want. You may take the money, cash in the tickets, and buy your bride a nice set of china or something. That's probably what I would do. Or, if you're mildly curious about me, you and your bride can come visit me in my natural habitat. Squandering money is always fun, too.
Seeing you've now put yourself in the way of being a father yourself (at least you've gotten married), I thought we could meet agreeably.
If you do come to Nairobi, I've made a reservation for you and Barbara at the Norfolk Hotel.
Maybe I'll see you there.
The rain was making the ink run on the page.
It was raining hard. Across the field, people were dashing for their cars. As Josephine walked, the flower blossom from her hat bobbed in front of her face. Men were throwing tarpaulins over the beds of the pickup trucks.
"What's that?" Alston asked.
Hundred-dollar bills were fluttering out of Fletch's hand and blowing in the wind. Alston scurried around picking them up.
On the road, Barbara was getting into a car with her mother.
"Where's Nairobi?" Fletch handed Alston the dripping letter.
"Nairobi? East Africa? Kenya?" Reading the letter, Alston tried to protect it from the wind and the rain with his body. "Fletch! Your father!"
On the road, cars were going off in each direction. Josephine Fletcher was nowhere in sight. Even the pickup trucks went in different directions.
"Fletch, this has to be from your father. You always said he was dead."
"He always was dead."
Together they looked at the faint lines under the running ink of the writing paper.
"What the hell," Alston said. "Your plane for Denver leaves at six o'clock."
Peering inside the envelope, Fletch said, "These tickets are for a plane to London, leaving at seven-thirty."
Only a few cars were left on the road.
"Alston, where is my mother staying?"
"At the Hanley Motor Court. On Caldwell, just off the freeway north."
"Do you suppose that's where she's gone?"
"Of course." Alston shivered. "We're soaking wet."
Fletch took the illegible letter from Alston and stuffed it back in the envelope. "If you see Barbara, tell her I'll meet her at the airport."
"Where are you going?"
Rain ran down the faces of the two young men as they looked at each other.
Jogging up the slope to his car, Fletch slipped and fell. He landed on the envelope in the mud.
"Your father died in childbirth."
They stood inside the door of Josephine Fletcher's room at the Hanley Motor Court. She had changed into slacks, blouse, and open sweater. He was dripping wet.
He clutched the muddy envelope to his side.
"That's what you've always said."
"You need a hot shower."
"You've always said that, too."
"Mostly, for you, I've recommended cold showers." Josie turned on the light in the bathroom. "You're muddy, soaked, disheveled, and, my son, you look more exhausted than Hilary at the top of Mount Everest. What have you been doing to yourself?"
"Working. Getting married. Normal things."
"They don't seem to agree with you. But I will correct myself: for that particular wedding, you were indeed dressed appropriately. If I had known what was to happen, I would have worn a swimsuit."
"Your silk dress got watered."
Josie crossed the room to him. She put her hand out for the envelope under his arm. "Do you think you had some communication from your father? On your wedding day?"
"Yes. I think so." He put the muddy envelope on the bureau.
"That would be interesting," Josie said. "Exciting. To both of us. First, let me ask you: is your wedding over?"
"Not the marriage."
"That was it? So much milling about and shouting on a stormy bluff over the ocean?"
"We didn't have a backup plan."
"Only an hour ago you married a nice girl named Barbara," Josie said patiently. "You have, or you think you have, some communication from beyond the grave. However interesting and exciting it might be possibly to hear from your father, don't you think this is one of those particularly special times you really ought to be with your wife, no matter what?"
"Don't be too sure, sonny." Josie's face saddened. She turned toward the rain-streaked window. "Love and understanding have nothing to do with each other. I loved your father. I did not understand him. Why not? Was he too masculine, and I too feminine? Maybe the modern expectation that men and women really can understand each other is so false that it destroys marriages. As a woman, however, I will report to you that having a man present in a marriage means rather a lot to a woman." She turned to Fletcher again. "Like on your wedding day. And other notable occasions."
Fletch put his finger on the envelope. "This appears to be from my father. You've always given me this stupid line, 'Your father died in childbirth.' Never anything more, no matter how I've asked. I've always let you have the literary conceit of this stupid line. But the humor of it has worn as thin as my skin at the moment."
Fletch took a deep breath. "Mildly."
"What I'm saying, sonny, is that I see your possibly hearing from your father causes you to do exactly as he would have done."
"Leave your bride alone on your wedding day."
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