The Picture Ranch 5
Back in the office, I made a call to the body shop. No dice.
‘Sorry, Fisher, but you didn’t say how many times you drove into the hydrant. Next week, maybe.’
I didn’t want to borrow the Studebaker again. A recent bill for 50 dollars over a dink the size of a nickel ruled out Hertz Drive-Ur-Self System, too. I knew of another body-shop over in Tarzana. My car wasn’t there because the guy did short term rentals, sometimes of cars in for repair. My P.I. licence wouldn’t survive implication in a bank job, not even as far away as Reseda. I made the call anyway,
‘It’s Fisher, I need a car.’
‘A cold one?’
‘You ain’t got nuthin’ cooler than warm. I need it for a day.’
‘This car, it’s for work?’
‘My kind, there won’t be any major withdrawals of cash involved.’
He laughed, a ragged sound that hurt my ear even over the phone, ‘So ya don’t wanna driver?’
‘No, but can you drop it by the office, in Encino?’
‘I know where it is, might drop it off myself. We could talk over old times. Goin’ far?’
‘Carlsbad, maybe San D, then LA later.’
‘Take it for two days. Same price. Give me a call from LA, though. What time you need it?´
‘Ah, pity. I’ll send Lipowitz, he won’t have change. Just give him a twenty dollar bill. He can’t count past one, so two sawbucks won’t do.’
He hung up, and though I was glad he wouldn’t be delivering the car himself, it would have been a chance to ask him why he’d given me such a good deal.
I opened the file cabinet over by the window. There was a hand-written note lying on the files in the top drawer.
I took the liberty of replacing your files in chronological order by year and month. Each month’s files are then arranged alphabetically. Should you find something has been mis- filed, it would come as a great surprise to me. I have the opportunity of taking some time off for the next week or two. That being so, I should like to accompany you to Carlsbad for your rendezvous with my brother’s friend. My number is Encino 375’
The handwriting was beautiful. She had signed it ‘Eleanor G’ which came as a ‘great surprise to me’. I lifted the paper to my nose, but I could smell nothing and I wondered if she ever wore perfume. I rang her number at four.
‘Eleanor? It’s Fisher.’
‘Ah, you got my note.’
‘I’ve got a car coming at five.’
‘I’ll be there.’
‘That’s the thing. It might take a coupla days.’
‘Then I’ll bring a bag.’
‘Well… I’m going in an hour.’
‘Just as well I packed already.’
I sighed. I’d thought she’d baulk at having to be ready in an hour.
‘Just so you know,’ she went on. ‘No funny business.’
And before I could say there wasn’t anything funny about this business, she hung up.
I stood up and looked out of the window. My building squatted on the corner of a side-street off Ventura. Most buildings were low-rise business premises, a package store, a pawnshop, a hardware store. The two-storey houses all rented rooms to the out-of-state hopefuls at a rate that soon swallowed up the money they’d brought with them from Poughkeepsie and Portland. I looked down at the sidewalk, the hydrant still looked like Scott Fitzgerald after an afternoon of martinis. The only other multi-storey was catty-cornered to mine. It was a brownstone and it looked as out of place as a tepee in Manhattan. The building was empty. It had belonged to a distant cousin of the Rockefellers, until he leapt from the top floor in ‘29. Someone was sheltering in the main entrance, although the weather was still fine. I picked up my ditty-bag and went downstairs to wait for Lipowitz…
Who was already there, barely a half-hour after I spoke to his boss. He stood beside the car and it seemed impossible that he could ever have been inside it. I looked up at his face and tried not to stare. He had a child’s head on a linebacker’s shoulders, if King Kong had played football. The car was a ‘34 Buick sedan, as dusty as an Okie farmer’s pick-up. Lipowitz held out a hand, I considered giving him two tens, but figured Schultz wouldn’t find it funny. I watched the big man move down the street. Like a puppet-operated by an epileptic, nothing moved smoothly. I wondered how dangerous he could be in a brawl. Then I realised I wouldn’t know where the blow would be coming from.
I jumped and turned at the same time. I caught a whiff of something exotic. It was Eleanor and it appeared she did use perfume, after all.
‘Who was that man?’
‘No-one special. He just delivered the car.’
I made to walk around to the driver’s side but stopped and opened the passenger door first. Miss G got in. I found it hard to believe she’d been taught how to get into a car at the orphanage. Then I threw our bags on the back seat.
I headed out to Ventura Boulevard and turned south. Miss G refused a Lucky when I lit up and she wound the window down all the way. I put my foot on the gas just to see how well those pins did their job on her librarian’s hair.
She stared out the window as far as Burbank.
‘You don’t talk much...’
‘I know, you like that in a man.’
The look she gave me was as chilly as a New York cocktail glass.
‘… but I can see why.’
‘Well, I ain’t got much to say, right now.’
She tapped french-polished nails on the dash, then took out a handkerchief to wipe off the smuts.
‘What happened to your office?’
‘Before you tidied it? Could be it’s always like that.’
‘I saw the hammer and all the glass.’
‘Maybe I forgot my keys.’
Eleanor Grafenburg rolled her eyes and finally a strand of hair escaped her bun.
‘Okay, It’s like this. I don’t know.’
I saw her lips go up at the corners by an amount I couldn’t have measured with a pair of calipers.
‘Not one suspect?’
‘He has an alibi.’
I pointed at the burn mark on my cheek,
‘He did this. I doubt he’d have had time, even though the damn’ car cost me an hour on the way home.’
‘Maybe he had someone in Encino do it for him.’
I grunted, because I didn’t really want to think about that.
‘Anyway, what are we going to do in Carlsbad? We’re not meeting the boy until tomorrow.’
‘We’re stopping off in LA.’
That wasn’t what I'd told Schultz, and I wasn’t going to call him either. She nodded.
‘We have a maximum of $100 for overnight expenses. That’s not much for two rooms.’
I thought about offering to save her money, but she’d said ‘no funny business’.