The Picture Ranch 22
I drove out to Encino, towards RKO. About a mile before the gates I took an unincorporated road, the black top ran out after fewer yards than a one-legged running back could make. The ruts in the dirt drowned out the noise of Boethius banging the lid of the trunk. I kept the Los Angeles River on the right of the car, drove further into the Simi Hills. By the time the track petered out the savannah had given way to chaparral shrubland and Boethius had given up. I stopped the car at the edge of a sandstone bluff. A wind that had probably come all the way from the coast blew sand in my eyes, so I pulled the brim of my hat down further. It helped until it blew under the car and jammed under something or other below the bodywork. The pistol in my hand was an old Colt, a 1917 model. I hoped I wouldn’t have to fire it, for it hadn’t come with the half-moon clips and that meant it was a roll of the dice as to whether the firing pin would hit the cartridge.
The Colt did its job when I hauled Boethius out of the trunk. He stayed put, leaning against the car. Some of the banging sounds had been made by his head, maybe some of them were intentional. The guy looked like Shnozz Lombardi had used him for batting practice, and he hadn’t hit many bunts. Bruises always look worse on a beanpole. I told him to take off his coat, slow and careful. He shivered, his fancy vest looked like maroon velvet and its colour matched the pocket square in the breast pocket of the double-breasted suit coat in his left hand. He feinted with the jacket and made a lunge for the gun, but I stepped into the clinch and broke his nose with my forehead. The blood clashed with his vest. I searched the jacket. There was nothing in the pockets but a bill-fold with no I.D. and a pistol that looked like it belonged in a lady's purse. I laughed and threw the toy over my shoulder into the scrub.
“Where are they?”
He answered the way I knew he would. So I stepped close again and hit him with the Colt barrel across the cheek. He almost fell back into the trunk.
“Where are they?”
Boethius spat out a tooth, “ 'e ony ab de gull.”
“Dammit! Where is she then?”
“Shco, Shcoss godduh, Pard-ay.”
“Palmdale? Why is Scott in Palmdale? Ain't nuthin' out there but Pancho Barnes and her dude ranch.'
“Ish oudda de 'ay.”
I figured an address would be just too hard to understand while Boethius was still talking mush-mouth, so I told him to get back in the trunk.
'You can write down directions when we get to Palmdale,' I said, as I closed the lid.
I had forgotten about my hat. As I drove away I saw it. In the rear-view mirror, my fedora was rolling in the wind like a tumble-weed made of felt. Before I reached the black-top, I was wondering why Boethius had caved so easily. When I got to Palmdale, I found out.