The Picture Ranch 23
I pulled the flivver over and the Negro pump jockey gave me some gas. There was something very interesting for him in the movement of the dial, when I let Boethius out of the trunk. I tipped the black guy a dollar, because a lack of curiosity is an undervalued commodity. Boethius got in the driver’s seat as docile as a new fish at the state penitentiary. I kept the gun on him all the way.
We pulled up at a building that was concrete with a tin roof. ‘Pool’ was written in crooked letters on something that had once been a door but hung over some rusted metal that somehow still was. I got out, walked around the front of the car, keeping my gun on Boethius through the wind-shield. Boethius was laughing and then the lights went out for me. I kept the headache all the way through the blackout and beyond
The chair wasn’t very comfortable, but I couldn’t do much about that as I was tied to it. I couldn’t complain about the view: Miss Gräfenberg was tied hand and foot in much the same manner as I was. Our chairs faced each other. I wondered which of our captors had got down on their hands and knees to tie her ankles to the chair legs. Randall “Randolph” Scott was clenching and unclenching his fists, I doubted it had been him. There were the “galboy” rumours about him even in his LAPD days. It might have been Boethius, if Eleanor and I had been trussed up at the same time. My money was on Dzherzhinsky. He kept looking over at Miss G like a chained hound at a pound of steak behind a kitchen window. The gag in my mouth stymied any conversation, but Boethius was talking to me anyway,
‘How d’ya like the place?’
I could see three threadbare pool tables and a long bar that hadn’t sold a drink since before prohibition. Maybe it looked better behind me, where I couldn’t see, but Miss Gräfenberg’s face said it didn’t. Her gag looked as uncomfortable as mine. Mine felt like a golf ball wrapped in a rag. The ends of the rag were tied round the back of my head. It would have been easier to swallow the whole business than work it loose and spit it out.
Boethius took a cigarette case out of his coat pocket. He’d recovered the jacket from the trunk. If he’d found the deeds, why was I tied up? Rather than dead, that is. The other puzzle was why the cigarette case hadn’t been in his coat out on the mesa. I felt everything tighten as he lit the brown cigarette. Everything loosened when the red-tip sizzled on the bridge of my nose. Everything. Dzherzhinsky giggled. Scott shook his head. Boethius took out my gag. He didn’t say anything. Anytime someone gags you, your mouth dries out more than after the longest toot and the shortest sleep-off of your life. You’re so dry you can’t talk. I guessed Boethius had been gagged himself in his time, because he didn’t ask me anything. He just took the cigarette over to Eleanor’s face.
I tried shouting “No!” but it came out as a croak. It was enough.
‘Very chivalrous, Mr Fisher. Quite the knight, hey? ” He sucked air in through his teeth and made a quick jab with the cigarette at my cheekbone. It was a feint, but I had nothing left to embarrass myself with now in any case.
‘Now, about the deeds. I have them now. But there appears to be a page or two missing.’
‘Safer than houses,’ I croaked. I was glad I’d annoyed him enough to restrict his cigarette work to me.