The Picture Ranch 29
We parked the Ford in front of The Encino Store. I wanted coffee and maybe a piece of pie. I could smell jasmine on the night air. I held the door for Eleanor. Behind the counter Henry was moving crockery. We were late, he was about to close. He let out a sigh.
‘Took a message.’ He found a scrap of paper in the last pocket he looked in and handed it to me.
The words were written in sweeping copper-plate using a butcher’s pencil.
‘Don’t come looking. W.’
‘Who left this?’
Henry snorted. ‘Nobody lef’ it. Some guy phoned, dictated the message. That’s my hand, Fisher.’
‘Sound like a kid?’
‘Like a kid playin’ grown-ups. Prolly weren’t more’n 16, I guess.’
‘Coffee and pie, Henry. What about you, Miss Gräfenberg?’
Henry intervened, ‘I got some pekoe for the lady.’
I’d have been less surprised if Henry had said he had the horn from a unicorn.
We sat in a booth. I carried my coffee over. Henry came out from behind the counter with a teapot and some china for Eleanor.
‘You reckon it’s on the up? The note?’
‘Could be. Maybe he’s hiding and no one has him at all.’
‘Maybe. How do you feel about the porno?’
‘What can I say? I know you’ve seen stuff. The photographer had the shop downstairs from you. I spoke to him, the day you picked me up in Schulz’s car. He was scared of you.’
‘Not scared enough. Those photos of William and the Schultz boy aren’t so old.’
She sniffed, ‘They are two years old, at least.’
I did the math. Even so I was going to find the Polack snapper and ask him what he didn’t understand about “no minors”.
We drank our beverages, I took a refill and Miss Gräfenberg emptied the teapot down to the leaves.
‘Where will the photographer be?’ She ran a fingernail round the rim of her teacup.
‘I don’t know. The building’s a shell. There might be something in the wreckage, but what that might be and whether we could find it, I don’t know.’
‘Do come on, Mr Fisher: surely you have a flash-lamp in the car? Maybe Henry will loan us one, come to that.’
She stood up and walked over to Henry. If I had been there alone he would have been squaring the joint away ready to throw my keister into the street. He’d been polishing the same glass since he’d poured my last coffee. Needless to say, Eleanor did not get a flash-lamp.
She got two.
It was a short drive to where my apartment building used to be. The charred remains of the building stood out like a missing tooth in a movie-star’s smile. We got out of the car. I offered Miss G an arm to help her over the remaining masonry, but she was more sure-footed in her heels than I was in my brogans. We swept our beams to and fro, attempting an organised illumination of the chaotic morass of hose-soaked wood, plaster and stone. I didn’t know what we were hoping for. I was about to call it a day when my foot hit something metal. The buckled shape didn’t look much like a filing cabinet, but that was what it was. We squatted beside it, shone our flash-lamps into the interior.
Just charred and blackened files, helped on their way to brittle fragility by the negatives that had doubtless been stored alongside them.
‘This is hopeless,’ I stood up, staggering a little.
She put a gloved hand into the papers, transforming everything she touched into ash. She brought out a metal-box. It looked heavy, it was about the size of a cigar box.
‘Maybe not, Fisher, maybe not.’