The Picture Ranch 32
I woke up about 9 a.m. when I fell off the sofa. Miss G was dressed in an outfit that certainly hadn't arrived in the bag I'd carried up to the suite. I let out a feeble wolf-whistle that turned into a cough and the dry heaves. I could see Miss Gräfenberg's pump-clad foot tapping about a finger's length from my nose.
'Stores open already?' I croaked.
'I made a few calls. While you were dreaming about Lotus Blossom.'
'Good horse, I won a few hundred on that gal at the Shanghai Track.'
'I had the impression that Lotus Blossom wasn't a horse.'
'I like to bet across the board.'
'Get up, we're going to the library.'
She pronounced it like the English do, with the r after the b. Maybe they have a point, “Lye Berry” sounds like it would give you a stomach-ache.
The doorman hailed us a cab, after Miss G had slipped Rozh-air the concierge another 20 bucks to make sure he'd remember her, next time she needed a favour. It was a five minute drive to Flower Street. The Goodhue building still stuck out like a carbuncle on a fan-dancer's ass. Maybe Goodhue thought since there were only 150 years of American culture to draw on, he might as well mix Art Deco with Lee Lawrie's cod-Egyptian carvings. Hell, Sphynxes and Mummies were all the rage in the twenties; I blame prohibition and the bath-tub gin – or even Ole King Tut himself.
The twist behind the counter was a Ditto-Machine copy of how Miss G had looked that first time she walked into my office. Only faded and smudged, with a smile which reached all the way to to the top of her upper lip and stayed there.
'Hep' yew!' She spoke to Miss G
'We need the press archives.'
I thought about saying that it was news to me, but the librarian pointed up the staircase and said,
'There'll be a sign. Knock loud, Guy's a bit deaf.'
There was a sign. Three, in fact. One at the top of the stairs, one pointing still further into the depths of a long corridor and one on a glass-paned door. They all read “Press Archives, By Appointment Only”.
I knocked hard on the wood below the glass.
Nothing happened so I knocked again and the door swung wide. A bald-headed, full-bearded guy in a bib and brace glared up at me,
'Ain'tcha got no patience? I got delicate work here. Got an appointment?'
Miss G leaned down to talk to the little guy. 'I'm so awfully sorry, Mr…'
''McCarthy, Ephraim McCarthy'.
Her hand was extended to him as though to some European peasant, but he just held it instead of kissing it.
“Call me Eleanor, Mr McCarthy. I don't have an appointment but I'm only here in Los Angeles for a very short time indeed and I simply must - “
But McCarthy had swung the door wide and swept an arm inward into the sanctum.
It was a long room, with a high ceiling. I couldn't quite square its dimensions with the overall shape of the building's exterior, but there it was. Newsprint was stacked in piles which almost reached that high-ceiling's vaults. He must have caught the look on Miss G's face at the same time I did for he whispered,
'I know where everything is, everything.'
I wasn't sure whether to be pleased about that or not.
The guy wasn't quite short enough to be an extra in Tod Browning's celluloid suicide note, but it was close. We followed him past columns of newsprint, at the foot of each was a pasteboard mock-up of the appropriate masthead and a year. Some stuff went back to before the Civil War. Right at the end of the long room was a stud wall and a cheap door arrangement. A sign on the door said “Dark Room”. McCarthy had his hand on the door knob,
'So what is it you're looking for?'
“The California Eagle.' Miss G answered.
'What you want with a Darktown Rag?' He stuck his jaw out at me so I told him it was our business.
He took his hand away from the door. 'Don't make no never mind, but we don't need to go in there.' He jerked his head at the door and hit the cheap 2-ply. I stifled a laugh.
'Why's that?' I said.
'Ain't photographing no nigger paper for posterity. Can't waste good 35 mm micro on that trash.'
I didn't hit him, but I did trip him as he made to scamper away between 18 columnar feet of Hearst's San Francisco Examiner 1926 and 1927. Unfortunately, he recovered well enough not to get buried under 522 issues of William Randolph's choicest yellow journalism, since the two newspaper columns teetered, but did not fall. We followed him deep into the printified forest. Right up against the wall was a more haphazardly piled collection of newspapers.
McCarthy waved a hand, ' 'at's all I got.' and he scampered off to take more microfilm pictures of some of yesterday's news.
The pile of Californian Eagles didn't look like a year's worth of journalism, never mind 30. I picked up a yellowed bundle at random.
'November 11th, 1918. Headline, Peace at Last. Guess that ain't the one. What headline are we lookin' for, anyhow?'
Hell if Eleanor Gräfenberg didn't pull the photograph and a flashlight out of her purse.
'We're looking for a newspaper with the headline “White Friend of Negroes Defends With Gun”.
'Think that means anything?'
'It means the photo was taken on or around the day of that headline.'
'Whyn't we just phone The Eagle?' I pointed at the number Vandike 9244 just under the masthead.
'You reckon they'd tell us anything? '
'Most people will do anything for the kind of wallpaper you roll out in front of 'em.'
'No, Micawber, that won't do. Not all detective work is legwork.'
'That it ain't, Miss Gräfenberg, but we don't waste much time lookin' for a needle in haystack if ten minutes with the tailor will get us the same thing.'
'Mister Fisher, you are in possession of some of my “wallpaper”: that buys me the say-so, does it not?'
I started looking through the pile of newspapers, as did Miss G. She stacked all editions neatly until she clocked how I was just tossing mine behind me. She stopped, folded her arms and waited.
I folded the newspapers behind me and placed them square as a marine's bed pack, like I should have done in the first place.