The Picture Ranch 34
She gave directions and I took them like an extra in a Cecil B. movie. I never met anybody more comfortable in silence than Eleanor Gräfenberg, before or since. We turned onto Sunset Boulevard and she told me we'd be getting out at the Beverley Hills Hotel. When I pulled up, the guy was ready to valet park the car before I had opened the trunk. I slammed the lid just before he used the stick shift.
I didn't like the Beverly, it was owned by the Bank of America: they'd bought it '32. The place had been dead as a doornail right through prohibition. Since then I'd been a few times, doing trap-and-snap jobs for studio fixers from RKO and, occasionally, the big guys. I'd used the Polish weasel for some of the photography. Most pics didn't end up in The Hollywood Reporter, but some did. Many of the subjects were in on the play; often the whole set up was to quash rumours about one of the Lavender boys, by “finding” them with both feet off the floor in a hotel bedroom with a starlet or even a B-girl. So when the guy at the desk recognised me I wasn't surprised. Miss G must have been because she raised an eyebrow behind her cheaters.
'Mr Fisher, Are you here on business.?' His gaze took in Miss Gräfenberg and his eyebrow rose higher than hers had.
'Ah… Miss, I had no idea you were acquainted with…'
'He is in my employ, for the moment, André.''
'I tried to resign, but she just won't let me go,' I told him.
Of course, André was just another hotel-business Bohunk pretending to be from Paree, France, but we were too near to Hollywood for anything to be real anyhow. André tried to hand over a key with a fob the size of a postcard to my companion and she jerked her head at me, so I took it off of him direct. He gave a leer and asked if my usual partners would be joining us later. Miss G said no, and grabbed my elbow before I hit him.
We had a key for one of the bungalows. The kind that the big stars rented for years at a time. My business had been done in the hotel's bedrooms and suites even when Ramon Navarro was involved, Republic hadn't paid much for that job either. The gun was out again by now, we walked through the hotel gardens, while Miss G's coat was draped over her arm and covered the pistol to the end of its short, short barrel. I went along with it. I could have wrested the gun from her in about two seconds flat, Hell, I could have put my finger over the barrel end and just got a flesh wound if she'd fired.
Inside the bungalow, she dropped the coat on the back of a chair and waved the gun at a sofa that looked just capable of holding my weight, if I let myself down gently. It was the lounge, a riot of chintz and polished furniture. It looked as much like my idea of her home as a cage at the zoo, maybe less.
'You got a cigarette?' The hand not holding the gat was picking at a seam on her skirt.
'In my pocket, you want me to go for it?'
'Gently, Fisher, gently.'
I pulled out a pack of Luckies from my suit-coat pocket, shook out a pair of coffin-nails and held out the pack towards her.
She tutted, 'Light 'em-up.'
I did and stood up to hand her one of them.
'I thought we were -'
'Friends, Mr Fisher? I haven't had a friend my whole life.'
'Lose the gun, we'll talk.'
I saw her lip tremble and heard the double-pop of the gun being fired twice. It didn't hurt at all. Two bits of glass fell from the chandelier into my hair. I took the gun, engaged the safety and threw it on the sofa behind me.
'Fisher, can I trust you?' She said.