The Picture Ranch 36
Eleanor's bathing suit fit her better than what I was wearing fit me.
'Just who did this fit?' I asked.
'Just a guy.'
'A fat guy?'
'A big guy. Bring the towels.'
I followed her out, the view wasn't bad all the way to the steamer-chairs
by the pools. The ground was covered with white sand. It had been
transported in all the way from Arizona. There was a guy following an
older dame who was carrying two pekes, one under each arm. He had a
gardener's trowel in one hand and a paper bag in the other. Miss
Gräfenberg was heading for the far end of the big pool. She gave Fred a nod when
he looked up from behind The Daily Variety. He lifted the periodical again pronto,
since the toupée's glue had melted in the heat. Apparently the Expo in New York was affecting the box office on Broadway. There always was no business but show-business for show-business types.
By the time we took our steamer-chairs, the waiter had arrived with two drinks on
a tray. Miss G slipped the guy a five-dollar tip. The towel over his
arm was as white as his grin. I wondered what would happen if ever a
Negro actually stayed at a place like The Beverley or joined a Tennis
club or played Golf instead of serving drinks and parking cars. Would
the walls come tumbling down? I didn't think so, but there were far
too many who did..
'Fred didn't say hi,' I said.
'To you or to me?'
'You mean neither.'
She pointed at her round sunglasses, 'maybe he thought I was Ginger.'
'Can you see anything out of those?'
'As well as out of the others.'
I wondered just how much moola she had at her disposal and realised
my daily rate was too cheap.
Ours were the only steamer-chairs occupied at the far end of the
large pool. Miss G asked for a cigarette and I lit two of my last
three Luckies, before handing her one of them.
I looked at her: at ease, propped up on one elbow, her body turned towards me. She
filled her lungs, and blew two jets of smoke out of her nostrils and
into my face. She waited until I finished trying not to cough.
'I do want to find him. The boy, that is. It's just…'
'Just what? Inconvenient?
'No, I don't want him to know-'
'Know what? That his mother murdered an abortionist and baby farmer
and burned their shack down? Did you even think about the others?'
'That's why I waited. So it was just them. Anyway, I don't care about that.'
'I don't want him to know I'm his mother at all. I don't want him to
Her voice had risen steadily and I figured out why there wasn't a
sun-bather or swimmer within fifty feet of either of us. She lay back
and finished her cigarette. We were both quiet for a while. I
thought about what I'd left behind in Shanghai and for the first time
in who knew how long I wished I still had it. Miss Gräfenberg
reached a spot in me that hadn't itched in over ten years.
She stayed flat on her back and finally spoke up at the single white cloud in the cornflower sky,
'You didn't ask. About what happened up on the mesa.'
'Guess I'm the least curious P.I. in the state.'
'You find things out though, don't you?'
'People like to talk. I find it easier to let 'em, mostly.'
'The driver works – worked - for Boethius.'
'So why was he there?'
'You notice the guy in the photo, with the newspaper?'
'I didn't notice anything special, couldn't see his face for the paper.'
'That was the point. The man's name was Li Chun.'
'Li? Isn't he dead? '
'He is… But he wasn't in the hole and nor was…'
'Who? Mickey Mouse?'
I took a drink, she'd ordered me a Tom Collins.
'You mean “What”. It should have been the chest from the photo in the Chinese puzzle box.'
Li Chun had disappeared shortly after the date on the newspaper he had been holding. He had been number one man in Chinatown, before he'd disappeared. Los Angeles'
Finest hadn't looked too hard. Li Ngi, his brother, was an easier guy to get along with on all counts, but especially in the matter of the spreading of the green.
'Why is Boethius interested, apart from the money?'
'I don't know that he is, I just didn't want to take the chance.'
I looked at the drink on the rinky dink table beside me.
'Well I'll be damned… And what in hell has this to do with finding the boy?'
'Not a thing Fisher, not a damn thing.'
I picked up the glass and drained it, wishing it was navy rum.