The Picture Ranch 38
I was behind the wheel of a rental, although I didn't know what kind of agency rented out cars like this one. Already two years old, the car looked like it had spent all of that time in the show-room, before being delivered to the hotel. Miss Gräfenberg had picked up the keys from yet another concierge who couldn't do enough for her - or at least for her money. The car was a Hispano-Suiza T60, a car for South American generals and gangsters, which might have amounted to the same thing all points south of Panama City. My eye was distracted by the silvered stork on the bonnet for the first twenty miles or so. We were heading for San Simeon, Miss G had someone she wanted to see. I asked her who, but all she would tell me was that it wasn't William Randolph. My passenger spent most of the time reading a Pocket Book. I asked her what it was.
'Lost Horizon, by James Hilton.'
'Ain't that a Capra movie from a coupla years ago?'
'That it is, Fisher. Most movies start life as books – although sometimes they're hard to recognise.'
'It figures, sometimes books are just…'
She stared through the windscreen. The sunset was in progress to our left and the leaves on the trees by the side of the San Marcos Pass were stained orange.
'Remember the movie?'
'In the book the guy played by Colman falls in love with a woman called Lo Tseng.'
'Jane Wyatt played a Chinese girl?'
'No, Fisher, she didn't.'
We were silent for a while as the automobile made easy work of the black-top. The sun slid below the horizon. The headlights lit up the dusk. There wasn't much traffic in either direction. I kept the needle at a steady 60 miles per hour, though the dial went up to 90. I couldn't be sure that it would go so fast, since I doubted anyone had known what a mile was in the Spanish factory. Like most European cars it was a stick shift, with the stick in the floor. I liked it. It reminded me of the Britisher cars I'd driven in Shanghai. I caught Miss Gräfenberg dozing, but I just kept the car pointing north and my mouth shut.
I'd been driving for around four-and-a-half hours when I turned off State Route 1 onto the San Simeon Road. My passenger had her eyes open behind her glasses but there wasn't much to see just then.
'Anyone expecting us?' I jerked my head forward as I turned my eyes back to the road.
'Who? The pool boy? One of the maids?'
'You know Marion?'
'Why wouldn't I?'
I could think of a hundred reasons why not, but not one reason why she would.
[step out of the story and listen to this song: ]