The Picture Ranch 58
It was just 7 a.m. when we pulled up at the gate to The Picture Ranch. There was no sign of the guard. But I had seen the sunrise at 5.30 and that meant that location shooting would have been going on since then at least, depending on what was in production. The oaters weren’t so popular at that time, although some people had liked Ford’s movie from the year before, I didn’t. In my experience bad guys never went straight, especially not when they went by dumb names like The Ringo Kid or Lucky Luciano. I gave the horn a toot and the familiar figure of the guard arrived, still pulling up his pants. Didn’t they employ more guys and give them a roster? Even the USMC did that.
The guy ducked under the gate barrier. He was too lazy to walk round to the driver’s side, so he rapped on the passenger side window. Moose got it down before the rusted chrome window crank came off in his hand. The guard craned his neck to look around Moose at me.
‘Whut yuh here fo’?’
‘Del - ‘,
Moose interrupted, ‘Pick up. Daid horse.’
The guard nodded, horses died all the time out at the ranch. American Humane were on their way, though, since someone had driven a horse over a cliff the year before, when Ty and Hank were playing at being the James Brothers. It didn’t affect the gross, of course, and the bottom line was – and would always be – the only line in Hollywood. By the time the gate barrier was at 60º elevation, I had the truck rolling forward and the guard had to do some tap dance moves to avoid getting his feet mashed.
We drove past the warehouses and workshops, kept going past the archives building - where Miss Gräfenberg still had a job, maybe - and between the toy-townTombstone to the right and the plywood Paris on the left. From then on it was like driving onto a real ranch, except for the lack of cattle. In the distance, maybe a half-mile away,horses were kicking up dust around a camera set up just short of a bluff. I slowed the truck down to a crawl.
‘Whaddaya think, Moose?’
‘Maybe over there, to the stable,’ he pointed to some buildings and a yard wall made of brick that wouldn’t stand in for any stables on screen. ‘That’s where I’d take any horse.’
It took me a moment to realise that Moose had made a joke.
We drove over the dirt and mesquite to the brick building. I kept the engine running, although any half-decent horseflesh would have beaten us back to the gate by a long neck. There were double doors set in an arch. They opened inwards, any barring of them was done from the inside. Through the arch I could see mostly empty horse stalls which faced inwards onto a square compound. A brunette in jodhpur pants came out of the gate, followed by some muscle that wasn’t anywhere big enough to worry Moose, at least.
‘Made good time, unless you didn’t call from San D.’ The voice was Miss or Mrs Caruso’s.
‘Had to leave San Diego pretty quick.’ I said.
Caruso licked a finger and rubbed a spot of dirt that I couldn’t see off the front of her pants, at the top of her right thigh.
‘I can understand that.’ She crooked the same finger and stepped backward and to the side, ‘Well, ya better drive that truck in. Take it slow, huh?’
I put the truck in ‘granny's gear’ and crawled through the gates. I heard them shut and saw Caruso’s muscle re-bar the gate with a piece of wood you could have carved into a totem pole.
We were invited to step out of the truck by the brunette who was pointing a colt revolver that she certainly could not have been carrying in those pants. Maybe the invisible dirt on them had been gunpowder, but I sure hoped not.