The Picture Ranch 6
We headed east to El Monte and pulled into the Tejás Motor Court. It was a Mom and Pop business, but the façade owed plenty to The Alamo Court chain in Texas. Maybe it was a Grandmom and Grandpop enterprise, since the guy on the desk looked like he just might have fought at the Alamo, with Santa Ana.
‘Good evenin’. What can I do for you?’
The guy looked like Don Ameche would in fifty years time. Miss G put a hand on my arm before I said something smart like ‘we’d like to sell you shares in the Coney Island Bridge Company.’
‘We need two rooms for the night.’
‘Are you sure you want to stay here?’
‘You got rooms, don’t you?’
‘Es que – I’m sorry it’s...’
Miss G finished the sentence for him,
‘It’s because this is a mo-tel for Mexicans.’
‘Whoever saw a Mexican in a mo-tel?’
I raised my eyebrows ‘til they disappeared under the brim of my hat.
The old guy shrugged, ‘I thought it was a gap in the market, what can I say?’
Miss G exhaled, ‘We’ll take two rooms.’
‘It’ll be two suites, with kitchenette. All amenities. That’s what we got.’
‘$6, we can’t charge Anglo prices.’
‘No, that’s all in, up front. You want dinner?’
He looked hopeful, a little less like a beaten dog.
‘Naw, we’re going into LA. Downtown, but we’d like breakfast in the morning,’
I looked at the key rack over the guy’s shoulder. It was full. He handed over a key marked with the number 6. He shrugged again,
‘It’s my lucky number.’
As we walked out he shouted,
‘Look after the key, I close the desk at nine.’
We drove to West Hollywood, continuing down Sunset Strip past the Mocambo and the Trocadero.
‘Where a r e we going?’
Miss G didn’t look too horrified, so I gave her the match-book out of my pocket,
‘The guy reads the pulps too much, unless the red-head in the picture is real.’
‘Why wouldn’t she be?’
‘If a dame like that isn’t in the movies, she must be a figment of somebody’s imagination.
I could use a few figments like that.’
Miss Grafenburg tutted like a schoolmarm at the class clown.
‘Where is it, exactly?’
‘It’s not quite on the Strip, and it’s this side of LAPD jurisdiction. So they told me, when I called. It’s on Paloverde Avenue.’
LA County was full of Boulevards and Avenues that would have made pretty good Lanes.
I pulled up outside a building that had no neon. Just a discreet brass plaque beside a solid wooden door. As I knocked at the door, Miss G stepped aside, out of sight of the Judas hole. A short haired woman exhaled cigar smoke over me when she slid open the hatch,
‘Club iss memberss only.’
‘Maybe I could join?’
‘You never be member of this club.’
The hatch slid like a guillotine blade.
Miss G raised one eyebrow,
‘So that’s it. I’ll get in. We’ll see if I can get us both in.’
She took off her eye-glasses and put them in her purse. She put out an arm to steady herself and stood before the door. A firm knock caused the hatch to slide back again,
‘I say members-’ The helmet-haired woman stopped short. Her tongue moistened her lips.
‘Membership - $10.’ I saw her look at me. ‘He not be member.’
‘I’m afraid he must accompany me. He’s only a walker. It’s just I don’t see very well. I need someone.’
‘A walker? Why don’t you say? Not look like walker.’
She let out a breath like an exasperated bulldog and, by the way Miss G flinched, the smell deserved a public health warning.
This time the hatch slid slowly shut. I guessed the guardian at the gate was stuck on Miss G.
We went in. At around 6 p.m. it should have been a cocktail crowd. Maybe it would have been in the Troc. This far from the Strip it was about a quarter-full. About ten musicians in grubby white Tuxedos were playing an Argentine Tango just like they came from Paraguay. The dance floor was an octagon of once polished wood and it was full. Six couples were dancing; ten women and two men. It was no pick up joint. There were three male-female couples, but they sat at tables near the dance floor, not in the booths around the side. The women at the tables clocked Miss G the minute we walked in the door. Their walkers seemed uninterested, at least in my companion.
‘What the hell is a walker?’
‘It’s like a beard. You know. Only...’
‘Only it’s hiding something about the woman, not the man. You need that in here?’
‘It’s not for here. Movie people for example, if there’s a dinner or some publicity event...’
‘They stop off here and step out of character.’
‘If you like. The best walkers are people who need a beard, of course.’
I felt like a side of beef.
A long sheath of watered silk undulated towards our table and locked eyes with Miss G,
‘Are you staying for the cabaret?‘
‘Yes, we are.’
She was a red-head and she looked through me for all of a second,
‘In that case would you like our special membership offer. $15 includes a free bottle of champagne”
‘All the way from Paris, California?’ I laughed.
‘Miss, it will be $15 for your membership and an additional $5 for your guest.
Please don’t bring him again.’
‘I’m sorry, he’s just… nervous.’
I lifted my chin at the red-head.
She stomped away and it must have been difficult in that dress.
There was colour in Miss G’s cheeks, so I asked her,
‘How do you know about places like this?’
The colour spread all the way to her neck,
‘I read all the files that pass through my hands over at RKO.’
I figured her sang couldn’t be all that froid, if it brought so much heat to her skin.
‘Why are we here, anyway? Could have been anyone’s match-book, couldn’t it?’
Our “champagne” arrived. Helmet-hair brought it over with an ice bucket in a stand. She couldn’t make up her mind between mooning over Miss G and turning me to stone.
I pointed over to one of the booths,
‘You ain’t the only Miss G here.’
‘Fisher, I really do not see well, it’s not an affectation.’
‘Maybe it explains why the extra from Anna Karenina is on the door.’
‘Greta is here?’
‘She hasn’t left her Mercedes outside.’
‘What? Oh, I see,’ she put her hand over her mouth, ‘or rather, I don’t.’
‘Put your damn’ cheaters on.’
‘You’re not exactly welcome as it is.’
Greta and Miss De Acosta shrank further back into their booth, maybe they’d caught me staring.