G is for Gumshoe - Page 11/98

"What's that expression?" he said to me.

I smiled. "That's good night. I'm bushed."

"I'll get out of here then and let you get some sleep. You've got a great place. I'll expect a dinner invitation when you get back."

"Yeah, you know how much I love to cook."

"We'll send out."

"Good plan."

"You call me."

"I'll do that."

Truly, the best moment of the day came when I was finally by myself. I locked the front door and then circled the perimeter, making sure the windows were securely latched. I turned out the lights downstairs and climbed my spiral staircase to the loft above. To celebrate my first night in the apartment, I ran a bath, dumping in some of the bubblebath Darcy had given me for my birthday. It smelled like pine trees and reminded me of janitorial products employed by my grade school. At the age of eight, I'd often wondered what maintenance wizard came up with the notion of throwing sawdust on barf.

I turned the bathroom light off and sat in the steaming tub, looking out the window toward the ocean, which was visible only as a band of black with a wide swath of silver where the moon cut through the dark. The trunks of the sycamores just outside the window were a chalky white, the leaves pale gray, rustling together like paper in the chill spring breeze. It was hard to believe there was somebody out there hired to kill me. I'm well aware that immortality is simply an illusion we carry with us to keep ourselves functional from day to day, but the idea of a murder contract was inconceivable to me.

The bathwater cooled to lukewarm and I let it galumph away, the sound reminding me of every bath I'd ever taken. At midnight, I slid naked between the brand-new sheets on my brand-new bed, staring up through the skylight. Stars lay on the Plexiglas dome like grains of salt, forming patterns the Greeks had named centuries ago. I could identity the Big Dipper, even the Little Dipper sometimes, but I'd never seen anything that looked even remotely like a bear, a belt, or a scuttling crab. Maybe those guys smoked dope back then, lying on their backs near the Parthenon, pointing at the stars and bullshitting the night away. I wasn't even aware that I had fallen asleep until the alarm jolted me back to reality again.

I focused on the road, glancing down occasionally at the map spread open on the passenger seat. Joshua Tree National Monument and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park were blocked out in dark green, shaped like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. The national forests were tinted a paler green, while the Mojave itself was a pale beige, mountain ranges shaded in the palest brushstrokes. Much of the desert would never be civilized and that was cheering somehow. While I'm not a big fan of nature, its intractability amuses me no end. At the San Bernardino/Riverside exit, the arms of the freeway crisscross, sweeping upward, like some vision of the future in a 1950s textbook. Beyond, there is nothing on either side of the road but telephone lines, canyons the color of brown sugar, fences of wire with tumbleweeds blown against them. In the distance, a haze of yellow suggested that the mesquite was in bloom again.

Near Cabazon, I pulled into a rest stop to stretch my legs. There were eight or ten picnic tables in a grassy area shaded by willows and cottonwoods. Rest rooms were housed in a cinderblock structure with an A-line roof. I availed myself of one, air-drying my hands since the paper towels had run out. It was now ten o'clock and I was hungry, so I pulled out my cooler and set it up on a table some ten yards from the parking lot. The virtue of being single is you get to make up all the rules. Dinner at midnight? Why not, it's just you. Lunch at 10:00 a.m.? Sure, you're the boss. You can eat when you want and call it anything you like. I sat facing the road, munching on a sandwich while I watched cars come and go.

A kid, maybe five, was playing with an assortment of Matchbox trucks on the walkway while his father napped on a bench. Pop had a copy of Sports Illustrated open across his face, his big arms bared in a T-shirt with the sleeves torn out. The air was mild and warm, the sky an endless wash of blue.

On the road again, I passed the wind farms, where electricity is generated in acre after acre of turbines, arranged in rows like whirligigs. Today, gusts were light. I could watch the breezes zigzag erratically through the turbines, visible in the whimsical twirling of slender blades, like the propellers on lighter-than-air craft. Maybe, when man is gone, these odd totems will remain, merrily harvesting the elements, converting wind into power to drive ancient machines.

Approaching Palm Springs, the character of the road begins to change again. Billboards advertise fast-food restaurants and gasoline. RV country clubs are heralded as "residential communities for active adults." Behind the low hills, mountains loom, barren except for the boulders bleached by the sun. I passed a trailer park called Vista del Mar Estates, but there was no mar in view.