I had a lunch date at the Madagascar Hotel. I was early without meaning to be, and life was grand. The hotel sat swank on an acre or two of green lawn, behind a row of king palms. The valet at the front door sneered at the two bits I gave him and looked at my Ford like it was a pumpkin. He barked the tires in his hurry to get it out of sight. I checked my tie was tight before I went up the steps.
The lobby was as cool and hushed as a bank vault. Fans whispered from the high ceiling. A woman was sitting on a sofa beneath a potted tree. Through dark glasses, she studied the magazine in her lap and didn’t look up at me as I passed. She probably wasn’t Miss Lane in disguise. I went all the way through, and back outside into the hot sun.
The swimming pool was the kind of blue that costs money, and a lot of it. A group of pretty young women splashed water and tossed a beach ball around. They chirped gaily to each other and paid no attention at all to the earnest types that walked around the edges showing muscle. The whole scene made me tired just looking at it.
I sat down at a table set into the shade of a stucco arch and looked around. A bright green gecko made his way up the cement pillar beside me. He stopped every inch or so to test the air and think about things. I was starting to tell him that we were a lot alike when the waiter interrupted us. I asked for a beer, and said not to bother bringing a glass with it.
“Gin fizz,” a woman said from beside me. The waiter nodded and left.
I stood up to pull out a chair. She took her time sitting so I could look at a set of spectacular legs. The rest of her wore a pale sundress with hat to match. Her hair was trapped in careful platinum waves and she had wide blue eyes that looked at me as though I had suggested something outrageous. She was a doll, and she knew it.
“I’m Eleanor Lane,” she said, in a sweet voice. “Mister Gaynor’s private secretary.”
“Of course you are,” I said. “How swell for Mister Gaynor.”
She curled a lip, and her voice changed.
“What’s that supposed to mean, shamus?” she asked.
The waiter presented the drinks. I tasted my elegant hotel beer. It tasted a lot like the beer everywhere else, which was disappointing. I had never tasted a beer that wasn’t wonderful though, so I drank a little more of it.
“I don’t like you already,” she said.
I shrugged, and looked over at the gecko for some help. He crawled up the cement and flicked out his tongue at me. Across the table from me, Eleanor Lane stuck out her tongue, too.
“Oh, brother,” I said.