Slow Squeeze(4)

By: Dianne Emley

“Who was it?” Lorraine asked.

“Someone selling…encyclopedias.”


“Well, I guess everyone’s gotta make a living. Oh, shoot. I missed the end of the show.” Charlotte covered herself with the comforter, picked up Lorraine’s feet, and placed them on her lap. She retrieved the tin of fudge and put another piece into her mouth. “So, what’s on next?”


The Triumph’s throw-out bearing finally blew on the Ten just east of Crenshaw Boulevard. The bearing had been whizzing loudly whenever the gears were engaged for the past several months. Now it had blown within tantalizing, just-out-of-reach miles of Eric’s British Car Shop. No other mechanic would do. A long history had been built. Eric understood the Triumph, which demanded a great deal of understanding along with everything else that was precious: time, money, patience, fealty. Iris Thorne persisted, refusing to give up this close to Eric’s. She drove the remaining miles stuck in third gear, gunning the engine like crazy when lights turned from red to green. She and the give-me-a-ticket red 1972 Triumph TR6 finally reached the mechanic. Several hundred dollars later, the Triumph had a new clutch.

It was January 3 and the first Monday of the new year. The sky was clear and blue and the sun shone hard. As in any desert, the temperature of the warm day dropped with the setting sun. There was little humidity to hold the heat. It had been a sunny and warm Christmas, with the kind of weather that made transplants to Los Angeles moan that it wasn’t “Christmasy” enough. The natives didn’t know any differently and would be as unprepared for real weather as they were for any crisis.

Iris was following up on a lead, a potential new client, who might turn money over to her on the promise that she would return even more money. More, anyway, than would be received by stashing it in a safe but boring passbook savings account or CD. Mrs. Stringfellow, who requested in a slow Southern drawl that Iris please call her Barbie, had suggested that they meet at a restaurant called Wave.

Iris took down the Triumph’s rag top. She left Eric’s and continued west on the Ten, riding it until it dumped out onto Pacific Coast Highway and ran shoulder to shoulder with the ocean. She turned on the radio, driving north.

The Pacific was an energetic green. Emerald waves splashed against tan, sandy beaches. There were few people. Iris spotted a jogger, a dog owner, and a person strolling with hands behind his back, eyes seaward, footsteps deep in the surf-smoothed sand.

The beach was bordered with tall houses built on precious, tiny oceanfront lots, exclusive members-only beach clubs, skate and bicycle rental shops, parking lots, and snack shacks closed for the season. Farther north, the topography grew more dramatic, more expansive, and more expensive.

In Malibu, the water was crowded with surfers, locals only, young men wearing knee-length sleeveless wet suits shot with bright colors against black. Their long, wet hair lay in strings against the thick neoprene. A few girls huddled together on the beach watching them, wearing bright bathing suit tops and shorts in spite of the chilly air. Even though the sun’s rays were the gentle rays of winter, they were rays all the same. Scouts from modeling agencies cruised these beaches, hoping to spot young blood with that Californian je ne sais quoi rising from the sea foam.

The radio station broke for news. “Jury selection began today in the trial of the four white Los Angeles Police Department officers accused of using excessive force in the arrest of black motorist Rodney King. The incident was videotaped by an eyewitness. Today’s weather…”

Iris turned off Pacific Coast Highway and drove down the steep driveway by the restaurant, past the outer river rock wall covered with fuchsia and salmon bougainvillea vines, now mere twigs as they slept during the California winter. The entrance to Wave’s driveway was marked with just a tiny sign, the smallness of the type implying that if you don’t already know the restaurant’s here, you need not stop by.

Wave was a Malibu cliff-hanging confection financed by a group of L.A. investors—a movie star, two television stars, a movie producer, an entertainment attorney, and a hairdresser—all exploring their creative and business potentials. There were designer linens on the tables and original art on the walls, some of it the creations of the investor group’s famous friends. The chef of the moment was busy in the glass-walled kitchen.