We swerved in behind the big, bone-white Moorish fort at exactly midnight and the limousine stopped as easily as a wave sinks in sand and the limo door banged and the chauffeur, still quiet after the long, silent glide, streaked into the backside of the fort and did not appear again.
I waited a full minute for something to happen. When it did not, I slid out of the back of the limousine, like a shoplifter, guilty for no reason and wondering whether to escape.
I saw a dark figure upstairs in the house. Lights went on as the chauffeur moved about the Moorish fort on the Venice sands.
I stayed quietly, anyway. I looked at my watch. As the minute hand counted off the last second of the last minute, the front portico lights went on.
I walked up to the open front door and stepped into an empty house. At a distance down a hall I saw a small figure darting about the kitchen making drinks. A small girl in a maid’s outfit. She waved at me and ran.
I walked into a living room filled with a menagerie of pillows of every size from Pomeranian to Great Dane. I sat on the biggest one and sank down even as my soul kept sinking in me.
The maid ran in, put down two drinks on a tray, and ran out before I could see her (there was only candlelight in this room). Over her shoulder she threw away “Drink!” in what was or was not a French accent.
It was a cool white wine and a good one and I needed it. My cold was worse. I was sneezing and honking and sneezing all the time.
In the year 2078 they excavated an old tomb or what they thought to be a tomb on the shoreline of California where, it was rumored, queens and kings once ruled, then went away with the tides along the flats. Some were buried with their chariots, it was said. Some with relics of their arrogance and magnificence. Some left behind only images of themselves in strange canisters which, held to the light and spun on a shuttle, talked in tongues and tossed black-and-white shadow-shows on empty tapestry screens.
One of the tombs found and opened was the tomb of a queen and in that vault was not a speck of dust, nor furniture, just pillows in mid-floor and all around, row on row, rising to the ceiling, and stack on stack, reaching to touch that ceiling, canisters labeled with the lives that the queen had lived and none of these lives were true but they seemed true. They were tinned and prisoned dreams. They were containers from which djinns screamed forth or into which princesses fled to hide for eternity from the reality that killed.
And the address of the tomb was 27 Speedway, Ocean Front, Venice, California, in a lost year under sand and water. And the name of the queen with her film in cans from floor to roof was Rattigan.
And I was there now, waiting and thinking:
I hope she’s not like the canary lady. I hope she’s not a mummy with dust in her eyes.
I stopped hoping.
The second Egyptian queen had arrived. And not with a grand entrance at all, and she wasn’t wearing a silver lame evening gown, or even a smart dress and scarf or tailored slacks.
I felt her in the door across the room before she spoke, and what was she? A woman about five feet tall, in a black bathing suit, incredibly suntanned all over her body, and with a face dark as nutmeg and cinnamon. Her hair was cropped and a kind of blonde gray brown and tousled as if, what the hell, she had given it a try with a comb and let it go. The body was neat and firm and quick, and the tendons of her legs had not been cut. She ran quickly, barefoot, across the floor and stood looking down at me with flashing eyes.
“You a good swimmer?”
“How many laps of my pool could you do?” She nodded to the great emerald lake outside the French doors.
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