The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

The men who seemed to have been charged with restoring the statue to its place could only look at it and scratch their heads. Jubal couldn’t blame them.

Finally one of the workers asked the others, “Are we going to tell the Chief?”

The man who seemed to be in charge was shaking his head. “I don’t want to bother him unless we have to. Let me ask Murray first.” The worker sounded genuinely concerned about the old man. Jubal had heard that Hearst paid well, as a rule, sometimes very well indeed, and he could be spectacularly generous with his employees when he learned about some special problem, such as illness in a worker’s family. The other side of his attitude was that he was not at all slow to fire people when he thought they failed to measure up.

At last one of the men said, “If we could fever it up on a cart somehow we could haul it, but you’ll need some kind of a crane, a block and tackle, to get it back up on the pedestal.”

Another was frowning, walking around, estimating the width of the gaps of open grass between plantings. “I think we’ll have to get a truck in here.”

Saturday morning on the Hill was sunny and pleasant, free of peculiar sounds and feelings. The guests got up whenever they felt like getting up, and went to the refectory for breakfast whenever they felt like it. Then there was that enormous swimming pool, inviting as a great calm ocean. Calm and warm; all that water was heated to a comfortable temperature, and you could have put a hundred people in it without crowding, but in fact there were seldom more than a small handful at any time.

Everyone said that Mr. Hearst really liked to swim, but he never got up until after noon. When the night’s private movie show had been concluded, around midnight, and most of the guests were retiring to their rooms, he would head up to his library on one of the upper floors of Casa Grande and there amuse himself by some energetic hours of work, studying stacks of his newspapers that had been flown in from all over the country, and preparing comments for their editors. The comments were always couched in gracious language, but they were not always favorable. Sometimes an unfortunate press lord in Chicago or New York would be roused by a phone call from the Chief at two a.m. California time, and be given a politely, phrased suggestion about some necessary improvement in his paper.

As the morning went on, more and more people kept showing up at poolside, but they were still all in separate groups, widely separated around the shores of this artificial lake.

When Esther appeared, wearing a yellow suit, she joined Jubal where he was sitting on the edge.

A moment later he touched her on the arm. “Here comes Flynn,” Jubal remarked. Last year Jubal had seen him in Captain Blood, which had been a big hit, raising Errol Flynn to the status of major star. And of course the new one, Charge of the Light Brigade, on the bill at San Simeon last night. If anyone asked Jubal how he’d liked that show, he would have to admit that he had missed it.

Esther threw a quick glance across the pool and looked away again. “That’s him.” She was apparently not impressed.

No doubt about it, here came Captain Blood himself, six feet two and leanly muscular, white trunks contrasting with his dark hair and tan, entering the pool with an expert dive, to go splashing athletically across its width, then pull himself out again on another remote shore. From across the gulf of water he treated Esther to a dazzling grin with his capped teeth, which Jubal thought were white as billiard balls.

“And there’s David Niven.” Niven, about the same size and shape, with slightly wavy light brown hair, was not nearly as big a star as Flynn had suddenly become, not yet anyway. But the two actors seemed to be on the best of terms, waving to each other across the water, and after Niven had swum across finally settling down in adjoining wicker chairs with dark glasses over their eyes.

Esther seemed to be even slightly going out of her way not to be impressed. She had her back turned to the actors now, and actually they didn’t seem to be paying her much attention either.

“Want to help me put on some lotion?” she inquired of Jubal. “I don’t want to get too tan, I might have a test coming up.”


And Jubal was assigned the pleasant task of rubbing some white cream on Esther’s back and shoulders, above the top of her yellow one-piece swim suit. Look at me, he thought to himself suddenly. I wonder if I’m making Errol Flynn jealous.

He had a great and sudden impulse to lean forward and kiss the back of her neck; only the certainty that at least one or two of the security men were watching kept him from doing so.

Down a few more flights of white steps from the houses there were two tennis courts, actually occupying the enormous flat roof of the low separate building that contained the vast indoor pool. And there was horseback riding. Jubal would have considered trying that, although despite the time he’d spent on the ranch he had never really got used to it and didn’t do it very well, at least compared with the cowboys. But Esther of course, being allergic to horses, was not riding today, and he chose to keep her company. It wasn’t at all a difficult decision.

“You can go riding if you like,” Esther assured him. “You don’t have to hang around here on my account.” But she didn’t sound eager to be rid of him.

“I can see horses any time,” Jubal cheerfully allowed.

Jubal’s parents, on the comparatively rare occasions during the weekend when he saw them, kept fiercely urging him to be polite to the girl and keep her company—that was, after all, as they had begun to realize, the main reason the family had been invited here.

“Yes, I know,” he responded patiently. “I will.” By this time, being polite was not a problem. He was actually looking forward to spending some more time with Esther.

As far as the Hearst collections were concerned, the paintings and statues and rugs and who-knew-what, that many of the visitors kept oohing and aahing at, Jubal was impressed by them and even awed a little. Not that he knew anything about art, he didn’t, and so far had never had reason to care about it. He was impressed by the artifacts because they too represented a kind of power, power over minds and bank accounts of some very important people. All he could be sure of was that all the stuff with which these tables were piled, and these walls were hung, made the place a lot different than any other house he had ever been in, though some of those other houses were pretty fancy too.

And, talking about power, what about the power of Sekhmet? Scary stuff, or it could be, but so far Jubal felt more challenged than afraid. And Esther seemed even more ready for adventure than he was.

It occurred to Jubal that if he was going to be taking Esther on any more strolls after dark, the flashlight he had wanted to probe the mystery of Sekhmet might be a very valuable thing to have along. So he watched for his opportunity, and after quietly checking out the contents of three utility closets, two in Casa Grande and one in Casa del Mar, managed to find the very thing he wanted on a shelf, just waiting for some needy person like himself to come along and borrow it.

On Saturday afternoon, Jubal decided to conduct a solo scouting trip, sidestepped a meeting with his parents, and set out by himself.

Earlier that day Esther had promised to come out and meet him, if she could. So far it looked like she couldn’t—but maybe she’d be able to join him later.

For an hour or so, as he waited in his ridiculously exotic room, occasionally testing his borrowed flashlight, he had entertained an entrancing daydream of slipping out of his room at night, meeting Esther who had also slipped out of hers, and finding her willing to look for a private spot and engage in some activity more interesting than billiards. But it seemed that an hour or so was about as long as any dream like that could last, in these conditions.

For one thing, real privacy of any kind was hard to come by, anywhere outside of your assigned bedroom and bath. The walks and patios, and the area around the outdoor pool especially, stayed brightly lighted all night long, by what amounted to fancy streetlamps. Pure white light, filtered through glowing globes of alabaster.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred