Built into a wall panel of each and every guest bedroom at San Simeon was a cloth circle concealing behind it a radio speaker, and just below each speaker were controls with which the guest, if he or she chose, could tune in a steady diet of music from a record player somewhere in the main house. Alternately, it was possible to listen to any of six regular radio stations, three in Los Angeles and three in San Francisco. Jubal tried each station several times in the course of the day, but still failed to hear any news regarding the discovery of any mysterious body.
Also he checked out both the L.A. and San Francisco papers, when he had the chance; the ones delivered to the Ranch were all Hearst papers, of course, and they tended to have the same comics in them, whatever city they came from. Another thing they had in common was a total lack of news about the discovery of any mysterious dead man, anywhere in the state of California. That at least was a relief.
Jubal figured that Esther would have to come out of her room for lunch, and that proved to be the case. At the Ranch there was no room service, no way that anyone was going to eat lunch, or any other meal, anywhere but in the regular dining room—another of old W.R.’s little quirks. If you wanted as much as a cup of coffee, that was where you had to go. And when Esther came out of her room for lunch there was a short interval of time when she and Jubal had the big refectory table practically to themselves, and he had a chance to talk to her.
Today’s lunch, like every other San Simeon meal that Jubal had partaken of so far, was being served buffet style. One vast sideboard held a big silver dish of something that Jubal guessed was probably lobster, and another dish of eggs that seemed too small to have been laid by any ordinary chickens. Jubal sniffed at these and passed them by; he helped himself to some clam chowder, and then a plate of little sausages and a kind of fancy mashed potatoes, not so much transformed that he couldn’t tell what they were. Pouring into a fragile cup from a big china pot, he got himself a drink of something that turned out to be tea.
There was a bewildering array of fancy silver urns and trays and utensils on the single long refectory table, as well as on the two enormous sideboards, which also held plates and cups of some kind of antique china—but then, deployed at intervals along the table, were plain ordinary jars of yellow mustard that you could buy in any grocery store, and plain, cheap glass bottles of Heinz Tomato Ketchup, along with ten-cent boxes of paper-napkins. This, obviously, was the way that W.R. wanted his dining room arranged. No one seemed to know why.
Esther, casually dressed as if for croquet or a picnic, showed up when Jubal was about halfway through his solitary lunch, and he tossed aside the latest newspaper, in which he had most recently been searching without result for some word of a dead stranger.
At first, Esther was not in much of a mood to talk. Then she explained that she had been having trouble with her parents.
“I argue with mine quite a bit,” he assured her.
That seemed to make her feel a little better. But other things were bothering her too. Like, for instance, the wandering statue. “I had kind of an ugly dream about that, last night,” she informed him.
And the moment Esther said that, something stirred in Jubal’s memory: some kind of lurching horror that had disturbed him in the night too, but which his memory had somehow managed to bury again. Until now. But of course he had had more than stone statues to give him nightmares.
“I was dreaming too,” he told his companion.
But Esther was still focused on her own bad dreams. “If we take another walk, I don’t want to go that way.”
“Okay. Sure. We don’t have to. There’s plenty of other stuff to see.” But Jubal suddenly knew an irrational fear that they were going to stumble over another dead body.
The half-dozen or so guests who had gone out horseback riding early in the morning were back by lunchtime. Some of them looked cheerful, and some looked bored, but it was pretty obvious that none of them had stumbled over any dead bodies along the trail.
Prowlers on the grounds, and unexplained dead bodies, seemed like good reasons for him to stay in his room at night, and to make sure that anyone he cared about did the same.
Fortunately that wasn’t a problem as far as Mom and Dad were concerned. Dad took his exercise in the early morning, when he took any at all, and Mom much preferred sitting and gossiping.
Esther of course was another matter. Jubal felt certain that she could have heard nothing about his unpleasant discovery. Because she was now hinting strongly that she could be talked into coming out late at night for another stroll around the grounds; Jubal thought there was even a suggestion that the two of them might somehow find a private spot, where they could feel free to get to know each other really well. It crossed his mind to wonder if she was really fighting with her parents now, and whether she might be ready to put her own career in danger just to spite them.
He had no intention of wrecking anyone’s career, but it just wasn’t in the cards for him to turn down an invitation like that It wasn’t that he had some special need to try to score with a movie star. Actually it wasn’t even that Esther was all that good looking; Jubal didn’t have any trouble coming up in his own mind with the names of a couple of girls he knew in Colorado who were considerably prettier. But Esther sure did have—something. Something that must come through when pictures of her were put on film. A certain liveliness or electricity, a kind of appeal possessed by no other girl that he had ever met.
And anyway, even if she’d been plain as a mud fence, he wouldn’t have felt right, knowing what he knew, if he let her go walking around the grounds by herself, especially at night. Even leaving aside all worries about strange rigid corpses and moving statues, there were more ordinary matters to be considered, such as the fact that someone like Errol Flynn was quite likely to come along, and this time Flynn might be sober enough to be dangerous to any young woman’s virtue. If the movie star’s reputation rested on any real basis of truth at all, the fact that Esther was only sixteen wasn’t going to offer her much protection.
It was on the third night of the long weekend that the real crisis came.
On Sunday night Jubal was hoping and expecting that Esther would be able to come out of her room and walk with him again; he thought, and devoutly hoped, that she still had not the faintest idea what had happened on the grounds on Saturday night.
Every Sunday afternoon at five o’clock, Pacific time, about half the people in America had to stop what they were doing to listen on the radio to Edgar Bergen the ventriloquist, and Charlie McCarthy his wooden dummy, who most of the time seemed a lot livelier than Bergen. The dwellers in Casa Grande, and the outlying guest houses, were no exception.
Dinner was behind them, and the night’s movie had been watched and then rewound into cans of film. So when the appointed time, eleven thirty, came round, Jubal turned off the lights in his room, put on his sportcoat against the coolness of the night, omitting the necktie that he’d worn to dinner, patted his pocket to make sure he had his little borrowed flashlight, and quietly went out as he had planned.
A minute later, he met Esther, as if by accident, and the two of them went strolling.
“You keep looking around tonight,” she commented, when they had gone only a few yards. “Getting nervous like me?”
“You’re not really nervous, are you? Or you wouldn’t have come out walking.”
“Sure I would,” Esther said. “You can’t let things get you. If something really bothers you, you’ve got to do it.”
Jubal had heard cowboys talk like that, about overcoming fear when your job involved riding dangerous horses. “Reason I’m looking around,” he said, “is that I’m just wondering who else might be out walking.”
“If there is anyone else, it’s probably just the security people. They’ll see to it that you go back in your house when we finish our walk, and I go back in mine. And that’s the way it’s going to be. People get thrown out of here, sent down the Hill, for any kind of hanky panky.”