To the right of the hurrying car, beyond the shoulder of the highway, stood a gathering of cows. Not far beyond rested more brown shapes, half-hidden by the shadow of a barn. On the side of the barn an old Coca-Cola sign was vaguely visible.
Joseph Schilling, seated in the back of the car, reached into his watch pocket and brought out his gold watch. With an expert dig of his nail he lifted the lid and read the time. It was two-forty in the afternoon, the hot, midsummer California afternoon.
"How much farther?" he inquired, with a stir of dissatisfaction. He was weary of the motion of the car and the flow of farmlands outside the windows.
Hunched over the steering wheel, Max grunted without turning his head. "Ten, maybe fifteen minutes."
"You know what I'm talking about?"
"You're talking about that town you marked on the map. It's ten or fifteen minutes ahead. I saw a mileage sign back a ways; at that last bridge."
More cows came into sight, and with them more dry fields. The far-off mountain haze had, during the last few hours, settled gradually into the depths of the valleys. Wherever Joseph Schilling looked the haze lay dully spread out, obscuring the baked hills and pastures, the assorted fruit orchards, the occasional calcimined farm buildings. And, directly ahead, the beginnings of the town: two billboards and a fresh egg stand. He was glad to see the town arrive.
"We've never been through here," he said. "Have we?"
"The closest we've come is Los Gatos, on that vacation you took back in '49."
"Nothing can be done more than once," Schilling said. "New things must be found. As Heraclitus would say, the river is always different."
"It all looks alike to me. All this farm country." Max pointed to a herd of sheep collected under an oak tree. "That's those sheep again ... we've been passing them all day."
From his inside coat pocket Schilling got out a black leather notebook, a fountain pen, and a folded map of California. He was a large man, in his late fifties; his hands, as he gripped the map, were massive and yellowed, the skin grained, fingers knobby, nails thick to the point of opaqueness. He wore a rough tweed suit, vest, somber wool tie; his shoes were black leather, English-made, dusty with highway grime.
"Yes, we'll stop," he decided, putting away his notebook and pen. "I want to spend an hour getting a look around. There's always the possibility this one might do. How would you like that?"
"What's the town called?"
Schilling smiled. "Don't be funny."
"You have the map-look it up." Grumpily, Max admitted, "Pacific Park. Set in the heart of rich California. Only two days of rain a year. Owns its own ice plant."
Now the town proper was emerging on both sides of the highway. Fruit stands, a Standard station, one isolated grocery store with cars parked in the dirt plot alongside it. From the highway wandered narrow, bumpy roads. Houses came into sight as the Dodge pulled over into the slower lane.
"So they call this a town," Max said. Gunning the engine, he swung the car into a right turn. "Town here? Over here? Make up your mind."
"Drive through the business section."
The business section was divided into two parts. One part, oriented around the highway and its passing traffic, seemed to be mostly drive-ins and filling stations and roadside taverns. The second part was the hub of the town; and it was into that area the Dodge now moved. Joseph Schilling, his arm resting on the sill of the open window, gazed out, watchful and absorbed, gratified by the presence of people and stores, gratified that the open country was temporarily past.
"Not bad," Max admitted, as a bakery, a pottery and notion shop, a modern creamery, and then a flower shop went by. Next came a book shop-Spanish adobe in style-and after that a procession of California ranch-style homes. Presently the homes fell behind; a gas station appeared and they were back on the state highway.
"Stop here," Schilling instructed.
It was a simple white building with a painted sign that flapped in the afternoon wind. A Negro had already risen from a canvas deck chair, put down his magazine, and was coming over. He wore a starched uniform with the word Bill stitched across it.
"Bill's Car Wash," Max said as he put on the parking brake. "Let's get out; I have to take a leak."
Stiffly, with fatigue, Joseph Schilling opened the car door and stepped onto the asphalt. In getting out he was obliged to crowd past the packages and boxes that filled the back of the car; a pasteboard carton bounced onto the running board and he bent laboriously to catch it. Meanwhile, the Negro had approached Max and was greeting him.
"Right away. Put it right through, sir. Already call' my assistant; he over getting a Coke."
Joseph Schilling, exercising his legs and rubbing his hands, began walking around. The air smelled good; hot as it was it lacked the stuffy closeness of the car. He got out a cigar, clipped off the end, and lit up. He was breathing dark blue smoke here and there when the Negro approached.
"He working on it right now," the Negro said. The Dodge, pushed bodily into the wash, had half-disappeared into the billows of soap and hot water.
"Don't you do it?" Schilling asked. "Oh, I see; you're the engineer."
"I'm in charge. I own the car wash."
The door of the men's room was open; inside, Max was gratefully urinating and muttering.
"How far is San Francisco from here?" Schilling asked the Negro.
"Oh, fifty miles, sir."
"Too far to commute."
"Oh, they commute, some of them. But this no suburb; this a complete town." He indicated the hills. "A lot of retired people, they come here because of the climate. They settle; they stay." He tapped his chest. "Nice dry air."
Clouds of high school students roamed along the sidewalks, across the lawn of the fire station, gathering at the windows of the drive-in on the far side of the street. One pretty little girl in a red sweater held Schilling's attention as she stood sipping from a pasteboard cup, her eyes large and vacant, her black hair fluttering. He watched until she noticed him and ducked defensively away.
"Are those all high school children?" he asked Bill. "Some of them look older."
"They high school students," the Negro assured him with civic authority. "It just three o'clock."
"The sun," Schilling said, making a small joke. "You have sun most of the year ... it ripens everything faster."
"Yes, crops here all year round. Apricots, walnuts, pears, rice. It nice here."
"Is it? You like it?"
"Very much." The Negro nodded. "During the war I live down in Los Angeles. I work in a airplane factory. I ride to work on the bus." He grimaced. "Shee-oot."
"And now you're in business for yourself."
"I got tired. I live a lot of different places and then I come here. All during the war I save for the car wash. It make me feel good. Living here make me feel good. can sort of rest."
"You're accepted here?"
"There a colored section. But that good enough; that about all you can expect. At least nobody ever say I can't come and live. You know."
"I know," Schilling said, deep in thought.
"So it better here."
"Yes," Schilling agreed. "It is. Much better."
Across the street the girl had finished her soft drink; crumpling the cup, she dropped it into the gutter and then strolled off with friends. Joseph Schilling was looking after her when Max emerged from the men's room, blinking in the sunlight and buttoning his trousers.
"Hey, hey," Max said warningly, seeing the expression on his face. "I know that look."
With a guilty start, Schilling said, "That's an exceptionally lovely girl."
"But none of your business."
Returning to the Negro, Schilling said, "What's a good place to walk? Up toward the hills?"
"There a couple of parks. One of them just down there; you could walk over. It small, but it shady." He pointed the direction, glad to be helpful, glad to be of service to the large, well-dressed white gentleman.
The large, well-dressed white gentleman looked about him, his cigar between his fingers. His eyes moved in such a way that the Negro knew he was seeing past the car wash and the Foster's Freeze drive-in; he was seeing out over the town. He was seeing the residential section of estates and mansions. He was seeing the slum section, the tumbledown hotel and cigar store. He was seeing the fire station and high school and modern shops. In his eyes it was all there, as if he had caught hold of it just by looking at it.
And it seemed to the Negro that the white gentleman had traveled a long way to reach this one town. He had not come from nearby; he had not even come from the East. Perhaps he had come all across the world; perhaps he had always been coming, moving along, from place to place. It was his cigar: it smelled foreign. It wasn't made in America; it came from outside. The white gentleman stood there, giving off a foreign smell, from his cigar, his tired tweed suit, his English shoes, his French cuffs made of gold and linen. Probably his silver cigar cutter came from Sweden. Probably he drank Spanish sherry. He was a man of and from the world.
When he came, when he drove his big black Dodge up onto the lot, it was not merely himself that he brought. He was much bigger than that. He was so immense that he towered over everything, even as he stood bending and listening, even as he stood smoking his cigar. The Negro had never seen a face so far up; it was so far that it had no look, no expression. It had neither kindness nor meanness; it was simply a face, an endless face high above him, with its smoking, billowing cigar, spreading out the whole world around him and his assistant. Bringing the whole outside universe into the little California town of Pacific Park.
Leisurely, Joseph Schilling walked along the gravel path, his hands in his pockets, enjoying the activity around him. At a pond children were feeding bread to a plump duck. In the center of the park was a bandstand, deserted. Old men sat here and there, and young, full-breasted mothers. The trees were pepper and eucalyptus, and they were extremely shady.
"Bums," Max said, trailing behind him and wiping his perspiring face with a pocket handkerchief. "Where are we going?"
"Nowhere," Schilling said.
"You're going to talk to somebody. You're going to sit down and talk to one of these bums. You'll talk to anybody-you talked to that coon."
"I've fairly well made up my mind," Schilling said. "You have? About what?"
"We'll locate here."
"Why?" Max demanded. "Because of this park? There's one like it in every town up and down-"
"Because of this town. Here there's everything I want."
"Such as girls with big knockers."
They had reached the edge of the park. Stepping from the curb, Schilling crossed the street. "You can go find yourself a beer, if you prefer."
"Where are you going?" Max asked suspiciously.
Ahead of them was a row of modern stores. In the center of the block was a real estate office. GREB AND POTTER, the sign read. "I'm going in there," Schilling said. "Think it over."
"I've thought it over."
"You can't open your store here; you won't make any money in a town like this."
"Maybe not," Schilling said absently. "But-" He smiled. "I can sit in the park and feed bread to the duck."
"I'll meet you back at the car wash," Max said, and shambled resignedly off toward the bar.
Joseph Schilling paused a moment, and then entered the real estate office. The single large room was dark and cool. A long counter blocked off one side; behind it, at a desk, sat a tall young man.
"Yes, sir?" the young man said, making no move to rise.
"What can I do for you?"
"You handle business rentals?"
"Yes, we do."
Joseph Schilling moved to the end of the counter and regarded a wall map of Santa Clara County. "Let me see your listings." From between his fingers appeared the white edge of his business card. "I'm Joseph R. Schilling."
The young man had risen to his feet. "I'm Jack Greb. Glad to meet you, Mr. Schilling." He extended his hand warily. "Business property? You're looking for a long-term lease on a retail outlet?" From under the counter he got a thick, stave-bound book and laid it open before him.
"Without fixtures," Schilling said.
"You're a merchant? You have a California Retail Sales License?"
"I'm in the music business." Presently he added, "I used to be in the publishing end; now I've decided to try my hand at record retailing. It's been a sort of dream of mine-to have my own shop."
"We already have a record shop," Greb said. "Hank's Music Bar."
"This will be a different type of thing. This will be music for connoisseurs."
"Classical music, you mean."
"That's what I mean."
Wetting his thumb, Greb began spiritedly turning the stiff yellow pages of his listings book. "I think we have just the place for you. Nice little store, very modern and clean. Tilted front, fluorescent lighting, built only a couple of years ago. Over on Pine Street, right in the heart of the business section. Used to be a gift shop. Man and his wife, nice middle-aged couple. He sold out when she died. Died of stomach cancer, as I understand."
"I'd like to see the place," Joseph Schilling said.
Greb smiled slyly back across the counter at him. "And I'd like to show it to you."
At the edge of the concrete loading platform of California Readymade Furniture an express truck was taking on stacks of chrome chairs. A second truck, a P.I.E. van, waited to take its place.
In faded blue jeans and a cloth apron, the shipping clerk was lethargically hammering together a chrome dinner table. Sixteen bolts held the plastic top in place; seven bolts kept the hollow metal legs from wobbling loose.
"Shit," the shipping clerk said.
He wondered if anybody else in the world was assembling chrome furniture. He thought over all the things people could be imagined doing. In his mind appeared the image of the beach at Santa Cruz, the image of girls in bathing suits, bottles of beer, motel cabins, radios playing soft jazz. The pain was too much. Abruptly he descended on the welder, who, having slid up his mask, was searching for more tables.
"This is shit," the shipping clerk said. "You know it?"
The welder grinned, nodded, and waited.
"You done?" the shipping clerk demanded. "You want another table? Who the hell would have one of these tables in his house? I wouldn't give them toilet space."
One gleaming leg slipped from his fingers and fell to the concrete. Cursing, the shipping clerk kicked it into the litter under his bench, among the bits of rope and brown paper. He was bending to pluck it back out when Miss Mary Anne Reynolds appeared with more order sheets ready for his attention.
"You shouldn't have done that," she said, knowing how clearly he could be heard in the office.
"The hell with it," the shipping clerk said, as he got down a fresh leg. "Hold this, will you?"
Mary Anne put down her papers and held the leg while he bolted it onto the chair frame. The smell of his unhappiness reached her, and it was a thin smell, acrid, like sweat that had soured. She felt sorry for him, but his stupidity annoyed her. He had been like this a year and a half ago, when she started.