Three things occurred on or about May 5, which is not only Cinco de Mayo in California, but Happy Birthday to me. Aside from the fact that I turned thirty-three (after what seemed like an interminable twelve months of being thirty-two), the following also came to pass:
1. The reconstruction of my apartment was completed and I moved back in.
2. I was hired by a Mrs. Clyde Gersh to bring her mother back from the Mojave desert.
3. I made one of the top slots on Tyrone Patty's hit list.
I report these events not necessarily in the order of importance, but in the order most easily explained.
For the record, my name is Kinsey Millhone. I'm a private investigator, licensed by the State of California, (now) thirty-three years old, 118 pounds of female in a five-foot six-inch frame. My hair is dark, thick, and straight. I'd been accustomed to wearing it short, but I'd been letting it grow out just to see what it would look like. My usual practice is to crop my own mop every six weeks or so with a pair of nail scissors. This I do because I'm too cheap to pay twenty-eight bucks in a beauty salon. I have hazel eyes, a nose that's been busted twice, but still manages to function pretty well I think. If I were asked to rate my looks on a scale of one to ten, I wouldn't. I have to say, however, that I seldom wear makeup, so whatever I look like first thing in the morning at least remains consistent as the day wears on.
I'd been living since New Year's with my landlord, Henry Pitts, an eighty-two-year-old gent whose converted single-car garage apartment I'd been renting for two years. This nondescript but otherwise serviceable abode had been blown sky-high and Henry had suggested that I move into his small back bedroom while my place was being rebuilt. There is, apparently, some law of nature decreeing that all home construction must double in its projected cost and take four times longer than originally anticipated. This would explain why, after five months of intensive work, the unveiling had finally been scheduled with all the fanfare of a movie premiere. I was uneasy about the new place because I wasn't at all sure I'd like what Henry had come up with in the way of a floor plan and interior "day-core." He'd been very secretive and extremely pleased with himself since he'd gotten city approval for the blueprints. I was worried that I'd take one look at the place and not be able to conceal my dismay. I'm a born liar, but I don't do as well disguising what I feel. Still, as I'd told myself many times, it was his property and he could do anything he pleased. For two hundred bucks a month, was I going to complain? I don't think so.
I woke at six o'clock that Thursday morning, rolled out of bed and into my running clothes. I brushed my teeth, splashed some water on my face, did a perfunctory hamstring stretch, and headed out Henry's back door. May and June, in Santa Teresa, are often masked by fog-the weather as blank and dreary as the white noise on a TV set when the broadcast day is done. The winter beaches are stripped bare, massive boulders exposed as the tides sweep away the summer sand. We'd had a rainy March and April, but May had come in clear and mild. The sand was being returned as the spring currents shifted, the beaches restored for the tourists who would begin to pour into the town around Memorial Day and not leave again until Labor Day weekend had come and gone.
This dawn was spectacular, early morning clouds streaking the sky in dark gray tufts, sun tinting the underbelly an intense rose shade. The tide was out and the beach seemed to stretch toward the horizon in a silvery mirror of reflected sky. Santa Teresa was lush and green and the air felt soft, saturated with the smell of eucalyptus leaves and the newly cut grass. I jogged three miles and was home again thirty minutes later in time for Henry to sing "Happy birthday to yooouuu!" as he pulled a pan of freshly baked cinnamon rolls out of the oven. Being serenaded is not my favorite activity, but he did it so badly, I could only be amused and gratified. I showered, pulled on jeans, a T-shirt, and my tennis shoes, and then Henry handed me a gift-wrapped jeweler's box that contained the newly minted brass key to my apartment. He was behaving like a kid, his lean, tanned face wreathed in shy smiles, his blue eyes glinting with barely suppressed excitement. In a two-person ceremonial procession, we walked from his back door, across the flagstone patio, to the front door of my place.
I knew what the exterior looked like-two stories of cream-colored stucco with rounded corners in a style I'd have to call Art Deco. Numerous hand-crankable windows had been installed and there was new landscaping, which Henry had done himself. To tell you the truth, the outward effect was unprepossessing, which I didn't object to a bit. My prime anxiety had always been that he'd make the apartment too fancy for my taste.