The woman in the doorway looked so harmless. Who was to tell she had some rather startling interests?
The woman in the doorway looked like Mom in the homier political cartoons. She was plump, apple-cheeked, white-haired. She wore a fussy, old-fashioned nightgown, and was busily clutching a worn house-robe around her expansive middle. She blinked at Sol Becker's rain-flattened hair and hang-dog expression, and said: "What is it? What do you want?"
"I'm sorry--" Sol's voice was pained. "The man in the diner said you might put me up. I had my car stolen: a hitchhiker; going to Salinas ..." He was puffing.
"Hitchhiker? I don't understand." She clucked at the sight of the pool of water he was creating in her foyer. "Well, come inside, for heaven's sake. You're soaking!"
"Thanks," Sol said gratefully.
With the door firmly shut behind him, the warm interior of the little house covered him like a blanket. He shivered, and let the warmth seep over him. "I'm terribly sorry. I know how late it is." He looked at his watch, but the face was too misty to make out the hour._br_"Must be nearly three," the woman sniffed. "You couldn't have come at a worse time. I was just on my way to court--"
The words slid by him. "If I could just stay overnight. Until the morning. I could call some friends in San Fernando. I'm very susceptible to head colds," he added inanely.
"Well, take those shoes off, first," the woman grumbled. "You can undress in the parlor, if you'll keep off the rug. You won't mind using the sofa?"
"No, of course not. I'd be happy to pay--"
"Oh, tush, nobody's asking you to pay. This isn't a hotel. You mind if I go back upstairs? They're gonna miss me at the palace."
"No, of course not," Sol said. He followed her into the darkened parlor, and watched as she turned the screw on a hurricane-style lamp, shedding a yellow pool of light over half a flowery sofa and a doily-covered wing chair. "You go on up. I'll be perfectly fine."
"Guess you can use a towel, though. I'll get you one, then I'm going up. We wake pretty early in this house. Breakfast's at seven; you'll have to be up if you want any."
"I really can't thank you enough--"
"Tush," the woman said. She scurried out, and returned a moment later with a thick bath towel. "Sorry I can't give you any bedding. But you'll find it nice and warm in here." She squinted at the dim face of a ship's-wheel clock on the mantle, and made a noise with her tongue. "Three-thirty!" she exclaimed. "I'll miss the whole execution ..."