The taxi nosed its way up into the hills, finally stopping at a gated estate, one of the rare survivors of 1970's suburban renewal. The place is grand on any scale, and dates from the early 1920's. Imagine Greystone Mansion, only someone actually lives there.
Raj, the taxi driver, and I were old friends by the time he found the place. We rolled up to the gate but there was no call box in sight. No guardhouse, no visible cameras, nothing to allow us to announce our arrival. We waited a few minutes, listening to Bradley Nowell warble about not practicing Santaria, and speculated about the likelihood of an el Nino saving our parched asses this year.
"Well, Raj, are you going to scale the fence, or shall I?" Ever the sarcastic wit, I was just about to suggest he turn around when the gate slid open. Ok, I guess we're going in.
The drive was typically winding, typically long, and typically beautiful. The house was - is - a monstrosity. Built by someone with more money than taste, it's an amalgam of every popular style of the time, from Queen Anne, to Carpenter Gothic, with some California Mission and Frank Lloyd Wrong thrown in for good measure.
I rummaged in my handbag, looking for enough money to pay him, but Raj said it was taken care of and his instructions were to wait and return me to my home when the interview was concluded. Good thing. I was afraid I'd have to offer to do something like scrub his tires with my toothbrush, in my undies, to work off the fare.
I squared my shoulders and began the long march up a wide staircase leading to the huge, hideously carved doors, when said doors suddenly burst open and the odd little woman flew out. I barely recognized her. Everything was different - hair, makeup, clothing, even the era. She looked, for all the world, like Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's". Her costume was a replica of the pullover, capris, and ballet flats Audrey wore when she and George Peppard had their last supper together. Right down to the poofy-hair-and-pigtails 'do. It was beginning to freak me out.
Luci is a hard person to remain standoffish around. She rushed down the steps like cantering thistledown (I know thistledown doesn't canter, but you get the idea), and gathered me into her arms like a long-lost relative.
I need to try to explain her hug. A sensation of peace washed through me during that brief embrace. It was like valium, only I could probably still drive. I found myself following her into the house, like a lamb, as she chattered about something, although I can't remember what. When I came fully back to myself we were sitting in a cavernous room, teacups balanced on our knees.
"So," she asked, bright eyed, as if I hadn't spent the last ten minutes in an euphoric stupor, "would you like to see your office?"
Would I ever!