Uncle Manny smoothly injected himself into the mêlée, “Bob, Annie’ll ride with me. You take her home from the cemetery.” Natalie cringed and widened her eyes like a cartoon character; Manny’s driving was the stuff of nightmares, like a twenty-four-hour marathon of Michael Bay movies. She looked meaningfully from Anne to her uncle’s car keys and back, giving a mock-horrified and imploring shake of the head. Anne took Uncle Manny’s hand, just as she did when she was a child. Manny gave her a peck on the forehead.
Anne climbed into her uncle’s old Jaguar. It was as finely maintained as Manny. Burl wood dashboard polished to sheen, leather seat oiled to suppleness, high design everywhere she looked. Anne unrolled the window and took in a gulp of air. “Uncle Manny?”
Anne thought. What could she tell her uncle and her father, without unnecessarily upsetting them? What exactly did she know anyway? She wiped her puffy, red-rimmed eyes with the back of her hand; when she looked up she noticed her uncle was going barely twenty in a thirty-five-mile-per-hour zone and was beginning to get anxious when she realized he was inching along in a cortege flanked by motorcycle cops. He was driving—or creeping—along just fine. “You know those people in Palm Springs?”
“What’s her story? In other words, what’s her motivation?” Uncle Manny reached for the pipe in his jacket pocket. He tapped the bowl against the steering wheel and reached into another pocket for his tobacco pouch. Anne was concerned about her uncle’s diminished capacity to multitask. She knew he considered Wilshire Boulevard his access route to nearly any location in the Los Angeles basin; he shunned the freeways as scars on his beloved city, using instead a variety of once well-known surface routes of the 1930s and 1940s for destinations ranging from Santa Barbara to Pasadena. She eyed the curb warily for newspaper kiosks. She would find another time to talk him into giving up his car keys before he put himself—or others—in danger, though quite how she’d do that, she wasn’t in any condition to decide. While her sister showed no interest in the industry and her father employed an overarching professional discretion about the business he was once so integral to, Uncle Manny always had choice commentary on anything or anybody that had to do with Hollywood and its ever-tangled web of public and private relationships…