On Friday, Paul rose at daybreak, wolfed down a couple of egg salad sandwiches with milk, and raced out the door. Marsha and Pete weren't up yet, for her kitchen light was dark.
Paul drove down into Burbank, and from there into Los Angeles. He had his checkbook in his rear pocket, and several catalogs on the Mustang's passenger seat.
There was a thick layer of smog over the city. The air hurt to breathe, and Paul's eyes grew teary. An ugly brown cloud hung over the city, like a twisted rope made by a giant. It glowed coppery-yellow in places where the sunlight hit it, and loomed darkly in shades of brown and black where the light was blocked.
One by one he entered the leading hobby shops.
His first question, which he asked an elderly black man who stood behind the counter of Kalsom's Hobbies in Hollywood: "What's the best hovering machine available?"
The man twisted his lips in bemusement. "What do you want to hover for?"
"It's a top secret U.S. government project."
"Ha ha ha ha!" the man laughed out loud. "That's a good one!"
"Just kidding," Paul said. "I want something very stable that will stand still. It's got to be strong enough to lift, say, a pound. And it needs to have enough fuel capacity for at least five minutes of flight time."
"Hmm. That's getting into big time." He pointed at the models hanging from the ceiling. "Ever think about using a small blimp?"
Paul stared at the lovely dark blue sausage shape, about 16 feet long. "How much?"
"Ooops. I was thinking more like $250."
The man shook his head. "You can get away with a helicopter of some kind, maybe $500, if you buy parts and assemble your own. A kit, maybe. I don't carry them. But I can tell you who does."
Ouch! Paul had money in the bank, and he earned good money, but he had a mortgage to pay, and owning a Mustang wasn't so cheap.
One by one, he explored the various hobby haunts around L.A., and by the time he headed home to Madeira, he had the parts he needed.
On the way, he stopped and traded cars with an old girlfriend, Marie, whom he'd actually lived with for a year or so in his early days at Lockheed. She was a cute, freckled blonde, and they kept in touch. They exchanged a little conversation, swapped keys, and kissed goodbye. Paul carried his boxes to the van, got in, and drove off.