From the small, flat, hot, treeless, asphalted valley town of Tracy, California—split by a six-lane highway and surrounded by fields of sugar beets, alfalfa, and tomatoes—an enormous pink car one day departed by the eastern end without previously entering by the western end, this car being the property of a permanent resident, Ernest Grubb, nineteen, who was in turn the property of a finance company. Ernest’s fingernails were rimmed in black and there were black specks embedded in the blemishes on his cheeks. Painted on the rear fenders of the car, though it was only a week out of the show room, were the words VALENTINO RETURNS.

  Sunk in the passenger side of the front seat were the meager contours of Harry Ames, also nineteen, with a complexion he sometimes attributed to parental malice. His fingernails were clean. He had just been removed from unemployment insurance rolls in accordance with a code section under the leading “Failure to Seek Work.” Harry was taking Ernest Grubb, with Ernest furnishing the car and gas, to a rendezvous with two divorcees in the neighboring town of Stockton. Until that day he had only mentioned one divorcee (and he mentioned her at every opportunity), but now it appeared there had always been two and that he divided his attentions equally between them, which made it sound as if there were only one. Ernest felt an innate caution around friends in need of chauffeurs, but as he had yet to score anything with his new car in a week of cruising, he could not decline Harry’s proposition.