Hey! Isn't that...?

The only real sound was the labouring laundry van's motor and gear changes.

It was still early when they finally rolled up to Cahuachi's outskirts. Lenore had settled into volcanic quiet, alternating between silent tears and sidelong, red-eyed glares. Milo tried to ignore her, but her anger burnt at him like heat from a lava flow.

Dickie took sporadic quick breaths, barely able to stop himself prattling. But finally sensitive to the heavy vibe, he instead squirmed unspeaking until they rolled into an edge-of-town barrio. In a startling show of unexpected wisdom, he gave only one-word directions, directing them through a maze of winding rough dirt streets, to the promised diner.

When they slid into a parking space, Milo and Lenore shelved their silent quarrel and gaped. Amid a rough jumble of adobe and corrugated iron roofs, the diner was a low, sleek single-storey American-style wooden building. It was fronted with huge, sparkling plate-glass windows topped by a long gilt-lettered sign advertising "Phillie Cheese Steaks".

Inside, Milo could see red-vinyl-upholstered booths. Three or four early birds on nickel-plated stools fronted a long lunch counter. Behind it, an array of classic green enamel Oster milkshake mixers, chrome eight-slice toasters and a pair of giant, gleaming Bunn-O-Matic urns flanked a long stainless-steel grill and range hood. A dark-haired figure in cook's whites, back to them, tended the grill.

From the propped-open door wafted maddening aromas of sizzling bacon and hot, fresh American-style joe. Eyes wide, suddenly-drooling mouths wider, the party clattered in and crammed a booth.

"What'll it be?" the chef said with a deep, languorous Mississippi accent, without turning around. "Coffee to start?"

A waitress, without waiting, had whisked them a handful of heavy white crockery mugs and a coffee pot, and was already pouring steaming black liquid.

Milo inhaled deeply, then croaked. "Breakfasts. Big ones. Eggs, rashers of bacon, sausages, ham, buttered toast, home fries and short stacks with golden syrup for everybody. And keep that coffee coming."

The cook turned and grinned lopsidedly at them, a shock of Brylcreemed black hair falling across one handsome blue eye.

"Comin' up, pard."

Milo had almost shut both eyes in pure bliss when Lenore jarred his ribs with an elbow. He considered, then carefully slitted one eye sideways at her. She didn't seem too pissed for the moment, and she was staring at the short-order cook's back.

"Hey!" she whispered. "Isn't that Elvis?"

Milo snapped both eyes wide. The guy had looked -- and sounded -- awful familiar, now that he thought about it. Suddenly curious, he scanned the people at the counter. A man in a grey fedora spoke to a curvy blonde in a white dress. A couple of seats down, another man in a black leather jacket smoked and drank coffee.

It may have been a measure of just how fluid his objective reality had become in the past few days, that Milo registered what he saw without a tremor.

"Uh, yeah. It's Elvis. And at the counter are Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean..."

Somewhere nearby, there was a ghostly laugh. It sounded a little too much like Furlonger.