Forcing the disappointment of the Mt Tam hike from his mind, Steed devoted himself wholeheartedly to his tour of the Napa and Sonoma wineries. He tasted much that was good, some that was mediocre, and some that was excellent. He wound up that part of his holiday having made arrangements for the delivery and storage of several cases to be added to his collection.
He had also had occasional social success. There was one delightful lunch with an American divorcee who lived near Los Angeles, and from whom he received a standing invitation to visit next time he was in the States, and also a lovely evening spent with a mixed group from England, who were doing their own tour of Northern California.
Soon enough, it was time to head back to the City, which he did much contented with the results of his holiday so far. It had been a long time since he had had such a stretch of peace and quiet and leisure. He could almost get used to it. MacAlister apparently was right, damn him for a bureaucratic, paper-pushing gnome.
Before returning to San Francisco, Steed drove out to spend a few hours on Stinson Beach, since it seemed a shame to come all this way and not at least dip his toes into the mighty Pacific. Mercifully, and contrary to that woman’s prediction, the day remained clear and fairly warm. The water, however, was another story. It was bracingly cold, colder even than the Channel, in which he had swum on family holidays as a boy, and the waves were rather larger and stronger than those on the Sussex coast. He decided that the better part of valor was to wade here, rather than swim. He dawdled down the beach, sometimes allowing the water to flow icily over his feet, sometimes walking above the tideline, watching families with children playing in the sand and a few isolated surfers paddling about and occasionally catching a wave.
By late afternoon, he had had his fill of sun and surf and sea breezes, and he was getting hungry. In the car, he changed discreetly out of his swim trunks and into a casual shirt and trousers, then meandered southwards down the winding coastal road, pulling over once to take in the magnificent view and have one last sniff of the ocean air.
It was nearly sunset by the time he reached Marin and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and thence to the Saint Francis. By the time he had had dinner and returned to his hotel room for the night, he was so relaxed he was very nearly purring like a well-contented cat. Maybe this annual holiday thing was one Ministry directive he could wholeheartedly get behind.