Camera Obscura

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Chapter Nine

The sun was high in the sky when Jill awoke, still tired but refreshed. The morning had been unexpectedly fantastic. The sex at first had been frantic as Larry tried to exorcize his faceless ghosts with her body, but as the morning wore on and they explored each other, they began making love as they became less feverish, gentler, sweeter. Jill had fallen asleep in his arms, aware for the first time in a long time of something other than the loneliness that had been her constant companion for longer than she cared to remember.

She quickly dressed, taking care not to awaken Larry, and with a quick glance back at the bed, she quietly slipped from the room. When she emerged from the small elevator in the lobby, she walked past the front desk to the front door and stepped outside. She took a cell phone from her pocket and opened it. When it remained dark and unresponsive, she cursed quietly and returned to the lobby.

“Excuse me,” she began, “My cell phone’s charge ran out. Do you have a pay phone?”

The clerk, a different one from the night before, she was glad to notice, lifted his eyebrows and looked at her strangely.

“There’s one in your room.”

“I don’t want to wake my husband,” she explained, “He was ill during the night. Didn’t get much sleep.”

He grinned knowingly and pointed to a small bank of phones down a short hall to one side of the lobby. She nodded her thanks with a smile of her own and headed in the direction he had pointed.

“This is Jill Thornton,” she said tersely, but keeping her voice low when her call went through. “I need to speak with the doctor. No, it can’t wait!” She looked around nervously as she waited. She started to bite the cuticle of her left middle finger once again, but quickly took her hand away from her mouth. “What have you gotten me into?” she said quietly but forcefully into the receiver. “What is going on?”

The voice that answered her softly was deep, resonant and calm. “Where are you now?”

“Still in San Francisco. You haven’t answered my question.”

“You sound upset.”

Jill’s face registered anger, disbelieve, “Upset? You’re damn right I’m upset! I thought I was just supposed to make sure this guy doesn’t hurt himself.”

“And so you are.”

“But you don’t understand, doctor.” Her voice began to rise in pitch and volume as she recalled the day before. “We could have been killed yesterday.”

The clerk at the desk looked over at her. “Are you all right, Miss?”

In her near hysteria, she didn’t even hear him.

“Calm down!” the voice on the other end said sternly. “I assure you, Miss Thornton, whatever happened was none of my doing. Now, take a deep breath and tell me what happened.”

Jill stared at the wall, but what she saw was the kaleidoscope of events starting with her meeting with Larry and culminating with the accident on the pier.

“He said he saw a woman kidnapped from the cliff,” she began. “We spent hours chasing the men he saw do it. And then, there was an accident, and they were killed, but it could have been us.”

Hysteria was threatening again. She took another deep breath and closed her eyes, hoping the vision of the sinking car would be shut away, but of course, it wasn’t.

“Did you see this kidnapping?

Jill hesitated, “No. I was watching him from inside the curio shop.”

“My dear Miss Thornton, you know he is delusional. Is it not possible that you were chasing someone that doesn’t exist?”

“I. . .I don’t know. He said he recognized them. He seemed so sure.”

“A symptom of his illness, surely.”

“But there was a boy who saw. . .”

“What boy?!” the doctor demanded. His eyes narrowed as his thoughts rushed forward. A possible problem.

“Just a kid on a bicycle.” She paused. She suddenly had a terrible feeling that she had made a mistake in mentioning the child. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and rushed on, “Anyway, who were we following and why did they run from us? Who was in the accident?”

“I’m sure I have no idea, my dear. It must have been some terrible coincidence that brought innocent people into the situation. Very tragic.”

She could almost see him shake his head in sympathy.

“Now, Miss Thornton, Jill,” the doctor continued, “he must be protected from himself. This is very important to me.”

Jill sighed. She knew he was right. Obviously. Larry was still very ill.

“That’s much easier said than done, doctor,” she agreed. “But I’ll try.”

“I know you will.”

As she hung up the receiver and turned around, she saw Larry striding toward her across the lobby.

“Who were you talking to?” Sleep had done it’s work. His eyes were clear and bright with no hint of suspicion in them. He looked rested and refreshed as he smiled warmly at her.

“My aunt. I didn’t want her to worry.”

“You could have called from the room.”

She reached up and touched his cheek tenderly. “You looked so peaceful, I didn’t have the heart.”

“I’ve been thinking. . .” he began.

“A dangerous sign,” she grinned.

“Very dangerous,” he leered at her for a moment, twirling an invisible handlebar mustache, and then he became serious again. “You should go home.”

“Oh no. No way. I’m not about to let you out of my sight.” She took his arm possessively and smiled a very seductive smile.

“But don’t you have a job to go to? I mean, you do have a job, don’t you? You said you’re a nurse.”

“I do private health care, remember? My last assignment just…ended.”

“The patient died?”

“Let’s just say, he doesn’t need hospital care any more.”

“So, you’re. . .what? Between assignments? On vacation?”

“At loose ends. I have some free time coming, and if it’s all right with you, I’d like to hang around and see what happens.”

“If you sure, great!” He looked at his watch. “Mike should still be at work. Let’s see if we can pick up any information about those two guys in the limo last night.”

Jill perched on the edge of Mike Casey’s desk while Larry told him everything that had happened the day before. The newsroom buzzed with activity, but it wasn’t at all what Jill expected from the movies and T.V. Snatches of conversation rose and fell, leaving her frustrated at never hearing the ending of any of them. One sleepy-eyed man sat at his desk munching a pastry and noisily slurping from his coffee cup. Jill had mentioned to Mike that this man looked as if he should be home in bed instead of sitting at a computer.

“Gibson’s always here. Morning, night, it doesn’t matter when. There’s scuttlebutt that his old lady threw him out and he’s living here, but I don’t know if it’s true.”

“He looks exhausted.”

Mike chuckled, “He’s looked that way for the six years that I’ve worked here.”

Larry rolled his eyes. “Can we get back to the point, please? So you see, old buddy, Wainwright is involved after all.”

Mike leaned back in his chair, tilting it to look up at his friend who was standing behind the computer on the corner of his desk.

“Say you’re right, and I’m not ready to concede that, involved in what? A kidnapping? There hasn’t been a missing person report that might be the answer to this so-called kidnapping. Of course, it is a little early for that, I admit. But…but,” he continued when Larry tried to interrupt. “No female bodies have been found either in the bay or washed up anywhere near Cliff House. I checked with the cops myself just to be sure. So, we have nothing to go on regarding a kidnapping. The waterfront is Gibson’s beat. He’ll let me know if anything turns up.

“Look, Larry, you can’t go around accusing people of things unless you have at least a smidgen of proof, not to mention the fact that you have no idea whether what you saw was a kidnapping or maybe a lover’s spat.”

“If he was her lover, I’m a monkey’s uncle. Besides, it was your boss’s car. The guys that went into his house looked like muscle, and one of them definitely was the guy from the cliff. The woman wasn’t with them when they went into Wainwright’s house, so where is she?

“What if you’re wrong? I’m just saying.”

Larry ran a hand over his hair. He turned his body to and fro in frustration. “I can’t sit back and do nothing, Mikey. I know there’s something going on.”

“Then, what’re you going to do, man?”

“We need to find out who those guys in that limo were.”

“Now you’re talking. I might be able to help you out there. Luis covered that story.”

“Luis?” Jill asked.

“Mike’s partner. He works for Channel Five.” He turned back to his friend. “You think he’d help us?”

“Hell, yes. If there’s a story, he’ll want in on it.” Mike picked up the phone and dialed. “Hi. Guess who’s here? (pause) No. No. You’ll never guess. (pause) No, not him. . .Larry. Right, and he wants to talk to you. (pause) About that car that went into the Bay last night. All right, smart ass, this morning. Yeah. He was there. Sure. Here he is.”

He handed the phone to Larry and turned to Jill. “How ’bout a cup of really bad coffee?”

“That sounds wonderful. We didn’t take time for breakfast.”

Mike laughed, “That sounds like Larry all right. When he’s on to something, he loses track of time.”

They walked down the room weaving between desks. Mike spoke to one and then another of his colleagues, jibing at one, patting a new father on the back, remarking on the quirky hat another was wearing. Jill admired how comfortable he was with his co-workers.

“So you and Larry were at college together?”

“Yep. Seems like I’ve known him forever. We were both wide-eyed and idealistic. But just like everyone else, we finally realized we probably weren’t going to win Pulitzers and joined the real world.”

“Then you must have been surprised, when he got his award?”

“Which award was that?”

“Reporter of the Year for Southern California.”

Mike guffawed. “What? He told you that?”

“Yes,” she answered slowly. “Why?”

Mike chucked as he said, “There’s no such award, Jill. Anyway, Larry wouldn’t have won it. He’s not a reporter. He’s a photojournalist with the emphasis on ‘photo.’ I do the writing and he takes the pictures.”

Jill looked at him in shock. How could that be? The doctor had definitely told her that he was a writer.

“Actually, we make a great team,” Mike continued. “Last year we even started doing a book together. About how the recreation industry is raping the land, you know, cutting trees for ski areas and that sort of thing.”

“Last year,” Jill said with a choked voice. “That must have been just before he was in the hospital.”

Mike whirled on her in surprise. “Hospital? When? What happened? I never heard about it.”

“Weren’t you a little curious when you didn’t hear from him for six months?”

“Not really,” he said, as they continued to the coffee room. “It’s not the first time we’ve been out of touch for a while. He worked on our stuff in between real jobs. I thought he was off on assignment. I can’t believe no one let me know. What happened?”

“He had a breakdown,” she answered simply.

Mike took a cup from a stack of Styrofoam ones, poured coffee into it and handed it to Jill before taking one for himself.

“You’re kidding. Larry? He’s always been the most stable guy I’ve ever known.”

“I guess he fell apart after his wife and son died.”

Mike’s cup was halfway to his mouth, where it halted and hung, suspended, as he stared at her as if she were crazy.

“What the hell are you talking about? Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?”

It was Jill’s turn to look incredulous. “Yes. Why?”

“Larry’s never been married.”

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