Camera Obscura

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Chapter Ten

“I. . .I don’t understand,” Jill stammered. “He said you were the best man at his wedding.”

“I’m sure I would have been if he’d ever stayed still long enough to have a relationship that would lead to one.”

Jill shook her head in disbelief. “But he said his family died in an accident. Why would he tell me such a horrible story if it wasn’t true?”

Mike shook his head and then sipped his coffee. She looked like a nice woman. Why would Larry tell her such a story? He shook his head, partly at her naiveté and gullibility and partly at his skepticism that his straight-arrow friend would behave like this.

“Why does any man feed a beautiful woman a line?”

Jill looked at him sullenly. He wasn’t aware of the things that she knew, things she couldn’t tell him, or Larry. Still. . .

“I don’t believe it. Larry’s not like that.”

Mike shrugged. “Not my problem,” he thought. “Larry got himself into this; he can get himself out.”

Jill saw Larry approaching. She tried to arrange her face into the semblance of a smile, but it didn’t matter because he was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he didn’t notice the looks on either of their faces.

“Luis wasn’t much help. The police aren’t releasing the information yet, but they did find a body. No ID on him yet.”

Mike handed Larry a cup of coffee. “I thought you said there were two guys.”

“Yeah. That’s right; two guys and a driver. They haven’t found the other bodies yet.”

“Stay cool, stay aloof,” Jill thought before saying aloud, “Maybe they’re still in the car.”

Larry sipped his coffee and absently caressed her shoulder before laying his arm around it. “Not according to Luis. The car, wearing your boss’s license plate, remember, is registered to one Carlos Madragón, not Winston Wainright. Want to guess who Madragón is? One of the DEA’s person-of-interest, that’s who. Now, old buddy, you ready to admit your boss is mixed up in something that smells just a little bit funny?”

Mike ignored the question, but said instead, “I know that name, of course. Big time sleaze bag. But what really bothers me is why Wainright would have a car registered to Carlos Madragón and why would it have Winnie’s license plate on it?”

“Who is this guy, Mike, and why is the DEA concerned with him?” Jill asked.

“He’s one of the head honchos in that new drug cartel all the law enforcement folks are talking about.

“New cartel?” Larry looked surprised.

“Yeah. The one that’s behind all the violence down Mexico way,” Mike added with a hint if sarcasm, “I guess you’ve been out of touch or you’d know about it.

Larry winced. He hadn’t told Mike about the last few months. He probably should. Might open some closed door in his mind if his old friend could fill in some blanks.

Mike continued, “Ever since the big drug summit a few month ago, the DEA and the government in Mexico City have been coming down hard on the old line drug lords. Several of the big guns have turned up dead, but nobody’s taking any credit. And yet, there’s been an increase in activity. Somebody’s taking over, but nobody knows for sure who it is. They can only guess, but everything is pointing toward Madragón.”

“Luis asked if we wanted to meet him at the morgue to view the body.”

Jill suddenly came to life. “To do what?”

“View the body. It’s unlikely, but he thought we might recognize him.” He noted the look of revulsion on her face. “I’ll say it again, Jill. You should go home. I’ll call you later and let you know what happened.”

“Not on your life,” she said, giving Mike an I-told-you-so look. “Where you go, I go. I’m a nurse, remember. I’ve seen dead people before. . .just not in a morgue.”

“If you’re sure,” Larry said uncertainly.

“I’m sure.” Her tone left no doubt that she wasn’t going to let Larry out of her sight, regardless of the consequences.

They turned to leave. Mike raised his coffee in a toast to them.

“Keep me posted.”

The day seemed too bright for what they were about to do. As Larry nosed the car into the curb, he glanced at Jill, who was still looking anxious.
He was a little puzzled by her apprehension. She was a nurse, after all.

“You don’t have to do this, you know.”

“I know. You’ve said so several times.”

Larry’s continued suggestion that she leave not only irritated her but also left her feeling vulnerable, unwanted. She knew it was an irrational feeling. Larry was not aware of it, but this after all, was her job, even after what happened last night. She was supposed to keep an eye on him, but he wasn’t making this easy.

Larry opened his door and got out. Jill sat for a moment. She appeared to be waiting for him to open the door for her, but the look on her face said she was just steeling herself for what was ahead. Finally, she opened the door and joined him on the other side of the car.

“Hey!” a friendly voice called from the other side of the street. “Over here!”

Larry shaded his eyes against the glare of the sun and squinted. What he saw was a dark, slender man with a broad smile waving at them.

“Luis! Que tal?” He called back, and taking Jill’s elbow began leading her through the traffic to the other side of the street.

The two men approached each other with long, quick strides and hands outstretched. They clasped hands firmly and drew each other close for a quick hug and pat on the back.

“Larry, my friend, it’s been too long,” the man began. He had a slight, but noticeable Latin accent. “Where have you been keeping yourself?”

“Here and there, Luis. Here and there.” He turned to Jill. “And this is my guardian angel, Jill Thornton. Jill, this is my old friend, Luis Ybarra of Channel Five News.” He faced Luis again. “She was with me last night when we saw the crash.” His smile told her that he was thinking about the previous night, but not of the car accident. It held a little bit of possessiveness, and she found herself unexpectedly pleased that it did.

Luis oozed charm as he took her hand gently and bowed slightly before looking her up and down appreciatively, “What a charming guardian angel. How did you get so lucky, amigo?”

Jill felt herself blush. “Dear god,” she thought, “I haven’t blushed since I was twelve.” But then, she noted in her defense, Luis was a very handsome, extremely sexy man. Tall and slender with thick black hair which had obviously been treated to a very expensive trim and style and warm brown eyes that seemed to take all of her in. She even liked the small, pencil-thin mustache above his full, sensual lips. It seemed that Latin men often sported such mustaches, and she usually thought it not a particularly attractive affectation, but it somehow suited Luis. She could understand why he was so successful on television news. You never. . .well hardly ever. . .saw an ugly man or woman read the news on the tube. The ladies must go wild for him.

As she mused about Luis’s good looks, he turned back to Larry. “You were following the car when it went into the Bay?”

“That’s right. From Winston Wainwright’s house. I only saw the face of one of them.”

“Wainwright? How. . .never mind. You can explain about that later. But you said you saw two men?”

Larry and Jill both nodded. “And they had a driver,” Jill added.

“Then,” Luis continued, looking from one to the other, “where are the other bodies?”

Larry shrugged, but Jill said, “Mike said they weren’t in the car.”

“No. And there was nothing in any of the witness’s statements about another person or persons. From what you told me on the phone, Larry, I suspect we are talking drugs. The DEA will be very interested, I think.” He turned to lead them into the non-descript building. “We’d better go inside and get this over. We can talk more later.”

Behind them up the street, a man sat impassively in an old weathered Taurus of uncertain color. He took a cellular phone from his pocket, and without taking his eyes off them, he dialed a number.

“He has the girl with him,” was all he said. He listened for a moment and then broke the connection.

Larry, Jill, and Luis entered the building and walked down a long hall with closed doors on both sides. Ahead of them at the end of the hall was an office with an open door. The beige walled room was Spartan in furnishings with only a beige metal desk, beige filing cabinets, and a few beige plastic chairs along the wall beside a laminated imitation oak table with a beige lamp, an empty ashtray containing a few ashes, a “no smoking” sign, and a few old magazines. Jill noticed that the few plants that were scattered around were of the silk or plastic variety and the only brightly colored spot in the room was a poster of a beauty in a yellow string bikini walking along a beach beside crystal, blue water.

An odd looking man with a perpetual look of mourning on his face sat behind a desk, entering data into a computer from a clipboard at his right. He was also attached to a small machine by earphone. So intent was he on his task that he didn’t notice their approach.

“Ahem,” Luis cleared his throat to attract the man’s attention.

Startled, the man looked up and when he saw them, he grabbed the earphone from his ear and stood up. “May I help you?” he asked in funereal tones.

“You are expecting us, I believe. I am Luis Ybarra of Channel Five,” He flashed his most engaging smile.

“Ah, yes. Mr. Ybarra. Lt. Gore called to say you would be dropping by.” He turned to Larry and Jill, “Was the deceased a friend?”

They shook their heads. Jill still looked a little uncomfortable.

“But we’re hoping they can identify him,” Luis explained.

“Of course. Won’t you come this way?”

He led them through a door in to a room that seemed familiar from police and detective television shows. There was a gurney against one beige wall and stainless steel drawers for bodies were along the far wall. On the other side of the room there was a sink and beige cabinets. There was no decoration of any kind in the room.

“Autopsies are performed in another room,” he explained in a low voice.

“What a weird dude this guy is,” Jill muttered to Larry.”

He took her hand and drew her closer to his side. “I sure couldn’t work here,” he whispered back.

The attendant walked to one of the drawers and pulled it open. He looked down at the body lovingly and gently lifted the cover from the face.

“He looks as if he’s sleeping,” weird dude murmured.

“This guy is a real nut case,” Larry whispered, turning back to Jill, who had drifted further back from the others. When she didn’t answer, he looked at her. She was standing, one arm wrapped around herself and the other hand over her mouth. She stared in horror at the body.

“Dear god!” she whispered to herself. “It’s Denny!”

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