Camera Obscura

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Chapter Eleven

“Ever see him before, amigo?” Luis said after looking at the body.

“Uh uh. This isn’t the guy I followed into the airport and he’s not built like the other one. Wrestler’s body, you know. This guy looks like a ten year old could have taken him.”

Luis nodded, “That’s too bad. Who was he? How’d he fit into the picture?”

“I dunno. Maybe the driver.”

He noticed Jill’s reaction for the first time.

“You okay?”

She pulled herself together. She pulled her eyes away from the body and nodded. “I. . .I’ve never seen a drowning victim before.”

Larry nodded with understanding; it wasn’t a pretty sight. They turned away to leave and Luis said to the attendant, “Thank you. We’ve seen enough.”

The strange looking man nodded and tenderly closed the drawer.

The three quickly walked down the hall and out the front door. Jill had to force herself not to run. She couldn’t let Larry and Luis know she recognized Denny. She arranged her face into what she hoped was a calm mask before she looked at either one of them.

“So, what now?” Jill asked, a little too brightly. She stood at Larry’s side, suddenly intensely cold, not from the outward chill of San Francisco’s breezy spring weather but with the cold that comes from shock and dread. She wrapped her arms around her body, trying to capture her internal body heat to warm herself. It wasn’t working.

Larry stuck his hands in his pockets and shook his head. “Dunno. Another dead end. No pun intended.” He gave a wry grin.

“Perhaps not, amigo. I gave my friend with the DEA a ring right after I spoke with you.” When Larry made no response, he explained, “You remember Dan DeLara? No? Well, he wants to see you.”

“Why?”

“Questions. You know. The connection with Carlos Madragón has him interested.”

“But I don’t know anything about him. I never heard of him until today.”

“Just tell him what you told Mike.”

“How is it that the DEA is so chummy with you, Luis? In my experience, what I can remember of it, law enforcement is not particularly fond of reporters sniffing around their turf.”

“Because of Madragón. Few people know what he looks like, but I knew him briefly twelve years ago in Central America. The DEA wants information; I get a story, eventually.”

“So, what are they doing about him?”

“Believe me, Amigo, I don’t know much, but I wouldn’t tell you, anyway. It would be too dangerous for you to know. But I will tell you this, my friend, it’s big. Really big.”

Jill shivered as if the temperature had fallen. “Can we get away from here?” she asked.

The men nodded.

“I’ll go with you,” Luis said, “I came by cab.”

They were only a few feet from the curb when a car sped from up the street and raced right for them. It was the battered Taurus that had been watching them.

“Hey!” Larry cried when he noticed it almost on top of them. He pushed Jill onto the hood of a Ford parked in front of them and jumped after her. Luis was unaware of what was happening until he saw Jill fly through the air. He turned, caught a glimpse of the driver, and jumped, but he was caught in mid-air. Thrown into the windshield of the old car, turning it into a spider-web of shattered glass, Luis bounced from the car into the street, where he lay, broken and still.

As the car sped away, Larry picked himself up and dusted himself off.

“Are you hurt?” he asked Jill, holding his hand out to help her to her feet.

“Yes, I’m hurt, and I’m really pissed off! Where is that guy?” She glanced down the street after the speeding vehicle and then bent to inspect her clothes, now smudged with dirt and gravel. The knee of her slacks was ripped and the skin beneath was scraped and bloody. “These pants are ruined and,” as she took a step, “my ankle hurts. I think I twisted it when I fell. How ’bout you?”

“I’ll mend. Luis, you okay?” he asked as he turned to where he thought his friend would be, but instead, saw him lying crumpled in the street.

“Oh dear god!” He ran into the street where he bent over the still form and felt for a pulse, as a small crowd gathered to see what had happened. “He’s alive. Call an ambulance, Jill, quick! Stay with me, buddy! Stay with me.”

The waiting area at the emergency room reminded Jill of the morgue because of its beige starkness. People of all sorts sat waiting, some not so patiently, for their turn with the medical staff. One little boy on his mother’s lap sniffled pitifully, while his mother, eyes closed and flushed with fever, rested her chin on the top of his head.

“I wanna go home,” he whined.

“In a little bit,” she answered in a low, hoarse voice, never opening her eyes.

An old man with rheumy eyes played with what should have been the crease in his trousers and stared at nothing. A baby fretted in its mother’s arms. It was not a happy place.

Jill sat in one of the chairs, thumbing idly through a tattered magazine from the pile on a nearby table. Larry sat beside her, nervously glancing first at her and then at the momentarily empty reception desk.

“What’s taking them so long?” he asked for the third time in five minutes, tapping his fingers on his knees.

He didn’t really expect an answer, but Jill answered again, “They’re doing their best, Larry. They’ll let us know as soon as they can.”

“I know. I know.” He jumped to his feet and began pacing back and forth. Each time he passed the door to the hall where the examining rooms were, he pushed the door open slightly, trying vainly to get some glimpse of what was happening to Luis.

The outside door opened and a frantic, wild-eyed Mike rushed in, looked around until he found Larry, and cried, “How is he? Can I see him?”

“Not now, Mike,” Larry answered. “He’s in surgery. I’m not sure where.”

Jill put the magazine aside. She hadn’t really been looking at it anyway. She rose and went to Mike. “They’re doing all they can.”

“But, how long before we know?”

They looked at him helplessly.

Time passed slowly. People came and went from the waiting room. The woman with the little boy had finally been called, to Jill’s relief. Though she knew that the woman couldn’t help it, the whining of the little boy had begun to wear on her nerves. The irrational thought that she should have left him with someone made Jill feel guilty. The poor woman probably had no one she could leave the boy with, but Jill was relieved, nonetheless, when the child left the room. The fretful baby had fallen asleep too, leaving the room quiet except for the various coughs and sniffling and one woman who kept clearing her throat.

Coffee cups and candy wrappers began to litter the tables around Jill, Larry, and Mike, but their conversation was muted and inconsequential. Jill finally leaned her head against the wall behind the sofa and slipped into a fitful sleep filled with disjointed dreams of corpses and speeding cars. Larry sat staring unseeing at the television screen, which ironically had a news item about the hit and run involving one of the station’s own newsmen, Luis Ybarra. Mike sat with his head in his hands. He was worn out from pacing the waiting room.

When the nurse finally approached, he didn’t even notice.

“Is one of you Mr. Casey?” she asked.

He looked up expectantly, “Yes. I am.” He rose to meet her. “Is there news? How is he? Can I see him?”

She shook her head, “I’m sorry. There’s a call for you at the nurses’ station. Just down the hall a few steps.” She pointed through the door.

Mike followed her, as Larry watched without moving, and in a few moments he returned, the strain of the time in the waiting room heavy on his shoulders and face. Larry thought he looked older than when they had talked that morning. Jill had stirred at the nurse’s announcement, and she looked at Mike with a nurse’s concern. He looked terrible.

“It was my editor,” Mike explained. “Wanted just to know how Luis is.”

He walked to the chair where he had slung his jacket and picked it up. He looked around in a daze.

“D’you think they’re about through? It’s been hours.”

“It could be any time,” Jill said. “Why don’t you sit down, Mike?”

“Can’t.” He picked up a cup with a trickle of cold coffee in the bottom. He took a sip and grimaced. “Look, he said, nodding at the reception desk, “they asked if I’ve got Luis’s insurance information. The woman at the desk was pretty insistent.”

“I think that could wait until we see Luis,” Larry said, his voice sharp with anger. He glared at the desk, which was once again empty.

Ignoring Larry’s comment, Mike said, “I’m gonna ask the nurse how much longer she thinks it will be. Maybe there’s time for me to run get it before he—you know.”

“Hey, Mike. You stay here. Just tell me where it is. I’ll get it for you. Don’t worry. Everything is going to be fine.”

“Thanks, buddy, but you’d never find it. I can’t sit anymore, anyway. It’ll do me good to get my mind off this and on something else for a while. Even if they finish soon, they probably won’t let me see him right away. I’ll be back inside of an hour.”

Jill laid her hand on Mike’s arm. “Would you like me to go with you?”

As Mike shrugged into his jacket, he took a deep, ragged breath and shook his head. “I’ll feel better knowing you’re both here with him.”

He looked at them for a long moment and then left the waiting room.

Jill watched him leave and turned to Larry. “You might have told me about Mike and Luis.”

“I did. I told you they’re partners. Does it make a difference?”

“Of course not. How long have they been…you know…together?”

Larry shrugged. “I don’t know. Years. Luis was just back from a U.P. stint in Central America. They worked at the same paper before he moved into TV news.”

“Do you think he’ll be okay?”

“I wish I knew.”

Jill moved into Larry’s arms and they held each other for comfort.

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