Camera Obscura

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Chapter Fifteen

Jill watched as Larry stood, shoulders hunched as if against a frigid wind. As she had feared, they might as well be on separate poles. He refused to look at her. Nothing would change his mind about her now. With her heart breaking, Jill turned to the door, opened it, and with one final glance, she left the room.

She rode the elevator to the first floor in a blur of tears and regret. She didn’t blame Larry for hating her, but she would always wish things had been different. If only they had met in a different time, a different situation…

She didn’t notice the man waiting in the lobby as she crossed it. She could barely see the door through her tears. As she stepped through it into the glare of morning sunshine, her eyes squinted against the brightness. Nor did she notice the town car as it pulled to the curb, and when the man from the lobby grabbed her elbow and started maneuvering her toward the car, she became frantic with sudden fear.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked the burley, ham-fisted man as she tried to pull away from his grasp.

“The boss wants to see you,” his raspy voice growled in an ominous manner.

“Who?” She still had no idea who would be manhandling her this way.

“You know who.”

“The doctor? Who said I want to see him? Let me go!” Jill spat, trying to pull her arm from his massive hand, but he forced her toward the car. She opened her mouth to scream as she struggled trying to gain attention from anyone on the street, but before she could cry out, the man produced an enormously long gun and held it to her side. She realized it was a sound suppressor that made the gun so long. She looked up at the window where Larry stood watching in shock.

Larry saw the back door open. Vladimir Wulf’s face with icy cold blue eyes and an eerily wolfish smile was clearly visible.

Vladimir Wulf in a doctor’s white smock stood beside a bed, looking at a woman in a nurse’s uniform. She held a chart and was asking Wulf a question. A large orderly stood at her elbow. When Wulf smiled, his gums lifted away from his teeth in a wicked, lupine smile.

Larry suddenly broke out of this brief fugue as he recognized the face. He tried to open the old sash-type window, but it was painted shut. He pounded on the glass and shouted, “Jill! Run! It’s him! The guy from the cliff! Leave her alone you asshole!” But his shouts didn’t reach beyond the window. He stared helplessly as the burley henchman pushed Jill toward the open car door.

“Larry!” she screamed, as Wulf grabbed her arm and pulled her inside the car. The other man turned the gun toward the window and fired. The pfuuuut of the silenced bullet was barely heard by a nearby woman walking her dog, but she had heard Jill’s scream and turned to see what the problem was.

The bullet from the silenced gun struck the building close enough to make Larry jerk his head back. When he looked out again, the car was pulling away from the curb.

“Jill!” he cried.

“Stop, stop!” the woman with the dog cried at the retreating car. “Oh, dear god! Someone call the police! Call 911!” She pulled her little dog toward the lobby of the hotel.

Up in the room, Larry was frozen, staring at the car as it zoomed to speed around the corner and out of sight. He was stunned by what he had seen.

“Christ! What’s going on? Who is that guy?

Larry rushed to the telephone, started to dial 911, but then hung up. The woman on the street would surely call the police. Besides, what could he tell them that she couldn’t? He wasn’t sure now who Jill was or even if that was her real name, and things had happened so fast he didn’t get a license number. The car with “Thirty” on the bumper was at the bottom of the Bay, and since that was the case, he knew without doubt that no one would believe Winston Wainwright was involved. He had no information about the man with the wolfish grin except for vague memories of him that made no sense. Besides after his previous encounter with the police, they would surely think he was a lunatic, and he’d be back in the hospital before he knew it.

Wracked with guilt, Larry paced the room, frantically trying to formulate some sort of plan, but nothing came to mind. He was lost in a fog of uncertainty. What was real and what wasn’t? He no longer had any idea.

“This is my fault,” he moaned. He had thrown her out, told her he wanted her out of his life, but he never imagined something like this would happen.

Larry had been told that his lack of recent memories was the result of trauma, but if what Jill said was true, maybe that wasn’t so. He had been told he had a wife and son, had been shown their pictures, but if Jill wasn’t lying, his best friend had said that he’d never been married. Was it possible that he had never killed anybody, by accident or any other way? God knew he didn’t remember doing so. But if that were true, who were the woman and boy in the picture? More importantly, what was this all about? His mind went back and forth, spinning around the facts and fantasies until he was physically dizzy and sick at his stomach.

The bottle on the table beckoned to him. Release in a haze of alcohol was very attractive at the moment. Larry poured himself a drink, sniffed it, and then held it to his lips, but as the amber liquid flowed toward his mouth, he remembered Jill’s face. She hadn’t been acting; she had been terrified.

He put down the glass and said aloud, “Pull yourself together, asshole. What do you do now? Think, damn it! Think!”

The hospital room was flooded with flowers of all kinds. As Larry slowly opened the door and peeked in, he was greeted with the cloyingly sweet aroma of a flower shop. He pushed the door open and entered. Luis lay sleeping, his head wrapped in bandages, one leg suspended in traction equipment, his left arm strapped down. Intravenous needles were inserted in the arm and bags of clear liquid were suspended on metal poles by the bed. His right arm was in a cast. He was so pale he looked like death.

Larry walked to stand by his friend’s bed and watched Luis quietly breathing. He whispered, “Get well quick, buddy.”

The door opened and a man in a dark business suit entered. Larry turned at the sound.

“Excuse me,” the man began. “I didn’t think anyone would be here.”

Larry shrugged, and the man came to stand next to him.

“How is he?” the stranger asked.

Without looking at him, Larry answered, “They say he’s going to make it.”

The man nodded. “That’s good. Very good.” They stood watching Luis sleep for a minute, then the man continued, “You must be Wheeler. I heard you were with him when it happened.”

“That’s right. And you are…?”

“DeLara. Dan DeLara. Luis and I have. . .worked together.”

Larry looked at him for the first time. He was a big man, muscled and fit, with thinning brown hair and sharp eyes that looked as if they missed nothing.

“Oh, sure. I remember. DEA. Right?”

DeLara looked surprised. “You know about that?”

Larry nodded.

A nurse entered, went to the bed and checked the bags of fluid. She looked closely at Luis, noting the readings on the machines at his head. She turned to the two men. “He really shouldn’t have visitors,” she said quietly, “You’ll have to leave.”

“No problem,” Larry said. “Just wanted to make sure he was okay.”

He and DeLara turned to leave when Luis opened his eyes. He was heavily drugged.

“Mike? Marissa?” he muttered, obviously not truly conscious.

“You’d better go now.”

“Take care of him, all right?” Larry said to the nurse.

“Don’t worry. We’ll keep an eye on him,” she smiled and herded them to the door and through it before she returned to her patient.

Outside the room, Larry asked, “Who’s Marissa? Luis never mentioned anyone by that name.”

“One of his confidential sources, I believe. But who or where she is…no idea. I only heard the name in passing one day. Luis didn’t want to elaborate.”

“But why would he ask for her? What was he doing for you guys, DeLara?”

“I don’t know what you mean?”

“Sure you do. Luis said something big was in the works, and maybe it almost got him killed.”

DeLara looked around to see if anyone was listening. Two nurses strode quickly down the corridor, a doctor emerged from a room a few doors down, and spoke to one of them, who nodded and entered the room herself. The other continued toward the nurses’ station.

“We need to talk, but not here.”

“Cup of coffee in the cafeteria?” Larry knew this wasn’t likely what the agent had in mind, but he didn’t want to get involved in a long discussion until he had checked out some of Luis files, assuming he’d be able to get at them. They had to be at the station because he and Jill found nothing at the condo.

DeLara shook his head. “Too public. How ’bout my office?”

“Have some things I have to take care of first.”

DeLara handed Larry his card. “Give me a call. But don’t wait too long.”

“I’ll do that.” He turned to leave, but when DeLara didn’t follow he asked, ”You coming?”

The DEA man shook his head, “I’m gonna talk with Administration. Arrange some security.” He started toward the other end of the hall, but then he turned back for a moment, “And Wheeler, I’ll be expecting your call.”

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