Camera Obscura

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Chapter Sixteen

The television station was not an impressive building. It was, in fact, rather small and unpretentious, standing as it did in an industrial area among large warehouse type buildings. The only reason someone driving by might notice it were the large letters K-NOW and the big red numeral 5 on the front of the building, not to mention the forest of antennae that stood nearby.

As Larry drove his car into the parking lot, he noticed that a number of parking spaces near the building had names stenciled on the concrete buffers at the end of each space. He found the name Luis Ybarra and nosed into the space.

If the outside of the building was sterile in appearance, the inside was both stylish and comfortable. Photographs of the station’s on-air talent surrounded the station’s call letters on one wall, while on the opposite hung two oil paintings of famous sights of the area. A lovely young woman with strawberry blond hair sat behind an obviously expensive desk. After the drab surroundings of Mike’s newspaper office, Larry was impressed by the comfort and beauty of the television station.

“May I help you?” the pretty receptionist asked as Larry approached the desk.

“My name is Wheeler. I called Mr. Plotnik regarding some of Luis Ybarra’s things.”

“I believe he’s expecting you. Please have a seat,” she smiled. As she turned to the phone to announce him, he accepted her invitation to try the chairs. He wasn’t surprised that they proved to be as comfortable as they looked.

A few moments later a tall man with silvering hair strode through a door and walked toward him with his hand outstretched. His face was serious, but the smile seemed genuine.

“Mr. Wheeler? I’m John Plotnik, the station manager. We are all devastated by what happened. How is Luis?”

“Alive, when I left him. Given his injuries, that’s a miracle.”

“We heard about Mike, of course. Damn shame, rotten shame. He was a really nice guy. Does Luis know?”

“Not yet. The doctor’s are keeping him sedated most of the time. However, he came out of it for a few minutes today,” now he entered the world of fiction, “and he asked if I’d pick up some of his notes. He wants to work on them when he’s feeling better; you know, to keep his mind off…things.”

“Sure. Of course. Anything to help, Mr. Wheeler. Please, come this way. I’ll take you to his office.”

As they walked past reception into the area where the real work was done, they passed several offices and a couple of sound booths. Larry thought in some ways it wasn’t so different from a newspaper office.

He said, “I really appreciate this.”

Plotnik glanced at him as they walked. “I wasn’t sure I was going to agree, you know. Ordinarily, it would be out of the question. A privacy issue, you understand.”

He led Larry into a medium sized office, containing a carved wooden desk, wall to wall bookcases enclosing a forty-two inch television monitor on one side, and a vanity wall behind the desk.

“But I recognized you from your picture,” he continued. “Figured since you’re his friend, it would be all right.”

When he saw Larry’s raised eyebrows, he indicated a picture on the wall--Luis and Mike were standing with Larry and another man on a dock. All four men held cans of beer and had huge silly grins on their faces. A large sport fish was suspended between them

“Jesus, I’d forgotten that,” Larry laughed, shaking his head at the memory. “We were down in Cabo for a week. Didn’t catch one thing the whole damn time except Montezuma’s Revenge. We paid that guy to let us take our picture with his fish. Each one of us claimed we’d caught it.”

“Mr. Wheeler, is there anything I can do; that any of us can do? Does Luis need anything?”

Larry shook his head, his eyes still glued to the picture, “Just a few of his papers.”

“If I can help you find them, please let me know.”

Larry nodded, and the man left him alone in Luis’s office. One by one, he pulled open the desk drawers and began leafing through the papers, trying not to disturb things too much. Nothing important jumped out at him as he shifted from one drawer to another. . .until he opened the bottom drawer.

It was deep and full of hanging folders. He riffled through the folders, most of which were innocuous enough, vouchers for expense reimbursement, personal folders with pictures of Luis and various city officials, some duplicates of the ones hanging on the wall, a folder with personal telephone numbers and addresses, some of which Larry recognized. There was one with company information—personnel manual, rules and regulations and the like, another with general tax information. Most of the information in the folders could have been seen by anyone, they were that bland. Luis was an extremely organized man, meticulous not only in his person but also in his work habits and accouterment.

Larry pushed the last hanging folder back into its place, but it didn’t seem to want to hang properly. He tried pushing it harder, shifting it this way and that, but it still wouldn’t sit on the metal glides. He stuck his hand down where it was supposed to go and felt something. He struggled to pull it out, and when it was on the desk and open, Larry was surprised to find that all the information in the folder was in Spanish. There were pictures of Latinos, Anglos, and a few Asians, but he had no idea who they were. He could make out a few words, unfortunately not enough for anything to make sense, except for the word narcóticos. It wasn’t hard to figure what that word meant, but he cursed himself for not applying himself more to his college Spanish classes and for not keeping up with the little that he knew.

He was about to put the folder back when a couple of photos slid from a side pocket. The top one was of an attractive, dark haired woman of about forty. Larry turned it over and on the back read ”Marissa Ruiz, 2639 Calle de Rosas, San Diego. That was the name Luis had murmured in his delirium! Clipped behind this photo were a map and a picture of a man in a desert setting. The picture was obviously taken with a telescopic lens because the man’s face was still indistinguishable because of its size.

Larry looked at it for a long moment, then he opened the lap drawer of the desk and removed something he remembered seeing when he had looked through the drawer before, a small magnifying glass. He held it over the face in the picture and moved it back and forth until he could make out the face. His mouth gaped open in astonishment.

Unexpectedly, he recalled a forgotten memory, one that had surfaced only briefly. It had plunged back into his subconscious almost as quickly, and it had nagged at him ever since. He had been in the airport terminal watching the man from the cliff exchange briefcases with a stranger, when suddenly, in his mind, he was standing on top of a mountain.

Now, as he sat in Luis’s office looking at the picture, memory took him back to that mountain. He saw gold aspens and the dark green of fir and pine against an incredible, blue sky; he inhaled the fragrance of fall in the air. There was a ski lift, and he heard its hum as the seats rose and spun around the top mechanism to rush back down the mountainside. He remembered the doll-like town and ant-sized people far below.

This was great! He was actually remembering, not just the airport experience but the real memory of his vacation in Colorado! He was taking pictures for the article he was working on with Mike. There was a blond man, the one in this photo, talking with a portly man in blue jeans and plaid wool shirt. As he handed the larger man a briefcase, there was a noise behind Larry, and they had turned to look, just as Larry tripped the shutter of his camera. The blond man was the one he had seen on the cliff, the one he had followed into the airport, the one who had grabbed Jill.

“Jesus! Him again! He’s the link. Who is this bastard, and how the hell am I going to find him. . .and Jill?”

He finished looking through the drawers, not expecting to find anything more, and he then replaced the pictures, picked up the folder and carried it from the room.

The station manager saw Larry as he was leaving. “Did you find what you were looking for?”

Larry nodded with a smile and held up the folder. “Sure did. Thanks for your help.”

“Tell Luis we’re all pulling for him.”

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