Camera Obscura

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Chapter Twenty One

“Sweet Jesus!”

Larry stared at the film canisters on the table. If the picture he took on that mountain was on one of these rolls, this must be what the murderers were looking for at Mike’s place, but they weren’t there. He’d put the wrong address on the package, and it had been redirected here. Golda had said there’d been a break-in here too, but she obviously had already picked up his mail. Was that picture of Wulf and Marley behind everything that had happened?

He picked the canisters up and was trying to decide what to do when he heard a light tap at the front door.

“Who is it?” he yelled without moving.

“It’s Golda, dear.” He rose and opened the door. “I just wanted to remind you. . . What is it, Larry?” she asked when she saw the look on his face. “Have you remembered something important?”

“I’m not sure. Could be. I won’t know until I see what is inside these.” He held out the film canisters.

“Well, open them,” she said.

He shook his head. “Not until I find a darkroom. I must have one…don’t I?”

“Over the garage,” she nodded.

She led him to a single garage behind the small house. Stairs on the outside of the building led to a second story that had at one time been a small studio. When she opened the door with keys that she had grabbed from a hook at Larry’s back door, he saw that the studio had been turned into a fully functional darkroom.

“They made a mess here, too, Larry. I’m not sure if anything was broken or not, but we cleaned it up as best as we could.”

He put his hand on her shoulder, “I know you did, Golda. I can’t thank. . .”

“Nonsense, dear. Don’t give it another thought. Now, see what’s in those canisters.”

He went right to work, first placing Golda on a stool at one side of the room and then making sure that the room was bathed only in the red safety light. His hands worked unconsciously, as they wound the film inside a developing canister. He was so focused on what he was hoping to find, that it never occurred to him that he was working automatically without thinking about what to do next. He added the developer to the canister and turned it over and over, instinctively measuring the time it would take for the process to take place.

He drained the canister and took the film to a tray which he had filled with water and washed the developer from it. He hung it to dry and filled the other trays with the liquids needed to print pictures. When the film was dry, he placed it in an enlarger and put photosensitive paper on the table below. After exposing the paper to the light for a few seconds, he put the picture in one of the trays and using special tongs, submerged it, watching as the picture slowly began to emerge.

Larry was disappointed to see that it was just a picture of a small but trendy mountain town. He washed it and hung it to dry.

He spent the next hour developing films and printing pictures, most of which were beautifully shot but innocuous and none of which told him anything about the memory that had surfaced. Golda sat patiently on her stool to one side, watching the pictures as they were hung to dry.

Finally, one of the pictures triggered a response. It was of the ski runs on the far mountain, the one in his memory. He grunted and adjusted the negative to print the next exposure. As this picture emerged, he saw it was of two men. He motioned Golda over to look at it.

“Who are they?” she asked.

“I’d rather not say until you can see the faces better. I think you’ll recognize one. Let me enlarge it and see what you think.”

He moved back to the printer and moved the camera to enlarge the image. He flipped the switch and there was a sudden “pop” and the room went totally dark as the bulb burned out. “Shit!”

He rummaged through the shelves and drawers looking for a replacement bulb, but there were no others in the room.

“Goddamn it! Now what?”

“DelPino’s Photo in Studio City, dear. That’s where I go.”

“Golda, I love you!” Larry said, giving her a big hug. “But, I…don’t remember how to get there. Can you. . .?”

“Of course, dear. Just let me get my purse and turn off the brisket.”

“Golda,” he paused, uncertain if he should ask the question, “do you have a gun?”

She didn’t even blink. “Why, yes. It was Bernie’s. He kept it for protection although I never knew what he thought he was protecting us from.”

“May I use it?”

She looked at him with absolute trust in her eyes, “I’ll get it too.”

The ride to Studio City took twenty minutes but it seemed endless to Larry. They had pulled out of his driveway and headed up the road, barely missing a grey Ford heading in the opposite direction. Larry swore under his breath at the driver who had been taking his half of the road out of the middle. He glared into the rear view mirror and was stunned to see the Ford turn into his own driveway. Grimly, Larry stepped on the gas.

Finally they reached Ventura Boulevard, a street that runs from Studio City to the far end of western San Fernando Valley. Golda directed him to turn to the right on “the boulevard” toward “downtown” Studio City.

Larry fumed at the traffic on the street. It seemed that no matter which lane he chose, the traffic immediately slowed to a crawl, while the one he had just left suddenly sped up. Luckily this lasted only a few minutes for they reached the corner where DelPino’s Photo was prominently situated. They parked in the lot at the rear of the store and entered the front door.

DelPino’s Photo had been a member of the Studio City Merchants’ Association for over thirty years and everyone in the area considered it almost a landmark. Inside, the store was lined with glass cases that were filled with any kind of camera a person might wish for, as well as lenses, camera cases and any number of other accouterment. In the middle were shelves stocked with photographic supplies and picture frames.

Larry and Golda walked to one of the counters and waited as the salesman finished helping another customer. Larry fidgeted nervously until the man approached them with a smile.

“Can I help you?”

Larry opened the envelope and slid out the photos. He looked at them briefly and selecting one, he held it to the man. “Can you blow up this area?” he asked, pointing to the area of the faces. “As large as you can make it. And I need it as soon as you can get it.”

“You have the negatives, Mr. Wheeler?”

Larry looked surprised at the man’s use of his name, but since he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to know this man or not, he only said, “In the envelope.”

The salesman nodded, took the envelope and left.

Golda’s living room was a shambles. If she had seen it, distress would have been a mild way of putting what she felt. Her beautiful antique grandfather clock was lying face down on the rug, the glass from its door lying shattered beneath it. The brocade sofa and chairs were slashed and the contents strewn all over the room. Nothing of any size was left intact and Golda’s treasured bric-a-brac were scattered and broken.

A Latino entered the room from the hall. A tall African American in a beautifully tailored suit stood stone-faced by the front door. The men who had wrecked the house looked at one another.

“Anything?” the black man asked. The other man shook his head. “Hide the car around back. We’ll wait here. He has to turn up sooner or later.”

Without a word the Latino left while the other righted a dining chair and placed it where he could watch the driveway and Larry’s house through the window. He sat down to wait.

Larry and Golda pretended to look at equipment while they waited for the enlargement to be made. Larry checked his watch anxiously and nervously eyed the front door of the store.

“Golda,” he said, suddenly breaking the silence they had kept since the clerk had left them, “how long have you known me?”

“About four years, dear. I remember because it was when my sister Maxine’s son Josh got married. You had just moved in, and we invited you to the wedding. You took some wonderful pictures. Josh and his bride were so pleased when you gave them the album. Don’t you remember, dear?”

Larry shook his head and almost unconsciously looked at his watch again.

“And,” he paused, almost dreading her answer, “have I ever been

. . .married?”

“No. And it’s often enough I’ve said you should find a nice girl and stop schlepping around all over the world.”

He rubbed his hand over his face. “Then, I guess it’s true what Jill said. Somehow, they took away my real memories and planted ones that would make me seem like a lunatic. Jesus!”

The clerk appeared through a door to the back and signaled Larry.

“I hope this is what you are looking for,” he said, handing the eight by ten picture to Larry, who took it eagerly and scanned the faces before handing it to Golda.

“I recognize him,” she said in surprise. “He was on the TV just before we came down here.”

“Senator Francis X. Marley,” Larry named him grimly. He took her by the elbow and led her out of hearing range of the clerk. “Listen, Golda, I want you to do me another favor,” he said. His eyes were serious as he looked into hers.

“What is it, dear?”

“I don’t want you to go home.” She started to protest, but he continued, “I want you to check into a motel and wait for me there.”

“But, Larry, I have to finish my gardening and there’s the garage sale…”

“I can’t explain now. It’s too complicated, but I don’t think it’s safe for you to go home. Please trust me.”

“I do, dear,” she said, hesitantly. “I suppose if you really think it’s not

safe. . .”

“Thanks. I don’t want to lose another friend.”

He paid the clerk with his thanks for the rush job and guided Golda from the store. She directed him to the Ventura freeway at his request and they headed west. When he felt they were far enough away from where people would look for him, he left the freeway and found a small motel where he booked a room with a small kitchenette for Golda.

They visited a Target store where Larry insisted on paying for a nighty, some underclothing, and a couple of sets of slacks and shirts for Golda. At a nearby grocery, they picked up food for several days as well as a book and some magazines and then returned to the motel.

While Larry put the groceries in the small cupboards and the apartment-sized refrigerator, which with a hot plate, microwave and a tiny sink were at one end of the room in a small alcove, Golda inspected the small bath and tested the bed and television set. She sat in the only chair in the room and looked a little dazed at finding herself in such an unexpected place.

Larry checked the tiny window in the bath and saw that an adult male would have a hard time squeezing through and this pleased him. That Golda couldn’t squeeze through either didn’t bother him; he only wanted to make sure that no one could sneak in on her unawares. In the main room, he checked the lock and the window.

“Good,” he said as he turned to the now uneasy little woman. “You should be safe here. The bathroom window is too small enough for anyone to get in. It cranks open, just like this one in here. So if you have to open either of them, just crack it an inch or so. That way no one could reach in and crank it wider. And the door here has a dead bolt.

“Now, listen to me, Golda, don’t go home. I mean it! Not for any reason. Your life may depend on it.”

The little double chin rose bravely, although her mouth quivered, “I said I wouldn’t, and I won’t. But Larry, why would anyone want to hurt me?”

“They probably don’t, Golda, but I don’t want to take a chance. Okay? I’d hate like hell if anything happened to you.”

She smiled and shrugged, “Whatever you say, dear. But where will you be?”

“San Diego.”

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