Camera Obscura

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Chapter Twenty Two

“Oh dear!” Golda was watching the latest episode of her favorite afternoon soap opera when she suddenly started up from where she lay propped on the lumpy motel bed. A worried frown creased her already rutted face. “I forgot,” she said, slapping the heel of her hand to her forehead. “Rachel is delivering her rummage sale things this afternoon.”

For a brief moment she debated calling a taxi, but she had promised Larry to stay put, she reminded herself. The decision was finally reached when she realized she didn’t know whether to go home or to Rachel’s, so she reached for the telephone on the table by the bed and dialed.

“I’ll just tell her to wait until tomorrow. There’s still plenty of time. The sale isn’t until Sunday.”

The phone rang once, twice, three times before the answering machine picked up.

A mechanical voice spoke, “No one can take your call. Please leave your name and number at the tone. Someone will call you soon.”

“Oh dear!” fretted Golda, not realizing how ill-omened this was.

An ancient white Cadillac carefully turned into Golda’s unpaved driveway. It had to back up and reposition itself two extra times because of its length and the sharp turn into the narrow path that ran to the house. The driver’s curly greying hair was barely visible over the steering wheel as she maneuvered the car into the parking area.

A short fiftyish woman in cream colored slacks and tailored blue and green plaid blouse climbed out, adjusting the legs of the slacks that had ridden up as she slid out of the car. She opened the rear door of the car and pulled out two large black plastic bags. Puffing a little at hefting their weight, she set them on the ground and pulled another from the back seat and placed it beside the other two. She opened the trunk and eyed the items lying inside. Her daughter Miriam had donated a still workable can opener and coffee pot. Marge Schein, who lived across the street, had found at the back of her cedar closet a beautiful handmade quilt that was still in good condition and had offered it to Rachel. It lay on top of a large box full of canned goods gathered from various friends on the block. Even Mary O’Connor had come over and contributed some of the clothing they would be offering. It should be a very good rummage sale. A good thing, too. The Jewish Community Center needed all the help it could get in this economy.

She looked at the house and grumbled, “Golda’s going to have to help me carry all this stuff.”

Leaving the rear door of the Cadillac open, she picked up the two smallest bags and struggled, for they were still of considerable bulk and weight, to the porch and rang the doorbell. She held one of the bags in her arms because it was simply too cumbersome to pick up again. The other lay at her feet. She pushed the doorbell again and called out, “Golda!” When there was no answer, she awkwardly shifted the unwieldy sack to rest between herself and the wall and knocked on the door.

“This would be so much easier if I’d just put this thing on the floor,” she groused but stubbornly held onto the bundle.

The gentle pressure of her rapping cause the door to swing inward about an inch. Shifting the bag again so that she held it with both hands, the woman used her shoulder to push the door open a little more and said in a loud voice, “Golda! I brought these things for the rummage sale. Golda, are you there?”

A little concerned because of Golda’s off-again-on-again memory, she was afraid her friend had forgotten that she was coming over. If she had, Rachel decided, she would leave the bags anyway. No sense making another trip just because Golda wasn’t at home. She pushed the door open a little wider and stepped in. Her eyes widened in amazement when she saw the ruin of her friend’s home. Stunned by the sight, she wasn’t even aware when the door closed behind her.

Dan DeLara paced his office, holding a cup of cooling coffee, now and then pausing to stare out at the darkened sky outside the window. The room, hot and muggy because the air conditioning had been shut off at sundown, showed signs of a long meeting. Paper plates with the crusts of partially eaten sandwiches and crumpled potato chips bags were on the desk. His friend and fellow agent, Stan Lopinski, slouched in one of the chairs, eyeing the ashtray filled to overflowing with paperclips and deciding whether or not he should break the law and have a smoke. Instead, he sucked on a ballpoint pen, wishing to hell it was a forbidden cigarette. Both men’s faces showed their fatigue. They had long hours ago rolled up their shirtsleeves, which now also showed signs of wilting in the heat.

DeLara stopped pacing in front of the picture of his two daughters, Ellie who was nine, and Madison who was almost seven, going on seventeen. He stared at them imagining what could happen if this shit got on their school grounds. He and Sandy talked to them almost daily about the dangers of drugs, but he knew kids. It could happen in any family, but God forbid it happen in his.

“I want this bastard,” he said, grimly. “before that crap gets into my kids’ schools, if it’s not there already. It’s their lives he wants to ruin with that shit.”

Lopinski looked at DeLara, understanding his fears. He had kid himself. Steve was a good kid, an athlete. He didn’t think his son would do anything to jeopardize his athletic scholarship, but who knew. Peer pressure was intense, and you couldn’t be with them twenty-four seven.

“Okay, Dan,” he said with a heavy sigh, “We’ve been over this and over this. I agree the evidence points to Marley, but it’s all circumstantial except for this picture. What we need is something he can’t squirm out of.”

DeLara nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah. Set up a scenario where he has to be on the scene. But it’s got to be his own idea or he might get suspicious. What if. . .”

He was interrupted by the phone on his desk. “What?” he barked into the receiver, then he smiled and his voice softened, “Hi, pumpkin. Nah, Daddy’s not too busy to talk to you. What’s up? What did Mom say about it? Well, if she says it’s okay, then it’s okay with me too. Sure, I’ll try to be home before you go to bed. Bye, baby. Daddy loves you.” He always added that. You never knew if it would be the last time you ever talked to them—especially in this business.

He hung up the phone and turned to Lipinski. “I don’t know what I’d do if anything ever happened to one of my girls. You know Marlene and I never had any kids. She didn’t want any and I didn’t care. I thought I was too old when Sandy and I married. I mean, I knew I could, but she was younger than me by a long shot and I didn’t know how she’d feel about kids having a dad so much older. “

“You never talked about it before?”

“Nah. I just knew I loved her. So, I never planned on any kids. Then when Ellie came along, I didn’t know what to expect. I was in the room with Sandy all through the delivery. You know, I thought I was brave before that, but no way in hell could I have done what she did. Thank God women have the babies! Then the nurse handed Ellie to me. Holding that little body in my arms the first time, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. And now with Madison, well, that little girl is all wrapped around my heart.”

“Yeah. They’re little dolls, Dan. You’re a lucky sonofabitch, you know that? We got to make sure they don’t have to worry about this crap.”

“But how?” DeLara drummed his fingers on the desk for a moment and then he grabbed the phone and punched in a number.

“What’re you doin’?” Lopinski sat up straight and stared at DeLara.

DeLara waved him back into his seat and mouthed, “Don’t worry.” He smiled an evil smile. “I have a plan.”

“This is DEA Special Agent Dan DeLara in San Francisco,” he said when the phone on the other end was answered. “Any chance I can speak with Senator Marley? I didn’t think so. Busy man. Well listen, will you please tell him I have some information that I think he’ll be pleased to hear. Just tell him we have a line on the head of that new drug cartel. Yes, I’ll be in the office if he would like to call me back. Thank you.”

He hung up the phone with a grim smile. “The bait is in the water,” he said, using his fishing buddy’s favorite metaphor, “and if we’re lucky, the biggest fish of all is about to bite.”

“When he calls back, we’ll set the hook.”

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