Camera Obscura

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Chapter Twenty Three

San Diego on a bright sunny afternoon. Larry adjusted his sunglasses against the glare of the sunshine on the rippling water of the marina. It was brighter here in San Diego than in LA, he mused. Maybe there was less smog. Cooler too, he noted.

He had considered where to start his search for Marissa Ruiz. Being this close to the Mexican border, there were sure to be thousands of Spanish-speaking residents. How could he find a single one in all these people?

He looked at the picture of the woman again. She was pretty in a tired, used up way, like someone who had lived a very hard life. He wondered how Luis had come to know her and why her picture was in the folder.

He turned the photo over again and noted at the address. Then he looked at the map index that lay open on his lap. Remembering how helpful the Thomas Guide had been in Los Angeles, he had stopped at a service station and purchased one for San Diego County. He found Calle de Rosas in the index and then turned to the page that was listed. It was a jumble of tiny red, blue and black lines. He turned back to the index, got the coordinates and then checked the map again.

“There you are,” he said with satisfaction when he located the squiggle that was Calle de Rosas.

After negotiating a couple of freeways and driving around in circles for an hour, Larry finally admitted that in spite of his new Thomas Guide, he was thoroughly and completely lost. Even though it went against his grain, he stopped by a drive-though fast food restaurant and asked for directions after ordering a burger, fries and a soft drink. The food was his way of salving his pride at having to ask for help; after all, he had to eat.

Another twenty minutes found him in a barrio as close as was allowed to the border. Doubtless, there were illegals living here, alongside legal family and friends. It was also likely that no one would be willing to speak with an Anglo, but maybe he’d get lucky.

He parked the car across from an old grocery store. In the window were signs in Spanish advertising, he supposed, the daily specials. Larry felt as if he were in another country. The houses were all small, most with dirt yards, some with fences around them and with small patches of green, others merely surrounded by thigh-high weeds. The street was paved. . .after a fashion, but the parking areas in front of the houses were not, and there were no sidewalks.

A group of children ranging in age from around four to twelve were playing in the middle of the street. When they saw Larry, they stared as if he were from outer space.

Wondering if he should take Golda’s gun with him, he smiled and waved. He decided to leave the weapon in the glove compartment with the ammunition she had also given him, so he got out of the car and clicked the remote to lock it.

“Hi there,” he called in as friendly a voice as he muster.

The children scattered in different directions as if his “Hi” had instead been “I-C-E.”

Larry shrugged and walked to the nearest house and knocked on the door. When no one answered, he tried again.

“Hello,” he called, “Is anyone home?” The door opened a crack. He could see an eye, but whether male or female, he couldn’t tell. He held up the picture of Marissa Ruiz from Luis’s file so the eye could see it. “I am looking for this woman.”

No habla Ingles.” The door closed abruptly.

“Sorry to bother you,” Larry said wryly to the door.

He continued down the street, attempting to speak with people, but they all shook their heads or brushed past him without a word. More than once he noticed the shade in a window pulled back for someone inside to peep out, only to be dropped with finality when he approached. He knocked on doors until his knuckles were sore and his feet hot from hiking the pock-marked street.

Finally, in frustration, Larry stood in the middle of the street and shouted, pointing to himself, “Amigo. I am a friend. Marissa Ruiz. I need to see Señorita Ruiz. Necessito hablar a Señorita Ruiz.” He hoped that was right or at least that he hadn’t insulted her. “Importante. Please. I need help. Por favor. Ayudame.” That was about the limit of his Español.

When no one responded, he sighed wearily and started back to the car. He opened the door and started to get in when he noticed a small girl of about four standing at his side. Where had she come from, he wondered? The dirty little face was as solemn as a judge as she took his hand and tugged it.

“You want me to go with you?”

She didn’t answer but continued to pull his hand. He closed the car door and let her lead him to a house around the corner. This house was like the others, but unlike the others, there were a few flowers trying to grow in a box outside the front door. When they reached the door, the girl dropped his hand and darted away.

Larry watched her round the corner of the house toward the back without so much as a glance back at him. As he turned back to the front door, he noticed a face at the window, peering from a behind what looked like a bed sheet that hung at the window like a curtain. He stood uncertain whether or not to knock. He looked at the window again and saw a hand drop the curtain closed. As he raised his hand to knock, the door opened a crack.

The man behind the door glared at Larry as silent as the little girl had been. He stood bracing the door with his hand on the jamb as if he thought Larry might try to force his way in.

“Do you speak English?” Larry asked. “I’m afraid I’ve used just about all the Spanish I know out there in the street.” He smiled deprecatingly to let the man know he knew he was a stupid American. Maybe it would thaw the man on the other side of the door a bit.

But the man didn’t speak.

“I’m looking for Marissa Ruiz,” Larry began again. “I’m not a policeman, no policia, and I’m not here to make trouble. I just need to talk with her.” The man still did not answer.

Larry looked around. He was beginning to feel like a fool, and it was making him angry. Anger wouldn’t help in this situation. He took a deep breath to calm himself. If he wanted to find Marissa, he had to be cool.

“Look, a little girl brought me here. She must know Marissa Ruiz, or she knows someone who does.” Frustrated and at the end of his rope, he fished in his pocket and brought out the picture of Vladimir Wulf and Senator Marley in the mountains. He held it out for to the man to see. “If you don’t know her, have you ever seen either of these men before?”

The man bent closer and peered at the picture. Suddenly his face broke into a big smile and he opened the door wide. He held a bottle in his other hand and he gestured for Larry to enter.

“Hey, why didn’ you say you know El Lobo, man? Come on in. Me llamo Alejandro. Shit. You unnerstan’?” When Larry shook his head, the man continued, “Alejandro,” he said, pointing at his cheek with his thumb. “Want a cervesa?” he asked, hold the bottle up to show what he meant.

Larry walked through the door into a shabby but fairly clean room. He glanced around to see if they were alone.

“No thanks. I just need to talk with Señorita Ruiz. It’s very important.”

The man in front of him looked disappointed and a little suspicious.

“Why you in such a big hurry, man?”

“I’ve. . .” he paused searching for an excuse. It had never occurred to him that he might need one. “got a message for her. From. . .El Lobo. It’s very important.”

The man relaxed and plopped down on a lumpy, discolored sofa. He put his feet up on the crate he was using as a coffee table.

. Always in a hurry, that one. Marissa, she’s out at the rancho.” He took a long drink from his beer bottle.

“Rancho?”

“Yeah, man. She’s got to take Rutilio’s place since he got busted.”

“Uh. . .this is my first time down here. How do I find it, the rancho?”

“No sweat, man.”

The man got up, taking his beer with him, and walked to the kitchen where he rummaged around for the stub of a pencil and some paper. He finally found a wrinkled piece with crayon scribbling on one side. He brought it back to the living room.

“I draw you a map from Tijuana. You know how to get there, don’ you?”

Juggling his beer and holding the paper with his forearm, he started

sketching on the paper.

““Mexico?” Larry’s eyebrows lifted at this new prospect. “I’m sure I can find it. It’s just south of here, right?”

The man looked up at him, took a swig of his beer and grinned, “You never been there neither, huh? Just watch out for those damn Federales. Those jails down there, they stink worse than shit.” He handed the paper to Larry, who peered at the rough sketch, hoping he could find wherever this place was. “When you see Marissa, you better guard your huevos, man. She’ll have them for breakfast if you’re not careful.” He laughed raucously with a knowing leer on his face.

“Tough lady,” he grinned back at the man. “I’ll watch myself. Thanks.”

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