Camera Obscura

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Chapter Twenty Four

Francis X. Marley walked into the lushly appointed study in his spacious Alexandria, Virginia, home. After placing his briefcase on his desk, he walked to the carved mahogany bar at one side of the room, opened the ice bucket that was filled every day before he got home by his Filipino houseman, and with sterling silver tongs, he placed two ice cubes into a glass. He lifted a heavy crystal decanter and poured three fingers of his favorite single malt scotch over the ice and took a much-needed mouthful.

He carried the drink back to the desk and sat in the comfortable leather chair. On the right side of the broad desktop sat a rich looking humidor, a tenth anniversary present from his first wife. He opened it and selected one of the newly imported Cuban cigars that lay inside. He held it to his nose and sniffed the satisfying aroma; then he rolled it in his fingers, testing the moisture. Satisfied, he clipped the end with solid gold snips from the lap drawer and took his time lighting it with the sterling silver desk lighter that was the tenth anniversary present from his second wife. He smiled, wondering what he would get from his current one should this marriage make it that far. The Senator loved the richness of his life, including having a lovely twenty-eight year old third wife; all of these things were as important to him as the air he breathed.

After a satisfying puff and another sip of the liquor, Marley swiveled the chair and sat looking out the mullioned windows of the French doors behind him that opened onto a terrace. He didn’t see the long sweep of lawn that ran from the terrace down to a small pond where a few ducks swam; instead he was mulling the events of the day.

He had just returned home from a busy day on the Hill, talking with his replacement in the Senate and others about his proposed Crime Stop Force. It was important work and he loved the wheedling and negotiating; he relished the maneuvering and the power plays. Marley fed off of the power that his new position afforded him. He loved showing the bastards who was still top dog in this town. That namby-pamby asshole in the oval office thought he ran the country, but it was men like himself, men who knew where the bodies were buried, that made everything work. Politics was his very life-blood.

Marley’s eyes narrowed. The message from California worried him. Who was this DeLara anyway? What could he possible know? It was doubtful that it was anything significant, but it would be foolhardy to ignore him.

After another sip he turned back to the desk and looked at the grandfather clock on the wall in front of him. It was still early in California. DeLara would not have left for home. He picked up the phone with his left hand, thumbed through his address book for a number with his right, and dialed.

“Darling,” Cynthia’s voice came from the doorway, “I heard you come in. Guadalupe’s warming your plate.” There was a hint of accusation in her soft southern voice. “You were supposed to be here by seven, you know.”

Marley gave a deep sigh, “I was unavoidably detained. You know how it is.”

Resignation didn’t become her. Spoiled rich girl that she was, she expected life to accommodate her in every way. “You might have called. I just finished dinner myself. I would have waited.” The pout in her voice had been attractive for a while, but now it rankled.

“No need for that, darling, but you could sit with me while I eat.” He smiled, knowing that she would but would hate doing it.

“Are you ready now?”

“There are a few calls I have to make.”

Now her eyes hardened and her mouth set in a particularly unattractive way. “What a bore. Can’t they wait until you’ve eaten?”

“I have to get California before they are gone.”

She rolled her eyes in irritation. “Does all of California leave before four o’clock?”

With mock patience, Marley, explained, “California never closes, my dear, although it is a bit after four. Some of my agents seem to feel they deserve a life, unlike me.”

He took a dismissive sip, expecting her to leave, but when he looked again, she was still standing in the doorway, one fist on her hip in a most alluring pose. He was anxious to get through the long evening ahead and get her into bed. That was the real reason he had married her instead one of the other women who had been available and willing. Carolyn’s one talent, aside from looking good, was revealed between the sheets. She was very good there. That mouth of hers… He pulled himself away from this thought. Business first, then pleasure. His eyes glittered and his mouth twisted in a wicked smile. A lot of pleasure.

“I won’t be long. Tell Guadalupe five minutes.”

When the phone rang in the San Francisco office of Special Agent Dan DeLara, he started in surprise. He and Stan Lopinski were still working out their plan of action. DeLara had believed Marley would not be able to resist the bait he had offered, but when the call wasn’t returned quickly, he had begun to doubt his instincts. Maybe the information Wheeler had given him was not leading in the direction of the new DEA head, a man they all despised for his arrogance. Maybe it was purely coincidental. Maybe, just maybe, Wheeler was totally wrong about everything.

Then the phone rang.

“DeLara,” the agent spoke into the receiver.

“This is Frank Marley, Agent DeLara. I got your message that there has been a breakthrough. Good work!” The voice was warm and friendly with just the right tone of congratulations to a valued employee.

“Too long coming, Senator,” DeLara signaled Lopinski that this was the call they had been hoping for, “but this looks really good.”

“Marvelous! What can you tell me considering I’m not on a secure line?”

“Well, sir, it wasn’t easy, but we got a man on the inside. His last report said there’s going to be a big shipment soon. You’ve gotta know we’re gonna be there. We’ll get these slime buckets and give them a taste of their own medicine.”

He grinned wickedly at Stan and waggled his eyebrows like Thomas Magnum.

“That is good news. However, I was told you have information about the cartel leader.”

“That’s the best part, Senator. Our man can name the guy at the top. It’s just a matter of time till we wrap this spider in his own web.” Dan liked his own turn of phrase.

“I can’t tell you how this makes me feel,” the senator said with feeling, meaning every word.

“I’ll bet you can’t,” thought DeLara. He felt bile rise in his throat. If this man, this so-called leader in the war against drugs, was really involved with the distribution of the poison that was being fed to kids, he would gladly pull the trigger himself and blow the bastard straight to hell. His thoughts would not let him go farther. It was a good thing the scumbag was three thousand miles away.

“This is the culmination of years of work. You make me proud to be an American, Agent DeLara. I want you personally to keep me posted.” The man on the other end paused for emphasis, “And I want to be there for the kill myself.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way, Senator. I mean, you’ve put so much of yourself into this war on drugs if anyone deserves to be there, you do.”

He hung up the phone and turned to his partner with a grin. “And I mean that sincerely. Now to set up the sting.”

Across the desk, Stan Lopinski rubbed his hands together in relish. “This is going to be fun. Okay,” he said, “How do you want to do it?”

DeLara pursed his lips for a moment in thought. “First, we get hold of his schedule. We may be able to use it. Then, there’s his old roomie, Winston Wainwright. Linda Mansfield did some undercover at his paper a few months ago, didn’t she? Maybe she had some ideas. Let’s get her over here while I make some calls.”

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