Camera Obscura

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Chapter Twenty Five

As Larry Wheeler navigated the I-5 south from San Diego through the Port of Entry to Tijuana, Mexico, he asked himself over and over what the hell was he doing here? He had as much chance of finding Jill, much less freeing her, as a piñata at a five-year-old’s birthday party. The little Spanish he knew was just enough to get him in trouble, if he wasn’t already in trouble, that is. If there was any chance of success at all, he should have left the investigation to DeLara. But he couldn’t.

As he passed through the border checkpoint, he was a little concerned about the gun Golda had given him. He took it from the glove box and put it in the waistband at his back with his shirt pulled over it, hoping he wouldn’t blow his ass off. As it happened, the border guard barely looked at him. He was just another American looking for a day of buying cheap booze and a little fun like the hundreds of others he’d seen that day. The guard waved him through with a “Have a nice time.” Larry nodded and drove into Mexico.

As rough as it was, he had little trouble following the map that Alejandro had drawn for him. He passed through Tijuana’s downtown area, alive with Anglos looking for a bargain, though not as many as before the cartels had started killing tourists. He drove past stores laden with “local products” made in Taiwan and Mainland China, through middle-class neighborhoods, and finally to the outskirts, past huts that wouldn’t be used for poultry sheds in the States.

Watching the hovels pass his window, it occurred to Larry that it wasn’t just bargains that brought Anglos to border towns like this one and it wasn’t because towns like Tijuana represented what Mexico was really like either. He suspected that seeing how these people live gave visitors a subtle feeling of superiority because, despite how little they might have themselves, it was much more than these poor Mexicans could dream of having. He was appalled by what he saw, children in little more than rags, shacks that sat in dirt yards, clothing drying in windows, and he suddenly understood their desire to get into the United States at any cost.

Shaken by his revulsion, Larry quickly made his way out of town, away from the unfortunate humanity that existed there, and into the desert. The road was well kept for the first fifty miles or so until he was directed by the map on to a less-traveled, much rutted one. For the next two hours, he slowly bumped and jostled his way into the depths of the Sonoran Desert badlands.

Saguaro cacti, Joshua trees, and dwarfed Junipers that dotted the landscape slowly faded from view as the sun sank into the western desert. Weird ghostly figures appeared in their place against the nighttime horizon.

When Larry was sure that he was lost for eternity, the dirt road he had been watching for suddenly appeared on his right. It was marked by the signs Alejandro had said to watch for, Cuidado!! and Peligroso! No entrada! Larry silently sent thanks heavenward for the bumpy road. If he had been driving at regular speed, he would have missed them completely and might truly have been lost forever in these badlands.

He turned off the car’s headlights and turned into the road that seemed hardly more than a path. The moon had not yet risen, making the way treacherous, but Larry was grateful for the cloak of darkness. When he got to where he was going, he didn’t want to be seen, at least not until he scouted around. He had no real plan and this far he’d been extremely lucky, but that could change any minute. He took Golda’s pistol from the glove compartment where he had placed it soon after passing the border guard. He had checked the ammunition when she gave it to him; the clip was almost full. He wasn’t sure that the gun gave him much protection, but it made him feel better to have a weapon of some kind.

After about five minutes creeping along in the dark, Larry saw the shape of the hacienda, a two-story Spanish style house ablaze with lights. Set in a large compound surrounded by a high adobe wall, it was far enough from the road that even with all those lights glowing in the darkness, no casual driver. . . as if anyone would ever casually drive this road by choice. . . would suspect that anything of its size was near.

Larry turned off the motor and quietly got out of the car. Almost as an afterthought, he made sure his new cell phone was on vibrate, not that he was expecting a call, but who knew? Better safe than sorry. He crept as silently as he could toward the house. When he was about fifty feet from the wall, he saw a man with a weapon patrolling the perimeter. Even in the darkness at this distance, Larry could tell it was more than just a hunting rifle. He hunkered behind one of the small juniper bushes until the man passed out of sight, then he rose once again into a crouch and continued toward the house, pausing now and again to listen to the regular night sounds, praying that he would hear nothing else.

He circled the hacienda, keeping what he hoped was a safe distance from it. He saw the guard occasionally, but he was careful not to be seen. Finally, when he reached the back of the facility, he found a large tin barn-like structure with a helicopter sitting outside on a concrete pad.

“I’m really out of my depth here,” Larry admitted to himself as he started to back away and head for the car. “This is too much for one man, especially one with a single small gun and no clue how to proceed. Time to bring in DeLara. He and his guys will know how to handle this.”

As he turned around, he heard a slight rustle. . .and a voice.

Que pasa aquí, cavrone?

Golda was bored. The motel room was comfortable enough, but she was used to working in her garden and taking long walks; this sitting around was getting her down. She was bored. She had watched her favorite soaps; Claudia found out she was pregnant with Lionel’s child and Amanda wasn’t going to the gas chamber after all, thank God. She wished for her knitting. She was making a shawl for her daughter-in-law. If she had it, she could knit and watch the TV tonight if Larry didn’t get back. She sighed at the thought.

Why he was going to Mexico she had no idea, but she suspected it had something to do with his amnesia. She thought about calling him on his cell phone—he had given her the number before he left—but he had said he might be going to Mexico, and the idea of calling another country, no matter how close, intimidated her.

She rose from the chair where she had moved after getting tired of sitting on the bed with her feet straight in front of her. She peered out the window and noticed that the light was much less bright now. She checked the clock on the clock-radio beside the bed. It was going on seven. No wonder it was darker.

“Maybe a nosh,” she thought, checking the bag of groceries they had brought in, but nothing tickled her pallet. There was a nice coffee shop two doors down from the office. She could get a poached egg on toast or maybe some pumpernickel on rye. “He said not to go home, but he didn’t say I have to stay inside until he gets back,” she reasoned. “Besides, it’ll be dark soon. No one will see me.”

Happier now that she had made a decision, she picked up her purse, checked to be sure she had the key to her room, and left.

Evening lay on the street like a soft fleece blanket, as she walked from her room to the sidewalk in front of the motel. Streetlights were beginning to wink on and there were fewer cars than when she had checked in. Some of them still drove with their lights off, but more and more headlights were cutting the soft warm evening.

Golda walked into the coffee shop and took a seat at the rear of the dining area away from the window. Although they were well away from Ventura Boulevard and there was little likelihood that anyone would be looking for her, there was no use being foolish just for a nosh.

She ordered from the menu, a chicken Caesar salad she decided. The waitress was a nice older woman like herself and they had a little chat about children and grandchildren when her food came. It felt really good being out of that cramped little room.

After a nice cup of tea, she paid for her meal, leaving a nice, she thought, tip for the waitress, and walked back to the motel, breathing in the fragrance of the jasmine that grew in a flowerbed by the motel office. She let herself into the room, comforted by the noise of the television that she had left on when she walked out. Carefully she checked to be sure that everything was as she had left it and no one was lurking in the closet or the bathroom.

“What would I do if I found someone?” she laughed aloud at herself as she pulled back the shower curtain.

“. . .on Maple Leaf Drive in the Hollywood Hills.”

Golda perked up her ears. That was her street. She rushed back into the bedroom and adjusted the sound up a bit as she stared at the screen. The sight was chilling. Several police cars were grouped in a driveway, their red and blue lights flashing. A crowd of people stood behind a barrier of yellow tape that had been stretched from tree to tree around a familiar landscape. A photographer tried to push past one of the police vehicles only to be turned firmly back by two stern faced officers. She saw Richard Johnson her neighbor and, yes, there was Betty his wife at his side.

She wanted to reach into the scene and brush things aside so she could have a clear view of what was being cordoned off. Suddenly, the television camera zoomed in for a clearer shot and she gasped.

A familiar white Cadillac with its rear door and trunk open was parked in the middle of the driveway. It was her house.

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