Camera Obscura

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Chapter Twenty Six

Larry turned his head to see a tall woman, in tightly fitting jeans and boots, looking to be in her 40’s, standing behind him, a machine pistol aimed directly at his back.

“I’m sorry,” he said, meaning it with all his being—sorry for being here, sorry for being caught, sorry he’d ever devised this rash and impulsive plan, just plain sorry—, “I don’t understand.”

“No, I didn’t think you did, or you wouldn’t be sneaking around here.” Her voice had the cadence of a native Spanish speaker, but something about the way she fashioned her words made Larry believe she had lived in the States. “Who are you?” she asked, motioning with the gun for him to face her.

He decided that he had nothing to lose by being straightforward. “My name is Wheeler. I’m looking for Marissa Ruiz.”

Larry thought for a second that he saw something in her eyes, a flash of recognition, or perhaps fear. For a moment the gun in her hands wavered.

“Why did you think you would find her here? In the desert? In the middle of the night?”

Her voice was harsh and commanding but not loud. He was sure no one in the hacienda would hear it, and the man on patrol was on the other side of the compound by this time. It was the only reassuring thing he could think of with the gaping hole of the weapon’s barrel staring him in the face.

“Are you stupid? Did you think you would not be noticed? Or do you think we are the stupid ones? That we would not have taken precautions against unwanted visitors?” Her face was as hard as her voice.

She raised the machine pistol again. Larry was sure that she wouldn’t hesitate to use it. Once again he thought, “Why the hell am I here? What did I think I could accomplish by myself?”

“A friend of mine knows her,” he explained quickly. He wanted to reassure her, to put her more at ease, to relax the finger she had on that trigger. ”He was injured, badly. I thought she might want to know.”

“Your friend,” she began.

“She doesn’t believe me,” he thought.

“Who is he?”

“Are you Marissa?”

She ignored the question and glared at him for a long moment. “I said, ‘Who is your friend?’”

“Why should I answer your question when you won’t answer mine?” Larry answered in a nervous voice, and then he thought to himself “Am I crazy or what?”

“Because, gringo, I am pointing a gun at you. Or maybe I should call for help.” She raised the gun. He could tell she was ready to shoot. “No, I think I will just. . .”

“Wait! Wait! You don’t need to do that. I’ll tell you.” He was stammering and he felt like the fool he obviously was. “His name is Luis Ybarra.”

“Luis? What has happened? How is he?” Her frantic questions paused and a suspicious frown made her attractive face ugly. “How do you know him?”

“Mike Casey was my best friend,” He replied simply.

Recognition dawned in her eyes and she lowered the muzzle of the gun.

“You’re that Wheeler? Dios mio! I heard them talking about a man.

But. . .it was Luis? What happened? Tell me, por favor.”

“Hit and run.”

She gasped. “No!”

“He’s in the hospital, but they say he’s going to be okay,” he added, rushing to reassure her. “Then, you are Marissa.”

It wasn’t a question. He could tell her by reaction that this was the woman whose picture had been in Luis’s file.

She nodded, “Luis is my brother.” She looked around suddenly wary of being noticed. “We cannot talk here.”

“Yeah, okay.” He nodded in the direction of the road. “Over there?”

Marissa shook her head. “Not now,” she said in a lowered voice. “I must get back. They will miss me if I’m gone much longer. Go back to your car. I’ll come when I can. If I don’t meet you there by dawn, leave and don’t come back. Trust me. They will kill you if they find you here, and I would not be able to stop them.”

Larry nodded and turned. He started creeping back the way he had come. The shape of the car was almost hidden by the shadows, but he knew if he found the road, it wouldn’t be far away. He turned and looked back, but Marissa was gone.

Larry sat for a long time watching the compound and wishing Marissa would hurry. The sooner he got out of here, the better he would like it. The desert was very cold without the sun to warm the air, but he didn’t dare start the car. He was sure the sound would be heard in the night’s stillness, not to mention the fact that he wasn’t sure how much fuel he had left. Enough for the ride back, surely, but probably not enough to heat the car for any length of time and drive back to Tijuana.

Wishing again that he’d brought someone else with him, he wrapped his arms around himself and snuggled down into the seat to conserve what little heat his body produced.

He went over and over in his mind the events of the past few days, wondering how different things would have been if he had left things well enough alone at the Camera Obscura. He probably wouldn’t have met Jill, but then, Mike would still be alive. Should he have let things be? Would he have been happier not knowing that he had been brainwashed. The past they had given him was horrific, but would he have eventually dealt with it and moved on? He didn’t know.

Now that he had found Marissa, what did he plan to do? Would she be willing to go with him? Would they be able to escape without rousing the suspicions of the men inside the compound? His mind whirled around and around the questions with dizzying speed and finally, despite his rising anxiety, he dozed off.

He had no idea how long he’d been asleep when he jerked awake at the tap on the window. Marissa peered in the window and motioned for him to unlock the door. She opened the door quietly. He heard her sigh when the light didn’t go on, and he congratulated himself that he had thought to remove the fuse.

“Everything okay?” he asked keeping his voice low.

. For now. Tell me about Luis.”

“It’s my fault, Marissa. Someone tried to run me down, but the car got Luis instead.”

“And Mike? How is he?”

Even in the dark she saw the pain in his eyes.

“He’s dead,” Larry said in a monotone.

Madre de Dios! But how? Why?”

Larry took the print of Wulf and Marley from his pocket and handed it to her. “I think it’s got something to do with these guys.”

El Lobo!” she exclaimed as she examined the picture by the light of a small pen light that Larry handed her. She looked up at Larry and asked, “Who is the other one? I’ve seen him but I can’t place where.”

“He’s the President’s new drug czar.”

“How did you get this?” The puzzlement and then suspicion flashed across her face. If he knew Wulf and Marley, maybe he wasn’t to be trusted, after all. This could be a test of her loyalty.

“It’s a long story, but I’ll give you a Cliff’s Notes version. I took this picture by accident last year. I think these guys want it because it connects them. It would be awkward to say the least if someone found out the head of the DEA is dealing with a known killer. They tried to get it from me last winter by brainwashing me. Don’t ask,” he said at the lift of her eyebrows. “When that didn’t work,” he continued, “I guess they thought I might lead them to it. At some point, they must have decided I was a liability as long as I was alive, so they tried to run me down, but the car got Luis by mistake. We think one of them, maybe even this one here,” he pointed at Wulf’s picture, “was tossing Luis and Mike’s place when Mike walked in and caught him and killed him.”

“Why did you come looking for me?”

“Luis spoke your name at the hospital. I’d never heard him use that name before, so I went through his things and found your picture in one of his files. To tell the truth, Marissa, I was clutching at straws, and you were the only lead I had until I found some film in my mail yesterday. This was one of the pictures on the roll. It’s probably what they’ve been looking for all this time. I had no idea you were Luis’s sister.”

“It’s not something he is proud of. You’ve heard of Carlos Madragón? He is my lover.”

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