Camera Obscura

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Chapter Twenty Nine

Hunger hit both Marissa and Larry just before noon. They drove through a fast-food café in a small town in western Arizona and ordered burgers with fries and cokes. Larry took out his cell phone and riffled through the cards in his wallet. He found what he was looking for and dialed. A woman answered and after Larry told her whom he wanted, she transferred the call.

“DeLara,” the voice rang clearly over the small mobile telephone. By the tone of the agent’s voice, Larry could tell he was expecting a call from someone other than himself.

“Larry Wheeler here.”

After a short pause, the agent’s voice came back, “How can I help you Mr. Wheeler?”

“Have you found Jill Thornton yet?”

“Nothing yet, I’m afraid. But don’t give up hope. We haven’t exhausted all our leads. Is there anything else I can do for you?” he answered dismissively.

“I have located Marissa Ruiz. She’s Luis’s sister, and she happens to be Carlos Madragón’s mistress.”

There was a slight gasp at the other end. “Good god. So that’s how he got his information. Where is she now?”

“With me. We’re…”

“Let me speak with her,” DeLara interrupted.

“Later. First, I have to…”

“Where are you?” the agent cut him short again.

“In Arizona. Now, shut up and let me talk.”

“Mr…” the voice was indignant.

“I said be quiet. There’s something else. I found a picture of Vladimir Wulf and Francis X Marley together.”

“You what? How did…? Where is it?”

“I took the picture myself last summer. It was at my neighbor’s house in LA.”

“I thought you agreed to let us handle this, Mr. Wheeler”

“I lied. My agenda is completely different from yours, Agent DeLara. I want to get my girlfriend back before they kill her. I don’t think that worries you very much.”

“Listen, Wheeler, there’s a bigger picture here,” the agent began.

“Fuck your big picture. Find Jill, and you’ll find what you’re looking for. Now, this is what you need to do.” The agent tried to interrupt again, but Larry pressed on, “A big drug delivery is going down at the Grand Canyon some time this evening. According to Marissa, Madragón is supposed to be there. It’s to be at a place called Hermit Creek. Thought you might like to be there too.”

“Today! God god! We didn’t expect anything this soon.” His voice told Wheeler that the agent had turned away from the phone, “Grand Canyon, Stan. A place called Hermit Creek. This is perfect!” He turned back to the phone, “Mr. Wheeler—Larry—please leave everything to us. Thanks to you we’ll be waiting.”

“I don’t think you understand. I’m not leaving. I’m going to be there and I’m going to need all the help I can get.”

“These are desperate men, Larry,” DeLara said trying to reason with Wheeler.

With a chuckle, Larry said, “Dan, I’ve been brainwashed, almost run over, shot at, and chased by a helicopter. I think I know how desperate they are.”

“Helicopter? Where…? Never mind. Just what do you think you can do? You’re not trained for this sort of thing.”

“I swear I don’t know. I may get myself killed. But these scumbags have someone that I care for. If I don’t do what I can to help her, I won’t be able to live with myself, anyway. By the way, DeLara, whatever is going down is here, not in San Francisco. If I were you, I start bustin’ my ass. You’re wasting time.”

“But what about Luis’s sister? You’re putting her at risk too.”

“I couldn’t talk her out of this if I wanted to. Now, listen. All I know is they’re planning to use a helicopter. We won’t do anything but watch until you get here, but get down here fast! I’d hate to have to try to take these guys by myself.”

“Where will you be?”

“In the Canyon.”

“Good god, man. Do you realize how big that thing is?”

“Don’t worry. We’ll leave a trail of bread crumbs.”

When Larry hung up, DeLara turned to his partner, who was looking aghast at the one-sided conversation he had just heard.

“Is he crazy, or what?” Lopinski observed.

“Does it matter?” DeLara asked as he dialed a now familiar number. “It’s going down tonight and we’ve got a loose canon out there.” On the line, the phone rang twice before it was answered. “This is Special Agent DeLara in San Francisco. I think the Senator will take my call.”

Lopinski left the office in a rush to set things in motion.

DeLara drummed on the desk with his pencil while he waited. Only a minute passed before he heard the voice of Francis Marley.

“Senator,” he said with a smile in his voice, “I told you I would keep you in the loop. We’ve just this minute received word of a big delivery that is planned for the Grand Canyon tonight.”

“Tonight? The Grand Canyon? Extraordinary!” The surprise in Marley’s voice was unmistakable.

“Our man will be there,” DeLara continued, “He’s ready to deliver the leader of the cartel to us. I knew you’d want to know.”

DeLara could imagine Marley sitting as his desk with a scowl on his large face. What would be going through his mind? How did they find out? Who’s the man inside? Should we cancel tonight’s exchange? Do we have time?

The agent sat at his own desk with a smile as wide as the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Excellent work, Agent! We’ll have the scum in the darkest prison we have by tomorrow morning. I’ve a good mind to take part in the operation myself.”

DeLara looked at the door at Stan burst back in, excitement brimming on his face.

“It would be an honor to have you, sir.”

Dan DeLara couldn’t see the grim look on Marley’s face as he opened his desk drawer and removed a large caliber handgun, which he checked as he said, “This will be an evening none of us will soon forget, Agent.”

DeLara hung up the phone and turned to his partner who said, “Not a problem. The Phoenix bureau is responding as well as Los Angeles and Las Vegas. We’ll swarm that place like flies on roadkill.”

On the other side of the country, Francis X Marley dialed his phone and waited. He reached into the back of the drawer for a box on 45 caliber shells and filled the magazine of his weapon. When the phone on the other end was answered, he barked, “Mr. Wainwright.”

“One moment, please,” the refined voice of Winston Wainwright’s major domo said before placing the line on hold.

Marley’s eyes were the eyes of a cobra, squinted, focused, and evil, as he spoke into his phone, “Winston,” he said without preamble, “They know about tonight.” There was the scratch of a voice on the other end. “The DEA, you idiot!” he answered the question. “They have a man on the inside… No, I don’t know who, but whoever he is, he must know about us.”

“Wulf will take care of him,” Wainwright’s voice was confident and calm as contrasted to Marley’s cold, calculating tone.

“No. He’s been making too many mistakes. I’ll take care of it myself; I’ll leave within the hour. Now, we don’t have much time. This is what you must do…”

It was mid-afternoon when Larry and Marissa pulled through the south gate of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. The sky was overcast by clouds, which threatened a late afternoon rain. In the faded light the forest of evergreens appeared to be a solid wall.

They drove to the visitors’ area, scattered with the various lodges and curio shops, and found a parking space near Bright Angel Lodge. The lot was full of cars and campers, although the tourist season was actually some weeks away. At that time, all lots would be full to overflowing and the lodges would house people from all over the world, who had come to view one of the most spectacular vistas known to modern man and to walk on the new glass observation platform that extended over the edge of the canyon.

“It looks cold out there,” Marissa said, shivering. She was wearing trousers and a light shirt, which had provided ample warmth for the desert evenings in northern Mexico, however, they were not enough in late spring at the top of the Grand Canyon.

Larry got out of the car and stretched. In spite of his fatigue, the thought of the upcoming encounter set his adrenalin pumping, but it wasn’t enough to fight off the cold of the coming evening.

“You’re right.” He slapped his hands against his arms to start the circulation. “We’d better buy some things to keep us warm. It gets hotter the deeper you go in the Canyon, but who knows how far down Hermit Creek is. Got any money?”

She shook her head, “I wasn’t expecting to leave in such a hurry.”

He took several bills from his wallet and handed them to her.

“This should cover a couple of jackets and warm socks.”

She nodded and started toward the lodge. When he didn’t immediately follow, she turned and asked, “And you? Where will you be?”

“I have to check in on a friend. I’ll be there directly.” She turned away and he called after her, “See if you can find a map of the Canyon and check out the supplies too.” She nodded.

Larry flipped open his cell phone and dialed information. He asked for the number of the motel where he had put Golda. The number was automatically connected and in a moment a shaky voice answered, “Hello.”

“Golda. It’s me. How is everything? You okay?”

The relief in Golda’s voice was obvious as she exclaimed, “Larry! Where are you? I’ve been so worried.” He started to reply but was cut short when she said, “Just a minute. Let me turn down the volume.” The blare of game show noise in the background receded and Golda’s voice came back on. “Where did you say you are, Larry?”

“At the Grand Canyon. Don’t worry, Golda. I’m okay. But you sound strange. What’s wrong?”

“It’s been on the news. They found Rachel at my house. She was dead, Larry. Murdered.” She began to cry in earnest, sniffing at intervals. “They didn’t give her name, but they showed my house on the TV. I know it’s her. Her car was in the driveway. I tried to call to let her know I wouldn’t be there, but she wasn’t home. It’s all my fault.”

She broke into sobs.

“Golda! Listen to me!” he shouted into the phone to get her attention, “It’s not your fault. Are you listening?”

Golda nodded as if he could see her. She blew her nose daintily.

“If it’s anybody’s fault,” Larry continued, “it’s mine. I brought it all with me. Can you hear me? Golda, say something.”

“I hear you, dear. I’m just so frightened.”

He took a deep breath so he could speak in a calm voice because what she had told him frightened him too.

“I know. But it’s going to be all right. Just stay where you are and don’t talk to anybody. You haven’t, have you?” He paused to let her answer “no” and then continued, “Well, don’t. You’re in more danger than I realized, but I think you’re okay there. Please take care, okay?”

“Yes, Larry,” she answered in a docile voice.

It was good to have someone strong tell her what to do. It made her feel safe, just the way her Bernie had. She sniffed again, this time missing Bernie, the love of her life.

“Good. I have to go, Golda. Take care. I’ll see you soon.” He hung up the phone and muttered, “I hope.”

He found Marissa in a nearby shop. She had found jackets and other warm clothing for them both and had a sack with trail mix, candy bars, bottled water and wrapped sandwiches to take on the trail. She even found two small rather inexpensive backpacks designed for a child in which to carry everything. The two debated whether to eat before they set out on their trek to Hermit Creek.

“Do you think we have time?” Larry asked.

“The days are getting longer. I guess it all depends on how long it takes us to get to there. Here is where we are, “she pointed to a spot on the map she had bought, “and here is Hermit Creek. We can drive part of the way, but I don’t know how long it will take us to hike down.”

Larry thought and decided, “Let’s get a thermos of coffee and take off. Better safe than sorry.”

She nodded and led him back into the store.

“Do you think the DEA will get here in time?” she asked when they were back in the car with their supplies.

“If they want these guys bad enough, they will,” he answered grimly. “We’d better be ready, in any case.”

They drove to the area where a trail led downward toward Hermit Creek and the Colorado River. They loaded their supplies—flashlights, flares, Golda’s pistol and additional ammunition, which they had bought for both guns on the way to the Canyon, the food and bottles of water—into the backpacks, which they slung over their shoulders. Larry decided to put some extra shells in his pants pockets in case of emergency. They were heavy and caused the pocket to pull his pants down uncomfortably on one side, so he moved some of them to the other pocket. Satisfied, he nodded at Marissa. She grabbed her rifle from the trunk where they had stored it, and they started down the trail.

Larry and Marissa walked without talking, steadily downward. This was not the usual pathway for most tourists who worked their way down from the village to Indian Gardens, half way down to the Colorado River. Instead it was a path that had been created by the passage of Indians over the course of hundreds of years, and the scenery was spectacular.

When they reached Hermit Creek, Larry looked around and said, “I don’t know how they could get a helicopter in here. Look how close the sides of the cliff are. There’s no easy way in—or out for that matter.”

“I don’t know. This is the name I heard.”

“Are you sure they’re using the chopper?”

“They have each time that I know about. Perhaps they land near the river and then bring it up here.”

“How far do you think it is to the river from where we are?”

Marissa looked at the map, studied the terrain and said, “Maybe two or three miles?”

“Exactly. I can’t see drug smugglers hiking up from the river to this spot just to exchange their swag, can you?”

“It doesn’t make much sense, no. What do you think we should do?”

He looked around, took a deep breath and said, “I think we ought to be down there, where they land. We can find a spot in the rocks and keep out of sight until something happens. If nothing does, well, it’s just one miserable night out of the rest of our lives. What do you think?”

She shrugged her shoulders in the Latin way, saying, “Quien sabe? Who knows.”

She took a long swig from her water bottle and started down the trail.

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