Camera Obscura

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Chapter Thirty

Rocks make bad cushions. This thought and other disgruntled ones like it ran through Larry Wheeler’s mind as he crouched behind a group of rocks fifteen or so feet above the Colorado River. Warm, even hot, during the day, the Canyon grew chilly when the sun went down. He cursed the cold; he muttered to himself that he was the worst kind of fool, the kind that never looked for flaws in the plans he conceived; he grumbled at Marissa’s apparent ability to be comfortable regardless of the conditions.

They had been sitting for a couple of hours in their perch overlooking a sandy beach along the river. The darkness of evening had barely lessened when the moon in its final phase had finally risen. Looking down over the top of the rock in front of him, Larry could barely make out the remnants of an old campfire surrounded by river rocks. Seeing nothing else of interest, he turned his attention to the heavens. The myriad stars above were brighter than he had ever seen in the city. Larry could make out Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. He followed the two pointer stars to Polaris, the North Star. Then his eyes trailed back from it to Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper.

Okay, that was all the astronomy he knew. He tried counting stars, anything to keep his mind from the biting cold. He shivered and wondered, not for the first time this evening, if it was caused by the temperature or by the stress of waiting for whatever was going to happen. Que será será. This was the other thought that kept spooling through his head like a cassette tape playing, rewinding and then playing the same song over and over. What will be will be, just like the old Doris Day song. Nothing you could do but accept the inevitability of it all.

Wheeler looked at Marissa sitting on the other side of the trail. She must be as uncomfortable as he was, but she didn’t show it. She sat on a rock, elbows on another rock in front of her for steadiness, binoculars to her eyes, focused on the river. He thought she hadn’t moved in an hour, but then he’d been counting stars. She could have done a jig for all that he’d been watching. Good thing she was here to take up the slack. Then he smirked to himself, he was the slack in this operation.

“Hsssst,” the warning came from across the trail. She pointed upriver. From out of the shadows the outline of a rubber white-water raft bobbed into view about fifty or sixty feet from the sandy beach. Larry lifted his own glasses in the direction she pointed and wished for an insane instant that it was a camera lens that he was looking through. The sliver of moon, which was now almost directly overhead, spilled its meager light over everything, silvering the rocks before him and turning the landscape into a silver and black image just aching to be captured on film.

“How many do you count?” he whispered to Marissa. So soft was the whisper that for a moment she thought it was a snake rustling through the grass that grew in bunches around the rocks. She peered through her binoculars and then flashed three fingers at him.

A few minutes later the raft was oared to the shore below them. One of the men climbed out, anchored it in the shadows to nearby rocks, and then rejoined the others to wait. There was no conversation and they were hardly visible. Only the glow of a cigarette pinpointed their position.

Time inched by. Now that the drug runners were here, Larry felt himself grow more excited. At last, after all the waiting, something was about to happen. He put down the glasses and took Golda’s gun from his pack. His cramped position among the rocks became almost unbearable, but he dared not move for fear of dislodging even a pebble that might cause a rain of others, announcing their presence. The only thing on their side was the fact that the men below had no idea that they were being watched. They had to wait for Dan DeLara and his men to arrive before giving away their location.

In the distance there was the faint sound of an approaching helicopter. Marissa had been right! As the sound grew louder, the men in the raft began to shift their positions. Two of the men climbed out of the raft and looked in the direction of the chopper. The third man remained where he was, his foot resting on something in the bottom of the raft. A shaft of light from the helicopter swept right and left across the river until it pinpointed the rubber raft and the men in it. For a moment Larry could make out the face of one of the men on the beach. It was Vladimir Wulf.

In a moment the helicopter arrived and settled on the sandy beach. So that’s why they chose this area. It’s away from the village and there was space for the chopper.

The pilot opened the door of the helicopter and dismounted.

Marissa’s face grew hard and as cold as Wulf’s on the beach below.

“That is Carlos Madragón,” she quietly spat the words with hatred and venom and then followed her words with the action.

Even in the near darkness, Larry could see that Carlos Madragón was nothing like the clichéd image of a Mexican drug lord—paunchy with a missing tooth, bushy mustache and eyebrows, and rough beard. Instead, he was tall with the muscular physique of an athlete and undeniably handsome. He wore his work clothes of jeans, polo shirt, leather jacket, and hand tooled cowboy boots with elegance and grace. It was no wonder women found him physically attractive or that Marissa had fallen in love with him.

Larry let air through his lips in a faint whistle. He pointed at the man who was shaking Madragón’s hand, “And that’s Wulf, the one you call El Lobo. Right?” he answered, his voice barely audible. “This is a high level meeting. Who’s the guy with Madragón?” indicating another man who had climbed from the other side of the helicopter.

“Edwardo. Carlos would never go alone to a meeting. He always takes someone with him for protection and to make him look important. Being powerful is the most important thing to him.”

The quiet was broken by voices rising from the beach. Larry could hear every word as if he were standing along side them.

“Was there any trouble?” Wulf asked.

Un poquito, but nothing you should worry about.”

“Is it all there?”

Wulf’s voice made the hair on Larry’s neck stand up. It was familiar and it was horrible. It brought back memories that had been submerged in the fantasy they had created for him. Needles, electricity, drugs, days without sleep, unbelievable pain. Larry felt the gorge rise in his throat; he couldn’t breathe. He was afraid he would throw up. He felt himself begin to rise from his cramped position, but Marissa slipped beside him and with a warm hand, pressed him back into the rocky declivity.

Si, patron. Every kilo,” answered Madragón, respectfully.

It irked Carlos Madragón that he was not the absolute leader of the new drug cartel. He had wrested the control of drugs entering the entire Western Hemisphere from the previous jefe, and he was the principal importer that covered the entire Latin American world as well as much of Asia, a fact he felt entitled him to do as he pleased. He flaunted his position mercilessly to everyone he dealt with, president and peón alike; he would be treated with the greatest deference or the result would be brutal and ugly. He was a sociopath who felt no compassion and was totally without guilt. However, he was not stupid. Because he was acutely aware of how dangerous it would be to anger Wulf, he was respectfully submissive to the leader of the rafting party, and it infuriated him like a boil that needed lancing.

Wulf turned to the rafter who was standing beside him on the sand.

“Mr…shall we call you Mr. Raymond? I’m sure you want to inspect the merchandise.”

Raymond, tall and well muscled, nodded and walked to the helicopter where Madragón pulled several bags from behind the pilot’s seat and gestured for him to sample any one of them. The man opened one, smelled the contents and then with a spit-wet fingertip lightly tasted the powder.

In the distance the faint whap-whap of another helicopter’s rotors caught the men’s attention. They looked at each other in alarm.

Signaling quickly that he wanted to test another bag, the man selected one from the helicopter instead of one of the bags that Madragón had handed him, while the drug dealer scowled his displeasure at this slight. If Wulf were not here, he would show this gringo who he should respect.

“How are we going to stop them?” Marissa whispered into Larry’s ear. She was now terribly afraid that the slightest noise would attract the attention of the men below.

“I have no idea,” Larry mouthed, “I keep thinking lightning will strike and I’ll know what to do.”

After testing the second bag, Raymond looked at Wulf and nodded, “Everything seems okay. Have it stowed in the raft, and I’ll get the money.”

“Good,” Wulf said.

In the rubber raft, the other man had been quietly watching, not saying a word, but now he spoke, “By the way,” he nudged the bundle in the bottom of the raft. There was a muffled noise that was almost drowned out by the sound of the approaching helicopter. “What are you going to do with her?”

“She stays here,” Wulf stated in a matter-of-fact voice.

Wulf reached into the raft and grabbed the bundle and hauled it ashore, where it crumpled onto the sand. A woman, bound and gagged, struggled against the duct tape that held her hands and feet together. The sounds of her muffled cries reached up to where Larry and Marissa watched in horror. Her bruised and battered face turned toward them. Even in the dark he could tell it was Jill.

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