Camera Obscura

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Chapter Four

It was fully dark as Larry and Jill turned once again toward the cliff. He leaned over the rail, squinting in the darkness at the waves lapping far below and for a brief moment, he was certain that he saw something, but the sharp bark of a seal proved it was nothing out of the ordinary. He turned back to the road and scanned up and down as Jill watched him with a wary look on her face.

“There has to be something,” Larry said in frustration. “Someone.”

“But even if there is, how will you find them?”

He looked at her for a long moment, then shook his head and said, “I don’t know.”

“Maybe you could place an ad in the paper,” she said, helpfully, “You know something like, ‘Did you see a man throw something off the cliff at Seal Rock on Sunday? If so, call me.’”

Without seeming to hear her, Larry looked over the edge again. The drop was sheer and in the dark seemed almost bottomless. He had no idea how deep the water was at the base of the cliff. Would something that was dropped sink to a sandy bottom? Or would it be quickly pulled back out to sea by a rip tide. He had no idea.

“I’ve got to find a way to get down there,” he said almost to himself.

“That’s crazy,” she insisted. “Even if you could get down there, you couldn’t see anything. It’s already too dark to see anything up here. Besides, if anything was down there, it’s gone by now.”

He looked at her, then back at the crashing waves.

“You’re probably right. Damn!”

In frustration, he struck the top of the rock wall with the heel of his hand with more force than he intended. A protruding pebble caused him to yelp in pain,

“Shit!” He rubbed his hand on his pants leg as he turned back to Jill. “Now what?”

“What do you mean? You’ve done all you could possibly be expected to do. Just let it go.”

“Let it. . . ” He was interrupted by the sound at his elbow of someone clearing his throat. He swung around expecting somehow to find the man he was searching for. Instead to his surprise a boy of about eleven years was looking keenly at him.

“Mister?”

Irrationally disappointed, Larry hardly gave the boy a glance, but the boy persisted.

“Mister?”

“Yeah. What can I do for you, kid?” Larry said already turning back to Jill.

“You’re that guy the police were talking to, right?”

More than a little irritated at the interruption, Larry said brusquely, “Yeah. What about it?”

“I kept waiting for them to ask me. When they didn’t, I thought maybe you would. I mean, since you were looking too.”

“Ask you about what?” Larry turned to face the boy and for the first time really looked at him. Slight with shaggy red hair and glasses above a mask of freckles, the boy, wearing faded jeans and a heavy yellow windbreaker, was straddling a bike and looking eagerly at Larry.

“If I saw anybody.”

Larry’s eyes narrowed guardedly. “And did you?”

“Sure. I was riding up this side of the road. I live up there. Well, not right up there, you know, but in that direction.” He pointed toward the cliff in back of them. “I know you’re supposed to ride on the side that’s got cars going to same direction you are, but I was going to see my mom. She works at Cliff House, and I didn’t want to have to cross the road down. . .”

“Okay, okay. I get it,” Larry interrupted. “So, what did you see that you wanted to tell the police.”

“Oh yeah. Well, it was getting dark, see, there weren’t many people still around. I saw a few people up the road, a couple smooching or something, but nobody was here except for that lady. She was walking on the sidewalk when the big car stopped and she got in. I don’t think she wanted to. A man hit her. Then I saw you come running up the steps a couple of minutes later. I went on in to see my mom, and when I came out, the cops were here talking to you and the lady, so I just waited in case they wanted to talk to me.”

“You saw the man?” Jill interjected.

The boy looked at her as if he’d forgotten she was there.

“Sure.” He nodded.

“What did he look like?” Jill continued.

“He was tall, white,” nodding as if reinforcing the memory. “Another guy was driving the car; he looked kind of skinny. The third guy looked big like he oughta be on Smack Down, you know. He had shoulders like a wrestler. I didn’t see his face real good, but he had dark hair. The other guy was tall like I said, but not like a basketball player, you know, not six nine or anything like that. I saw his face once. It was…,” he paused, searching for the right words. “I don’t know; it was weird. When he looked around, his eyes looked dead or…well, you know, no expression. Real cold. Gave me the shivers.”

Larry took the boy by the arms and stooped over until he could look him directly in his eyes. “Do you know what kind of car they got into?”

“Oh, sure. A Mercedes. Black. It had one of those funny license plates.”

Jill said, “I’ll bet you don’t remember what it said.”

The boy looked at her with disgust. Girls! They were so stupid! “I may be a kid, but I’m not dumb. It was just a number.”

Larry straightened, a look of speculation on his face.

Jill looked at him in surprise. “What is it, Larry?”

“A number? You mean it spelled out a number,” ignoring Jill’s question, he asked the boy, a note of excitement in his voice.

“Nah. Just a number.”

Larry looked at Jill, his eyes blazing with animation, “I knew it!” He turned back to the boy. “What was the number, kid?”

“Thirty. You know, three oh.”

Larry fished in his pocket and pulled out some bills. He pealed off one and handed it to the boy.

“Thanks, kid.”

“Wow! Ten bucks. Thank you, mister.”

The boy hopped on his bike and started peddling down the road.

Larry watched the boy disappearing into the gathering darkness for only a moment before he turned back to Jill. He took her by the arm and started walking her toward the parking area up the hill. He was strangely quiet, but there was a manic look in his eyes.

He stopped at the entry to the parking lot. “Where’s your car?”

“Just over there,” she pointed to a gold Honda Civic.

He turned to her, hands in his pockets, “Miss Thornton, Jill, you were right not to want to get involved. I shouldn’t have talked you into it. I’m sorry for putting you to all this trouble.”

“Are you kidding? First of all, I’m a big girl. No one forced me into anything. And now that I know there is really something going on, just try to stop me.”

Larry grinned at her. “Are you sure? It might be dangerous.”

“Hah!” she returned, “Danger is my middle name. Lead on McDuff. The game’s afoot.”

“Hmmm. Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes. Although, it was actually ‘Lay on Mcduff’ if I’m not mistaken.”

It never occurred to Larry to wonder how he knew about the famous detective of literature, much less Shakespeare. It had come from someplace he had forgotten but was now resurfacing. It was like the calf of an iceberg, plunged into the depths of an icy sea, only to rise again. At the moment only a tiny part of his memory was above his conscious sea level, but below in the unconscious his whole life waited to bob to the top.

“Purist,” Jill growled, “Anyway, I have to call my aunt so she won’t worry. But after that, what do we do first? Find out who owns that vanity plate? Or maybe the question should be ’how do we find out who owns that plate?”

Larry looked at her for a long moment, thinking, and then he said, “Before you get too involved with this, with me, there are some things you should know. Want to grab a bite while I fill you in?”

“Amnesia?”

They were sitting in a funky little out-of-the-way diner. Jill had chosen it because it looked like a place where no one would look for them…if anyone was. She was picking at a Caesar salad that was remarkably good considering where they were, while Larry sat staring at a plate of French fries and a hamburger with one bite out of it, and that one bite had almost choked him. He was too wound-up to eat despite the fact that the last thing he had eaten had been the Taco Bell burrito in a little town on the coast; he didn’t remember which one. Now, here he was trying to make light of his problems so this woman wouldn’t bail out on him.

“It’s not the same as general amnesia. Things are coming back to me, slowly. I can remember my name, when I was born, who my parents were, where I went to high school, that sort of thing. The doctor said it’s like post-traumatic stress syndrome that it was most likely generated by some terrible event. He wouldn’t, or maybe couldn’t, tell me what it was.

“I remember things from my early life, my mom and dad and my sister Anne; I apparently went to college because I remember my roommate, Mike. After that—especially the last five years—everything is…well, it’s like I’m in one of those San Francisco pea-soup fogs. Once in a while I’ll get a glimpse of something that reminds me of. . .I don’t know,” he shrugged with a shake of his head as if he were trying to shake away the cobwebs of memory, “I usually can’t put my finger on what it is. I started getting better a week or so ago. At first things were foggy, with a few clear days now and again. Most of the time is clear now, but all I know about that period of my life is what they’ve told me. The doctor says whatever it is may eventually surface, emphasis on the ‘may,’ but it’s a crap shoot.”

“That’s terrible! It must be very frustrating,” she said, loaded fork poised in mid-air.

“It is. At first, on the clear days, I tried like the devil to remember, but it only made things worse.”

Larry stopped, cocked his head, and grinned.

“Hey! I don’t believe it,” he said, “The music’s gone. I wonder when it stopped?”

“Music?” Jill looked at the same time both skeptical and uneasy. “What music?”

“Right, you couldn’t hear it. Let’s see, how do I put this so I don’t sound completely wacko? For the past week or two, longer maybe, I’ve been hearing music in my head.” He paused, made a face and wiggled his fingers in the air, the typical gesture to indicate something spooky. “Oooh. That does sound crazy, doesn’t it?” he laughed, but quickly sobered. “I don’t know where it came from, Jill, and I don’t think it’s anything that you should be worried about. Maybe the doctor gave me a hypnotic suggestion during one of our sessions. It probably was to keep me from thinking too much. In any case, now it’s gone.”

“You think for good?”

“Who knows?” he shrugged.

“Well, what now?” She still looked a little dubious but pressed on anyway. “Have you got a plan?”

“I’ve got the start of one.”

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