Camera Obscura

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Chapter Six

“Hey! What’s the idea?” Jill asked as Larry landed partially in her lap. She had heard the clatter of the glasses as they fell against the steering wheel, but the sound hadn’t totally penetrated her sleep until she felt Larry’s weight. As he lay there shivering, not yet able to communicate, Jill struggled to sit up and tried to pierce the panic that seemed to cover him like a blanket.

“What’s wrong, Larry?” she asked as she shook his shoulder. “What is it?” she persisted when he didn’t answer. Finally, the trembling began to subside and Larry groaned as if waking from a bad dream.

“What happened?” she continued to probe.

“Dunno. Not sure,” he said in a shaky voice. “There were two guys. They got out of a limo and went into Wainwright’s house.” He struggled to sit upright, still shaken after the fugue state.

“Are you all right?” She was terribly worried. He looked ill. In the dark, his face was pale, and his hands were still shaking.

“Yeah. I think so.” He rubbed his hand over his face. It was clammy with sweat even though the temperature in the car was cool enough that Jill had thrown a light jacket over her shoulders.

“What happened?” she asked again. “Can you talk about it?”

“I think. . .” he started, words coming slowly like a man wading through deep water, “I don’t know. . .oh, yeah, now I remember. I was watching through the binoculars and the two guys started up the stairs and one of them looked in our direction.”

Without realizing it, Larry had started to tremble again. Jill reached out and took his hands in hers, holding them to keep them from shaking.

“What’s happening to me?” he croaked.

What could be so awful that it was affecting him like this? His voice held Jill mesmerized. The tension in the car was palpable. She held her breath, afraid that any noise, any movement would shatter him. “It was him, Jill, the one from the cliff. He looked right at me. I don’t know where, I don’t know how, but I’ve seen him before.” For a moment, his eyes took on a wild, hunted look.

“You said you saw him on the cliff.”

“I know, but before that.”

“How is that possible?”

“I haven’t got a clue.”

Larry and Jill stared at the Victorian house the two men had entered. It had been a few hours since their arrival and Larry’s reaction to seeing them, and he was now calm. In fact, Jill thought he was entirely too calm, and it worried the nurse in her. She glanced at him in concern as she sipped a cold, rather disgusting cup of coffee, but he looked straight at the house, never moving, hardly even blinking. She tried once to get him to talk, but she wasn’t even sure he heard her. His lack of response worried her, depressed her. She was exhausted, frustrated and very cold.

“If you don’t start the engine and warm up this car, I’m getting out, I’m leaving, I’m going somewhere so I can thaw. Do you hear me, Larry? I mean it! Blink so I know you heard me.”

“I heard you.”

“Finally. It wakes. Are you going to start the engine, or do I walk?”

He glanced at her for only an instant, swinging his eyes back to the house almost immediately.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize you were cold.”

“Aren’t you?” she asked in frustration. She clutched the thin sweater around her and shivered.

He sighed, and turned the key in the ignition.

“I’ve been thinking,” he began.

“Really?” she interrupted sarcastically. “I was afraid you were in another of those fugue states and didn’t realize where you were. You’ve got to talk to me, Larry. I’m scared; I’m not sure we should be here after all.”

“It’ll be morning soon.”

“Then what? We wait here until dark again? They’ll be sure to notice the car in the daylight, even if they haven’t tonight.”

“Well, I’m not. . .” He was interrupted by the soft purr of the town car they had seen before as it glided by them and stopped in front of the Wainwright house once more. A liveried driver opened the rear door, and immediately the two men from the cliff exited the house and quickly entered the limo. The driver closed the door with a soft, but solid ‘thud’ that was audible in the early morning quiet. Silently, it slipped away from the curb and glided away from them down the street.

Larry immediately put the car into gear and drove after them.

“What are you doing?” Jill asked in alarm.

“What do you think I’m doing? I’m following them.”

“And what do you plan on doing if you catch them?” Her voice was hard with anxiety and her face was pinched with strain.

“I don’t plan on catching them. I just want to see where they’re going. Don’t worry. I’m not going to get close enough for them to see us.”

The two vehicles sped through the quiet streets of the city, Larry managing to keep his quarry in sight while staying well back of them. Traffic was light, but they occasionally saw late, late night party-goers entering or leaving a bar, restaurants having closed some time ago. Few homeless people were abroad. They were huddled in their lairs, if they were fortunate enough to find one, away from the streetlights, wrapped in cardboard and rags, trying to find some respite from their dreary existences. Occasionally, Jill noted a body slumped in a doorway and hoped it was sleeping instead of. . .she shuddered at the alternative.

As long as the night was dark, Larry had no trouble following the taillights of the other car, but dawn would come soon and if they kept going until it was light…well, he hoped he’d know what to do when that time came.

“Where do you think they’re going?” Jill asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Larry answered even though he knew she didn’t really expect one.

They both were surprised when the car glided up an entry ramp to Interstate 101 heading south.

“SFO,” Larry breathed as they sped along behind the other vehicle.

“But, there are any number of places south of the City, maybe San Jose.” Larry shook his head. “No. They’re going to the airport.”

Larry had been following more closely since getting on the interstate, and he was relieved to find more traffic to hide behind. As he suspected, the limo turned into the airport. He realized it must be time for a flight to arrive because of the number of cars turning with them, people meeting folks coming in. Outgoing flights would already have their passengers at the airport due to all the required security checks.

The limo pulled to the curb on the upper level. The tall man emerged from the back carrying a briefcase. Looking neither right nor left, the man walked briskly into the terminal. Larry slid to a stop several cars behind. Outside, a recorded message announced that parking was not allowed in this area and that cars left unattended would be towed at the owner’s expense.

Larry reached into the back seat, retrieved the camera case he had borrowed from Mike, and removed a small digital camera. Quickly checking to be sure it was working, he turned to Jill.

“Get behind the wheel,” he instructed.

“What?!” Jill cried, “Where are you going? We’re not supposed to park here. You’re not going to try. . .”

“I’m going to see who he’s meeting,” he said interrupting her. “If I can, I’m going to get a picture. Maybe Mike can help us find out who this guy is.”

“Are you insane?” Jill cried, but Larry was already out of the car. With reluctance, she climbed across the console and sat in the driver’s seat, nervously tapping her fingers on the steering wheel.

Inside the terminal, people rushed this way and that, some carrying luggage, most dragging it on rollers behind them. In spite of the early hour, crowds pushed their way into lines at the ticket counters and further on to the security check points.

Larry stood without moving as he scanned the swarm. He might have been a column in the middle of the floor for all that people noticed as they moved around him. He caught sight of the blond man hurrying for an escalator to an upper deck. As the man reached the top, Larry stepped on the bottom step.

He rose slowly, too slowly. He craned his neck to look around the people rising in front of him. Larry saw the man signal a black man in a security uniform on the other side of the magnetometer. The security man stepped to one side and Larry’s man spoke with him in low tones. The security guard nodded and stepped back while the blond man waited where he was.

Larry knew he wouldn’t be allowed into the secured area without a ticket, but since the line was long, he took his place and slowly moved closer to the x-ray machine conveyor belt. He kept watching the blond man out of the corner of his eye, but since he didn’t want to be seen loitering around the security area, he stepped out of the line as if he had forgotten something, and frustrated by his lack of success, started for the escalator to the lower level. Just as he reached the moving steps, he noticed that his quarry had stepped to the far side of the section and was watching a man approaching on the other side. They carried identical briefcases.

The two men embraced briefly as old friends do, but Larry noticed that when they stepped back, they surreptitiously exchanged briefcases. Larry raised the camera to his eye and snapped the picture.

Evergreen trees surrounded Larry. The sky was an unbelievable blue with only a few fluffy white clouds emphasizing its color. The air was brisk and clean. To his left he could see the mechanism at the top of the ski lift, seats swinging around the turn after being relieved of their passengers. There was no snow on the ground, so they must be tourists, maybe hikers starting on a high mountain trek. Larry turned to look behind him. Below, the town with its many stores, restaurants, and hotels, looked like a miniature model, the people standing in the line at the lift ticket office looked like little tiny black ants. Cars with their roofs shining in the bright sun, were relegated to nearby lots.

Larry took a deep breath. Nectar for the gods was this air, sweet, fragrant, clean. Wanting to capture the unbelievable beauty of the day, he raised his camera and snapped a shot of the mountains in the distance. As he lowered the camera, he noticed a blond man, tall, in khaki pants and jacket, well-cut and expensive by the look of them, talking with a burly man in blue jeans and plaid wool jacket. The tall man extended his hand to the other man and handed him a briefcase.

Momentarily dizzy, Larry, looking confused and disoriented, lowered the digital camera, turned away and leaned against the railing by the escalator. What the hell was happening to him? He glanced back at the blond man who was obviously saying goodbye to man he had met.

Hoping his prey hadn’t noticed him, Larry quickly stepped onto the top step and began to descend. He had to get to the car before the blond man did.

In the car, Jill sat nervously nibbling at her cuticle on her left middle finger. She had not bitten her nails in years, but in this nerve-wracking situation the long-forgotten habit reasserted itself. Her nails would recover; she hoped she would.

A security guard slowly walked down the line of cars parked in front of Jill. They all had people sitting in the driver’s seat. As the guard reached a window, he bent down, said something to the driver, sometime forcefully with a finger pointing in the direction of the exit. Each time, he watched sternly as the driver started the car and drove it away.

When he reached the limo, the driver apparently said something that appeased the guard because he nodded briskly and walked on toward Jill and the other cars parked in front of her. One by one, the cars were moved, sometimes after a heated discussion, which Jill and everyone else around could hear. This didn’t help her nerves. What would she do when he reached her? She couldn’t leave Larry. He would have no idea where she was or how to find her.

When at last the guard reached Jill’s window, she rolled the glass down as he bent to look in. He briefly looked at his wristwatch and then at Jill, who gave him her most dazzling smile. He smiled at her and walked to the next car without ever saying a word.

She was still sitting dazed at what had happened when the door suddenly opened.

“Move over!” Larry growled. “He’s right behind me.”

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