Prologue: Phantom Ride
Maybe you never heard about what happened. Maybe you did, and didn’t care. It was many years ago and the murders were not widely reported. Many of the deaths were never connected and news coverage quickly disappeared. The local authorities wanted it that way. There was no trial. No one was prosecuted. The fire erased a lot of the evidence, and what remained was fairly confusing. Altogether, 15 people died, 11 the final day. It was intended that two of the bodies be Etta’s and mine.
There’s an Eastern saying that we have about as much free will as a violin in a violin case. That’s spooky, and I don’t dwell on it. Yet, I believe there’s a difference between fate and destiny, and that we have a responsibility for our life in this world. The quality of life we have in the next world depends on how we live in this one.
We can choose to love or not to love. I believe Etta and I survived because of our love. For us all to survive, we must feel love for our fellow man. It is difficult. Forgiveness is the only answer. Forgiving myself, because without me perhaps most of the deaths may never have happened.
I ride my motorcycle, and I imagine I’m making a movie, winding through traffic, the road unfolding like a roll of film. This is my personal, private fantasy world, and I am a child in a dream.
Between the imagination and the reality lies the story, and the lies of the story matter less than how the story lies. We are cousins of deceit, and truth is a relative, a bastard offspring. We are each of us innocent, and we are all of us guilty.
I was guilty of being deceived. All of us involved were deceived in some way, even those responsible for the deception. Everything was interconnected. Everything is interconnected.
I have never forgotten what happened. Etta says it burns my memory with an ugly acid—that it is a tale filled with fury—and she wonders if it signifies anything.
I apologize if it offends you.
God help us to live in the right way.
I am lucky to have received the gift of detachment. Nothing bothers me a great deal. Neither what happens to me nor what happens to others. It’s what spiritual people call a blessing. The blessing of remaining quiet or undisturbed whatever the circumstances. Death may be shocking or a surprise, but it is not something that is upsetting to me.
I live in a general state of quiet and calmness. Despite the unpleasant things in this world. Such as wars. There are wars and there have always been wars. I was in the big one, the one they call World War II. I was sometimes afraid as all the soldiers were, but I also felt that if I were hurt or killed it was my destiny.
God also gave me a gift for making images, and the result was my being assigned to combat photography. I was shipped to the South Pacific.
Because I was very inspired or very foolish, on one occasion I obeyed a sudden impulse to run alongside the company Captain as he led a charge on Iwo Jima, him firing his Thompson, me firing my Contax II at him firing, worrying more about being shot by our guys behind us than by the Japanese hunkered down in their cave.
The Captain tossed in a grenade and I hugged earth with him, waited for the explosion, then followed as he burst inside blasting away, saw movement among the many mangled bodies and parts, saw a face, saw bright glazed eyes, raised my camera and shot the guy, swiveled and shot the Captain pointing the Thompson to kill the guy—caught the Captain’s eyes and he chose not to fire.
Thus, I photographed a capture instead of an execution, with the consequence that the Captain ordered me to put away my camera and use my .45 to escort the prisoner down the hill, to jibes from several soldiers who wanted me to shoot the Zip, or let them do it. Yeah, I’d seen their proud displays of enemy ears in the lockers on board ship. The guy’s name was Akira Mizoguchi, and when I placed him with the other prisoners, he implied that he felt he owed me something. I smiled, gave him a nod and left.
After the war, when I was stationed in Tokyo, Akira tracked me down and invited me to share sake with him. How he found me, I never got clear, but maybe it had to do with my shooting pictures instead of bullets. Regardless, we began a rather unusual and warmly tenuous friendship, at least on my part, because I did not understand the Japanese sense of duty nor speak their language. In fact, I never got beyond a few rudimentary Japanese phrases during my final tour of duty. But Akira wanted to learn English, and using that pretense, he frequently came round, and I enjoyed his company.
He was an engineer with an optical manufacturer with the impossible name of Nippon Kogaku Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha. Unmarried like me, and something of a playboy, he fixed us up with nice and willing women for numerous delightful double dates, and made me feel at home in a society which politely but firmly shuns foreigners. He also introduced me to the films of Yasujiro Ozu—virtually unknown outside of Japan—which gave me a wonderful perception of the country’s family life and culture. We never spoke of the War.
In early 1948, he gave me a different gift: a camera and several lenses which his company was producing to test the photo market. The camera was a rangefinder, working best with 35mm negative film, as the frame size was 24x32mm rather than the standard 24x36mm of color slides. But the quality of the Nikon lenses hooked me. They also mounted on my Contaxes and were the finest I’d ever used.
When I left Japan, Akira gave me his company’s newest model adapted to the 24x36mm format. We stayed in contact via letters. From time to time, over the past decade, I’ve sent him prints of my best work. Six weeks ago, I sent him a copy of my book In Search of the Light. Last week, I received an airmail package from him.
His note read: “Because you are a true foto artist, I believe you will find this token very useful. It is a production prototype of our new camera which we believe will greatly aid the taking of pictures by the professional fotografer, such as yourself. I will be very interested to see the results if you so kindly care to share. I was allowed to remove this particular assemblage because of imperfect stamping on the pentaprism. Please use it in all confidence, but please tell no one how you come to have it, as another year will pass before it is sold in the USA. Your brother, A.M.”
Packed in the box was a reflex camera like I’d never seen before, with two bayonet mount lenses, a 50mm f2.0 and a 105mm f2.5. Studying the marred etching on the pyramid-shaped prism, I could barely make out the name Fuketa and Nippon Kogaku. The name Nikon was nowhere on the body. Since shooting my first roll of film with it, I haven’t touched my rangefinders. It’s like having a new eye.
Today, I’m using the camera for the first time on a paid assignment, a portrait of a young lady—Lara Melville. She phoned last night, and we arranged when and where to meet this afternoon, and that we will use her car to drive to the location she’s chosen.
I seldom pay attention to dreams, usually forgetting them within moments after waking. Often, they are of the War: Flashes of light from shells silently exploding, superimposed and intercut with faces of soldiers I knew, some dead, some who made it—this is what I sometimes see in my dreams—merely a remnant of the War, and I usually awake feeling as though I’ve been watching a movie, with a similar feeling of detachment.
However, this morning’s dream lingers and seems connected with my photoshoot today:
I dream I’m outdoors, trying to shoot a young lady, but everything is blurry, as though we are surrounded by smoke or dense fog. The girl’s so hazy I barely see her. I search for a better location, and abruptly I’m indoors and the girl is there, in the form of many girls like dolls lying in boxes, all identical and not human—they are brittle, glassy facsimiles. I lie on one, then another and another, and they shatter like Christmas ornaments. A man materializes beneath the shards of one, and evaporates. I think to shatter all the facsimiles, but I’m afraid some are real girls, or if I smash them all, the girl will be smashed too, and the thought awakens me.
Perhaps the dream arose from my hearing Lara Melville’s voice on the phone. Regardless, I’m on my way to meet her now.
1: Island In The Sun
Riding into the parking lot in downtown San Anselmo, I see Lara Melville for the first time. She’s perched crisply on the rear of a sparkling new turquoise T-Bird convertible, one leg dangling over a fin, a cigarette dangling from her fingers. Her slacks, boots, blouse and big shoulder bag are shades of brown, colors of autumn leaves ready to drop, while the splintered shafts of light streaming through the overhanging oak branches make her shimmer like a midnight maiden in summer heat, inviting me to share a private island in the sun.
Braking the motorcycle carefully in the gravel, I crunch to a halt, kill the ignition and hear music from Lara’s car radio.
Flinging away the cigarette, Lara slides off the T-Bird, strides to my bike like a ballerina crossing the stage and hovers breathily close.
Her slim body is adorned with fine breasts and a sharp-boned face, her green eyes stare unblinking at me, lips parted as if wanting a kiss. Over the radio, Elvis sings “Love Me Tender”.
I smile, dismount—putting the bike between us—and shift my eyes to the marquee of the Tamalpais Theatre across the road. Vertigo opened Sunday.
Swiftly, a shadow sweeps over us like a blanket of oblivion. Dark, wispy fingers extend above the western hills and criss-cross the clear blue of the mid-June noon. A massive cloud billows close behind, casting grey shards towards the sun. Fog is drifting in.
Lara frowns. “Oh, Scheisse, our light is gone.”
“No. This time of day filtered light is best for photos.”
“Cool,” she grins and cocks her head, as if casting out a line with a hook at the end. “So, grab your camera, hop in my car, and get us to the beach.”
McClures Beach is the shooting location Lara requested last night—while specifying I should pronounce her name “Lah-rah” not “Low-rah.” Dutifully, I fetch my photo gear from the bike’s saddlebag and settle in behind the T-Bird’s steering wheel.
Lara murmurs: “Do you want to make love to me now, or later?” She pauses, perhaps poignant, potentially pregnant. “Here? On the way? Or, at the beach?”
I give her a silent stare.
* * *
“I’ll bet you did,” Etta says, interrupting my story, while we develop the film in our tiny home darkroom. “But I’m sure you also gave her an appropriate response.”
“Just my usual client question: ‘What do you want these photos for?’ And she says, ‘Mother’s been bugging me for a picture so she can paint me.’ More wine?” I offer Etta.
“Yes, please. And ‘Mother’ is Annabel Melville-Fielding, who, because of Melville Construction, is possibly the wealthiest lady in Marin County.” She takes a generous gulp. “Aren’t you lucky to get to photograph her daughter who’s now got herself kidnapped, while her kidnappers demand you deliver the ransom or they will do me in as well as you? What I want to know is how they know about me at all, since you were only hired to photograph daughter Lara yesterday, and I’ve been away for a fortnight and only returned a few hours ago. Why am I supposed to believe any of this?”
“You know I do,” Etta smiles, sips more wine, then downs the whole glass, says to herself as well as me, “I guess I really need this right now. Well, what did Lara do when you didn’t lovel her?”
“I kept quiet and she said, ‘You don’t say much,’ then, ‘Is it because you’ve got nothing to say?’ And, I said, ‘I don’t know whether I’ve got anything to say or not, but I do know that what’s important doesn’t need saying. No, that’s not quite right. What’s most important is impossible to put into words.'”
“Not bad,” Etta says, “and Lara?”
“Lara flicks her ashes out the side of the car and says, ‘Well, I write a lot and try to say even more. I may not succeed, but I clearly say more than you. But words are a poor substitute for good loving. How long have you been with Etta?’ I tell her, ‘Four months,’ and ask, ‘How do you know I’m with Etta?’ She says, ‘From Vicki.'”
“So…” Etta says, “Lara’s kidnappers maybe know about me because of Vicki.”
* * *
“How long have you known Vicki?” I ask Lara.
“A couple of months. Vic was my stewardess on a flight to Paris. We discovered we both live in Marin. After we landed, we hung out, and now she’s my best buddy. Maybe the best girlfriend I’ve ever had. How do you know Vicki?”
“Through Etta, who met her at Tidewater where she works.”
“Ziggy Ziegler’s place.”
“You know Ziggy?”
“I know him enough to know that’s all I want to know him,” she smiles.
“Ziggy has that effect on people sometimes.”
* * *
“I’ll say,” Etta says. “Anyway, so Lara knows I met Vicki when she arrived at Ziggy’s on her motorcycle, and I mentioned you, and I guess Lara also knows Vicki’s become a riding buddy?”
“Yeah, and Lara’s been on Vicki’s bike and would like us all to go riding together.”
“Sure.” Etta grins. “If the girl lives.”
“Well, Lara assumes you’re not the jealous type. I mean, because you’re not afraid of Vicki.”
“Hmmm… depends.” Etta scowls comically. “What else did Lara say about Vicki?”
“She said, if I recall exactly: ‘Vic is such a doll. A real blonde. Those catty blue eyes, crisp bangs. Looks cooler than May Britt, except Vittoria can’t act. But what a great bod she’s got! Lifts weights. Wish I had the patience for that. Most girls would never introduce Vic to their guy.’ And I said, ‘Etta trusts me.'”
“Sure, I do,” Etta grins. “Continue the story.”
* * *
As we drive through Fairfax, where we live and which adjoins San Anselmo, the fog erases the last patches of blue. The sky glows translucent grey. Lara lights another Marlboro, exhales and her expression purrs beneath the smoky veil.
“You read Kerouac’s On the Road?”
“I love him—he writes about the ‘mad ones,’ who ‘burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.’ That’s me, man.”
“I hope you don’t burn out too soon.”
“I can try,” she chuckles, “you know, ‘my candle burns at both ends…'” and takes another drag. “I would love to hook up with those guys—Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady—but Kerouac’s on Long Island, Ginsberg’s in Paris, and Cassady’s just across the bridge… in the San Francisco Jail—for weed. What a waste for being wasted and never wincing a wit for want of weed when the widow wakes. Ficken!”
“Ficken is German for the ‘eff’ word. Why be banal when you can be erudite?”
“Uh—huh. The Scheisse I got because Etta’s used it.”
* * *
“Thanks for the credit,” Etta says.
“And I deserve it.”
* * *
“And we all have it,” Lara smirks. “But not ficken?”
“What does she call ‘it'”
“We call it lovelling.”
* * *
“Now you’re revealing our sex life!”
* * *
“Lovelling!” Lara laughs. “That’s a new one. Wanna hear my silly ficken poem?”
“for my ficken I do the pickin’
we start ficken when he gets thicken
his good ficken makes my heart quicken
but bad ficken is worse than sicken
while fair ficken tastes good as chicken
the worst ficken will leave me stricken
and best ficken gives me a lickin’
Kerouac is so hip. He says sex is ‘the one and only holy and important thing in life.’ I won’t say ‘holy’ but I sure say ‘wholly’—just the grandest thing we’ve got.”
“Don‘t be a ‘well’ person. You say ‘well’ when you’re afraid to say how you really feel, or let the other person know you really agree, but are afraid to admit. Fear is what stops most of the real communication between people.” She pauses. “So, don’t you think sex is just about the best and most fun thing in this whole wide world?”
If I say ‘yes’, I’m afraid of where she’ll go next, so I just stare.
“Aww… come on, Etta will understand.”
* * *
“No, I won’t,” Etta injects.
* * *
“There you are, ‘welling’ again…” Lara grins, “‘Well, well, well,’ now I’m quoting Hamlet and can stuff an omelet with all the classic stuff that’s been stuffed into me. Man—wow! There’s so much I wanna do. I have the same ‘kind of holy lightning flashing from my excitement and my vision.’” Her dreamy tone turns blunt: “How many men did you kill in the War?”
“None that I know of.”
“Isn’t that what soldiers do?”
“I was lucky. I just shot pictures.”
“But you saw people die.”
“I only saw one. My father. He killed himself by taking a bath with a radio. I heard him scream, but got there too late.” She speaks crisply, dispassionately, as if describing a scene in a half-remembered movie. “Don’t you dare say you’re sorry. It happened a long time ago. Snap, crackle— and no more Pop. But seeing him die supposedly made me the way I am. That’s what the head docs told Mother.” She raps her skull: knock-knock.
“Were you close to your father?”
“‘No man is an island,’ and how tritely we are entire of ourselves. And tire of ourselves, alone on our little islands, with only good finger sex for company.”
Beyond Fairfax, we follow Sir Francis Drake Highway over the grade, toward the sea, the air snapping softly. Dropping into sparsely populated Western Marin, green meadows of the San Geronimo Valley drift by laced with ashen threads of mist, the grass exuding a sweet tang from hours of smoldering in the sun, accompanied by Harry Belafonte singing “Island in the Sun.”
* * *
Etta says, “Just about the best title song ever written and sung for a movie.”
“Well, how about “Unchained Melody”?
“Unfortunately, Bartlett’s movie is blah except for the song, and Robson’s is so entertaining.”
* * *
“See that car back there?” Lara says.
In the rearview mirror, I see the maroon sedan that came in behind us somewhere in Fairfax. “What about it?”
“I think it’s following us. Gives me a bad feeling. I’m psychic sometimes, you know?”
* * *
“She seems to have been,” Etta frowns.
* * *
Gazing upward, Lara muses, “Life moves on, and having moved, never returns… and nothing I wish nor anything I do will ever bring these treasures again.”
* * *
Etta shakes her head expressing disbelief: “The girl’s really a ‘space-case’. Hmmm, I wonder if she’s considered how we are merely clumps of itsy-bitsy particles that by a process invented by God come to coagulate in shapes likes our bodies as well as all things of substance in this world. All and Everything is a good book by Gurdjieff. Lara might get a glimpse depending on her choice of drugs.”
* * *
We drive through the little community of Lagunitas and into the fresh forest fragrance of Samuel P. Taylor Park. The giant redwoods rise into grey oblivion, the black road threading around their darkened trunks.
* * *
“Rather erotic,” Etta says.
* * *
Lara says, “Your name—Chercheur—means ‘searcher’ in French. Have you found it yet?”
“Maybe. Have you?”
“No, and I probably never will. I may seem like a rich, sick bitch, but no matter how much dough I’ve got, you’ve got the dough that counts, and unless you love kneading it yourself, you need me regardlessly—which is no word—but rhymes with pee, which adjoins the bank where you wanna make your deposit. We can play investment banker. I’ll hold your dough until it grows then put it in my escrow where it will go on growing until you groan.”
* * *
“Either the trees turned on Lara, or she wants to finger the organ of every guy she fancies.
What did you say?”
“I kept my mouth shut and my eyes on the road! Finally she said, ‘What are you thinking about?’ I replied, ‘Getting good pictures.’”
“Good boy! Continue, please.”
“Beyond the woods, we pass through pasturelands, stop at Highway One and head north along the San Andreas Fault onto the Pt. Reyes peninsula. The maroon car continues to trail us. Over the forested ridge to the west, the fog twists down like a tornado through the pines.”
“Thank you,” I smile at her. I do love Etta. “Well, Lara lights another cigarette, sprawls back and waves it as though conducting the Everly Brothers crooning ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream.’”
“A real dreamer, that girl.”
“I guess so, and—this is good—when we came to Inverness—you know, that tiny town I call ‘civilization’s last outpost’—Lara says: ‘You get gas, and I’ll expel some.’”
“She needs to,” Etta chuckles.
“Anyway, we stop at that ancient roadside station with the inflated prices—28 cents a gallon for ethyl, four cents higher than anywhere else. And we both watch the maroon sedan speed by on the road.”
“So, the kidnappers’ car is gone.”
“Only temporarily. The station attendant’s a teenage girl wearing overalls, freckled face framed by two long, red-haired braids tied off with blue ribbons. ‘Nice car, nice car,’ she said, running her pale, grease-stained fingers gently over the contoured body of the T-Bird. ‘Did you hear about this murk? The radio’s giving a travel advisory for the whole Bay Area, mainly here in Marin, not just boats—everything that moves.’”
“So, you were warned,” Etta says. “If you’d been smart and turned back, we wouldn’t be in trouble now. Anyway, go on, give me the kidnapping as if you’re writing a novel.”
* * *
Marin’s Pt. Reyes Peninsula: Geologists say the land came to be connected with the Marin mainland eons ago when the San Andreas Fault shifted over 300 miles north, moving a landmass from above where Los Angeles is now. The entire area remains nearly pristine—a few small ranches and dairy farms scattered within the wilderness of marshlands, rolling hills and low, forested mountains.
We drive the winding two-lane blacktop leading to McClures at the northern end. Waves of fog roll in, sweep by, swirl through the tall wild grasses, soar high over the hilly pastures and endow the landscape with an eerie, primordial majesty.
Lara grips the top of the windshield, rises and leans forward, her face thrusted upward, short honey hair rippling, blouse flapping violently. She shouts:
“Here in this last remote and memorable place,
I look upon myself and wish to curse my race,
Dreaming now of those forsaken nights that drone to hell and gone
I await the time to newly make the moon and bring the dawn.”
She grins down at me. “That’s something I wrote—made up—just now.”
We reach McClures—the most picturesque and least visited of Marin beaches. Most residents and visitors prefer the more accessible beaches to the south—where explorer Sir Francis Drake purportedly came ashore, giving Marinites a claim to English reserve over Spanish passion that later conquered California. For me, from Kansas, living here means savoring the spray of the sea over the dust of the plains.
Today, McClures’ small parking lot has one other vehicle. It looks like the same maroon sedan that followed us from Fairfax—a new Dodge bearing a rental plate.
Lara says, “I don’t like it. I wonder who they are.”
Of course, we will find out. With sheets of fog sweeping over us, we trek down the half-mile trail that snakes through the craggy ravine to the beach. Occasionally the top of the ridge across the gorge peeks through, mostly the path dissolves into nothingness only a few yards ahead.
Reaching the beach, we traipse toward the nearly invisible water, the sand squishing beneath our feet, the smell of seaweed wafting pungently, the moist sea air dampening our faces.
Then the wind gusts and the grey mass lifts like a massive silver curtain over a huge stage set and reveals McClures’ entire panorama. Ragged rock walls enclose the beach, towering high, extending half a mile south, where a piece broke loose long ago and lies crumbled in dark jagged boulders jutting into the Pacific. White surf pounds the rocks with a frenzy.
Seagulls rise from behind a wave, fly high, peak near the rim of the cliff, circle over the sands, swing above the rocky outcropping, and are swallowed by the fog descending again to conceal everything. Lara muses:
“The glimpse personifies the quintessence, and nothing more will add to the essence.”
Halfway toward the outcropping, above the high-water mark, Lara sets her big shoulder bag on a clump of coppery kelp and says, “Let my closeups commence.”
I do a couple of rolls with the sea sending spray to blend with the mist swirling about her face, blessing every shot with a different tone, and feeling I’ve got a good portrait, I say so.
“Goodie! Now, follow me to the bestest spot for my full-bod shots.” Scooping up her bag, she skips and prances, head tossing, through the surf and haze like a kid visiting the zoo, heading toward the rocky promontory at the far end of the beach.
I follow her dancing up and away from the water, slipping into the crevice between the main cliff and the outcropping. The passage is narrow and we go through single file—the cliff wall towering above.
At high tide this passageway is under water, but now it’s a wind tunnel. A gust hits me sharply.
We come out onto a tiny curved, sandy beach bounded by the ocean, headlands and leaden sky—a private world, tucked away from everyone. Lara says:
“A special hideaway. I discovered it a few weeks ago.”
I’m aware of the place—aware that people have been caught here by sneaker waves and drowned. The sea laps at our feet. Lara says:
“‘In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river…’
That’s T.S. Eliot, not me,” she grins.
The outcropping has a gentler slope than on the other side. Placing her bag on a low shelf, Lara climbs and finds a perch. Tucking her legs to the side, she strikes a seductive mermaid pose.
Switching to the wide-angle lens, I shoot her from several angles as she rotates her upper body and changes expressions, her eyes connecting with the camera for each exposure. The fog shifts and drifts, providing atmosphere without concealing the subject.
“Got some good ones?” she asks.
“I think so.”
“Cool. I need to pee.” She scuttles down. “As soon as I’m back, we’ll make more.” With a sunny smile, she swings her bag over her shoulder and disappears into the passage.
Watching her go, I notice the striking formation of the rocks enclosing the cove.
Stopping down the lens for depth of field and selecting a slow shutter speed, I step backward to the edge of the surf as the tide recedes and frame the image: the sand’s smooth wetness, sprinkled with small stones and seaweed, flowing upward onto the sloping promontory rock on the left, into the V-cut passageway in the center, and meeting the base of the cliff wall on the right. I lock my elbows, take a breath, hold the camera tight and quickly finish the roll, hear the sea roaring in and leap forward over the wet sand to avoid the incoming wave.
Reloading, I realize the light is fading fast. I call Lara’s name into the passage. No answer. I venture farther, call again, again no response. Continue through to the other side. She’s not there.
The fog shifts. Three figures appear far up the beach. I recognize Lara from her short honey hair and brown clothing, standing in the center. The two figures flanking her are weirdly black, head to foot—featureless—hooded I think, their faces buried in darkness. They’re holding Lara’s arms, and she’s looking towards me, too distant for her expression to show.
I shout her name over the crash of the waves. One of her companions raises his arm, as if pointing at me—a tiny flash, and the pop of his gun blends with Lara’s faint scream. I duck down close to the cliff wall. The shooter and his partner turn Lara round and move away, pulling her—she’s resisting—and they’re gone as the grey curtain descends.
I follow warily. The figures fade in and out, the black pair bent forwards, running, yanking Lara along—phantoms whisking away their prey. Then they disappear completely.
Reaching the foot of the trail, I dash upwards, strike a misstep, stumble, slip on a wet grass clump and slide down to the small creek below, holding the camera high to avoid crashing it, quickly remount the short slope and rush on—a half-mile, all uphill—my breath coming in gasps, side aching, panting madly, nearing the summit, hear a shot—hesitate—continue cautiously, reach the shrouded parking lot, hear the slam of car doors, an engine start and wheels screeching, stagger dizzily towards Lara’s convertible materializing within the mist.
Now I’m there, getting in, tossing the camera onto the passenger seat, turning the key in the ignition. The engine roars. Back up quickly. Move forward fast. The car pulls sharply to the right. Leaping out, I dash round the car. The right front tire is flat, the sidewall punctured—a bullet hole. I fetch the spare, jack up the front, change the tire, dump the flat in the trunk.
Finally, I’m groping my way out of the parking lot, aware I’m many minutes behind.
Brights on, I drive as fast as my eyes can find the road and the T-Bird can handle the curves, taking my lane from the center, hoping to meet nothing oncoming, focusing on the single white stripe shooting out of the mist. Attempting to see better, I rise and peer over the windshield. The air blows cold on my face. Exhilaration overrides my anxiety.
A few minutes later, visibility improves. I speed ahead, alone on the road, cover several miles.
Then the fog thickens. Premature darkness blackens the day.
From its depths, a smattering of lights shines blurredly as Christmas bulbs behind a frosted window—Inverness. There’s a public telephone outside the gasoline station, now closed and desolate.
I dig Lara’s home number from my wallet and dial.
“Who is this?” a woman says hoarsely.
“Sean Chercheur. I need to speak with Lara Melville’s mother.”
“This is she. Annabel Fielding. You are Lara’s photographer.”
“Yes. Something’s happened—I think we need to call the cops.”
“Oh, no! No!” she cries, “Please do not! They just phoned! Do not call the police! They will
kill Lara! Please—please!”
“Will you come here?” she begs, “as soon as you can? Come see me? Please?”
I agree, and Annabel gives me directions to her home in Ross, and in the background, I hear a harsh, muffled male voice cursing, “…bastard, that fucking bastard,” over and over. I believe he’s referring to me.
* * *
“Well told,” Etta says, “thank you.”
“Thank you for listening. Shall we now cut to the next scene at Annabel’s house?”
“Absolutely. And I hope you paint a nice picture.”