Forced Perspectives – Snippet 08
CHAPTER TWO: A Lot of M&Ms And Cigarettes
“Whoa!” exclaimed Taitz as the sock bundle swung around on the end of the string he held. “We just passed her, to the right!”
“That was Sycamore,” said Tony from the driver’s seat, signaling for a lane change. “I’ll loop around the block.”
“Quickly,” suggested Harlowe.
“I’m on it.”
Tony made a right turn and sped down a narrow street of well-kept old houses set back from the sidewalks, the SUV’s windshield flickering between direct sunlight and the shadows of curbside trees, and at the next intersection he turned right, and then right again, and then he was cruising slowly up Sycamore while the three men in the back alternately peered at the dangling sock and looked out the side windows.
“To the right,” Harlowe muttered, “now directly to our right — I don’t see anybody — is she in that house? Where’s their car?”
The sock jerked backward on its string. “She’s moving!” exclaimed Foster, hiking forward on his seat and opening the door. “Tony, stop the car!” A hot breeze smelling of cut grass broke up the cool interior air.
The SUV rocked to a halt. Harlowe was snapping his fingers and frowning. “You’d better both grab her — and get Vickery too!”
But Taitz stayed seated, glancing from the slanting sock-string to the pavement outside the open door. “Uh, Foster,” he said, “pick up that tissue paper on the sidewalk. Quick, it’s blowing away.”
“I don’t see anybody!” Foster called back.
To Harlowe, Taitz said, “Tell him to fetch it.”
Harlowe raised his eyebrows, but said loudly, “Foster! Bring me that tissue paper!”
A moment later Foster was standing on the pavement outside the SUV, still squinting up and down the street, while Harlowe sat back and gingerly uncrumpled the sheet of Kleenex and held it up by one corner.
Red spots on the tissue paper were evidently blood. Taitz sighed and laid the sock-and-string on the seat beside him.
“Get back in here, Foster,” Harlowe snapped, and when Foster had climbed back in and closed the door, Harlowe said to Tony, “East on Third again.”
“Rightie-O.” The vehicle sped forward.
“Rightie-O,” echoed Harlowe softly, with evident distaste.
Foster was panting, and he swiped his sleeve over his bald head. “What,” he said, peering at the tissue paper in the relative dimness of the SUV’s interior, “she got a nosebleed?”
“Or something,” agreed Harlowe, handing it to Taitz. “Burn this, will you? The effect apparently diminishes as the square of the distance, and this small thing was close enough to us to eclipse her signal.”
Taitz took the tissue paper from him and with his free hand dug into his pocket for a lighter. He flicked the flint wheel, and the tissue readily caught fire. The SUV had no ashtrays, so when the thing was flaming out he looked around and then dropped it on the instep of his right shoe and ground it out with the heel of his left.
Harlowe nodded, and Taitz blew on his fingers and then picked up the weighted string. Soon the sock was detectibly pulling away from vertical again, distinct from the rocking of the vehicle.
“You should have cut the sock into three pieces,” said Taitz. “We could triangulate her location.”
“Of course I thought of that,” snapped Harlowe, “but the stains are so faint and dried out — I was afraid a third, or even a half, of the sock wouldn’t get a perceptible pull.” He frowned at the dangling sock. “I didn’t expect her to throw chaff.”
Wilshire Boulevard cuts MacArthur Park in half from east to west, and Vickery found a parking space alongside the southern half, within sight of the park’s broad lake glittering in the sun. He and Castine got out and made their way across the grass to a curling lane lined with tarpaulin-roofed booths, and tables under umbrellas, and even just blankets spread out on the grass, all decked with merchandise for sale — fruits and vegetables, toys, clothing, cell phones, Spanish language CDs — and the breeze was redolent with the smells of salsa, teriyaki and marijuana.
Vickery bought a gaudy Hawaiian shirt and another pair of sunglasses for himself, and a baseball cap with “Hollywood” stitched on the front for Castine. The yellow blanket was still draped over her jacket and the right knee of her trousers was torn and spotted with blood, and altogether they didn’t look much like the couple who had fled Canter’s less than an hour earlier.
Food vendors pushed shopping carts, equipped with coolers or little ovens, across the open area beside the lake, and from one of them Vickery bought a couple of tamales in waxed paper and two plastic cups of agua de tamarindo, and he and Castine carried them across the grass to a cement bench. Only a few yards away a flotilla of ducks patrolled the shore, and seagulls whirled in the blue sky overhead, and the bench proved to be nearly whitewashed with bird dung old and new. Vickery and Castine sat down on the grass.
“This is nice, actually,” said Castine, looking around as she pulled a rubber band off a paper napkin wrapped around a plastic fork. “I hate it that I’m — back in trouble in L.A. again! — but I wish I’d known about this park when I was working here.”
“It’s nice now,” Vickery agreed. He had already freed his fork, and, after glancing back toward the car, he began digging into his steaming tamale. “Ten years ago it was rough. When I was in LAPD, I was mostly assigned to the Hollywood and Wilshire Divisions, but for a while I was out here in Ramparts. It was all gangs here in those days, the 18th Street Gang and MS-13. This was where you came to get crack or heroin, or fake green cards and driver’s licenses. Or to get killed.”
“But you quit that, and became a Secret Service agent.”
“Sure did. And that nearly got me killed.”
“Don’t look back,” she said. Then, seeing him again glance toward the street, she added, “What did I just say? Why do you keep looking at the car?”
“They can’t sneak up on us here,” he said, “if they’re tracking us somehow. And I’ve got a gun.”
“How can they be tracking us?” Castine looked around in alarm, then frowned at him and took a forkful of her tamale. “Even if they,” she said, chewing, “I don’t know, followed me from the United terminal and put a GPS tracker on my rental car and followed me to Canter’s, they can’t have put one on your car, and you made sure nobody followed us here.”
She paused, then looked away over the lake. “Maybe — God help me — maybe they were after you, all along, and figured I’d lead them to you. Which I did!”
He nodded. Certainly her notice in the Times had brought him out of hiding. “I think they want both of us. That guy with the red boots that I threw onto the table said, ‘It’s him, we’ve got both of them.'”
“But I busted your anonymity for them! Now even if you go back to your Bill Ardmore life in Barstow, they at least know what you look like these days.” Guilt appeared to make her irritable, and she faced him and added sharply, “Why Barstow, anyway? That’s not very far from L.A. What was wrong withâ€¦Las Vegas, New York, London?”
Vickery started to crush his plastic cup, then made his hand relax. “Partly,” he said in a carefully level tone, “to be close enough to L.A. to get to Canter’s quickly and cheaply, on the specified date, if you gave me short notice.”
“Oh. Sorry, again.” She took a deep breath and let it out. “Both of us. You said these people tried to corner you, in February — what happened?”
“Yeah.” He sat back and set his half-eaten tamale aside. “Well. For a week or so I’d had a sort of itchy feeling that I was under somebody’s surveillance. I seemed to pass too many people with earbuds, and my phone battery ran down quicker than usual, and twice I didn’t get my phone bill. Altogether it wasn’t enough to make me jump ship, but the echo vision was still working consistently then, not just showing me that terrible old house in the canyon like it does lately — ”
She huffed one syllable of a mirthless laugh. “‘Echo vision!'”