Forced Perspectives – Snippet 13
When the pearl-white Ford pulled into the parking lot and slowed, and then stopped fifty yards away from the back side of the ChakraSys building, a boy who had been sitting beside a bicycle in the shade of a camphor tree stood up and got on the bike and began pedaling across the hot asphalt. His gray hoodie was thrown back, and the wind fluttered his uncombed black hair.
Within the last half hour, three U-Haul trucks had driven into the lot and backed up to the rear entrance of the ChakraSys building, and people were carrying desks and lamps out and wrestling them up the ramps of the trucks.
The boy halted his bike by the rolled-up driver’s side window of the Ford. This car had driven into the parking lot several times over the last couple of days, and had always parked this way, far from the ChakraSys building but in a position to watch it.
The window buzzed down, and the boy noted for the first time that the man behind the wheel had a moustache and black hair — perhaps he was Hispanic too.
“Can I help you?” the man said in a harried tone.
“You’re afraid of them,” the boy said, “but you watch.” The man just blinked out at him in evident confusion, and the boy went on, “I watch them also.”
“Them? What them?”
The boy nodded toward the U-Haul trucks.
“Uhâ€¦” The man scratched his nose. “So why is it that you watch them?”
The boy squinted speculatively at him, then said, “I mean to stop them. I think you do too.”
The man laughed weakly. “How have they offended you?” He raised one hand and flipped his fingers toward Venice Boulevard. “Go home, young bey.”
The boy sighed and glanced at the trucks. “They mean to make a monster, did you know that?”
“A monster.” The man sighed, looking at the trucks. “You could say so.”
“And Simon Harlowe’s people killed a man I loved, who knew about them and tried to fight them.” The boy braced one foot on a pedal, ready to ride away quickly; then pulled at the back of his hoodie, and when the fabric over his right pocket was drawn tight, the raised outline of a pistol was visible. “I want to finish my friend’s work, and avenge him.”
The man recoiled in the car seat. “Ach, so many guns here! Even a child! And Simon Harlowe is not in that building now — he is off pursuing two people he wants for his, his monster. Go home, forget this, leave it to othersâ€¦and throw that thing away.”
“My home is wherever I am. What people?”
The man laughed again, no more strongly than before. Perhaps to himself, he muttered, “Two people who drove a taco truck to Hell, and came back, in this mad country. Go away now, boy.”
The boy nodded. “Sebastian Vickery and Ingrid Castine.”
The man was staring intently at him now, and twice he opened his mouth and closed it without saying anything. Finally he asked, “Who are you?”
“Santiago.” The boy went on, “I watch and carry messages — I keep track of things. Vickery and Castine owe me money, they are not for Harlowe’s monster.”
“And you know — you know? — about Harlowe, ChakraSys, what they are doing?”
Santiago nodded solemnly. “I know what my friend told me, and what the freeway gypsies say.”
After a moment of hesitation, the man waved toward the trucks and spoke quickly: “Harlowe is obviously moving his base of operations, and I need to follow them. But — ya allah, saa’edni! — how can I get in touch with you?”
Santiago recited the number of one of his disposable phones, and as the man scribbled it on a receipt from the console, he asked, “And who are you?”
“Oh — it is best that you don’t know. What you –”
“I won’t work with someone whose name I don’t know.”
The man looked at him and laughed in surprise. “But how can you know I’ll tell you my real name?”
Santiago waved toward the ChakraSys building and the people carrying furniture into the trucks. “You work against the Harlowe pulgas, so you are like my friend, who they killed. And he was honest.”
The man barked one syllable of a surprised laugh. “A street urchin compels me! Well, so be it, inshallah.” Carefully he said, “I am Lateef Fakhouri.”
Santiago nodded. “Call me if you think you can help me in this fight.” He nodded, then stepped up on the pedal and rode away from the car toward Venice Boulevard.
Sebastian Vickery and Ingrid Castine, back in Los Angeles! Santiago wished his surrogate father had not been killed — old Isaac Laquedem would have known what to do here.
At the airport, Vickery and Castine had waited inside the Delta terminal until their enigmatic rescuer had steered his white Nissan back into the flow of traffic. When the car had disappeared in the one-way current of taxis and shuttle buses, they had walked to the International terminal, got into a taxi there, and asked to be driven to MacArthur Park. They didn’t speak during the twenty-minute ride except to make absent-minded small talk; Vickery remarked on the resemblance of several downtown L.A. office buildings to rocket ships, and Castine noted that modern cars all used to look like computer mouses and now all looked like trendy athletic shoes.
At the street on the west side of MacArthur Park, Vickery told the taxi driver to halt a few car-lengths short of his old Saturn, which was still sitting where he’d parked it, and he looked around before opening the taxi door; but he didn’t see anyone in a dark windbreaker or red suspenders. He stepped out onto the pavement and paid the driver.
“At this point,” he said to Castine as she climbed out and hurried with him toward the Saturn, “I think we may have lost our friends from Canter’s. Neither of us can have anything as big as a GPS tracker stuck to us, and a radio frequency tag’s only good for a hundred yards or so.”
“I don’t have a tag on me,” she said. “You think I wouldn’t notice one? — stuck on, I don’t know, the rental car’s key fob?”
He opened the Saturn’s passenger-side door for her. “It might be the fob itself,” he said. “You should throw it away. For all I know, they can –”
“What happened to you, there,” she interrupted, “just before that guy pulled a gun on us? It was like you were blind for a few seconds.”
“Get in. I — I had a vision of the old house. Spontaneous, obviously I wasn’t trying to see by echo vision when it happened. It just –”
He paused and looked past her. A teenage girl who had been riding a bicycle down the sidewalk had braked to a sudden stop six feet away, and visibly shuddered. She mumbled something, then said clearly, speaking to no one, “â€¦to Canter’s in her rented Honda. We can take her blood pressure any time.”
The girl shook her head as if to clear it, then glanced around and gave Vickery and Castine an embarrassed smile, and pedaled away.
Castine stared after her for a moment, then got into the car and pulled the door closed, and Vickery hurried around and got in on the other side.
“You’ve got a billfold or something?” he asked as he closed the door and quickly started the engine. “For ID and credit cards?” When she tapped her jacket and nodded, he went on, “And a return airline ticket, I assume. Why didn’t you stay at the airport?”
He had backed the Saturn out of the parking slot and now clicked the engine into drive and accelerated north toward Wilshire Boulevard.
Castine was facing him, and her eyes were wide. “She was talking about me, wasn’t she? My rental car is a Honda.”
“Yeah, I think she was. Damn.”
“Like she was talking in her sleep!”
Vickery turned right on the boulevard, driving now along the curve of Wilshire between the north and south expanses of the park, with the lake on the right. “I should loop around and get you back to the airport, fast,” he said. “Why the hell didn’t you stay there, after Omar Sharif dropped us off? You’ve only got trouble in L.A.”
Castine slumped in her seat and looked straight ahead. “Oh shut up, can’t you? My flight’s not till tomorrow.”
He rocked his head back and forth as if her answer settled the question.
“And Omar Sharif is dead,” she added. She pulled a keyring from her pocket and began sliding the single key off the ring.
Vickery sighed. “True.” Absently, watching the traffic, he said, “He was great in Doctor Zhivago.”
Castine just muttered, “She was talking about me!”
“Look,” Vickery said, “I’m going to reconnoiter, at my place in Barstow. You can come along, or I can take you back to the airport.”
She rolled down the window and tossed the keyring and fob out, and pocketed the key. “That probably wasn’t it, was it? The key fob?”