Fiction Saturday Chapter 32- “And Pull The Hole In After You” – Continued
The cab was festooned with bobble-head dolls of Elvis, The Beatles, and Ricky Martin. The Virgin Mary held the place of honor in the center of the dashboard. Red and gold dingleballs circled every window and lying on the rear window deck was a three-foot-long crucifix.
The cab driver, dressed in a crisp yellow shirt, was doing his standard sales pitch to yet another pair of Yanqui tourists.
“Buenas dias. Let Tomás be your guide for the day. Only two hundred dollars—well worth the price. Tomás knows all the best restaurants and shops. And I can get you the best seats for the bullfights. My cousin is a matador. Deal, okay? Best price in Tijuana.” His accent made him sound like a parody of Cheech and Chong.
Davis looked at Laura, who was still holding the brochure outlining the benefits of membership in the San Diego Skyscrapers. She shook her head. This was a business trip.
“No, not today,” said Laura. “Just drop us up on the main drag. Maybe next time we’ll get the tour. Okay?”
“Okay, you the boss, but, I can show you where to get genuine Armani suits for three hundred dollars, with free alterations. Best price in Tijuana.”
“Another time, my friend,” said Davis.
Laura pulled a piece of paper from her pocket.
“Say, do you know any good photographers?” asked Laura.
“Photographers? You bet, lots of them.” He sneaked a quick peek back at Laura and Davis in his mirror. “Wedding pictures, maybe? How nice. I know a place that sells the most beautiful imported French wedding dresses.”
Laura ignored his sales pitch.
“Do you know a photographer named Ernesto Molina?” she asked him.
This time the cabby turned his head and looked back at them, ignoring the heavy traffic on the road heading into downtown Tijuana.
“Molina? Yeah, I know of him.” All of a sudden his cartoonish accent disappeared. He spoke in a very lightly mannered tone that said he was an educated man. “You don’t want him. He’s not that good a photographer I hear and he’s not at all a pleasant person to deal with.”
“Can you take us to his studio?” asked Laura.
“Well, sure, but my cousin Rafael….” She cut him off.
“I want to go to Ernesto Molina.”
“You the boss, lady.” His fake accent returned.
The cab passed through the tourist areas, leaving behind the well-kept streets with the neatly uniformed traffic officers. They ventured into the parts of Tijuana where the shops actually took pesos and the signs were in Spanish only.
The driver pulled his rolling cliché over to the curb in front of a small commercial office building that housed a liposuction clinic on the first floor. The hand-painted sign on the frosted glass door announced that on the second floor could be found a lawyer named Geronimo Morey and “Ernesto Molina– Fotografias Comerciales, Familia y Glamour.”
Davis peeked out at the neighborhood. It did not look all that inviting.
“Laura, I really don’t like this. We don’t belong here.” It was obvious that he was feeling out of his element and vulnerable.
“I don’t like it either, but this guy was at the top of Vivian’s list.”
The cabbie turned in the seat and looked at them both. “Listen to him, Señorita. Molina is a bad actor.” No accent again.
Laura looked at the building and back at the cabby. He was not smiling.
“I’ll tell you what,” Laura said. “You come back here in an hour or so. If we’re standing out front, we’ll take you up on your tour guide offer.”
“And if you’re not here?”
“It’s been nice knowing you,” came her answer.
Reaching the second floor landing, they saw two doors. The door on the left had the lawyer’s name painted on the glass. The other door was shut, but had a sign on it reading “Abierto”–“Open.” They went in.
The walls of the reception area were covered with a selection of hand-colored photographs of young and beautiful Anglo models. There were also a few aerial photos of Tijuana and the border area. There was no one at the reception desk. Laura called out.
“Hello? Hello, is anybody home?”
Silence…and then an intercom speaker mounted on the wall crackled to life.
“Please have a seat. I’m in the darkroom. I’ll be with you in just a minute.”
Laura shrugged and they sat down on the ancient wooden office chairs near the door. Laura pointed at the speaker and put her fingers to her lips to tell Davis to be quiet. She got up and walked over to the speaker, suspecting that a hidden microphone was probably built into it.
“I’m here to do serious business, Molina,” she announced. “You were recommended to me, but if you’re not out here in thirty seconds I’ll just go to the next name on my list.”
Less than ten seconds later, they heard a door slam. A man wearing green surgical scrubs came down the hallway and into the room.
“Sorry for the delay, my friends. How can I help you today? Wedding photos? Passport photos, perhaps? Or, maybe a glamorous boudoir picture for the mister here to enjoy?”
Molina looked to be in his early forties, stocky, with black hair and a two-day growth of beard.
“Are you Ernesto Molina?” asked Laura.
“Yes, of course. Who else would I be?” He smiled a Cheshire cat smile.
“Anyone you wanted to be, from what I hear of your skills with documents,” said Laura.
Molina’s commercial civility disappeared. He took on an undertone of wariness. It wasn’t in his voice, but it showed on his face.
“I don’t understand, Señorita. Documents?”
“Perhaps,” she said, “you aren’t the Ernesto Molina I have heard so much about? The artist who can, on short notice, produce IDs and passports so real that they fool the experts. Maybe that Ernesto Molina is old and has retired? After all, doing business with the Thing can age a man.”
“Or a woman,” said Molina.
“Women hold up better under the stress. The men tend to drop dead and leave all their money to their widows.”
“Are you a widow?” he asked.
“I can be.”
“Lo siento, my condolences. What can I do for you…both?” He looked at Davis, sitting silently in his chair, feeling lost.
“Just for me.” Let him wonder about Davis.
“Then, Señor, you already have clean papers to get you back into the U.S? A passport or other ID?”
Davis looked confused. “Do I need more than just my driver’s license?”
“Yes, Señor. Your laws have changed since 9-11. You should keep up with these things if you wish to stay alive.”
“He’s clean,” said Laura. “Just make him a passport to get back across the border.”
“Perdóname for one second,” said Molina. He walked over to the door and flipped the cardboard sign to have it read “Cerrado”—”Closed.” He turned back to face his customer. He was all business.
“What is it you require, Señorita, and how quickly?”
“How soon do you require this package?”
Molina laughed and shook his head. “That I cannot do,” he said. “It would take at least two days to get it done. I am a very busy man.”
“Señor Molina, I am also very busy.” She kept her tone flat and even. “I will pay you very well for your work.”
“I have other customers waiting,” protested Molina.
“Then they are already used to waiting. Let them wait some more. Today, Señor Molina. Today or not at all.”
“This will be very expensive.” He sensed a big payday.
Laura sighed loudly. “I’m tired of this dance, Molina. What is your price for delivery today?”
“To do all of this on such a rush basis, let me think….”
“Thinking is a dangerous hobby. The price—now,” she said.
“A hundred eighty thousand dollars,” he said, halfway hoping she would just walk out. This kind of aggressive woman excited him, but also made him very nervous and he didn’t like the fact that she had someone with her. He was outnumbered.
“Deal. That’s more than you usually charge, I’m sure, but I want you to remember us so well that you will forget we were ever here, understand?” She glared at him. It excited him. He had a fondness for blonde Anglo women.
“Yes, I understand, very well,” he smiled again. “I am quite proud of my poor memory.”
“Of course, this price includes all copies and negatives,” she added.
“Of course, Señorita.” He gave a small courtly bow.
Molina was stunned when she so readily accepted his outrageous price without any bargaining. He thought that she must be either very stupid or very dangerous. She didn’t look stupid.
“Very well, Señorita. Let’s get started so you can be on your way as soon as possible.”
Both Laura and Davis followed Molina down a short hallway, past his darkroom and into his studio. He had several cameras set up on tripods and a variety of lights. One wall had a white scrim hanging down. A brass bed with too many satin pillows was off to one side. It was for his glamour photo shoots and the occasional private party.
Whatever else he was, Molina was particular about his photography. He started with the passport photos. He had Laura stand in front of the white scrim.
“Señorita, slap yourself on both cheeks. You need to look nervous and excited. Most people get their passport when they are going abroad for the first time. They are a bit scared by it all, the adventure, the danger.” He adjusted the focus on his camera.
Laura complied and hit herself sharply across the face, twice. The blood rushed to her cheeks. Davis, sitting on a stool behind Molina, laughed out loud.
“He’s right,” said Davis. “You do look a bit flustered, like you just got the bill for the tickets.”
Molina turned around and looked at Davis.
“You—be quiet or leave my studio.” He was not smiling any more.
Davis mimed closing a zipper across his mouth.
After shooting about a dozen exposures, Molina moved over to a different camera. He made a few adjustments to the lights.
“Driver’s license, Señorita? What state would you like, California perhaps? It is very popular.”
He then walked over to a clothing rack by the wall and took a red cardigan sweater off a hanger. He handed to Laura.
“Take off your jacket and put this on. You need to be wearing different clothing for each piece of photo ID. Do you have a hairbrush?”
Laura said that she had only a rat-tail comb, so Molina went over to a cardboard box that was sitting on the floor by the brass bed. He came back with a plastic brush and a handful of bobby pins.
Laura carefully removed her jacket. Molina noticed the bulges made by the bundles of money taped around her torso.
Molina looked intently at Laura’s face and hair for a few seconds, he then started to brush her hair and insert the pins.
“Your hair is short, but this will change your look a bit and give the illusion that these pictures were taken over a period of time. Only Princess Anne of England keeps the same hairstyle year after year,” Molina joked.
With Molina’s changes Laura looked like a different woman, older, more Midwest, a bit more severe.
The photo shoot went on for another half-hour. Molina changed the background scrim a few times and gave Laura a variety of outfits to wear. He enjoyed watching her change clothes right in front of him. Laura was not ashamed of her body and she didn’t care if Molina saw the money. She knew that Davis was there and she trusted him. He had proven himself.
Molina then put a suit and tie on Davis for his passport photo.
“That should do it, Señorita,” said the Mexican. “Now I must get into my darkroom. That is where I truly do my magic.”
“When will they be ready?” asked Laura as she took off the last of Molina’s costumes and put her own clothes back on. Molina watched her out of the corner of his eye, wishing he could get her to pose on his brass bed. “I’m in a hurry,” she reminded him.
“Yes, I know. Give me six hours.” He was already walking back toward his outer office.
“Three,” she demanded. “And I’ll give you a nice tip.”
“Three hours, very well,” he said. “One last thing. Before you go I will need your signatures.”
“Signatures? I intend to pay cash,” she said.
Molina laughed as he walked over to a cluttered desk and pulled out several sheets of white paper and five different pens.
“I’ll need your signatures for your new passports and the other IDs, Señorita. What name do you want?”
She hadn’t even thought about that. She would need yet another name for her new persona.
“Laura Lovejoy. Use that name.” She smiled at Davis. He smiled back and even blushed a bit.
“Laura Lovejoy, I like that, a good choice Señorita. It sounds like a name for a great actress. Laura Lovejoy. Yes, very nice. Laura and Davis Lovejoy.”
“Remember, Molina—three hours, no more.”
The Mexican could see that she was serious, but also dangerous. He liked his women with a little peril to them.
“Three hours, Señorita, and cash only. I don’t take American Express.”
When the two Americans got back down to the sidewalk their cab was waiting. The driver hopped out to open the door for them.
“Allow me, my friends. Good to see you again. Everything went well I hope?”
“Yes, fine, thank you, Señor,” said Davis as he slid into the back seat next to Laura.
“Please, call me Tomás.”
Tomás scurried around the back of his taxi and got behind the wheel.
“All right, my friends,” he said joyfully, “I will now give you my special tour of Tijuana. I know everything and everybody in this city.”
Laura slid forward on the seat.
“Tomás, let me pay you in advance for the day. Two hundred dollars, right?”
“No, now,” Laura insisted. She reached over the seat and handed him three one-hundred dollar bills.
“You have given me too much,” he protested. He tried to hand back one of the bills.
“Keep it, Tomás. You’re going to earn it.”
“Well, muchas gracias, Señorita. I am yours. Whatever you want. Shall we begin the tour?”
For the next ninety minutes, Tomás took his cab through the streets of Tijuana showing his passengers the sites. He was proud of his city and wanted to show them that Tijuana was more than tourist shops, bullrings, and beer joints.
After crossing Avenida Revolucion for the sixth time, Laura, who had been quiet throughout the tour, spoke up. “Tomás,” she said, “please pull over, would you?”
In a move worthy of cabbies the world over, Tomás cut across three lanes of congested traffic to stop his hack in a conveniently empty bus stop.
“Is something wrong, Señorita?” He had a concerned look on his face.
“No, Tomás, but I need the two of you to do something for me.” She turned to Davis. “I want you and Tomás to go back to the border crossing to see how it looks. See if we’re going to have any trouble on the way back. I’ve got to take care of something before we head back.”
“Shouldn’t we stay together?” Davis didn’t want to leave Laura alone, or to be left alone himself, in this strange city.
“No, it’s all right,” she insisted. “But we do need to know about the border before we have to cross. We need to know who’s there. We can’t count on our tall friends for the trip back.” She squeezed his hand. “I’ll be fine and you can keep Tomás from getting lost.”
“Señorita, I never get lost.” Laura looked at his reflection in the mirror and smiled.
“I’m just teasing, Tomás. I’ll meet you both back at Molina’s in an hour. Then you boys can tell me what you’ve learned. Don’t be late.”
Davis was not happy about it, but what could he do?
“I still think we should stick together. It’s worked so far,” he complained.
Laura leaned over and kissed him, letting her lips linger for a moment. Tomás smiled.
“Trust me,” she said softly.
Laura got out of the cab and within seconds was swallowed up in the crowd. Davis sat back in the seat. They had a job to do.
“Well, Tomás, you heard the lady.”
The afternoon throng made for slow walking along the main shopping streets. Bargains and apparent bargains lured the tourists and locals alike. On a nearby side street Laura spotted what she had first noticed during Tomás’s tour. The storefront window was filled with movie posters advertising the latest video releases from Hollywood, Bollywood, and the Latin American studios. Taped to the glass, next to the computer enhanced muscular image of Sylvester Stallone, was a sign advertising telephone rates to at least thirty countries. Not everyone in this world has a cell phone on their hip.
Laura entered the store, purchased a number of minutes and was directed to one of the twenty phone booths lining a narrow, poorly-lit hallway. She knew the number by heart.
The phone at the other end vibrated silently.
Her voice was soft, almost a whisper.
“Beverly? Is that you?”
“Yes, Daddy. It’s me.”
Don Giani’s heart leapt at hearing his daughter’s voice.
“Where are you? Are you all right? Are you safe?”
“Yes, I’m okay, but, I’m being hunted by the FBI and I don’t know why. What is going on? That story in the paper with my picture–why?”
“The FBI thinks you killed your housekeeper.”
“What? Graciella? She’s dead? That’s crazy. Why would I do that?”
“I know you didn’t. Dominic killed her when you disappeared.”
“Oh, my God. Why?”
“Because he’s insane, that’s why. It seems that she was an undercover cop.”
“Graciella? That can’t be.” She knew the implications of such a thing.
“Beverly, where are you?” Her father’s voice brought her back to more immediate issues. “Why did you run away like this?”
“I ran away because I got tired of Dominic beating on me. He tried to kill me. I’d had enough.” The tone of her voice spoke of her anger and anguish. “You wouldn’t let me divorce him. I had no choice and now he’s hunting for me, too. He’s going to try to kill me again. He won’t stop until he finds me and then one of us is going to die.”
“Beverly, come home,” he pleaded. “I’ll protect you. I’ll take care of Dominic.”
“No, Daddy. It’s too late for that. Dominic is here and he’s got his men gunning for me. There’s already been a shoot out. People are dead. It was horrible. We barely got away.”
There was a silence on the line.
“Beverly? Are you still there?”
“Daddy…I’ve got someone with me. He’s a good man. A gentle, decent man. I love him. I can’t go back to my old life inside the Family. I won’t be part of that anymore.”
“Please, Beverly, come home. I don’t care about anything else but you. Tell me where you are. I’ll come get you myself.”
“No. I can’t tell you where I am. We don’t know who is listening. I just called to let you know that I’m alive. I don’t know when I’ll be able to contact you again. It’s too dangerous. I’ll call you when I can. I love you, Daddy. Goodbye.”
And she was gone.
“I love you too, baby.”