Long Lost Page 59

She drifted back to sleep. I held her and closed my eyes. I realized how little I had slept since returning from my sixteen-day hiatus. I slipped into nightmare world and woke up with a start at about three in the morning. My heart pounded. There were tears in my eyes. I only remembered the sensation of something pressing down hard on me, pinning me down, something so heavy I couldn\'t breathe. I got out of bed. Terese was still asleep. I bent down and kissed her gently.

There was a laptop in the room off the bedroom. I signed on to the Internet and searched for Save the Angels. The Web site came up. On the top was a banner that read SAVE THE ANGELS and in smaller print, CHRISTIAN SOLUTIONS. The language spoke of life and love and God. It talked about replacing the word ’’choice’’ with the word ’’solutions.’’ There were testimonials from women who had gone with the ’’adoption solution’’ rather than ’’murder.’’ There were couples who\'d had infertility issues talking about how the government wanted to ’’cruelly experiment’’ on their ’’preborns’’ while Save the Angels could help a frozen embryo ’’realize its ultimate purpose life’’ through the Christian solution of helping another infertile couple.

I had heard such arguments before, remembered Mario Contuzzi briefly addressing them. He said that the group seemed somewhat right-wing but not extreme. I tended to agree. I kept surfing. There was a mission statement about sharing God\'s love and saving ’’pre-born children.’’ There was a statement of faith that began with a belief in the Bible, that it is ’’the complete, inspired word of God without error,’’ and moved into the sanctity of life. There were buttons to click on adoption care, on rights, on upcoming events, on resources for birth mothers.

I clicked the FAQ section, seeing how they answered the hows and whys, supporting unwed mothers, matching infertile couples to frozen embryos, forms to fill out, costs, how you can donate, how you can join the Save the Angels team. It was all pretty impressive. The Picture Gallery was next. I clicked on page one. There were pictures of two rather glorious mansions that were used for unwed mothers. One looked like something you\'d see on a Georgian plantation, all white with marble columns and enormous weeping willow trees surrounding it. The other home looked like the perfect bed-and-breakfast a picturesque, almost overly done Victorian home with turrets, towers, stained-glass windows, a lemonade porch, and a blue-gray mansard roof. The captions stressed the confidentiality of both the location and the inhabitants no names, no address while the postcardlike photographs almost made you long to be knocked up.

I clicked on Gallery page two and that was when I had my goofy-ornery-nonlinear-catalyst moment.

There were photographs of babies. The images were beautiful and adorable and heartbreaking, the sort of pictures designed to elicit wonder and awe in anyone with a pulse.

My ornery mind likes to play the contrast game. You watch a terrible stand-up comic, you think of how great Chris Rock is. You watch a movie that tries to scare you with excessive Technicolor gore, you think of how Hitchcock kept you riveted, even in black and white. Right now, as I stared at the ’’saved angels,’’ I thought about how perfect these images were compared with those creepy Victorian photographs I had seen in that cheesy storefront earlier in the day. That reminded me of what else I had learned there, the HHK, the possibility of that meaning Ho-Ho-Kus, and how Esperanza had come up with that.

Again the human brain billions of random synapses cracking, popping, mixing, twisting, and sparking. You can\'t really get a grip on it, but here was how it must have gone inside my head: Official Photography, HHK, Esperanza, how we first met, her wrestling days, FLOW, the acronym for the Fabulous Ladies of Wrestling.

Suddenly it all came together. Well, maybe not all of it. But some. Enough so that I knew where I would be headed the next morning:

To that cheesy storefront in Ho-Ho-Kus. To the Official Photography of Albin Laramie, or, as it might be known if you were jotting down an acronym, OPAL.

THE man behind the counter at the Official Photography of Albin Laramie had to be Albin. He wore a cape. A shiny cape. Like he was Batman or Zorro. The facial hair looked Etch-A-Sketched, his hair was a tangled yet calculated mess, and his whole persona screamed that he was not merely an artist, but an ’’artiste!’’ He was talking on the phone and scowling when I entered.

I started toward him. He signaled me to wait with a finger. ’’He doesn\'t get it, Leopold. What can I tell you? The man doesn\'t get angles or texture or coloring. He has no eye.’’

He held up his finger again for me to wait another minute. I did. When he hung up the phone, he sighed theatrically. ’’May I help you?’’

’’Hi,’’ I said. ’’My name is Bernie Worley.’’

’’And I,’’ he said, hand to heart, ’’am Albin Laramie.’’

He made this pronouncement with great pride and flair. It reminded me of Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride;I half expected him to tell me that I had killed his father, prepare to die.

I gave him the world-weary smile. ’’My wife asked me to pick up some photographs.’’

’’Do you have your claim stub?’’

’’I lost it.’’

Albin frowned.

’’But I have the order number, if that will help.’’

’’It may.’’ He pulled over a keyboard, got his fingers ready, turned back to me. ’’Well?’’

’’Four-seven-one-two.’’

He looked at me as though I were the dumbest thing on God\'s green earth. ’’That\'s not an order number.’’

’’Oh. Are you sure?’’

’’That\'s a session number.’’

’’A session number?’’

He pushed the cape back with both hands like a bird might before spreading its wings. ’’As in photo session.’’

The phone rang and he turned away as though dismissing me. I was losing him. I took a step back and did my own theatrics. I blinked and made my mouth into a perfect O. Myron Bolitar, Awestruck Ingénue. He was watching me with curiosity now. I circled the store and kept the awestruck look on my face.

’’Is there a problem?’’ he asked me.

’’Your work,’’ I said. ’’It\'s breathtaking.’’

He preened. You don\'t often see an adult man preen in real life. For the next ten minutes or so I snowed him with a bit more about his work, asking him about inspiration and letting him prattle on about hue and tone and style and lighting and other stuff.

’’Marge and I have a baby,’’ I said, shaking my head in admiration at the hideous Victorian monstrosity that made an otherwise cute baby look like my uncle Morty with a case of shingles. ’’We should set up a time to bring her in.’’


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