EXCERPT FROM ANGELA'S EYES
The Identity Trilogy: Prequel
I remember that day, almost one year ago, like it was yesterday. My eyes were wide open and alert, as they have been every day since I stole 4.7 million dollars from Soren Kristiansen, and since I went on the run and vanished from the lives of everybody I knew and loved. From that day on, my eyes have kept a constant vigil – afraid of every person I see and unable to trust a soul, waiting for the day when he eventually finds me.
The sun was starting to sink behind the towering landscape of downtown Los Angeles to the west, the daytime heat starting to give way to long, late afternoon shadows. I was sitting on the grass in the San Julian Park, leaning up against a cinderblock wall, trying to blend into the shadows. This had become my usual afternoon and evening routine – hiding in plain sight in this small green island amidst the most unfortunate of humanity. As usual, the park was crowded with people leaning up against trees, laying on the grass, or sitting cross-legged on the ground. In the park and out on the street, throngs of other street-people were staking their claim to a small square of sidewalk or grass to set up their temporary sleeping quarters. They unpacked portable tents or cardboard boxes from the shopping carts that contained the sum total of their life belongings. The small mass of humanity in East Los Angeles was winding down another day of subsistence survival in the unseen underbelly of America.
Many of the park’s residents knew each other well, jabbering casually with each other. I knew many of them by sight, as they knew me. But I rarely allowed myself anything more than raising my eyebrows in acknowledgement, or a curt greeting to any of them. I wasn’t willing to risk conversation or the possibility of revealing anything about myself to anybody.
I liked San Julian park. It was a place where I could sit in the shade when it was warm, or find some sunshine when it was cool. I could keep my back to the cinderblock wall or the trunk of a tree, and keep a wary eye on every person who passed or entered the park. I blended in well, wearing the same pair of torn jeans, threadbare t-shirt, hoodie, and well-worn boots that I wore each time I visited the park. My shoulder-length blonde hair was purposely tousled and unkept, and there wasn’t a trace of makeup on my face. I wasn’t wearing the grey hoodie I’d been wearing through the cooler winter months, but was glad I still had it with me, using it to cushion my butt on the hard ground.
I first noticed the woman with the camera while she was working her way down the opposite side of the street. I’d never seen her in the area before, so she caught my attention immediately. She had an old-school SLR with a large telephoto lens attached, and she appeared to be taking candid photographs of people from a distance. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled, and my eyes were riveted to her as she moved slowly towards the park.
The residents of skid row were used to seeing photojournalists who sometimes ventured here to document their existence. But this woman was different. She spent more time composing and taking each shot, manually focusing and setting the shutter speed and f-stop for each shot. She was completely relaxed and engrossed. She was doing this for art and for her own relaxation, not for any magazine.
The woman was tall and thin, with a dark complexion and short dark hair. As I studied her carefully, she looked down at the SLR, checking its settings. Apparently satisfied, she raised her head and started surveying the area for potential targets. She noticed the park and started moving in my direction. I reached beneath me for my hoodie, and started pulling it over my head.
Should I pull the hood over my face, or is it just attracting more attention to me?
I decided against doing anything to attract attention, averting my eyes and hoping she wouldn’t see me. I decided it was time to leave the park. I stole a quick glance in my peripheral vision, hoping to see that her camera was focused on other residents of the park.
It was too late. I felt my body’s fear response taking over. Instead of getting up and running, my body froze. She had already spotted me and our eyes met. Automatically, she raised the camera and focused the large lens on me. Before I could look away, I saw the the camera’s shutter opening and closing repeatedly, capturing the fear and distrust on my face and in my eyes on film. It was all over in a couple of seconds. She lowered the camera away from her face, and our eyes met. She could tell I was different than the other residents of the park - she knew I didn’t belong here. If I stayed where I was any longer, I knew she was going to come closer, and perhaps start asking questions.
It was time to go. I reached for the used plastic grocery bag full of personal belongings beside me, and rose quickly to my feet. I pulled the hoodie over my head and lowered my eyes, walking past the mystery woman and onto the asphalt pathway that led to the park’s only exit at the corner of the green space. I turned right and quickly crossed St. Julian Street. Once across the street, I hunched down and slid behind a large blue dome-tent – somebody’s lodging for the night. Shielding myself from the woman’s view, I moved quickly along East 5th Street, leaving the park and the woman behind.
Now, lying in my makeshift bed in the darkness of a Las Vegas floodway and hiding from the world, I remember the ominous feeling I had about those photos. Somehow, I knew those candid photographs were going to come back to haunt me. I didn’t know when or how, but I knew the day would come. I couldn’t risk having anybody seeing them. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, Angela Baranyi was dead. I walked away from everything – my two kids, my parents – and I ran away from my job. As far as anybody was concerned, I had simply vanished from the face of the earth.
Seeing my face in the background of the news report took me by surprise, but it wasn’t a total shock. I recognized the look of fear and distrust in my eyes in the candid portrait. The same feeling quickly swept through my body as I realized the implications. With one quick glimpse of myself on TV, my entire world was turned upside down.
Since that day three weeks ago, my mind has been spinning – continually replaying the events from eighteen months earlier. Could I have done anything differently? How did I, Angela Baranyi, an innocent, religious, hard-working single mother of two, ever manage to get involved in Soren Kristiansen’s web of dishonesty, deceit, and crime? How did I become a criminal myself? No matter how many times I analyze the events in my mind, I haven’t come up with answers to those questions. But the events keep replaying in my memory, like a motion picture that never ends …