Written and Read by M. Jones
Rita was about to head back to the car only to hear Highsmith’s voice shout out a guttural curse toward the far side of the police tape. A pang of concern hit Rita’s gut as she watched Greg Wells approach the barrier, a camera already in his hand. He gave her a friendly wave and she gave one back. She stuck around, listening in on Highsmith’s tirade, and hoping that the strong willed woman wouldn’t be stupid enough to give up on the only thing Rita knew was going to help them.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Highsmith stormed up to Greg Wells and physically pushed him back across the barrier.
A young constable who was securing the scene stepped back from him, as though Greg was steeped in poison. In a way he was; he’d incited Highsmith’s fury and no one wanted to be in the way of that.
“How in the hell do you even know about this?” She turned on the elderly, grey-bearded man standing next to her constable, his notebook quickly pocketed. “It was you, right? Got right on the horn and made sure he knew the second you heard the dispatches. For fuck’s sake, Charlie, do you not give a goddamned about my job at all?”
Charlie was a veteran news reporter for The Toronto Herald, a local rag that focused on crime in the city. The advent of blogs had brought about hard times, especially if they were still keeping a retiree like Charlie on the payroll.
He coughed into his fist, his head shaking. He was suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s, and from what Rita could tell it was advancing fairly quickly. He hadn’t been this bad two months ago when he first started reporting on the Slice Girls case. It was painful to watch him take out his notepad, his pencil scrawling near illegible notes on the lined paper.
“He’s a world renowned photographer, and those kinds of shots sell papers.” He gave up trying to write and pocketed the notebook. “I’m doing my job too, June. Look, we’ve always worked well together. Just because our man had a bit of an upset…”
“He broke at the scene. I can’t have people who don’t have the stomach for this job trying to march in and playact that they can.” She shook her index finger in Charlie’s face, her mouth a taut line. “And he’s not ‘our’ man. Get him away from here!”
The object of their argument pushed his way past them both, his camera at the ready.
“You’ll contaminate the scene!”
“Don’t be so dramatic, June, you know I damn well won’t.” Greg gave Rita a warm smile as he approached her, and she couldn’t help but give him one back. “Good to see you again, it’s been a while.”
“A whole weekend,” Rita said, raising a brow. “Quite the vacation. Hope it was nice and restful.”
“It was great. Real five-star experience, very calming and a friendly atmosphere, nice clean, heated sheets. The staff was very eager and attentive to my every need. I can’t recommend going nuts highly enough.”
He did look good for a guy who had just spent most of his time since the takedown having a back and forth conversation with a mutilated corpse. He had showered, the bulk of his winter jacket hiding his too thin frame. He was real good at faking being okay, so much so that he didn’t know how to be that way naturally.
Rita wasn’t entirely fooled, she could see the way his eyes kept darting past her shoulder and off to the side, his sight still haunted by the ghost of a murdered girl.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she said, and meant it. She punched him playfully in the shoulder before bracing herself for the onslaught of abuse Highsmith was ready to turn on both of them.
But as much as the iron woman had protested, she caught Rita’s eye and that’s when she knew, with absolute clarity, that Greg Wells was about to be given his very tentative free pass.
“Get over there and take pictures and touch nothing. Forensics is going to be here within minutes, so you don’t have much time.”
“You sure you’re up for this, Greg?” Rita asked, concerned about the constant darting of his eyes to the unseen beings over her shoulder.
He shrugged, his camera palmed from hand to hand. “It won’t be a problem.”
At that, Highsmith backed up and railed on him, her finger shaking so close to his face that she nearly poked him in the eye with her nail. Rita held her breath as she witnessed the state of Highsmith’s knuckles. They were now scabbed and raw, the cold air turning her self-injury purple.
“You fuck this up and I will twist your balls off with my bare hands, do you hear me?”
“Kind of hard not to, seeing as how you’re screaming in my face.”
“Don’t play cute with me, you jackass.” Highsmith turned to Rita giving her an equally warning glare. “He wasn’t here. Understood?”
Highsmith’s steps were sure this time as she walked back to the perimeter of the scene, back to where Charlie was waiting, notebook out, his hands slightly steadier as he braced his arms against his sides while he took notes.
Rita crossed her arms in empathy as she followed behind Greg, the desolate cold whipping into her as it crept out from behind the trees and bushes that lined the empty street. “You’re still seeing her,” she said.
Greg paused. “She’s always there now. She’ll go away eventually, don’t worry about it.”
“She still talking to you?”
“No,” he said, but she had the distinct feeling he was lying.
“When you see things, what is it like? Is it like talking to me right now? Are they that real?”
Greg hesitated, the camera in his grip held with a slight tremor that had little to do with the cold. “Sometimes it’s that real. There are moments when the illusion is so severe it’s like I’m not even here. I don’t know how to explain it to you except that it’s like I could be walking like I am with you now, and everything is totally normal, there’s snow beneath my boots, there’s the sound of the wind in the trees. And then, as suddenly as taking a step, my foot will give and the snow will melt into a vast ocean, full of massive waves that threaten to take me under and drown me.”
He fiddled with his camera lens, adjusting distance and f-stops. “I intellectually know it’s impossible, and even if I feel the water washing over me, I know I’m in no real danger. The trick is to just keep walking and hope it magically goes away and, usually after a few minutes, it does.”
He glanced over toward the lines of bushes near the far side of the road. He stopped and held up his camera, taking a few long shots of the horizon.
“She’s standing over there,” he said, pointing to a far section of naked trees that stretched long thin branches toward the grey sky. “I can see the blood from here, pouring from what was once her face. What happened at the scene…Highsmith is right, I should have held it together better. I have to keep my grip tight on myself, you know? But it’s nothing. She’s not scaring me now. She’s keeping her distance.”
Rita gave his shoulder a tight, reassuring squeeze. “I’m glad to hear that.” She put her hands in her pockets; they were so cold it felt like her fingers were going to fall off. She walked with Greg as he approached the murdered woman, his camera taking shot after shot with every step he took. “You need to come by the house. Dad wants to see you again.”
“I might take you up on that.”
He took more photos, his finger busy on the trigger as he moved across the car, taking shot after shot of scratches in the car’s paint and then slowly upwards to the broken window, to the murdered woman within the car.
Rita felt a grave sadness over the victim’s uniform. She’d been a nurse, according to her ID. She was trying to make it home after a grueling double shift. Rita hadn’t slept at all and had put in twenty-four hour days herself this past week. It was easy to empathize.
She watched Greg as he bent toward the broken glass, taking a myriad photos, some so close up it would be impossible to identify that’s what it was. He attacked the victim with his camera, taking every angle no matter how awkward and strange, pulling her into his lens, into his sense of where reality lived.
“June texted me earlier,” he said, camera still clicking. He focused on the small piece of paper that lay beneath the dead woman’s hand, and Rita knew he wanted to move it out of the way so he could get a proper shot of it. But that wasn’t his job. He could only take pictures of what was already here, untouched, grounded in the moment. He settled for taking several photos of it, and she made a mental note to be sure he got a copy made when it was processed.
“What did she want?”
“She’s sending me to some downtown psychiatrist, thinking he’s going to cure me. I have an appointment with him tomorrow at 7:30. It’s a waste of time.”
Rita stopped circling the car with him, her hands still deep in the pockets of her winter jacket, her fingers still ice cold. Her breath left her in puffs of steam when she spoke. “You need to start putting your pride away and listening when people are trying to help you.”
“I don’t need help.”
“Yes. You do.” Rita stood in front of him, and he cursed as he accidently took a shot of her clunky winter boots. “You’re not a guy who cracks, Greg. You just told me you’re used to wading through oceans to get through a day, some dead girl shouldn’t have got under your skin like that. This is about more than just seeing things. You got some kind of unfinished business inside of yourself you don’t want to deal with.”
He stepped around her and continued taking shots, a quick succession of images that were definitely not part of the usual forensic textbook. A close up of the nail embedded in the dead woman’s eye, then one further back, then one at an angle from beneath, from above. He took image after image of the crime scene’s DNA, his stoic silence based more on stubborn will than professionalism.
He took several pictures of the back seat before he pulled away, his eyes closed as he caught his breath. “Do you ever wonder what it would be like to get there just that one moment sooner? Where you could just make it stop? I think about that all the time. I expose the world with my camera, I put its reality there inside of it and use it like a map. It reminds me what it all really looks like outside of what my head says it does. Like when you take a picture thinking you’re the hottest thing in the world, only to see your cheeks are too fat, or you’ve got two black eyes that make you look like death.”
He crouched down and took shots beneath the car before rearing back up and slowly taking images that circled the inside of the vehicle, a panorama that missed nothing. Click, click, click.
“But it captures the moment that already happened; it doesn’t stop the future and it doesn’t change the past. It’s a static place. I’m tired of being helpless inside of that moment. Do you understand?”
Rita thought about the dead girl, Rachel Wallace, how she’d been so brutalized it was impossible to make an identification. She’d had nightmares herself and was still fighting them off every time she closed her eyes at night. A renewed feeling of camaraderie rose up within her for this jittery man with a conscience, a malady they all suffered from. Just because Greg had nightmares during the day didn’t mean he was all that different.
“We can change the future, Greg. We can catch this bastard and stop him before he kills more people. We didn’t get to Rachel in time, but that’s not to say there’s going to be an instant repeat of that. There’s always hope, right? It’s why we do this job.”
She heard Highsmith give out a warning whistle, and bid Greg to step away from the car and head back to the barrier before the forensic crew arrived.
“You got a heart and that’s why you cracked. That’s good. Means you haven’t died inside and you still care about the future, you still want to change it for the better. But you have to talk to someone, Greg. We can’t change the future of a moment if you keep getting haunted by its past. Promise me you’ll go to that appointment.”
He was reluctant. Such a stubborn ass. “I don’t think I have a choice. Iron Lady says I can’t help out if I don’t go, and I’m not allowed to set foot in the station. It’s a real problem because you know how I can’t quit you…”
Greg gave her frown a begrudging assent and Rita felt her inner heart howl in glorious victory. “Jackass,” she said, and gave him a wide grin. “Come by the house later. Dad’s making supper.”
This earned her a chuckle from Greg. “I can’t miss that. He taking it easy since his operation?”
“Hell no. He won’t stop cooking and cleaning and fussing so much about the house, I’m thinking of getting him an apron. He’s bored out of his mind. You know, a visit from you would mean a lot to him.”
Greg hung his head, but he was smiling. “I’m not used to this, it still feels weird to me.”
“What, having a friend who treats you like family?”
Greg shrugged. “Yeah. Most people find me too challenging. They get weirded out when I point out things that aren’t there, even if it’s something stupid like an extra chair.”
“My father has set a place at the dinner table for my mother every night since the day she died. That was ten years ago. You aren’t the only one who makes space for what can’t be seen.”
Greg nodded. His eyes were glassy with unshed tears and she didn’t dare squeeze his arm lest she start with the waterworks too. “Thanks, Rita.”
To hell with it. She grinned and gave him a warm hug.
“Go home and do your thing, and I’ll see you at six. You are always welcome in my home, my brother.”
© 2016 Copyright M. Jones
Presented by BigWorldNetwork.com