The Photographer’s Dilemma (VIII)

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She was so distressed by the mysterious message from the cafe she skipped her gala showing and the meeting she was supposed to have with Thompson afterwards and found herself wandering in The Tombs near where Greely had been killed. She passed by the stoop where he had called to her as night fell like a blanket of smog, the hairs on her arms rising ferine, her breath coming and going erratically. Nothing felt real. She had no idea what she was doing. Pure compulsion drove her to stand where the old man had called out, where, not far away, the strange man with the white jacket had warned her. She removed her camera and snapped a photo of the dead man’s after image and then walked up the stairs to the door of the old tenement, still adorned with police tape that had been severed.

She froze. Someone had been here after the police had cordoned off the area. She reached out her hand to touch the knob whereupon a voice sharp and clear rang out behind her and nearly made flee her very skin.

“Curiosity killed the cat.”

She whirled, eye bulging in great owlish disks and her breath catching in her throat. A middle aged man stood in the alley, he was baggy-eyed and disheveled, dressed all in ill-fitting cast offs.

“You scared the fuck out of me.”

“How much fuck did you have in ya, exactly?”

She rolled her eyes and traversed the steps, “What are you doing here?”

“Investigating. Its what I do. I’m Jervis Lock. Reporter.”

“Ariadne Campbell. Artist. Are you the one who cut the police tape?”

“Nope. Was just about to ask you the same thing.”

He didn’t seem interested in her, his eyes were fixed wholly upon Greely’s former tenement. She’d seen his kind before, lean, cold, restless, cynical; journalism seemed to draw such creatures to its fold as meat drew maggots.

“You know what happened here?”

He nodded.

“Sick fuck was kidnapping kids. Selling them, my sources tell me.”

“Whose your source.”

“Well I’d tell ya,” he grinned wolfishly, “But then I’d have to kill ya.” She didn’t find the jest amusing and for a moment just glared at him until the reporter became uncomfortable. He peaked up moments later, “I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere before.”

“I’ve been holding shows at the Thompson.”

“Oh you’re that photographer! Yeah, I seen ya, in the paper. Ariadne Campbell. Knew I’d heard that name somewhere before… So why are you here?”

“I’m here because I say him.”

“Who?”

“Greely. The kidnapper. Before… before whatever happened, happened.”

“No shit.”

“He was sitting right where I’m standing now. Asked me if I was looking for something. I think its only because I turned down his offer for… whatever it was he was offering that I didn’t end up like him.”

“Oh, I doubt that. See,” Jervis paused, uncertain if he should continue.

“What?”

“Well, its kinda confidential information pertaining to the case.”

“From your mysterious source?”

He nodded and shortly thereafter a mischevious look came into his eye.

“What say we get out of this dump and I can tell you about it over drinks?”

“Are you asking me out on a date?”

“Nah. I gave up on dates after my third marriage. I’m asking you to be my drinking buddy.”

*

The bar was cold and smelled of fried chicken and musk and old varnish. It occupied a seat next to a textile manufacturing plant which had been out of operation for over fifty years and the skeletal remnants of the great site of production loomed over the dive like a massive keep, covering it over in an omnipresent shade. Lock loosened his tie and as the drinks came, his a fruity margarita with an bright red umbrella, hers a forgettablely named bottom-shelf beer. He leaned back and looked his companion up and down briskly and then took a sip of his drink and jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

“You know the old plant?”

“Formerly a steel mill or something like that, right?”

“I’ve no idea. I just saw it and was wondering if we really knew our own history.” He gave a laugh, “Guess we don’t.”

She didn’t know how to respond and set to removing the cap from her beer; it wouldn’t budge.

“Ya want me to get it?”

“No. Its fine. I got it.”

But she didn’t and shortly her grip slipped and a ruddy gash appeared upon her palm. It stung but none too bad, even as the blood trickled down upon the table. It looked so beautiful that she could do nothing but follow the red lines like mercury and ketchup where they ran down her palm and splish splashed upon the smooth faux granite of the old dinner table.

“Shit, are you alright?”

“Fine. Just a scratch.”

“That looks a little deeper than a scratch.”

She ignored him and raised her hand up to her face, running her tongue out from between pristine red lips to slithered against her blood. After she had made the first pass across her bloody palm she gazed up behold the journalist whose face was contorted in confusion and disgust; she smiled and then took a sip of her beer and wrapped one of the cloth napkins at the table around her hand and leaned forwards over the table eagerly.

“So here we are. Drinking buddies. Now, why don’t you tell me why you said that you doubted that I’d have ended up like Greely even if I stayed.”

“What?”

“You said that, earlier, when we were by his tenement.”

“Oh yeah, yeah. Well, see,” he lowered his voice conspiratorially, “What happened to Greely… it’s been happening all over the city, not just in The Tombs, everywhere, for years now. Lot of old cold cases, disappearances are treated like stand alone instances, right, you have some sicko and he wants to diddle kids or eat them or whatever the fuck and the police think, well it’s just this one guy, this one mentally deranged guy. And usually that’s true but what I’ve found is something… quite different. See, I’ve been reading through every dissapearence and homicide for the past couple of years, no connection, no connection, then, suddenly bodies start dropping. One or two at a time, late at night, isolated locations, nobodies… or so it seems. One thing at least fifteen of these recent murders have in common, the victim was always a victimizer.”

He held up his hands, his fingers pressed to palm and them facing Ariadne, he raised his index finger first, “So most recently Greely, child kidnapper, may or may not be involved with a intercontinental human trafficking and drug smuggling ring. Then, last month there was this fellow Eric Graylane, smut peddler and a suspected money launderer, political player of some importance, couple weeks before that, there was this lady, Anna Conrad-Winthrop, criminal defense lawyer, real well esteemed pillar-of-her-community-type. Winds up facedown in a pool of her own blood, knifed through the chest with such force the blade lodged into her spine,” Ariadne’s brows rose, “Turns out, after the investigation, she was a covering for a migrant grooming gang who, only a couple of days before all just up and vanished. Poof, gone.”

“What happened to them?”

Lock shook his head grimly, “A kid found them in the docks, or rather, what was left of them, heads floating in the shallows. Hacked to pieces.”

“You thinking this is a vigilante?”

“At first glance it would seem that way, maybe like a syndicate of sorts that is taking the law into their own hand, cept for one thing… there is another point of commonality between all of the victims – and I do use that word lightly – they were all involved, at one point or another with the Merideth Foundation.”

“Thompson’s gallery is partnered with them.”

“Lots of galleries are. Merideth is the single largest independent non-profit organization in, not just the city, but the country. They’re everywhere.”

“So you think this might be political?”

“Merideth has given a lot of money to a lot of different people. Not all of them savory.”

“Mr. Lock-”

“Yeah?”

“Why are you telling me all of this? I’m assuming its not just cuz you wanted a drinking buddy.”

“Yeah, well… ya might have assumed right. I uh, could use your help-”

“You were just pretending not to know who I was, weren’t you? You were looking for me. You want to use me for your story because I work at Thompson’s. Fuck, I’m thick tonight…”

“I hope you don’t mind, I just didn’t want to come across as pushy.”

She wasn’t upset, she was elated. This was just what she had been looking for. Seeking. New forms of inspiration. Inspiration which the charnel hosue of the city’s filthy underbelly had graciously provided.

Ariadne smiled and closed her fist around the red-soaked napkin, soaking redder still.

“I’d be delighted to oblige.”

 

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