The Shutter Blinks Twice

The detective was a drunken buffoon. I didn’t need to smell the brandy reeking from his breath: the very air of his office was an ethanolic haze.

I felt my heels sticking to the unwashed vinyl floor, and wondered again what I was doing in this dump.

He leered at me across his desk, bloodshot eyes trying to manipulate their way into my low-cut dress. His gut was strategically positioned beneath the battered leather surface, and he sat up a little straighter, trying to mimic some semblance of a man in his prime.

Once his gaze had cradled my cleavage for long enough, I decided to get on with it. There was only one way this was going down.

“I’d like my photographs, Mr Rubens.”

“Call me Clive.” He squinted suspiciously at my face now, trying to figure out which client I was and how much booze had made him forget me. He tried for professional, falling a thousand miles short. “Er, I’ve been rather busy lately, so you’ll need to refresh my memory?”

“Cut the crap, Clive. You’ve done sweet fuck all for the last six months. ”

The cursing did it: not what he expected from a classy-looking dame. A flash of calculation paraded over his face, fireworks and all, and he prepared to bullshit me.

“Oh, those photographs. Well, I’d love to help, sweetheart, I really would…” I hoped that wasn’t his seductive tone – the voice could have congealed water – but managed to conceal my shudder, “… buuut there’s just a little problem: I don’t have them no more.”

His eyes flickered at this last, pausing on an oversized print on the wall, cartoonish flowers and realistic mold colonies. The greasy handprints in the frame were very subtle.

“Any.”

“Huh?” Now he was genuinely lost.

“You don’t have them any more.”

“That’s what I said.”

“So they wouldn’t be, say, in the safe over there?”

His eyes again visited the print, though I hadn’t indicated any part of the room.

In a second, I was across the office, flicking the hinged painting forward to reveal… A hole in the wall, bulging with envelopes and receipts. The sad bastard had sold the safe to support one of his habits.

He was gulping now, trying to climb from the sagging chair, to comical effect. My trained hands shuffled through the envelopes, finding what I wanted before he could decide what to do.

“Stay seated, Mr Rubens. I believe this is what I came for.” He sank back down, defeated without even throwing a punch. Even I felt sorry for him.

“Here’s what’s going to happen, Mr Rubens: I’ll walk out this door, and you’re going to tell your client that you fucked up, that the film was overexposed.” I continued, before he could muster up the courage to interrupt, “If you follow me, or fail to comply, I will publish these photos.” I slipped a small folder across his desk. He looked inside, turned pale, and nodded.

Back in my hotel room, I stripped off the vaguely clinging wisps of fabric, changing into something a little more comfortable, and far more modest. I washed off the ridiculous makeup and brewed a pot of black tea, steeped to perfection. Myself again, I called the agency. “It’s done, Denise. Mrs Jackson can proceed with the suit. That pervert won’t be helping her husband any more. You can wire the balance to my account.”

It’s not always a pleasant business, watching the watchers, but it is very lucrative.

This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #3. The challenge was noir fiction, with the prompts “the photographer” and “the other view.”

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