Horror Stories-scatter My Ashes- Part-3
I drove to the lake and set up my camera with its longest lens, but after peering through the viewfinder for ten minutes, keeping the police boat perfectly framed, following its every tiny drift, I switched to binoculars to save my eyes and neck. Nothing was happening. Faint shouts reached me now and then, but the tones were always of boredom, discomfort, irritation. Soon I put down the binoculars. If they found something, I''d hear the change at once.
I drank coffee from a flask, I paced. I took a few shots of divers backflipping into the water, but none seemed special, none captured the mood. I watched the water birds and felt somehow guilty for not knowing their names.
The sky and the water were pale grey, the colour of soggy newsprint. Thick smoke rose from a factory on the far shore, but seemed to fall back down again on almost the same spot. The chill, the bleakness, and the morbid nature of my vigil worked together to fill me with an oppressive sense of gloom, but cutting through that dullness and despair was the acid taste of anticipation.
My back was turned when I heard the shouts of panic. It took me seconds to spot the boat again, forever to point the camera. An inert diver was being hauled on board, to the sound of much angry swearing. Someone ripped off his face mask and began resuscitation. Each time I fired the shutter, I thought: what if he dies? If he dies it will be my fault, because if he dies I''ll have a sale for sure.
I packed up my gear and fled before the boat reached the shore, but not before the ambulance arrived. I glanced at the driver, who looked about my age, and thought: why am I doing my job, and not his? Why am I a voyeur, a parasite, a vulture, a leech, when I could be saving people''s lives and sleeping the sleep of the just every night?
Later, I discovered that the cop was in a coma. Evidently there''d been a malfunction of his air supply. I sold one of the pictures, which appeared with the caption KISS OF LIFE! The editor said, ?That could easily win you a prize.? I smiled immodestly and mumbled about luck.
Wendy is a literary agent. We went out to dinner that night with one of her clients, to celebrate the signing of a contract. The writer was a quiet, thoughtful, attractive woman. Her husband worked in a bank, but played football for some team or other on weekends, and was built like a vault.
?So, what do you do for a crust,? he asked.
?I''m a freelance photographer.?
?What''s that mean? Fashion models for the front of Vogue or centrefolds for Playboy??
?Neither. Most of my work is for newspapers, or news magazines. I had a picture in Time last year.?
?Flood victims trapped on the roof of their farm.?
?Yeah? Did you pay them some of what you got for it??
Wendy broke in and described my day''s achievement, and the topic switched naturally to that of the missing child.
?If they ever catch the bloke who''s doing it,? said the footballer, ?he shouldn''t be killed. He should be tortured for a couple of days, and then crippled. Say they cut off both his legs. Then there''s no chance he''ll escape from prison on his own steam, and when they let him free in a year or two, like they always end up doing, who''s he going to hurt??
I said, ?Why does everyone assume there''s a killer? Nobody''s yet found a single drop of blood, or a fingerprint, or a footprint. Nobody knows for sure that the children are dead, nobody''s proved that at all.?
The writer said, ?Maybe the Innocents are ascending into Heaven.?
For a moment I thought she was serious, but then she smirked at the cleverness of her sarcasm. I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the evening.
In the taxi home, though, I couldn''t help muttering a vague, clumsy insult about Neanderthal fascists who revelled in torture. Wendy laughed and put an arm around my waist.
?Jealousy really becomes you,? she said. I couldn''t think of an intelligent reply.
That night, we bbery. A taxi pulled up across the road, and the passengers dragged the driver out and kicked him in the head until he was motionless. They virtually stripped him naked searching for the key to his cashbox, then they smashed his radio, slashed his tyres, and stabbed him in the stomach before walking off, whistling Rossini.
Once Wendy had drifted back to sleep, I crept out of the bedroom and phoned for an ambulance. I nearly went outside to see what I could do, but thought: if I move him, if I even just try to stop the bleeding, I''ll probably do more harm than good, maybe manage to kill him with my well-intentioned incompetence. End up in court. I''d be crazy to take the risk.
I fell asleep before the ambulance arrived. By morning there wasn''t a trace of the incident. The taxi must have been towed away, the blood washed off the road by the water truck