Just One Look

Chapter 27


Grace and Scott Duncan headed back to the Photomat. Her heart sank when they entered and she saw no Fuzz Pellet.
Assistant Manager Bruce was there. He puffed out his chest. When Scott Duncan flashed his badge, the chest deflated. "Josh is out on lunch break," he said.
"Do you know where?"
"He usually goes to the Taco Bell. It's right down the block."
Grace knew it. She hurried out first, afraid to lose his scent again. Scott Duncan followed. As soon as she entered the Taco Bell, the fragrance of lard rising up to assault her, she spotted Josh.
Equally important, Josh spotted her. His eyes widened.
Scott Duncan stood at her side. "That him?"
Grace nodded.
Fuzz Pellet Josh sat alone. His head was tilted down, his hair hanging in front of his face like a curtain. His expression-and Grace guessed that he only had this one-was sullen. He bit into the taco as if it insulted his favorite grunge group. The earphones were jammed into place. The cord fell into the sour cream. Grace hated to sound like an old biddy, but having this kind of music plugged directly into the brain all day could not be good for a person. Grace enjoyed music. When she was alone, she would turn the music up, sing along, dance, whatever. So it wasn't the music or even the volume. But what did it do to the mental health of a young mind to have music, probably angry and harsh, pounding in the ears all the time? An aural confinement, solitary walls of sound, to paraphrase Elton John, inescapable. No life noises let in. No talking. An artificial soundtrack to your life.
It could not be healthy.
Josh lowered his head, pretending he didn't see them. She watched him as they approached. He was so young. He looked pitiful, sitting there alone like that. She thought about his hopes and dreams and how he already looked set on the road of life-long disappointments. She thought about Josh's mother, about how she must have tried and how she must worry. She thought about her own son, her little Max, and about how she'd handle it if he started slipping in this direction.
She and Scott Duncan stopped in front of Josh's table. He took another bite and then slowly looked up. The music coming from his earphones was so loud that Grace could actually make out the lyrics. Something about bitches and ho's. Scott Duncan took the lead. She let him.
"Do you recognize this lady?" Scott asked.
Josh shrugged. He lowered the volume.
"Take those off," Scott said. "Now."
He did as he was told, but he took his time.
"I asked you if you recognized this lady."
Josh glanced in her direction. "Yeah, I guess."
"How do you know her?"
"From where I work."
"You work at the Photomat, correct?"
"And Ms. Lawson here. She's a customer."
"That's what I said."
"Do you remember the last time she was in the store?"
He shrugged.
"Does two days ago sound about right?"
Another shrug. "Could be."
Scott Duncan had the envelope from the Photomat. "You developed this roll of film, correct?"
"You say so."
"No, I'm asking you. Look at the envelope."
He did. Grace stayed still. Josh had not asked Scott Duncan who he was. He had not asked them what they wanted. She wondered about that.
"Yeah, I developed that roll."
Duncan took out the photograph with his sister in it. He put it on the table. "Did you put this picture in Ms. Lawson's packet?"
"No," Josh said.
"You sure?"
Grace waited a beat. She knew that he was lying. She spoke for the first time. "How do you know?" she asked.
They both looked at her. Josh said, "Huh?"
"How do you develop rolls?"
He said, "Huh?" again.
"You put the roll in that machine," Grace said. "They come out in a pile. Then you put the pile in an envelope. Isn't that right?"
"Do you look at every picture you develop?"
He said nothing. He looked around as if asking for help.
"I've seen you work," Grace said. "You read your magazines. You listen to your music. You do not check through all the pictures. So my question is, Josh, how do you know what pictures were in that pile?"
Josh glanced at Scott Duncan. No help there. He turned back to her. "It's weird, that's all."
Grace waited.
"That picture looks like it's a hundred years old or something. It's the right size, but that ain't Kodak paper. That's what I meant. I'd never seen it before." Josh liked that. His eyes lit up, warming to his lie. "Yeah, see, that's what I thought he meant. When he said did I put it in. Did I ever see it before?"
Grace just looked at him.
"Look, I don't know what goes through that machine. But I've never seen that print. That's all I know, okay?"
It was Scott Duncan. Josh turned toward him.
"That picture ended up in Ms. Lawson's pack of pictures. Do you have any idea how that happened?"
"Maybe she took the picture."
"No," Duncan said.
Josh gave another elaborate shrug. He must have had very powerful shoulders from all the work they got.
"Tell me how it works," Duncan said. "How you develop the pictures."
"It's like she said. I put the film into the machine. It does the rest. I just set the size and the count."
"You know. One print from each negative, two prints, whatever."
"And they come out in a pile?"
Josh was more relaxed now, on comfortable ground.
"And then you put them in an envelope?"
"Right. Same envelope the customer filled out. Then I file it in alphabetical order. That's it."
Scott Duncan looked over at Grace. She said nothing. He took out his badge. "Do you know what this badge means, Josh?"
"It means I work for the U.S. attorney's office. It means I can make your life miserable if you cross me. Do you understand?"
Josh looked a little scared now. He managed a nod.
"So I'm going to ask you one more time: Do you know anything about this photograph?"
"No. I swear." He looked around. "I gotta get back to work now."
He stood. Grace blocked his path. "Why did you leave work early the other day?"
"About an hour after I picked up my roll of film, I went back to the store. You were gone. And the next morning too. So what happened?"
"I got sick," he said.
"Feeling better now?"
"Guess so." He started pushing past her.
"Because," Grace went on, "your manager said you had a family emergency. Is that what you told him?"
"I gotta get back to work," he said, and this time he pushed past her and nearly ran out the door.
Beatrice Smith was not home.
Eric Wu broke in without any trouble. He checked through the house. No one was there. With the gloves still on Wu flicked on the computer. Her software PIM-a fancy term for a date and phone book-was Time amp; Chaos. He opened it and checked her calendar.
Beatrice Smith was visiting her son, the doctor, in San Diego. She'd be home in two days-far enough away to save her life. Wu considered that, the fickle winds of fate. He couldn't help it. He glanced through Beatrice Smith's calendar two months in the past and two months in the future. There were no overnight trips. If he had come at any other time, Beatrice Smith would be dead. Wu liked to think about things like that, about how it was often the little things, the unconscious things, the things we can't know or control, that alter our lives. Call it fate, luck, odds, God. Wu found it fascinating.
Beatrice Smith had a two-car garage. Her tan Land Rover took up the right side. The left side was empty. There was an oil stain on the ground. This, Wu figured, had been where Maury parked his car. She kept it empty now-Wu couldn't help but think of Freddy Sykes's mother-as if it was his side of the bed. Wu parked there. He opened the back. Jack Lawson looked shaky. Wu untied his legs so he could walk. The hands remained bound at the wrist. Wu led him inside. Jack Lawson fell twice. The blood had not fully circulated through the legs. Wu held him up by the scruff of his shirt.
"I'm taking the gag off," Wu said.
Jack Lawson nodded. Wu could see it in his eyes. Lawson was broken. Wu had not hurt him much-not yet anyway-but when you spend enough time in the dark, alone with your thoughts, your mind turns inward and feasts. That was always a dangerous thing. The key to serenity, Wu knew, was to keep working, keep moving forward. When you're moving, you don't think about guilt or innocence. You don't think about your past or your dreams, your joys or disappointments. You just worry about survival. Hurt or be hurt. Kill or be killed.
Wu removed the gag. Lawson did not plead and beg or ask questions. That stage was over. Wu tied his legs to a chair. He searched the pantry and refrigerator. They both ate in silence. When they finished, Wu washed off the dishes and cleaned up. Jack Lawson stayed tied to the chair.
Wu's cell phone rang. "Yes."
"We have a problem."
Wu waited.
"When you picked him up, he had a copy of that photograph, right?"
"And he said there were no other copies?"
"He was wrong."
Wu said nothing.
"His wife has a copy of the picture. She's flashing it everywhere."
"I see."
"Will you take care of it?"
"No," Wu said. "I can't return to the area."
"Why not?"
Wu did not respond.
"Forget I asked that. We'll use Martin. He has the information on her children."
Wu said nothing. He did not like the idea, but he kept it to himself.
The voice on the phone said, "We'll take care of it," before hanging up.