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The camera thief lifted the baseball bat and started toward him.
“Help!” Ray shouted.
No one appeared.
Panic seized Ray—followed quickly by a primitive survival instinctive reaction. Flee. He tried to stand, but, nope, that was simply not happening yet. Ray was already a weakened mess. One more shot, one more hard blow with that baseball bat…
The attacker took two steps toward him. Ray had no choice. Still on his stomach he scrambled away like a wounded crab. Oh, sure, that would work. That would be fast enough to keep away from the damn bat. The asswipe with the baseball bat was practically over him. He had no chance.
Ray’s shoulder hit something, and he realized that it was his car.
Above him he saw the bat coming up in the air. He was a second, maybe two, away from having his skull crushed. Only one chance and so he took it.
Ray turned his head so his right cheek was against the pavement, flattened his body as much as possible, and slid under his car. “Help!” he shouted again. Then to his attacker: “Just take the camera and go!”
The attacker did just that. Ray heard the footsteps disappear down the alley. Friggin’ terrific. He tried to slide himself out from under the car. His head protested, but he managed. He sat on the street now, his back against the passenger door of his car. He sat there for a while. Impossible to say how long. He may have even passed out.
When he felt that he was able, Ray cursed the world, slid into his car, and started it up.
Odd, he thought. The anniversary of all that blood—and he nearly has a ton of his own spilled. He almost smiled at the coincidence. He pulled out as the smile started sliding off his face.
A coincidence. Yep, just a coincidence. Not even a big one, when you thought about it. The night of blood had been seventeen years ago—hardly a silver anniversary or anything like that. Ray had been robbed before. Last year a drunk Ray had been rolled after leaving a strip club at two A.M. The moron had stolen his wallet and gotten away with a full seven dollars and a CVS discount card.
He found a spot on the street in front of the row house Ray called home. He rented the apartment in the basement. The house was owned by Amir Baloch, a Pakistani immigrant who lived there with his wife and four rather loud kids.
Suppose for a second, just a split second, that it wasn’t a coincidence.
Ray slid out of his car. His head still pounded. It would be worse tomorrow. He took the steps down past the garbage cans to the basement door and jammed the key into the lock. He racked his aching brain, trying to imagine any connection—the slightest, smallest, frailest, most obscure link—between that tragic night seventeen years ago and being jumped tonight.
Tonight was a robbery, plain and simple. You whack a guy over the head with a baseball bat, you snatch his camera, you run. Except, well, wouldn’t you steal his wallet too—unless maybe it was the same guy who rolled Ray near that strip joint and knew that he’d only had seven dollars? Heck, maybe that was the coincidence. Forget the timing and the anniversary. Maybe the attacker was the same guy who robbed Ray one year ago.
Oh boy, he was making no sense. Where the hell was that Vicodin?
He flipped on the television and headed into the bathroom. When he opened the medicine chest, a dozen bottles and whatnot fell into the sink. He fished into the pile and found the bottle with the Vicodin. At least he hoped that they were Vicodin. He’d bought them off the black market from a guy who claimed to smuggle them in from Canada. For all Ray knew, they were Flintstone vitamins.
The local news was on, showing some local fire, asking neighbors what they thought about the fire because, really, that always got you some wonderful insight. Ray’s cell phone rang. He saw Fester’s number pop up on the caller ID.
“What’s up?” Ray said, collapsing on the couch.
“You sound horrible.”
“I got mugged soon as I left Ira’s bar mitzvah.”
“For real?”
“Yep. Got hit over the head with a baseball bat.”
“They steal anything?”
“My camera.”
“Wait, so you lost today’s pictures?”
“No, no, don’t worry,” Ray said. “I’m fine, really.”
“On the inside I’m dying of worry. I’m asking about the pictures to cover my pain.”
“I have them,” Ray said.
His head hurt too much to explain, plus the Vicodin was knocking him to la-la land. “Don’t worry about it. They’re safe.”
A few years ago, when Ray did a stint as a “real” paparazzo, he’d gotten some wonderfully compromising photographs of a certain high-profile gay actor stepping out on his boyfriend with—gasp—a woman. The actor’s bodyguard forcibly took the camera from Ray and destroyed the SD card. Since then, Ray had put a send feature on his camera—something similar to what most people have on their camera phones—that automatically e-mailed the pictures off his SD card every ten minutes.
“That’s why I’m calling,” Fester said. “I need them fast. Pick out five of them and e-mail them to me tonight. Ira’s dad wants our new bar mitzvah paperweight cube right away.”
On the TV news, the camera panned over to the “meteorologist,” a curvy babe in a tight red sweater. Ratings bait. Ray’s eyes started to close as the hott finished up with the satellite photograph and sent it back to the over-coiffed anchorman.
“Five pics for a paperweight cube.”
“A cube has six sides,” Ray said.
“Whoa, get a load of the math genius. The sixth side is for the name, date, and a Star of David.”
“Got it.”
“I need them ASAP.”
“Then everything is copasetic,” Fester said. “Except, well, without a camera, you can’t do George Queller tomorrow. Don’t worry. I’ll find somebody else.”
“Now I’ll sleep better.”
“You’re a funny guy, Ray. Get me the pics. Then get some rest.”
“I’m welling up from your concern, Fester.”
Both men hung up. Ray fell back onto the couch. The drug was working in a wonderful way. He almost smiled. On the TV, the anchorman strapped on his gravest voice and said, “Local man Carlton Flynn has gone missing. His car was found abandoned with the door open near the pier…”