The Doomsday Conspiracy

Chapter Eighteen


Leslie Mothershed was in a state beyond euphoria. The moment he had returned to London, clutching his precious film, he had hurried into the small pantry he had converted into a darkroom and checked to make sure he had everything on hand: film-processing tank, thermometer, spring-type clothes pins, four large beakers, a timer, and developer, stop-bath solutions, and fixer. He turned out the light and switched on a small red overhead lamp. His hands were trembling as he opened the cartridges and removed the film. He took deep breaths to control himself. Nothing must go wrong this time, he thought. Nothing. This is for you, Mother.
Carefully, he rolled the film into reels. He placed the reels in the tank and filled it with developer, the first of the liquids he would use. It would require a constant temperature of 68F and periodic agitation. After eleven minutes, he emptied the contents and poured the fixer over the reels.
He was getting nervous again, terrified of making a mistake. He poured off the fixer for the first wash and then let the film sit in a tankful of water for ten minutes. This was followed by two minutes of constant agitation in a hypocleansing agent and twelve more minutes in water. Thirty seconds in photo-flo solution ensured there would be no streaks or flaws in the negatives. Finally, very, very carefully, he removed the film, hung it up with clothes pins, and used a squeegee to remove the last drips from the film. He waited impatiently for the negatives to dry.
It was time to examine the negatives. Holding his breath, heart pounding, Mothershed picked up the first strip of negatives and held it up to the light. Perfect. Absolutely perfect!
Each one was a gem, a picture that any photographer in the world would be proud to have taken. Every detail of the strange spacecraft was outlined, including the bodies of the two alien forms lying inside.
Two things he had not noticed before caught Mothershed's eye, and he took a closer look. Where the spaceship had cracked open he could see three narrow couches inside the ship - and yet there were only two aliens. The other thing that was strange was that one of the alien's hands had been severed. It was nowhere to be seen in the photograph.
Maybe the creature had only one hand, Mothershed thought. My God, these pictures are masterpieces! Mother was right. I'm a genius. He looked around the tiny room and thought, The next time I develop my films, it will be in a big, beautiful darkroom in my mansion in Eaton Square.
He stood there fingering his treasures like a miser fingering his gold. There wasn't a magazine or newspaper in the world that wouldn't kill to get these pictures. All these years the bastards had rejected his photographs, with their insulting little notes. "Thank you for submitting the photos which we are herewith returning. They do not fit our present needs." And, "Thank you for your submission. They are too similar to pictures we have already printed." Or simply, "We are returning the photographs you sent us."
For years he had gone begging to the creeps for jobs, and now they were going to crawl to him, and he was going to make them pay through the nose.
He could not wait. He had to start immediately. Since bloody British Telecom had shut off his phone merely because he happened to be a few weeks late making his last quarterly payment, Mothershed had to go outside to find a phone. On an impulse, he decided to go to Langan's, the celebrity hangout, and treat himself to a much deserved lunch. Langan's was well beyond his means, but if there was ever a time to celebrate, this was it. Wasn't he on the verge of becoming rich and famous?
A maitre d' seated Mothershed at a table in a corner of the restaurant, and there, at a booth not ten feet away, he saw two familiar faces. He suddenly realized who they were, and a little thrill ran through him. Michael Caine and Roger Moore, in person! He wished his mother were still alive so he could tell her about it. She had loved reading about movie stars. The two men were laughing and having a good time, not a care in the world, and Mother-shed could not help staring. Their glances moved past him. Smug bastards, Leslie Mothershed thought angrily. I suppose they expect me to come over and ask for their autographs. Well, in a few days they're going to be asking for mine. They'll befalling all over themselves to introduce me to their friends. "Leslie, I want you to meet Charles and Di, and this is Fergie and Andrew. Leslie, you know, is the chap who took those famous photos of the UFOs."
When Mothershed finished his lunch, he walked past the two stars, and went upstairs to the phone booth. Directory Inquiries gave him the number of the Sun.
"I'd like to speak to your picture editor."
A male voice came on the line. "Chapman."
"What would it be worth to you to have photographs of a UFO with the bodies of two aliens in it?"
The voice at the other end of the phone said, "If the pictures are good enough, we might run them as an example of a clever hoax, and ..."
Mothershed said waspishly, "It so happens that this is no hoax. I have the names of nine reputable witnesses who will testify that it's real ... including a priest."
The man's tone changed. "Oh? And where were these pictures taken?"
"Never mind," Mothershed said cagily. He was not going to let them trick him into giving away any information. "Are you interested?"
The voice said cautiously, "If you can prove that the pictures are authentic, yes, we would be very interested."
Damn right you would, Mothershed thought gleefully. "I'll get back to you." He hung up.
The other two phone calls were just as satisfactory. Mothershed had to admit to himself that getting the names and addresses of the witnesses had been a stroke of pure genius. There was no way now that anyone could accuse him of trying to perpetrate a fraud. These pictures were going to appear on the front pages of every important newspaper and magazine in the world. With my credit: Photographs by Leslie Mothershed.
As Mothershed left the restaurant he could not resist walking up to the booth where the two stars were seated. "Excuse me, I'm sorry to bother you, but would you give me your autographs?"
Roger Moore and Michael Caine smiled up at him pleasantly. They scribbled their names on pieces of paper and handed them to the photographer.
"Thank you."
When Leslie Mothershed got outside, he savagely tore up the autographs and threw them away.
Screw them! he thought. I'm more important than they are.