Chapter Four

It was 10:35 when I reached the station, according to the clock above the desk.

“What brings you in at this hour?” croaked a detective in a rumpled three-piece suit and a nametag from behind the desk. He held a large coffee cup. He shared some of his perfect teeth and I tried not to cringe.

“Detective O’Neill?” I leaned over the desk and read from his nametag. “My camera was just stolen.”

He sighed. “Alright, kid.” He rifled through a drawer and pulled out a crumpled form. “Fill this out, be specific. Sign here, and here, and here,” he pointed all over the form, as if I were buying a fucking car. I did as he said and put everything I knew on the form, which wasn’t much.

He looked it over and snickered.

“What’s so funny?” I snipped.

He wiped the smile off his face. “I don’t want to get your hopes up, kid. These small items like your Nikon, they’re usually long gone before my guys get a shot. Fucking E-bay,” he said ominously. “You got the serial number?”

Shit. It was probably buried in some filing cabinet in the studio. “Not with me,” I spat out.

“Look, kid, why don’t you head home and find it, then stop by when you have a chance tomorrow? My  guys’ll be in, and we’ll get you squared away,” he shoved my forms in an inbox in the corner of the desk and sat back down. “Take it easy,” he said brightly.

I didn’t return his smile. “Asshole,” I mumbled under my breath as I stormed out. Outside, my hands automatically went to my hip where my camera bag usually hung. Fuck, I literally never stepped outside without my camera. My heart turned out a metal riff. It was going to be a long night.

I hit it and walked a few blocks to chill out. A few blocks turned into a mile and I just kept going. I ducked into a bar and ordered a double malt no ice. This was serious.

“Rough night?” the bartender wiped the counter across from me.

“Yeah,” I said after I’d downed my whiskey. I pushed the glass across the counter.

The tattoo on his wrist caught my eye as he unscrewed the whiskey jug. “Girl trouble?”

“Say that again,” I mumbled as I patted my hip. Fuck, no camera. The light in there was spectacular too. I drummed my fingers on the bar as I drank the second whiskey.

“Gotta keep your strength up,” the barkeep said as he offered me a bowl of peanuts. I ate them steadily one at a time, glad for the distraction, not that it worked, really. The light in there was irrestistible.

“She dump you or what?” Barkeep asked over his shoulder as he washed glasses in the sink.

“Nah, bitch stole my camera.”

“Stole your camera? Damn. What was it?”

“Nikon, D500. Worst part is, I need it for work.”

“Yeah? You’re a photographer?”

“Assistant. Plus I have this blog.” I don’t know why I mentioned the blog, I don’t usually talk about it. But right then it made me feel more important. I ate a few more peanuts and debated another whiskey. Something about the light in there got to me, and before long even the empty glass looked photo worthy. The second whiskey got me thinking that my camera phone might do and I tried it.

“Hold on, man, I haven’t done my hair,” the barkeep rubbed his bald head, smirking.

I shook my head. “Don’t worry, it’s shit.” I shoved the camera back in my pocket and went for the third whiskey. “Hit me,” I said, signaling to my glass with one finger.

He opened the whiskey bottle again, setting off a new wave of craving. I could feel the absent camera bag on my hip. “Tell me about that blog,” he said.

“Not much to tell. It’s just a bunch of photos. Gotta keep em somewhere, right?”

“What’s it called?” he asked. I eyed up the empty bar before I told him. The slat-backed barstools were all lined up but one.

“Aperture Priori,” I blinked and the shot disappeared.

“Aperture Priori,” he considered it for a second. “Ooh, I get it, I get it.” He probably didn’t get it. I ate the last few peanuts in the bowl as a couple of girls made their way into the bar. I’d had more than enough of womenfolk, so I stood up to leave, tossing some money on the bar. “Thanks, man,” I called to the barkeep.

“You’re not staying?” He nodded towards the ladies.

“Nope,” I called as I walked to the door.

“Good luck finding the camera,” he said as the door shut.

Untethered and drunk on the street, it didn’t take long for trouble to find me. Couple of guys, couldn’t’ve been out of high school, jumped me near the mouth of this alley. I was a gimme. I didn’t resist, but they still threw me up against the wall, punched me in the face. Fucking gratuitous violence. I hit the pavement like I was falling into bed. Thanks to the third whiskey I wasn’t scared. Thanks to Eden, I didn’t lose my camera to two thugs. I knew I was in bad when, lying on the sidewalk, I could picture the perfect shot of their retreat.

I didn’t pass out. I sat up and leaned against the bricks. Guys took my wallet, phone, even my watch, so I was on my own. The night was surprisingly busy but it still took awhile to get noticed. If I’d had my camera, I’d’ve had a whole set before the barkeep found me sitting there, black ring forming around my shutter eye.

He did a double-take as he walked by, “Hey, what happened to you, man?”

I shrugged. The whiskey was wearing off, and I was suddenly wiped out. I tried to curl up on the sidewalk, but the barkeep stopped me.

“No, come on,” he pulled me up and wrapped one arm around my waist. “You manage to walk like this?” he asked and I put one foot in front of the other. My mind was empty. Nothing like three whiskeys and a punch in the face to bring you closer to Zen.

“My place is right around the corner, K?” the barkeep announced. I didn’t talk.

He led me to an unmarked green door and up a set of nondescript steps. Nothing mattered. Barkeep opened the door at the top of the steps and pushed me inside. The carpeted floor came up fast and I lay still, feeling oddly like this made perfect sense.

“Hey smart boy, can I get you a drink?” Barkeep opened his fridge and pulled out a beer. He bit off the cap and flicked it at my head. I blinked. He came over by me and kicked me in the gut. I didn’t speak, but a sound emerged from my depths. I blinked again, taking in the dirty toes of his boots. He kicked me again. “This is gonna be fun, man,” he said cheerfully. “Sure I can’t get you a beer?” he asked as he took a gulp and spit it all over me.

He bent down and felt me up, shoving his hands in my pockets. “Shit, somebody robbed you blind, smart boy. Shouldn’ta drunk so much.” I’m not blind, I thought, focusing on the wall behind him. His hands stopped searching and started exploring. I didn’t care. I just lay there, staring at the cityscape over the plaid sofa. Too obvious, I thought, even as I got lost in it.

I woke up naked, reeking of beer. I couldn’t have told you what happened, but I figured the shoot would have been killer if I’d had my camera, and you know, not been passed out cold on the floor. Fuck the pretty girl on the side of the bus. I looked at my torn and smeary body. This was what people needed to see. It hurt to move but I forced myself up, my head spinning, my gut hurting. I didn’t see the guy anywhere, so I pulled my clothes on over my sticky skin, moving slow and keeping quiet. I tiptoed out, leaving the door open behind me.

My reflection met me in the plate glass next to that unmarked green door. Even in the half-light of sunrise I could tell I looked like shit. I touched the swelling around my eye, ran my fingers through my hair, and debated heading home to clean up. But my keys were long gone, and truth is, all I cared about was my camera. I dragged myself down the sidewalk, heading back to the police station. Half a block down the street I patted my hip where my camera shoulda been.

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