By Dave Turpin
Russ Connor placed the last flagstone in the walkway project at four pm. The homeowner was thrilled with the outcome of Russ's hard work. Several neighbors recommended him and the homeowners' own sister-in-law praised the work of the consummate handyman. Russ was on a different path to success. Choosing small in and out type handyman jobs rather than out of control massive contracted projects.
For Russ, changing a hard to reach light bulb for a senior citizen, replacing a screen on a window for a single mother, installing a coat rack in a hallway for a blind guy was more rewarding than building a 5 story parking garage like his father, the big contractor. Russ had more control over his time, and energy. If he wanted to take the week off or a few days and go surfing, or fishing, or riding his cherry'd out Triumph up the coast for pizza, he could do it guilt and obligation free.
“Thanks again Russ, you did a fine job!” Mrs. Pickler said.
“Thank you Mrs. Pickler. Mind if I get a few pictures for my scrapbook?” He asked politely, knowing the answer in advance.
“Of course not.” She replied handing him an envelope with four hundred dollars cash. Payment for a three day job – done well.
He retrieved the digital camera from his 56' Ford work truck. Russ took ten pictures of the repaired flagstone walkway, including one of a smiling Mrs. Pickler flashing a little ankle. She waved to him until he idled his work truck out of sight.
A week later after a do-nothing, relaxing day on the river bank. Drowning some worms, and bringing home a limit of trout for dinner, Russ decided to catch up on some lingering paperwork. Mainly thank you notes to his last 15 customers. Plus he decided upload the 10 pictures from the Pickler project to his online scrapbook.
Russ didn't take many pictures with his ten year old digital camera, just the projects that touched him someway. In fact, this was the first time he'd used the camera in months. Mostly the scarred camera stayed in the clove compartment of the truck.
Although more than a novice with electronics, he chose to 'un-plug' on most days. His cell phone, only for business, the same for emails, and what little social media he dabbled in, business only. Families and friends were real, living – breathing things he connected with in person.
After connecting the thin black USB cable from the camera to his laptop, he slid open the on switch-lens cover, and the camera established a connection with the computer. The 'import picture from selected device' menu popped onto the screen and waited for his finger on the mouse to select 'import pictures'. Russ clicked on the import all images option, and turned his attention to the hummingbird feeder a few feet away outside his home office window. “Need to give the little guys a refill today.” He spoke to himself out loud.
He glanced back at his old friend, and the camera winked a tiny red light at him indicating the images were transferred. A deft finger closed the lens cover switch and he turned to the laptops screen.
Russ's face contorted when he read; '30 images successfully imported'.
“Thirty?” He tilted his head looking at the screen. “The camera was empty when I took the flagstone pics.” Curiously looking at the camera as if to ask, 'were you out taking pictures by yourself?'
Turning back to the laptop screen, he clicked 'open' on the first flagstone project picture, opening another drop down screen with all 30 pictures numbered and dated. He roamed over the small images, walkway, Mrs. Pickler – the rest familiar but totally unrecognized images.
Quickly he clicked on the first project image. “Okay,” then the next image, “fine.” And so on until he examined the first ten. Clicking the little 'next' arrow the first unknown image came into view. “What the hell is this?” Russ studied the image. Hazy, slightly out of focus, not to mention an extremely odd angle the picture was taken at. He tilted his head back and forth struggling to make sense of the picture.
Without taking his eyes off the screen, his hand found the mouse and clicked the 'next' arrow button. “A wedding? I haven't been to a wedding in... two years. What the hell is going on here!” He ventured forth.
The third image, the bride and groom. “Beth and Tom's wedding?” His chest expanded, he took in a deep long breath, and leaned back in his leather office chair. Eyes locked onto the image of his friends wedding. A wedding that held hope, and the promise of bright futures for a loving couple. A wedding that he did not take pictures of. A wedding he did not have his trusty beat up old digital camera with him.
The next gauzy image zoomed in on Tom, the groom, talking with a woman. Dark hair, low cut dress, and smiling. Tom, obviously enthralled with their conversation. The next image was again of Tom and the woman, but in the background, unnoticed – Beth. Her expression, clear. The following image showed Tom had moved closer to the dark haired woman. Beth turned to the side, her eyes locked on the odd couple at her wedding.
To Russ, the pictures so far, showed that someone took candid pictures of Tom cozying up to this woman on his own wedding day. He continued – clicking on the 'next' arrow button.
The next several images followed Tom around the wedding venue. At the bar. Checking his texts. Walking to the men's room. The kitchen. The large pantry. A picture showed, from Tom's vantage point of him opening the pantry door looking straight into the eyes of the dark haired woman who waited with open arms, wearing nothing. The next image showed him embracing, then kissing the naked woman in the pantry.
Russ leaned back in his chair breathing deeply. “Whewww.” The word slipped out sideways with a whistle.
He turned back to the hummingbird feeder. “How in the hell –?”
After pulling himself together Russ returned to the surprises on the screen.
The mysterious images became more focused, more detailed. A picture showed Beth's shiny new car, blue with sparkling chrome. Russ sighed. The next picture, Beth in the driver's seat, window down, her hair jostled gently by the wind. He clicked the 'next' arrow. How and where the camera was sitting when the picture was taken was more than Russ could imagine. The image clearly showed Tom working in the engine compartment of Beth's new car. Russ moved in closer to the screen, “Tom, what are you doing?” He studied Tom's hand. It was on the master brake cylinder. Wrench in hand. The next picture showed Tom holding a bottle of something, something liquid he was squirting into the brake fluid.
The next picture was of Beth driving again, frowning.
The next picture, Russ surmised, only seconds before the impact. She drove her car straight into the guard rail on a bridge. The images one after the other showed the car spinning out of control. Her face smashing into the steering wheel. The car bouncing off the punishing steel girder, then crashing into and through the opposing rail, coming to a rest with the front wheels dangling off the edge of the bridge.
Russ cringed, grimaced as he watched his one true friend live her last few minutes. A tear languished a beat before rolling down his cheek.
He looked at the number of remaining pictures. Four left.
The next image showed in sharp focus the coroner's findings; single vehicle crash followed by drowning in the river when victim was trapped in her car. Death ruled accidental.
Third image from the end; Tom, eyes gleaming, holding the life insurance check.
Second image from the end; Tom and the dark haired woman, naked – seated in a hot tub, overlooking Lake Tahoe.
The last image. Beth shrouded by light. Smiling, but her eyes pleading with Russ.
* * * * *
Seven months passed since Russ Connor raised so much hell with the highway patrol, the coroner, and the life insurance company to reopen the investigation into Beth's tragic death, they had no choice. The forensics team couldn't determine the fluid Tom introduced into the brake lines. They concluded only that a contaminant was introduced into a closed, new brake system causing terminal brake failure. The life insurance company put liens on Tom's new house, and bank accounts. The dark haired mistress dropped from sight, abandoning her killer lover. Finally satisfied with the evidence, the district attorney was bringing charges against Tom.
Seven months. Russ continued his handyman work throughout the past months. Mainly he stayed with the easy 1 or 2 day jobs. In and out. Quick cash for the fight against law enforcement, and the life insurance agency. Russ sat back in his office chair, enjoyed a sip of sweet tea. He had put the finishing touches on a fire place mantel with the addition of natural rock surround earlier in the day. Ten more pictures for his scrapbook waited on his old beat-up digital camera laying on the desk. The thin black cable already hooked to his laptop, he clicked 'import images from selected device'. A tremble started in his knees – lightning shot to his hands; they shook... 42 images successfully imported.