Thanks to my Editors and Advance Readers!
Honestly, I'm not sure how to describe this story. I think one of my editors said it best by saying it was "a little romance mixed into a sad story with a bit of hope at the end". There are worse things.
If this story offends anyone, I might as well start off by apologizing now.
The theme of the story was a writing experiment: "How do you save someone that does not want to be saved?" This theme bothered me for several years even before the outline for this story was written in early 2007.
For some reason, I wanted - needed to write this story - BADLY. I knew its themes were a bit too odd, and that to put it bluntly, overall reader reviews would be unlikely to be very positive. It original reception was better than I had hoped, but at the time it was a very risky story for me to write. There is some sex in the story, but it's not particularly graphic but does involve some odd story codes (usually mildly invoked). It is absolutely for mature readers who are willing to think awhile and reserve their own judgment until the end of the story.
This story has received a significant re-editing and re-writing. It had not outside editing at all originally and there were a great many typos and story errors. Enough new material was added during the re-write to add about another ten pages of MS Word text, about another chapter. I thought long and hard about cutting out nearly all of the sex in the story but in the end thought it was "important" in several places for the plot flow to logically progress.
Your mileage may vary.
I have a great many crosses to bear working at Montrose Photographics, but probably the single biggest was dealing with our resident airhead, part-time employee, and full time stoner Doug "Dude" Parker, who always acted as if he had smoked a blunt or two before coming into to work each day. He got the nickname easily, as that word comprised about half of his working vocabulary. There was no choice though, and I had to teach the guy how to run our photo development lab. It's 98% automated so that even a caveman could do, but Dave's skull was denser than most of the old skulls I'd seen in museums.
I had a morning class at the University this semester that I had to take if I wanted to be able to graduate early this coming fall semester. Accordingly, someone had to be available early in case there was a priority drop-off that needed one hour service or less immediately after store opening.
It certainly wasn't going to be our owner, who after nearly twenty years of running this small independent camera shop and photo lab still could barely figure out how to use the cash register, let alone the hardcore photo development equipment we had in the lab. He did know cameras well, and our shop had the reputation for being where the Pro's shopped and willingly paid extra for our service, which was better than they could get at any of the big box camera retailers.
We also had one other evening part-timer, a gal like me who was in school and not available any mornings either. The boss didn't pay well, we were a small 'niche' shop and he said he couldn't afford another part-timer.
That just left "Dude", and much against my will, I trained him on how to at least handle the relatively easy 35mm developing machine, which comprised 99% of most of our rush-rush stuff anyway. All of the medium and large format stuff was usually professional 'tricky work' anyway and could wait for me. Those sort of clients always wanted things done 'right' rather than done fast.
I must have told Dude at least a hundred times, that the number one 'Golden Rule' of this store was respecting the privacy of the customers who gave us film to be developed.
We had a history of providing top notch confidential and uncensored photo development. This quite often including very candid photos of a very private and personal nature. We advertise this confidential service in several national magazines and papers and we receive a great deal of mail order business also.
This was how we had made and kept our reputation, and most folks 'in the know' preferred to send us their private bedroom pictures where they could be assured that some pimply teenaged minimum-wage clerk at Walgreens or Wal-Mart wouldn't be making spare sets for all his friends and whacking off looking at them ... or worse, posting them on the Internet.
This was exactly what I was afraid Dude would do ... and indeed he didn't disappoint me but he picked perhaps the worst possible customer in doing so.
It was about noon, and I was just coming in to work after class drinking my luncheon soda with my sandwich in hand. Dude was talking with a customer at the counter and handing him three packages of developed prints and just as I was about to open the glass front door to my lab work area I heard Dude drop the A-Bomb.
"Dude, those were like some totally awesome and hot pics, Dude. I bet that was a hot assed party!"
Oh Fuck! I dropped my drink and sandwich right onto the floor and turned around in utterly horrified shock. The unmentionable had been mentioned.
The customer, whom I had a passing acquaintance with, was named Walt, and he had been getting his pictures developed here for years. Yes, sometimes those photographs were of a very adult nature.
I shoved Dude aside so hard I nearly knocked him down onto the floor, and began my most sincere and most groveling apologies for this intrusion into his privacy that we most shamefully had to acknowledge had occurred. I even got our useless boss out of his office to further grovel and beg Walt's forgiveness, which was eventually forthcoming.
Needless to say Dude was fired on the spot and we never heard anything from the poor stoner again, but I did hear an interesting story about a week later from a friend of his who came by to pickup Dude's final paycheck. He cryptically said something about "Some man putting down some major heat on Dude and made him split for the coast." Whatever the hell that meant.
I did know that the boss was now acting a bit strange too, and had received a couple of private visitors in his office lately and he seemed to be on pins and needles for the next couple of weeks.
Naturally, inside the desk drawer of Dude's corner desk, I found about a dozen packs of developed photos, duplicates of customers pictures that Dude hadn't gotten around yet to taking home. Most of these were fairly tame, mostly nude pictures of girlfriends with a few assorted x-rated shots mixed in for flavor. The usual 'confidential' stuff. These were all run though the shredder, but not before I took a quick look at Walt's last three sets of prints as I ran them one by one into the machine to be destroyed also.
Mostly typical orgy stuff, and pics of a lot of naked (or nearly so) men and women. Why Dude thought these were worth getting fired over, I had no clue, but then again Dude had no clue about a great many things. These were rather typical of Walt's photographs I'd processed for him in the past. I did have to admit that the guy sure did have some interesting friends!
One picture leaped out at me though, it was of a nude young woman with long dark hair kneeling with a collar around her neck before the photographer. She hadn't posed particularly well and seemed much too thin to be healthy. They say that the camera adds ten pounds; in that case she was at least twenty-five pounds or more underweight, as I could count every single rib on her. She was sort of slouching a bit and had a very sad hang-dog sort of expression on her face.
Upon closer examination of the print with a magnifying glass I realized that the marks on her arms and thighs were long parallel scratches. She was a "cutter", and apparently a compulsive one; how sad.
It was her eyes that made the photo work however; she looked into the camera with sad soulful eyes that immediately reminded me of my mother's old brainless cocker spaniel dog "Molly". Molly was a silly little dog that always seemed to have accidents on the carpet and never remembered when punished for it, giving us always a sad look of "Don't look at me, I don't know who did that poop there".
In nearly ten years of working here this was the first photo I ever considered keeping a copy of for myself, but in the end it joined the others and was destroyed in the shredder.
I had seen many photos of this girl before, usually clothed, when doing a brief quality control check on Walt's previous photos before packaging, and if I had to guess I'd say that this was his daughter. I thought I had seen a wedding ring once on some of her older pictures, but this one certainly didn't show one and her hands were clearly visible.
I would have put the entire incident out of my mind entirely except a few odd things kept happening. Twice I was nearly certain someone had been inside my small efficiency apartment and some little things were not quite where I had remembered leaving them.
My advisor at the University, one of my favorite professors, told me right after semester finals that he had an interesting phone call "about me from a colleague" that had asked a lot of questions about my academic and personal life, but he wouldn't say anything about it further so I just assumed it somehow involved my pended application for Graduate School starting next spring. Still, something just didn't seem right.
.... There is more of this story ...