Say "Cheese" – Part 4



Here’s Part 1.

“So you went back to the pawn shop the next day — same street, same alley, right? — and found it wasn’t there anymore?” Tollin tried to keep her voice doubt-free, with no tonality except the question.

“No, no … I didn’t go back the next day. I told you we had a production to put on. We bought the camera that night, see? But when I started to figure out what was going on I went back to the pawn place and … there was no pawn place. It’s not that the old guy closed the store or anything. The physical location was just a … a brick wall. No store. Ever.” Melody paused, drew a slow scowl at Tollin. “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”

“No, of course not. I’m just trying to understand the story.”

Melody sighed, laid back on the pillow. “What difference does it make? You already said you can’t help me. You don’t even believe in souls … how can you put one back into someone? How’d it come out of them anyway?” She groaned, threw an arm over her eyes. “Oh, God … maybe I am crazy. I have to be. I have to be.”

Tollin leaned forward, measuring her words. “Mel … you’re not crazy, but … maybe you’re really, really stressed hon. You’re clearly upset about something. You tell me part of the story you’ve got but then you stop, like you don’t want me to know the rest, and then you —”

“I’m not stopping. I said I’d tell you, and I will.”

“Then tell me, Mel. You’re beating around the bush, and I don’t know what you want me to do for you.”

Melody sighed. “I’m not ‘beating around the bush’,” her voice soured with sarcasm. “You think this is easy to say? To admit? To … I dunno — think about??”

“I don’t think it’s easy for a minute, Mel. But I can’t help you until you let me.”

A tear slid down Melody’s cheek. Her face softened. “I … I’m sorry. This is hard. So hard. I’m scared.”

“I can see that.” Tollin squeezed Melody’s ankle and offered a gentle smile. “Let me help.”

Mel sniffed, nodded, casting her eyes sideways under the arm still resting over her eyes. A moment later, she continued.

“So … the old guy at the store thing. I told you he was sort of crabby and then … I dunno. When we told him we needed a camera, he changed. He got all … like, really excited.”

“Eager?”

“YES!” The sudden ejaculation gave Tollin a jolt she didn’t expect, and she gushed a nervous giggle before she could stop it. Mel didn’t join her. “Yes, eager. He said he had one, but just one, and we could have it pretty cheap if we wanted it. So he showed it to us and we were pretty … you know, concerned. I mean, it’s pretty old, and we didn’t know how to use it. And of course when we asked if he had a digital one he just shook his head and says ‘That’s the only camera I gots’, in a creepy voice.” Mel did her best imitation of the shopkeeper and Tollin grinned.

“So anyway … we didn’t think we had a choice, y’know? I mean, we needed the camera. And it was all he had, and it was cheap and nothing else was open so — what could we do?”

Tollin nodded, silent.

“We bought it. For ten bucks.”

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