Here is week #5’s installment. Good luck!
Out of Focus
By Rebecca Benston
Grace Martin was a photographer. She was twenty-three, single and desperate. She had been struggling to make ends meet by working two part-time jobs and taking on assorted freelance projects. One of her part-time jobs was as a waitress for a local family eatery called Mack’s. She had been there since high school and was getting tired of the same old routine and had actually given her two weeks notice three times in the last two years in hopes of getting away from the place.
Her other part-time job was as a babysitter for a woman who had a part-time secretarial position for a local tax attorney. Her name was Marguerite Halford. She had two small children, Hattie and Sam. They were three and four, respectively. One evening when Grace was preparing to leave, Marguerite asked her a strange question.
“You’re a photographer, right?” she had asked.
“Sure, did you need some pictures taken of the kids?” Grace had asked, hoping for another project.
“Well, not exactly,” she said, “It’s kind of complicated. Can you hang on for a second while I make sure the kids are still down for their naps? I don’t want to talk about it in front of them.”
Grace nodded, “Sure, I guess so.” She was puzzled. What kind of craziness was she about to hear? Marguerite had already shuffled out of the room to check on the kids and when she came back in, she was carrying what appeared to be women’s underwear.
Grace’s brow furrowed as she looked at Marguerite’s hands. “What’s that?” she asked.
“This is why I need pictures,” she said nervously.
“I’m sorry; I don’t understand what you need…” Grace said, “You need pictures of underwear?”
The color rose in Marguerite’s face and she said, “Oh, no, no, not the underwear. It’s not mine. That’s the problem. I found them here and I’m worried…” She took a deep breath before she continued, “…I’m worried that Ted is having an affair.”
Grace’s hand flew to her mouth involuntarily. She had been working for Marguerite and her husband Ted for the past three years and this was a little awkward to hear. “Oh, I see,” she said.
“Yes, and I was wondering if you had any experience in taking pictures without someone knowing you’re taking pictures,” Marguerite said. “I need to know who she is.”
“Well, I-I don’t know, I usually don’t do distance shots,” Grace started to say. She looked at Marguerite, whose face was flushed and filled with tension. “I mean, I’m not sure I could get a good enough shot with the equipment I’ve got.”
“I’ll buy you what you need,” Marguerite said, “I need these pictures so that I can go to an attorney. Would you be able to set up somewhere nearby and possibly catch something this weekend?”
“Geez, I guess, I mean, where?” Grace said.
Marguerite had obviously been planning, she answered, “I thought you might be able to set up in the building across the street. I know a lady who lives over there.”
The two of them talked about how Grace could get a shot of Ted this weekend. Marguerite was going to visit her mother with the kids this weekend and Ted would be alone at the apartment. Grace could use Marguerite’s friend Tess’s apartment to set up her camera equipment. It was directly across the street and should be ideal for the kind of shots that Grace would need. Tess was out of town and Marguerite was actually feeding her pets and taking her mail in for her every day, so she had a key to her apartment. This is what had given her the idea in the first place. Marguerite told Grace to go out and get the equipment she needed to take the pictures and to put it on her credit card. She told
Grace that she would pay her $1,000 for pictures that showed anyone other than Ted or family members entering the apartment. It should be easy enough as long as Ted didn’t decide to take his escapades on the road instead of bringing his lover to their home.
Grace left Marguerite’s apartment feeling low. Although she should have been happy, she felt bad that Ted was deceiving Marguerite. She felt especially bad for the kids. She wasn’t sure if she was doing the right thing by trying to help, but she really needed the cash. She reasoned that it would serve a good purpose if Ted really was cheating on Marguerite. If he wasn’t, then she could help put Marguerite’s mind at ease by reporting that she hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary. Maybe the underwear had been a gift he had bought for her. She hadn’t asked Marguerite where she’d found them. Maybe Ted had just hidden them until he could wrap them up for Valentine’s Day. These thoughts kept her up all night and when the alarm clock finally went off at 7 a.m. the next morning, she felt as though she hadn’t slept at all. Her mind was so cluttered and she had to go to work at Mack’s at 9.
She decided to go to work, stop off at the camera store for a telephoto lens for her camera after she finished her shift at 2 p.m. and then head over to Tess’s apartment to set up for that night. It was Friday and Marguerite had told her that she and the kids would be heading for her mothers by 1 o’clock. Grace didn’t want the kids to see her going into the apartment building, so it was good that they would be gone by the time she got there. Ted worked until around 5 or so and would probably get home by 6. She didn’t want to run into him, either. Although it was only five hours, her shift at Mack’s went very slowly. She had only six tables during the whole lunch rush and managed to pick up a useless $12 in tips. She left the restaurant at 2 and headed over to the camera equipment store to look for what she needed.
When she talked to the clerk, she asked which lens would work better for long distance shots. She knew, but she needed to talk to someone to take her mind off of what she was preparing to do. The clerk tried to sell her some outrageous piece and she quickly told him she only had half of what that lens cost to spend. He changed his tune and gave her the right lens and she also purchased a tripod and some extra film. She left the store, satisfied with her purchases. These would come in handy after this project. She might even be able to start doing more landscape work. This made the idea of taking pictures of a cheating husband slightly more palatable to Grace.
Grace drove over to the apartment building across from Marguerite’s, stopping to get a sandwich on the way. She was relieved to find a parking spot in the lot behind the building. She hadn’t wanted to park on the next block and carry all of her equipment down the street. Within fifteen minutes, she had let herself into the apartment and set up the camera. The window in front of the apartment had a direct line of sight to Ted and Marguerite’s front door. The apartment building they lived in was more like a condo. Each unit had a door in the front, so there was no question that visitors going in that door would be there for Ted. Once the camera was ready, she took a couple of test shots and then decided to sit down and eat. She looked around the apartment she was in and saw several pictures on the fireplace mantel. They were photos of a Border collie decorated with the usual, cheesy bandana around its neck. These appeared to be the only photographs in the apartment and none of them included a human being. There were no dog bowls around, so Grace assumed that the dog had either passed on or that it was someone else’s pet.
As she studied the room, Grace noticed that there was little in the way of clutter. The apartment was tidy and Tess had decorated it very tastefully. There were contemporary white couches arranged around a plain black table. A clear vase with two white roses sat in the middle of the table. The flowers hadn’t wilted, so they must have been recent purchases. This made the hair on the back of Grace’s neck stand on end. What if Tess wasn’t out of town? What if Marguerite had the dates wrong? If Tess came home, how could she explain what she was doing in her apartment with a camera aimed across the street? She didn’t know the woman and she was pretty sure that Marguerite hadn’t told her what she was up to.
She hurried through her sandwich and threw away her trash. Now that she had herself sufficiently worried, she wasn’t sure if she should just pack up and tell Marguerite no one had visited Ted or not. It wasn’t quite five o’clock and she really didn’t want to stay in the apartment very much longer. She looked out the window and to her surprise, saw that Ted’s car was already in the driveway across the street. She hadn’t seen him pull up because she had been in the kitchen eating her dinner. As she watched the street, another car pulled up to the curb in front of the condo. She watched in amazement as a woman got out and walked up to the door. Ted opened the door and the woman stepped inside. All this time, Grace had been watching but hadn’t thought to snap a picture. She smacked herself in the forehead and decided to go ahead and take a few pictures of the car. Now she would have to wait until the woman came out to get a shot of her.
While she was standing there looking out the window, someone knocked on the apartment door. She froze. She couldn’t answer the door so she just stood there and waited for whoever it was to give up and go away. They knocked a few more time and after about five minutes, they must have left. Grace tiptoed over to the door and looked through the peephole. No one was in the hall. She took a deep breath and opened the door. A package had been left in front of the door. She picked it up and took it inside the apartment, forgetting to lock the door behind her. Seconds after she had put the package down on the counter, someone burst through the door and grabbed her from behind. She struggled, but the assailant had her in a choke hold with one hand over her mouth. Moments later, Grace lay on the floor of the kitchen in a pool of blood. She had been stabbed to death and the package she had brought in from the hallway was beside her, unopened and soaked in Grace’s blood.
A neighbor had seen someone run down the hallway from Tess’s apartment. She had called the police because she knew that Tess wasn’t home, but saw that her door was wide open. When the police arrived, they found Grace in the apartment and they assumed that she was Tess. Later, upon closer investigation they discovered that Tess was, in fact, out of town and that the person who had been killed did not live in the building. Grace had no identification with her other than Marguerite’s credit card. She had left her purse in the trunk of her car because she’d had so much to carry with the camera equipment. Mistakenly, after checking the name on the card with their database, the police had gone across the street to see if Marguerite was home or if it was her on the kitchen floor of Tess’s apartment. Ted had told them that Marguerite was visiting her mother out of town. The police had asked Ted if he could come over and help them identify the body at Tess’s apartment.
He had gone without hesitation because he knew Tess and he also knew that she’d had some trouble with an abusive ex-boyfriend in the past. He had been meeting with a client at the condo and he left her there to read over the contracts he’d prepared for the sale of her boat. He was a boat salesman. When he got to the apartment and saw Grace there, he told the police that this was their babysitter. He was puzzled as to why she was here and he noticed that there was a camera set up at the window. The police asked if the camera was Tess’s and Ted had told them it was probably Grace’s. He told them that she was a photographer, but he wasn’t sure why she would be over here with the camera. He didn’t think she even knew Tess. The police took the camera as evidence and later found that there were pictures of the car in front of Ted’s condo. They also bagged the gift that was beside Grace’s body as part of their investigation.
Okay, folks! It’s all up to you! Can you guess what happened to Grace? Who is responsible for this? What is going on? Send in your guess by Friday, February 8th for your shot at the $20 gift card and an entry into the Grand Prize Drawing! I’ll be giving more details about the prize package later in the week!
Good luck to you!