Her First Murder

Submitted by Riley Jones to Contest #14 in response to: It's about a photographer, who is a rookie.... view prompt

It’s her first murder. It is supremely important that she gets this right. 


Fiddling with the camera’s ISO has never left her so conflicted; a detail so seemingly trivial amid a situation so evidently dire.


“Photographer!” a detective yells from around the corner.


Despite it being her literal job, a brief flash of irritation rises up within her at each moment she is summoned by a detective. Every time someone places an evidence marker, she gets to hear any number of variations of the same snippy demand. Six weeks on the job, 27 cases covered, and she has yet to work a scene where they opt to learn or use her name. The process has never been about her though, so she can live with it.


She finds the man who called for her and examines his marker. Lucky number 13 is a set of car keys near the shadow of the garbage bin. She places her ruler on the ground for reference and adjusts her settings to account for the lack of light. She takes the customary midrange and close-up photographs before heading back to the body. 


She’s not usually squeamish about blood, but no one should see a gunshot wound to the head of a 17 year old kid. Evidence marker number four was the boy’s wallet, and she’s not sure if knowing his name makes things better or worse. He was four months shy of his eighteenth birthday. It’s against the rules for her to speculate about the crime, but she can guess by his red polo and visor, that he worked at the tiny pizza shop around the corner. 


He likely never saw the bullet coming, judging from the close-up photo she took of the entry wound behind his right ear. He didn’t expect the bullet but that doesn’t mean he didn’t feel it. In a remarkable feat of strength, the boy survived the initial shot, and attempted to drag himself out of the alleyway behind his place of work. He made it roughly three and a half yards. 


She is both comforted and horrified by the fact that they have a suspect in custody. A unit responded in less than three minutes. The alleged killer did not expect the kid to survive for even a moment. He had been arrested solely because he wanted to watch the life leave this young boy. He was found by officers, standing just a few feet away from the body, transfixed by the aftermath of what he’d done. He had to see his violence through to the end. It was his downfall.


An involuntary shudder runs its course through her body, but she won’t lose her composure. Of this, she is absolutely certain. The victim needs her at her best. This horror is already folding itself up in her mind, ready to be filed away in a little box she hopes to leave sitting in the dusty depths of her memory. Compartmentalization is unpleasant, and yet utterly unavoidable in this line of work.


With her painful mental filing complete, she hears another call for her skills, and follows the sound. At the far edge of the scene, a patrol car is parked with an officer standing next to it. At the side of the officer, there is a man in handcuffs, entirely unfazed by everything near him.


Now she knows what she’s been called for, what they need from her. She knows what procedure dictates, what she’s been trained to do. She suspects this will be much different than the training photos.


The man in custody isn’t resisting, just unnervingly dismissive of the scene around him. The officer on guard greets her with a nod.


“Do you want him cuffed in the photographs?” he asks.


“I need them off,” she explains. The suspect hides his surprise well, nothing more than an upward quirk of his mouth at her demand. It’s not her first time documenting a live suspect, but it’s her first time speaking to one. She’s not meant to engage with alleged killers.


“You may consider that to be a mistake,” he says coolly. She will not be intimidated.


“It’s yours to make,” she warns. He considers her response, which ultimately prompts his most menacing grin. Obviously he’s doing his absolute best to scare her, though she’d never let him see that it’s working.


“Stand with your arms to the side, palms facing forward. Do not touch your clothes,” she orders. If she weren’t studying his features through the lens of her camera, she might have missed the almost imperceptible narrowing of his eyebrows. She might have missed the briefest hint of irritation that graced his face and then disappeared as quickly as it came. She snaps her first photo.


“Turn 90 degrees to your left holding that same position,” she says before taking another photo. He complies, though his body moves stiffly, seething with anger he’s clearly trying to release. She’s been a test subject before, and the entire process can feel dehumanizing. She’s just bursting with pity.


“Again,” she says. She repeats her process until she has a 360 degree view of the suspect’s body, in photograph form.


 He’s facing her again, and, having finished the overall photos, she dreads that the close-up facial shots come next. She will look directly into his eyes, and though the lens will provide a much needed degree of separation, it couldn’t possibly be enough. 


She takes several steps closer and lines up her camera. His expression makes her uneasy: the eyes taking an angular shape to convey his contempt, the jaw clenched in anticipation, and the slight flaring of the nostrils. But far more disconcerting, is the sheer normalcy of his appearance. This man looks no different than any she might see walking down the street. The face of a killer is, apparently just the face of a man. Perhaps it’s best if she files that thought away too. She directs him to repeat the turns and gathers the necessary photographs.


“Now hold your hands out,” she instructs him.


She avoids the eye-contact that he is trying to make her uncomfortable with. He exposes his hands to her gently, as if he means to cradle something delicate in his palms. His coarse skin is speckled with that pesky red byproduct of murder. She fights back a shiver while snapping her photos. She much prefers documenting his hands. Each photo she takes of that blood on his hands is another nail in this killer’s coffin. Sorry, alleged. She knows that it’s not her job to catch the killer. It’s not her job to learn his motives. It’s not her job to convict him in court. Her job is to document his alleged evil. Her job is to preserve the evidence of his alleged guilt. Her job is to wield a camera in the pursuit of justice. Maybe she’s overdramatizing crime scene photography, but, hey, she’s still a rookie.


She still has those conflicting feelings, but the vindication is delicious, and all at once, it easily stifles that fear she’d been choking back.


It may be her first murder, but it won’t be her last.

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