Sub Silentio

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

The mid-70s Plymouth Duster idled at the McDonald’s drive-thru with three cars stacked ahead of it in the queue. Jeff sat in the passenger seat. He broke into a cold sweat.

“We could have gone to the North Pier Mickey D’s, but this one has better fries. They probably change the fry oil more often, you know. Then again, North Pier has colder soda. Something about the ice, I guess,” Roger said from the driver’s seat. “Hey, you alright kid?”

Jeff shook his head and said, “Oh, yeah, sure, I’m just a little hot.”

Roger rolled down his window, nodded upward at Jeff, and Jeff rolled down the his window. 

“Should I get a quarter pounder with cheese or a Big Mac?” Roger asked.

Get the quarter pounder, Jeff thought. “I don’t know. How hungry are you?” Jeff said.

“Well, I’m only a little hungry. Maybe I should get McNuggets?” Roger said. 

The third car ahead placed its order and rolled ahead. Two cars remained.

“So, kid, when we get to the scene, we gotta cover both the pier and the beach. Do you think we should get photos of the beach and quotes from the pier? Or, should we get snapshots of the pier and soundbites from the beach?”

Jeff continued to sweat. “I don’t know. Is there a reason we can’t do both?”

Roger paused. “Yeah, time is of the essence, if you know what I’m sayin’. We gotta get this into Kramer before five.” Roger looked at his watch. “It’s eleven now. Hey, you sure you know how to use that thing?” Roger said nodding to Jeff’s camera.

I hope so, Jeff thought. Today was Jeff’s first day on the job with the San Luis Gazette. He knew how to take photos with his phone—he could even run photos through an app that made the digital photos look analog. But Jeff had no idea how to use film and he certainly didn’t know how to develop pictures in a dark room. He lied about his work experience on his application and hoped no one would notice. 

“We should get photos on the pier and quotes from the beach. People will be more inclined to talk on the beach. And, if you think about it, how many beach pictures do we see every day of this place?” Jeff said. 

“Maybe I’ll get one of their new salads? Nah, how am I gonna eat that in the car?” 

“So what happened?” Jeff said.

“Five-O found a dead body this morning. Washed up on the beach. Looks like it was one of those homeless fellows that sleep on the pier.”

“Foul play?”

“Don’t know. Pour guy might have just rolled off in the middle of the night. Maybe someone pushed him. What you gettin?”

Jeff wiped his sweat laden brow with his sleeve. “I’ll just have a Coke.” 

“You ok, kid?”

Maybe if I take beach pictures, I can fake my way through this, Jeff thought.

The second car ahead placed its order. One car remained. 

“It is McRib season. Maybe I should I get a McRib?” Roger said.

The new DSLR camera in Jeff’s lap had an “auto” setting. Jeff had no idea what ISO meant, nor did he know what the numbers meant on the lens. He figured turning the lens would bring things into focus, but beyond that, he was a complete rookie with this thing. 

“Dang, maybe we should go to North Pier. They have breakfast all day. I could get a Bacon, Egg & Cheese biscuit.”

The car ahead of the Duster pulled forward. 

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“Damn, the other crews are already here,” Roger said as they pulled up to the beach. “I got the beach.”

“You sure?” Jeff said.

“Absolutely. Be back in 15 minutes.” Roger took a last sip from his Burger King cup, his slurping broadcasted a final gurgling sound, and Roger darted from the Duster, waddling a middle-aged run-walk toward the sand. 

Jeff exhaled, ran his fingers through his bangs, and exited the car. 

As he walked toward the pier, a giant Ferris wheel obscured the horizon. Jeff snapped a photo of the Ferris wheel with the DSLR. Two rollerbladers zoomed by. One yelled, “Lens cap!” Jeff had forgotten to take the lens cap off the camera. He nodded upward at the rollerbladers who were already too far away to receive Jeff’s admission.

Jeff climbed a stairway. Several purple stained popsicle sticks and a used condom lay about the wooden staircase as it rose to the top of the pier. Someone had urinated here in the past six hours or so, too. Jeff gagged. Jeff took a picture of the stairwell, but closed his eyes as he did it, lest he re-see the scene he couldn’t unsee. The picture came out clear. Apparently, the “auto” setting worked. 

The pier’s asphalt top surprised Jeff. He assumed it would be wooden, like the elaborate wooden lattice work that held it up. Along the left edge, a group of six men took turns doing wind sprints up and down the pier. As Jeff passed the sprinters, he smelled a melange of cologne and armpits. One of the runners had a t-shirt which read, “GOONS AT NOON - WHILE YOU WERE ASLEEP, WE WERE MAKING GAINS.Jeff snapped a photo of the Goons. They looked tired and miserable.

Jeff walked further up the pier. Well past the Goons, he saw several fishermen and fisherwomen with rods, coolers, and thermoses. They waited for nibbles from below and sipped on their beverages. Day-old bourbon funk wafted through the air. Jeff took a picture of the fisher people. 

As Jeff approached the end of the pier, he saw what looked like a human nest crafted from blankets and newspaper. The tattered blankets wove themselves into the stacks of newspaper. Jeff snapped a photo.

Jeff zoomed in to the ramshackle bed and saw a headline: “BRETT CAVINAUGH CONFIRMED.” The captioned photo was from the senate hearing where the would-be Supreme Court Justice cried on television, exclaimed how much he loved beer, and swore—a little too emphatically not to be lying—how he didn’t rape Christine Blasey Ford, in spite of the fact that Ford had nothing to gain and even more to lose from coming forward.  She had to be telling the truth, Jeff thought. 

Jeff snapped out of his aside and walked closer to the nest. An empty medication bottle lay next to it. Jeff picked it up to find that the label had been mostly ripped off, save the description of the medication—LITHIUM. In the nest, he saw a McDonald’s Bacon, Egg & Cheese wrapper and a Star Wars action figure. Jeff would recognize Kylo Ren, master of the Knights of Ren, anywhere. Jeff took a photo. The wind blew and wafted the smell of body odor and urine from the nest straight into his nostrils.

Jeff looked off the pier’s right side toward the beach where they found the body. He snapped a photo of the shore. Jeff could almost smell the cocoa butter from here; sunbathers lined the beach, even on a Tuesday afternoon. 

Jeff zoomed in. To his surprise, he saw Roger scurrying away from the beach and toward the beach parking lot. Roger stepped over the rope-chain that separated the sand from the asphalt. Roger approached a black Chevrolet Equinox. The passenger side window slid down. Roger began to bargain with a woman who had brown curly hair. She appeared calm while Roger shouted. After a few rounds of exchanges, Roger reached into his sport jacket, pulled out an envelope, and handed it to the woman. As the window went up, the woman threw a baggie out just before the window slid closed. Roger scrambled to catch the bag, missed it, and then recovered it from the ground, cramming it in his pocket. Jeff took a photo.

Jeff scanned down toward the beach. He saw a police line marked with tape, ostensibly where someone had found the body. Jeff snapped a photo. Jeff paused and looked down. The nest lay at his feet. Jeff gagged again.

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“Get some photos, kid?,” Roger asked as he slid into the Duster.

“Yeah, you know, standard-fare,” Jeff said. “What did you find?”

“Just like I thought. It was that homeless man that lived on the pier. Guess he killed himself,” Roger said. “They found him naked. He had bandages on his wrists.”

“I got a few pictures of his nest. It was kind of sad,” Jeff said.

“Good riddance, if you ask me,” Roger said. “Hey, you stopped sweating!”

To Jeff, the job seemed a little easier now that he had an idea of what it was all about.

“They found him naked?” Jeff asked. 

“Yeah, probably a few screws loose, if you know what I mean,” Roger said. 

Roger started up the Duster, backed up in a hurry, and pealed out of the lot. As they hit the main beach drag, Roger took something out of his pocket and threw it on the dash board. It was a Star Wars Rey action figure. 

“Where’d you find that?” Jeff asked.

“Oh, it’s nothing. Someone left it on the beach, I guess. Pretty cool, right? Wish it were Ren, though. Can’t find my Ren.” Roger said. Roger pulled a baggie out of his other pocket and threw it on the dash as well. 

“You ever snort Lithium, kid?” Roger asked.

“No,” Jeff said. 

Roger engaged the power locks on the Duster and accelerated to well over the speed limit. 

Roger said, “Let’s get some coffee. Should we get Starbucks or Dunkin?” 

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