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Crime Contemporary Fiction

Carol Hawkins and her eleven-year-old son, Todd, sat enjoying dinner at their Houston home, on a hot, muggy, July night in 1991. The neighborhood in the northwest suburbs was peaceful, with only the sound of katydids and a dog barking in the distance. Someone knocked at the front door just after seven.

Carol answered it by slightly cracking open the door. She peered through at a stranger in a bright yellow clown costume and a blue curly wig. The clown’s face was painted white with a big red smile. The clown extended a hand and offered her a nosegay of roses and three red balloons. Carol cautiously pulled open the door a little more and returned the smile. She took the bouquet, then paused to sniff the flowers before glancing back at the clown.

Thirty years later, in Austin, Owen Cunningham and his wife, Lisa, were going flea-market shopping. They were on their way to one of her favorite markets, the Austin Central flea-market. Owen considered it a chore to drudge through other people’s junk. He had reluctantly agreed to tag along rather than spend the afternoon developing pictures in his photo studio. For Lisa, it was more of a treasure hunt. She loved to find antique items to refinish and sell in her curio shop. The parking lot was nearly at capacity when they arrived. 

Owen growled, “Great, no place to park.”

Lisa pointed toward the end of the row, “There’s one.”

Owen whipped the car into the spot and slammed the brake. Lisa rocked forward in her seat. A car horn blared. A man who’d been waiting to turn into the parking space flashed his middle finger at Owen as he sped past. Owen returned the gesture. “Well, this is off to a great start.” Whispered Owen.

The market was already full of hundreds of treasure hunters looking for special items. The perfect place for an open-air flea market. The location had multiple rows of metal awnings covering concrete floored vendor spots. Some shoppers strolled along between the aisles, while others mingled in the shops.

“Just relax, Owen, this will be fun, you’ll be amazed at what people sell here.” Lisa said as they strolled down one of the aisles. “Look, Owen,” She said, pointing toward a box of old photos on a table. On top of the pictures was a black leather camera case.

“Oh my gosh, what’s that?” He slow jogged over to the box, picked up the camera case. Lisa walked on as he shuffled through the photos. He flipped one over and noticed the date developed was 1990. Not aware Lisa had moved on, He said, “These pictures look to be pretty old.” He picked up a few photos and riffled through them. One picture showed a man and woman sitting at a balcony table in a restaurant. It was by the sea with a sunset in the background. Owen continued to look through more. He found another with the same couple. They stood smiling in bathing suits on a dark brown beach.

 “I’ll sell the whole box of pictures along with the camera for thirty-five,” said a pudgy older man with a gray beard. He smiled at Owen with a set of yellowed, and broken teeth. Flea market vendors love to haggle.

“No, thanks, just browsing.” Owen put the camera case back onto the pile of pictures. 

“Thirty,” said the old man. He didn’t want to lose a potential buyer. Owen picked up the camera case, snapped it open to find an antique Olympus camera and lens. It looked to be in good condition.

“I’ll give you twenty,” Owen’s eyes twinkled with excitement.

“Maybe,” the old man paused a few seconds, then said, “okay!” Owen grinned and handed him a twenty-dollar bill. He closed the lid of the box, and ran to catch up to Lisa.

 “I bought it, there’s an old Olympus camera in the case.”

“I thought you might find something interesting.” Lisa noticed a crate of antique mason jars. She rubbed her finger across the rusty lid of one. She looked up at Owen, “I can put silk flower arrangements in these to re-sell.” 

They walked a little further. Owen caught the aroma of Mexican food. He pointed to a shaded area with a taco truck and some picnic tables. “Let's stop for lunch.” 

“Sounds good.” 

They found an open table and Owen set the box down. “Street tacos?” He yelled over his shoulder as he jogged to the truck.

“That works.” She shouted back.

Owen returned with two baskets of tacos. Lisa rummaged through the pictures in the box. She looked up and said, “Now aren’t you glad you came along?”

“Yes. Thank you! It's just what I wanted. I'm pleased with the camera. What a steal for just twenty dollars. I’m sorry I was such a jerk earlier.”

“I can use these photos to make collages to sell in the shop.” She studied one of the pictures of a man and woman. “You know, this man looks familiar. I don't recognize the woman. Still, I know this man from somewhere.” She tapped the image of the man. Owen fiddled with the old camera, while Lisa continued to shuffle through the box of pictures. 

Owen popped open the back of the camera. “Look, there’s a roll of exposed film.” He held it up for her to see.

“Can it be developed?”

“I’ll give it a try.”

She picked up another image of the same man and woman. They stood in front of a house with a well manicured lawn, and a beautiful flower bed in the background. “Look at that, Owen. I recognize that house,” she said, pointing to the house, “or at least one like it. I think it’s from my childhood neighborhood in Houston.” The red brick ranch-style house had white shutters and a glass and wrought iron front door. She continued to fish through the box of pictures. 

Owen picked up one of the photos. “So these are from where you grew up?” Owen asked.

“I believe so.” She said, looking at another one. “I’m sure it’s my old neighborhood. Look at this one,” She held up one of a young boy riding a bicycle. “See the cross street,” she pointed to a street sign. “That’s the street we lived on, Spring Green Drive. These pictures were definitely taken in Houston. The boy in this one,” she flipped the picture around to show Owen, “must be the son of the older couple who lived down the street. His name is Todd. I remember him because he always teased all of us younger kids in the neighborhood.” She picked up a few more photos. Most of them with the woman she didn’t recognize and the boy, Todd, who she remembered.

They finished eating and Owen tossed out the trash. “Don’t you think we should pick up your things and head back home?” 

Lisa was fixated on the pictures. She looked up and said, “You’re right, we should be going.”

Their home was a studio apartment above the curio shop. Owen ran his photo business from the back of Lisa’s shop. He converted a large storage closet into a dark room.

Owen took the roll of undeveloped film to his dark room, and started developing it. Lisa called her Mom in Houston. As they chatted, Lisa asked, “Mom, what’s the name of the older couple who lived in the house at the end of the street?” They had a son named Todd. Lisa paused, “I remember something strange happened to them. I can’t remember exactly what.”

“You're thinking of Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins. Something did happen to his first wife a few weeks before we moved in.” Several seconds passed. “I remember the neighbors talking about how bizarre the whole thing seemed. They said something about a clown. I believe her name was Carol. I only knew his second wife, Maureen. She moved back to Galveston a little while back after he passed away. Why would you think of them?”

Lisa said, “Well, you’ll never believe it. Owen and I found a box of old pictures and an antique camera at a flea market. I looked through the photos and found a picture of their house. I recognized our old neighborhood,” she continued to arrange silk flowers in the mason jars. 

Lisa’s mom chuckled, “Small world. I know she held a huge yard sale before she moved. Funny they found their way to Austin.”

“I know and––” Owen touched her arm and motioned for her to follow him. “Mom, I need to go, I’ll call you later. Love you.”

Her mom replied, “Love you more,” and Lisa ended the call.

Owen completed developing the negatives. “There's a total of twelve. I’ll scan them onto the computer, so we can look at them together.” Once the negatives were ready, he shouted to Lisa, “Come see the pictures.” He held up one strip of negatives to the light. “These look to be of the same man, but with another woman.” He put them on the scanner.

Lisa pulled a chair over and sat next to Owen. She said, “The man is Kenneth Hawkins. Mom remembered him, said he passed away not too long ago. Something bizarre happened with his first wife and a clown.” Owen loaded the negatives onto the scanner. The first photo began to appear on the screen. A different woman than before. She sat on a sofa beside the boy who Lisa remembered. Next, three pictures of the same woman lying nude on a bed with a seductive smile. Subsequently, a photo of the man with a sheet across his lap. He struck a pose, and smoked a cigarette.

“Is that Mr. Hawkins?” Owen asked. “He looks like the same guy as before.”

“Yes, that’s him, and I recognize the woman too. That's, Mrs. Hawkins.” She paused and looked at Owen. “The old pictures in the box must have been of Mr. Hawkins’s and his first wife.”

Owen snickered, “Well, Mr. Hawkins and his second wife, certainly look like they’re having a good time.” 

The next photos showed the second Mrs. Hawkins sitting at a sewing machine. In one shot, she sewed curled lace onto a satin fabric. In another, she sewed on large buttons. One showed her adding patches of gingham. “What’s she making?”

In a puzzled tone, Lisa said, “I don’t know, maybe a dress?”

“Why would anyone take pictures of someone making a dress, it looks more like a costume to me?”

Some of the most fascinating pictures began scrolling down the screen. Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins stood together with their arms around each other. Mrs. Hawkins dressed as a clown wearing a curly wig. “Oh my Gosh,” Lisa paused, “Is that––” she put a hand to her cheek. “Mrs. Hawkins in a clown suit.”

The final image started to roll down the screen. A person dressed as a clown appeared. A white painted face, with a vivid dark smile. The person in the clown costume was alone, leaning into the camera. They offered a bouquet of flowers and balloons. Lisa’s voice cracked, “Can you colorize these?”

Owen tapped the colorize button. The black and white pictures burst to life. One of a clown wearing a bright yellow costume, white gloves, and a blue wig. The clown held a bouquet of red roses and three balloons. “Why did they take these pictures?” Owen asked.

Lisa said, “It doesn't make any sense.”

“Maybe, someone left them undeveloped for a reason.”

Lisa furrowed her brow, “I don’t like clowns. They seem creepy to me.” 

“Why would anyone take such odd pictures?” Owen questioned. “I’m going to Google him.” He typed ‘Kenneth Hawkins’ into the search bar. 

The first link to appear was to Kenneth Hawkins’s obituary. It showed he died in 2021 and was survived by his wife Maureen, and Son Todd. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Carol. Next, a link to a wedding announcement with a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins, who Lisa remembered. The column read, Kenneth Hawkins, of Houston, and Maureen Lewis, of Galveston, to wed on August 14, 1991.

Last, a link to a Houston Chronicle story about the murder of Carol Hawkins. According to neighborhood witnesses, a person dressed in a bright yellow clown costume handed Mrs. Hawkins a bouquet of flowers and some balloons. Then, pulled out a gun from behind their back and shot her twice in the face. The clown walked to a brown sedan parked on the corner, got in, and sped away. The getaway car was found four days later abandoned in a local parking lot. Clean of prints except those of the owner of the stolen car. At the time of the murder, Mr. Hawkins was at the dog races with friends. Receipts from the racetrack and testimony of those with him confirmed his alibi. The red balloons were untraceable, the flowers most likely stolen from a grocery store florist. Investigators found no other suspects or motive for the murder. The case went cold.

Lisa said, “I think Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins conspired to murder his first wife. We have the evidence to prove it. I’m going to call Mom, right now.”

Owen paused and said, “Better still, we should call the police.”


Copyright © 2022 by Chandler Wilson

November 18, 2022 21:27

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4 comments

Tommy Goround
13:13 Nov 19, 2022

Huh. I'm trying not to like this simply because I like the author. In the first half of the story, I was reading like an editor ..thinking "will the change in chronology hurt the flow?" I did not know if I would remember the names you put in the first and second paragraph. What the heck, I scrolled after they bought the camera. About 3/4 into the story I was pretty much immersed. I was thinking, "the chronology shift at the beginning actually keeps the reader on their toes. Some how Chandler has invented a new weird type of Hook." I tho...

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Chandler Wilson
00:25 Nov 21, 2022

Thank you, Tommy, for taking the time to read and comment on my story. You raise some interesting points. This story is an attempt at revisiting the past from a future perspective. To have someone virtually unaffected uncover the story behind a tragic event. Despite it being difficult to show it in a short story, in real life, logic seldom has a role. Thanks for noticing, and thanks again for reading.

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Tommy Goround
00:53 Nov 21, 2022

The beauty is that there are three possibilities. The radar can choose their own solution

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Chandler Wilson
03:31 Nov 21, 2022

Exactly. I thought about giving you mine, but it doesn’t matter.

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