Two Can Play This Game

Submitted into Contest #170 in response to: Start your story with the line “I’ve got a plan”. ... view prompt

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Fiction Crime Drama

I can’t believe McKenzie has stolen another one of my clients. After I’ve worked so hard to produce beautiful photographic stories for my brides and grooms and have developed an excellent portfolio that showcases my fairytale approach to wedding photography, she would stoop this low. I’ve spent hours to have an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to let the betrothed know about my services and to draw them to my online portfolio. Because of my excellent customer service, creative and quality images, and use of the best cameras and technology, many of my customers are referrals from people who have attended weddings I’ve photographed over the past eight years. I have such an excellent reputation in the wedding industry that other photographers refer me if they’re already booked. I do the same for them if I feel they have high-quality work. Six months ago, though, when I referred McKenzie Collins, it was the worst mistake of my life. Since then, she’s been stealing my clients and style. She had a very effective contextual and photojournalistic approach to wedding photography, but she changed her style and portfolio to mirror mine at a much lower price. I know she’s also gotten ahold of my potential client list, contacted them, and sold them on her services instead of mine. I’ve confronted her, but of course she’s denied it. I’ve been at my wits end on what to do about her thievery as my bank account keeps dwindling due to fewer wedding bookings. But now, I’ve got a plan.

I’ve applied my sometimes mischievous mind to the task of retribution. Of course, I don’t want to get in trouble or physically hurt anyone, but I want to get McKenzie’s attention. I found an online practical joke company that produces handmade gag voodoo dolls in the likeness of the person you want to target. I sent them a photograph of McKenzie that I found on her Instagram account. The fake voodoo doll just arrived today, and it does look like her with is round face, auburn chin-length hair, and curvy body. I sent the creepy doll anonymously to her this afternoon along with one needle stuck into her back and another into her leg. I also included some loose needles and a note reading, “Do not make me use more of these.”

When McKenzie opens the package, she’ll be in for a spooky surprise. Although I live in West Chester, Pennsylvania, I drove to Trenton, New Jersey to mail it. She may suspect it was me that sent the package but won’t be able to prove it. For all I know, she’s stolen other photographers’ clients too, so the voodoo doll  could be from any of us. How do I know McKenzie will make the right connection between the voodoo doll and what she’s done? For one, she’s clever. She’d have to be to go through all the trouble to steal from me. Also, the doll is wearing a black tee shirt that reads “Thief” in neon green letters.  Now, I must wait to see if her behavior changes.

It's been two days since I’ve sent the fake voodoo doll, and I receive a nasty text from McKenzie. “I know u sent the voodoo doll and needles. I didn’t think u’d stoop so low. I also know the doll is fake, so ha ha, I’m not worried.” In her text, she all but admits the truth of my accusation. The bitch! I wonder how she knows the doll is from a practical joke company. Then, I remember I never removed the Elsher and Company label from the bottom of the doll. Stupid move. All she had to do was google the company, and she’d realize the company specializes in gags and practical joke items. At least she knows I’m on to her but can’t prove it was me who sent the package.

When I ordered the phony voodoo doll, I hid my identity. I paid for it with a Visa gift card I bought in Trenton, used a fake name, and had the package delivered to a P.O. box in Trenton. I know it’s all a harmless practical joke, but if people in the industry knew what I’ve done, my reputation would be at stake. It wouldn’t matter that McKenzie is the one being unethical. They would point fingers at me.

I debate whether to just ignore McKenzie’s text or to respond. If I decide if I ignore it, that might be an admission of my guilt, so I text her back. “Don’t know what u r talking about.”

She texts me back. “WTF, do you think I’m stupid? U can get in big trouble 4 threatening me.”

I reply,” I didn’t threaten u, but I do know u r stealing my clients.  “

 “U can’t prove that. Maybe I offer a better product than u.”

I ‘m seething. “No u don’t. U r just cheaper w/o original ideas.”

“I can report u to the Better Business Bureau.”

I know she can’t prove I sent the voodoo doll and needles, but I send a final text. “I never threatened u, so u don’t have a claim. Maybe u stole ideas and clients from other photographers too. U probably have a lot of enemies.” I am a bit worried about her threat to report me, but I know there is no way she can prove I had anything to do with the voodoo doll. McKenzie blows up my phone for awhile but finally stops when I ignore her.

Another three weeks have gone by, and I’ve signed two wedding contracts and have an engagement shoot next month. The weddings won’t take place for a year, but this is a start.  Maybe McKenzie has finally stopped stealing my clients. One can only hope. I go on to her webpage and Instagram account, and so far, she hasn’t trashed me. My guess is if she does that, then she’ll have to say what I’ve accused her of. Doing that may call attention to her unethical ways. I go to her website and am pleased to know she has changed it a bit. She still uses the same storytelling approach I do, but at least she’s added some new photos to her portfolio that don’t all look like mine. Even her prices are a little higher than they had been. Despite her cavalier attitude, she may have taken my threat seriously.

I played a harmless practical joke, I can’t get caught, and my business might be on the upswing. I also made my enemy think about her unscrupulous ways, and nobody was hurt. I settle back on my couch for a quiet evening at home and sip an ice-cold Fest beer and check  out Instagram . I’m feeling pretty good until I get a text from McKenzie. “You really are an evil bitch!! 2day, I had a car accident and broke my leg. I blame it on your voodoo doll. I’m not only reporting u to the Better Business Bureau. I’m telling everyone on social media, and I’m going to the police.” My heart races when I read her message. I know her injury is just a coincidence. That doll was fake. It can’t do anything. Besides, I was just making a point. My actions couldn’t have caused her injury. Anyway, what is she going to tell the police,” My competitor sent me a voodoo doll, and now I’ve broken my leg.” There’s no way they’re going to believe that. Same with the BBB. I do worry about her sabotaging me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram though. I’ll need to stay one step ahead of her on those platforms.

As I start to text her, I realize I’m hyperventilating. “U keep going on about the voodoo doll. As I said b4, I don’t know what u r talking about. I think ur being paranoid.”

Then, she decides to emotionally manipulate me, so I will not only feel sorry for her but will admit my guilt and apologize. “I have bookings all but two weekends for the next 6 weeks, but I’m on crutches. How do u expect me to feed and clothe my 3 and 5 year olds if I can’t make money? I’m a single mom with a deadbeat ex and they depend on me. Unlike u who is single and free-spirited.”

My thumbs shake as I respond, “Sorry about ur leg, but I had nothing to do with it. And, how dare you think you know anything about my personal life! “For one, I’m single by choice because I haven’t met the right person yet.” I say person because I’ve dated men and women and am open to falling in love with either. That doesn’t make me free-spirited; it makes me a realist.  I’ve worked hard to get where I am in my career too. I give up most of my weekends to photograph weddings. I’m respected in my field for my creativity and professionalism and have had some of my photographs published in Vogue Bride and Delaware Today. It hasn’t been easy to get where I am though. Until I built up my wedding business, I worked as a photographer wherever I could. When I worked for JCPenney’s, I jumped around like the court jester to get smiles out of cranky kids. I traveled to Philadelphia every day for six weeks to photograph little brats on Santa’s laps. I even did pet portraits and got bit by an overexcited Beagle. For a couple of years, I also schlepped other wedding photographers’ equipment around all night, for next to nothing, just to be given the opportunity to take a few shots of my own of the bride and groom.

I’m so sick of McKenzie’s accusations, so I block her on my phone. When she threatens me via email, I block her on that too. I don’t block her on my social media accounts though because I need to respond to the lies she may post about me. Still, I can’t help wondering if the voodoo doll I sent had anything to do with her accident and broken leg.  It can’t have. The thing was fake. I was just playing a practical joke, albeit a bit over the top, to get her to stop sabotaging my business. I meant her no harm, did I.  No, if I had, wouldn’t I have sent her a real voodoo doll?

Three more days go by, and I’m starting to relax. No more accusations from McKenzie, and I still have a wedding on the books for this coming weekend. I feel as though things are looking up until I hear from a fellow photographer that McKenzie fell down her stairs and is in the hospital with a back injury. Holy shit! She is having some real bad luck. I know I had nothing to do with it though. It’s just bad karma; the Universe is paying her back. Maybe she’ll think twice before she steals clients from me or any other photographer again. Another good thought comes to me. Since McKenzie will be out of commission for a while, she’ll have to pass her wedding bookings to other photographers. That photographer should be me. Afterall, she sold her clients on the fairy tale wedding approach that she stole from me. That’s what her clients want, so she has no choice but to pass the clients on to me. All’s well that ends well.

November 04, 2022 11:00

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2 comments

Daniel Legare
14:54 Nov 10, 2022

Hi Kimberly! I've been tasked with critiquing your story. The Voodoo doll angle will, in my opinion, never go out of style. What really makes it a curse? How is it manipulated? What kind of magic is imbued? It's a good premise for any spooky story. While I have a few suggestions on things for you to think about, I'll only focus on one: overwriting. When we overwrite, we give our readers permission to skim, and we don't want that. It's important to only give your reader what they need to see. I feel this is the biggest thing with this stor...

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12:06 Nov 19, 2022

Daniel, Thanks so much for your critique. It makes so much sense. Before I attempt to submit this story for publication, I will work on brevity. Your version works so well. Your quote by Neil Gaiman will be my new writing mantra.

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