This is the last of the flash fiction I've written that originally appeared at the late, lamented Muzzle Flash.
Clay got the idea from a stand-up comedian: People spend thousands on home security systems, but they’ll hand their expensive camera to a total stranger and ask him to take their picture.
Easiest thing in the world.
All month he’d gone to the places vacationers went, and every evening he ended up with a camera or two. The simple fact he was alone was all the hook he needed. No parent seemed to want to trouble a fellow parent, trying to corral a brood of their own, and ask to have their picture taken.
Clay was starting to believe he’d been the only person watching Letterman that night.
He never had to run very far: If someone gave chase, they gave up when their confused, frightened children called after them. Getting away wasn’t a problem for Clay. He always had a lot of nervous energy in the hours his jones began to build.
Auntwan had taken all the cameras off his hands, though not without complaining. Digital! I need 35mm! If he kept coming to Auntwan, the price was going to go down. He was walking the midway of the fair, brooding over this, when the couple waved him down.
“Excuse me. Sir?”
The man was taller than Clay, fifty pounds heavier – easy to get away from. The woman seemed bleary and happy. Clay guessed they’d come from the beer tent.
“Would you mind?”
It was a high-end digital camera. Clay nodded through the man’s brief instructions, sneaking glances at his cornflower-blue eyes.
They were standing in front of a carny game. Clay motioned them back, then held up a finger to indicate he meant to wait until a clump of old people had passed. The couple relaxed their pose as the crowd moved between them, and Clay ran.
He ran further than usual, expecting pursuit: No children, pricey camera. Near the main entrance he ducked into a tent of 4-H Club exhibits and watched for the couple or the monkeys working security to go past. He removed his jacket, turned it inside out, wrapped it around the camera, wedged the bundle under his arm, and walked to his car.
He joined the long line of cars waiting to exit the fairgrounds, playing with figures in his head. Fifty bucks? From Auntwan? He left the parking lot and pulled onto the service drive, where he was dozens of cars back from a red traffic light. It was the nicest camera Clay had stolen. He set it in his lap, monitor up, and thumbed the review button.
He’d taken a picture of the couple. Bad luck. He thumbed to the previous photograph: A close-up of a woman’s face. Not the woman from the fair: This woman had black hair, set off by a red flower nestled above her ear.
Something was wrong with her eyes.
Clay looked closer.
The red bloom in her hair was no flower.
Clay went to the previous photo: the man from the fair and the black-haired woman, standing in a park, smiling, arms around each other.
Previous photo: close-up, pale woman – her skin looked blue – staring out from the wet, orange-red hair that hung in her eyes.
Again: the man from the fair and the pale woman, seated at a wrought iron table, traffic blurring by in the background.
Clay’s jones crept up. His hands were shaking as he thumbed the button again.
A black woman, on her back, eyes closed, streak of dried blood on her neck.
The black woman standing under an umbrella held by the man from the fair.
There were more.
A horn blasted behind him, and Clay looked in the rearview mirror.
James smiled at the thief in the car in front of him.
He had pointed the thief out to Debbie in the parking lot. She’d been staring after the man, drunkenly transfixed, while James popped open the trunk of her car.
James enjoyed his dates. Bringing them to a close was always difficult.
The thief was small. James had fifty pounds on him.
It was going to be difficult, bringing this to a close, too, but James was looking forward to it.
Taking the pictures was usually the hardest thing.
Taking the thief’s picture was going to be the easiest thing in the world.
Note: I promise to never write another serial killer story.