Here’s a taste of my just released novel, THE CAMERA’S EYE, a story of two women in search of their harasser.
The crash sat Veronica Lorimer up in her bed. A second one, followed by a revving engine and spurt of gravel from spinning tires, sent her toward the stairs, pulling on a robe as she went. Half way down, she stopped, staring. Cold rushed in through a gaping black hole where the window had been, and a pair of rocks lay on the rug in a pool of shards, glistening in the porch light.
“Lotti?” Her call was a hoarse whisper as shock opened a vast space around her, and her head spun. Who? Why? People threw rocks to make other people leave—Muslims, Blacks, Asians—anyone different. Not gray-haired white ladies who looked like English teachers.
“Charlotte!” Her voice expressed her impatience this time, but there was no response from the back bedroom where Lotti slept with her hearing aids out.
She stared out into the blackness until her eyeballs burned, but could make out nothing but the wall of trees silhouetted against the night sky. She clenched her teeth to stop the shivering as the November air penetrated her robe. Evergreens dripped from the night’s rain, pocking the silence. Just a small, sleeping island in the Puget Sound.
Her gaze swept the room searching for some reason and landed on her camera—Constance the Nikon—sitting on the coffee table. Was that it? For years Constance had captured whatever caught her eye with no thought of consequences. Some secret laid bare? Veronica mentally scanned the photos laid out on her work table for her next book. What had she exposed? Veronica slammed her mind shut as the faces of her children rose, dimmed by the wall of silence they’d imposed. No. Surely not after all this time. Not rock throwing.
What then? Driven by the wrongness, the need to make sense, she pulled on the rain boots that stood next to the front door and crunched through broken glass through the kitchen to the glassed-in porch that was her studio.
She turned on the light, then turned it off again. Grabbing the flashlight off the sill, she yanked open the back door—and shrieked as a snarling body streaked past her.
“Trix!” she gasped. “Great Scott! Are you trying to kill me, too?” She picked up the tiger cat and held him to her face. “Did we leave you out? Well, I’m sorry about that, but you’re too old for such shenanigans.” She warmed her against her chest. “And God knows, so am I.” With her free hand, she swept the clearing behind the house with her light. Nothing but grass turned green now with fall rains, the deserted stubble of November garden beds and the surrounding protective wall of evergreens that now seemed to hide intruders. Charlotte was right; they needed floodlights. She closed the door and turned the light on again, depositing Trix on the corner of her drawing table, cocking her head at noises Veronica couldn’t hear.
She shivered again and pulled her robe around her more tightly. Damn it, Charlotte, where are you? She headed for the stairs but stopped in spite of herself at the photos that stared up at her from the worktable. It’s you! It must be. Again the never far submerged images of her children rose, accusing. She shook them off. For ten years she’d carried their hostility in her bones; it had become old with the wearing. Surely not an explanation for this sudden outburst of rage. Something else.
She began examining her photos, one by one. A pair at the ferry rail became lovers escaping from their spouses. A barn, covered in moss and crumbling into the earth, revealed too many footprints around it. A meth lab? A pair of children at play on the beach were transformed into kidnap victims. Only the reflection of Mt. Baker in the Sound refused to turn sinister. Unless that speck of a boat—don’t be absurd. Drifting into paranoia wouldn’t help.
Who said it was this bunch of pictures, anyway? Why not any of the photos in her published books? Once her pictures were published they separated themselves from her on-going life the way those in the family album captured the finished past. But her conviction that the rock thrower—or throwers—had spotted her with the camera refused to fade.
What about pictures she’d discarded or even those not taken? She emptied her basket of discards onto the floor, spread them out and sank onto the couch to stare at them. A picture of a fishing boat brought back her walk along the bay. Was that a missing husband setting crab pots? An escapee from some long-ago crime? The bed-and-breakfast out on Summers Point—did the red car in the yard mark the location of a wife fleeing from a violent lover? The photos took her along the beach, past abandoned coolers, tennis shoes, and buoys among the driftwood, telling tales of who-knew-what disasters.
Then there was the decaying queen of a house whose image she could never get right. A dozen times at least she’d driven into the lane at the tip of the island to walk its perimeter looking for the right shot. Always it had been deserted. Was someone there? She picked up a photo she’d discarded because its light was flat and examined it more closely. A window next to the porch was broken—recently? She sat back, thinking of the boy who wandered the woods on a nearby island, breaking into houses. The daily television news stories had touched her, for her own son had wandered that way, rootless and lost, after her husband, Simon, died. Her body went numb as the futile hours of searching came back. But David had vanished. Had her son, too, become a vagrant, stealing food from vacant houses to survive? She often awoke in the night with such dreams. Wherever he was, he was no boy now, but her heart ached for all such boys, cut loose in the world too soon. This one had been caught once, but managed to get free. Since then he’d proved to be a master of escape.
She stared at the picture, knowing that such a boy might well heave a rock at the world that had abandoned him. Was that door open a crack?
“Roni? What on earth? My God, what happened?” Charlotte’s voice from the stairs brought her head up.
“Careful!” Veronica headed back through the kitchen to intercept her. “Don’t come through there barefoot.”
“Those are rocks!” Charlotte stood, tall, angular and barefoot at the bottom of the stairs. “Someone threw rocks through our window?”
“They did. About a half hour ago.”
“You’ve been up—why didn’t you call me, for heaven’s sake?”
Veronica raised her hand to cut her off. “I did. I was coming to get you, but …” she stopped as she remembered the cause of her detour. She didn’t want to hear another complaint about Constance’s recklessness.
But Charlotte had fallen silent, staring at the shards of broken glass. Then she sat down on the steps. “Bruno Gutterman.”
“Bruno.” She closed her eyes, then opened them. “Ten years. He’s out of prison.”
Veronica opened her mouth and closed it again. Why had it never occurred to her that Charlotte might be the target? Charlotte, after a career prosecuting criminals was, after all, the likelier. Except that she had practiced under her maiden name. “How could he find you, even assuming he wanted to? I know he threatened to get even, but throwing rocks? That’s greasy kid stuff, Charlotte.”
“Or angry mob stuff,” her friend muttered.
“What angry mob?” Her mind brought up the week’s television images of fist-shaking demagogues decrying the social chaos brought on by homosexuals and immigrants. “Here on the island? Nothing’s happened here.”
Charlotte looked at her a moment, then leapt to her feet. “It’s freezing. I’m going to get dressed. Have you called the police?”
“No. Lotti? What are you thinking?”
Charlotte stopped and wrapped her arms around herself before she spoke. “I’m thinking about your book launching last week.”
“What?” Veronica’s mind scanned the bookstore crowd—polite interest, friendly encouragement, glances of passing customers. “Why? What did you see?”
“A pair of women around the corner behind the first set of bookshelves, looking through your book. Very tight-lipped.”
“Ah?” Veronica considered without much surprise. Her pictures often brought that sort of disapproval; they were not all intended to quiet the spirit. “Not the sort to pitch rocks, surely.”
But Charlotte had vanished up the stairs, leaving the acrid smell of possibility in her wake and awakening again the memory of her children’s bitter accusations. Her friend had always been far charier of the way others saw them; her work had exposed her to the nastier side of humanity, and she lived with the echo of curses and threats: “You just wait…” “I’ll get you …” “Remember me, I’m coming back …” But in their five years on this island, no one had treated them as anything but the pair of aging widows they were. She searched her memory, bringing up the faces of neighbors and shopkeepers to sense anything amiss. Nothing.
She went back to the porch, where the pictures confronted her like so many turned rocks. The quiet little island where they’d retreated suddenly teemed with secret crimes and hatreds. She’d always put Constance between herself and the images she caught. Constance’s eye caught the emotions emitted by each scene, object or person; their source, once captured, faded into obscurity. Now she looked at the old house again and thought of the boy. If she called the police, and he was living in that house, his life as a boy would be over. The papers had said they would treat him as an adult when they caught him again. But Charlotte’s question had stuck to her bones. The rock was police business.
She looked at her watch. Seven o’clock. If she didn’t call, Charlotte would. Well, the clearing was gray with dawn now; it wasn’t the middle of the night, anymore. They wouldn’t come with sirens. She went to the phone.
“Grafton Island Sheriff’s Office,” a tired voice answered.
“Someone has thrown rocks through our front window!” Veronica exclaimed.
“Name and address …?” The voice faded into a yawn.
She rattled off the information, then had to repeat it, spelling out their last names.
“Taken? What does …” She broke off to snort. “What burglar would wake the house by smashing a window, for heaven’s sake?” She stopped to control her mounting frustration. “Look, send someone out, will you?”
“When I have a deputy in the area, ma’am.” His voice soothed, like placating a child. Faced with the man’s patronizing, the chill of the attack returned. She shook it off and went upstairs to find warm clothes.
By the time the officer arrived a half hour later, Veronica and Charlotte were both booted and jacketed, armored against the cold flowing through the gaping hole.
“I’m Deputy Hansen. Hear you’ve had some trouble here.” He was clean-faced and young. His eyes moved from the mess on the floor to the pair of them, then he scratched his head as though embarrassed. “You live out here alone? Just the two of you?”
“Without husbands, you mean? What’s your point?” Charlotte had retrieved her prosecuting attorney voice.
“Just looking at the facts, Ma’am.” He dug out his notebook and wrote. “You’re—ahh—partners, then?” he mumbled, still looking at the page.
“What? We’re friends.” Veronica folded her arms across her ample chest and gave him the full value of her height, which exceeded his by two inches. Trix appeared and circled his ankles, arching her back. “And what does that have to do with anything?”
“Don’t know, Ma’am.” He put his notebook back in his pocket, not meeting her eyes. “Just thinking how it might look to others—if you know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t,” Charlotte objected. “Suppose you tell me.”
“Well, I expect there are some that might take exception.” He met her gaze then dropped his to the mess on the floor. “Nothing missing, you said.”
They stared at his discomfiture without answering.
“Well, I’ll report this, ladies. You call us if you see any strangers about the place.”
Charlotte’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “That’s all? No more questions?”
He looked surprised.
“No questions about enemies, other incidents, and such?” Charlotte jammed her fists into her parka pockets.
“Oh. Well, I didn’t think …” He laughed, embarrassed again—or still. “You just don’t look the sort—I mean—and it’s pretty clear …”
“Clear? What’s clear?” Charlotte challenged.
The deputy stared, his mouth open, as though fishing for words.
“Never mind.” Charlotte relented. “I’m a retired attorney—prosecuting attorney.” She viewed his shock with pleasure. “And I do have a few leftover enemies, so if you would check, please.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” He opened his notebook again.
“Bruno Gutterman. He murdered his wife’s lover—his right, he insisted. And would return to get even. To teach me my place, I believe he said.” She waited while he wrote the name. “And you might check on one Joseph Marchand, who I sent away for beating his wife.”
The man’s brows went up. “That’s all?”
“Mm. That’s what he thought.”
“No, no,” he hastened with a nervous laugh. “I mean anyone else?”
“I’ll think about it and give you a call,” Charlotte promised.
Veronica watched him scribble down the names. He’d turn to her, next. What was she going to say? Maybe nothing. With his attitude, he’d probably see the sinister possibilities in her pictures as old-lady hysteria. She wasn’t in the mood.
“This is Veronica Lorimer, the photographer,” Charlotte continued, voiding Veronica’s decision to stay silent. Her friend pointed to the coffee table where Veronica’s latest book, The Way We Are, lay next to the guilty camera. “She launched that at Island Books last week. You may have seen the write-up in yesterday’s paper.”
The officer’s eyes widened as he stared at the cover, then went still. “So that’s you.” His voice had acquired an edge, and when he looked up his eyes no longer questioned. His whole bearing was that of a man who’d had his opinion confirmed.
Charlotte’s eyes narrowed. “You know the book.” It was not a question.
“I’ve seen it.” He gave his attention to his notebook without looking at her. “Some of the pictures …” His voice faded out as he wrote.
“Some of the pictures, what?” Charlotte persisted.
“Caused talk.” He snapped the notebook shut. “Well. That’s it then.” He looked from one to the other of them. “Well, good day, ladies.” He swung away.
“What sort of talk?” Charlotte’s voice was calm but insistent.
He opened the door then turned to meet Charlotte’s cold gaze. “Upset. I’d say definitely upset.” He turned away again.
“You wouldn’t happen to be a member of Grace Bible Church, would you?” Charlotte’s voice pursued him.
“I am, in fact.” He turned, surprised. “Odd you should ask.”
He gave an uncertain smile and left.
When the door had closed after him, Charlotte turned away, slapping her hands against her sides. “So. Your book has offended the good people of Grace Bible Church.”
“Where on earth did you come up with that?”
“Their billboard, remember? I pointed it out to you. The sermon—‘Homosexuality and Sin.’”
Veronica closed her eyes and let her breath out in a hiss as her children’s condemnations echoed from the past. The ogre had risen again. She nodded, finally, in agreement. “His whole attitude changed when he saw it.” She considered the iconic Sound scene of water dotted with wooded bits of land disappearing into the distance. The scene was familiar to Grafton Island residents, except that Constance had focused on the black wall of clouds about to eclipse the sun. The photo made the front page of the weekly Grafton Island Press.
“That isn’t the picture that ‘caused talk,’ as he put it.”
“At Grace Bible Church.” Veronica finished. She picked up the book and flipped through, stopping at a picture of a preacher, the cross-crowned steeple rising behind him, his mouth twisted in rage, then flipped to another of the signs proclaiming God’s will trampled underfoot by an anonymous mob, and finally to a photo of a gay marriage set against the rising sun.
“Right,” Charlotte said over her shoulder. “Any of those will do.”
“Well at least it’s just one church out of … how many on the island? Four, at least. Not the whole island by a long shot.” But the words didn’t reassure. She was the target. Her stomach clenched.
“True, but that stuff spreads. The nation is sick with it.”
“Are you saying my book is kindling, Lotti?” And why was she acting as though she hadn’t suspected the same? Pretending she’d ever tried to stop Constance from showing whatever she thought needed saying.
“Your book is great, Roni—a true picture of our times. But …” She swept her arm across the glass littered scene and didn’t finish.
“So I really need to find the culprit. We can’t let this go on.” She headed back to her photos as though they would reveal more answers.
“Maybe it won’t,” Charlotte said, following her. “Maybe we’re over-reacting. Somebody got a bunch of anger out of his system, and it’s over.” She looked down at the photo of the old house on the point. “Where’s this?”
“Coleman Point. You know those stories we’ve been reading about that boy over on Drummond Island who breaks into empty houses? Norris Stoner, that’s his name.”
“Yes. You were thinking it might be him?”
“Well, at least it has nothing to do with Grace Bible Church.”
“And why would he throw a rock through our window?” Charlotte wasn’t to be so easily diverted. “He only breaks into empty houses.”
“He was just the first who came to mind. That’s all. That and the sense that it was some boy with a huge grudge against the world.”
“Like David?” Charlotte’s voice was gentle but persistent.
“Like David.” She sighed. “And this has nothing to do with him. I know that. It just brings it all back, that’s all.” Resolutely, she turned her attention to the other pictures. “The problem is that now I don’t know what Constance saw in any of these. Someone—whoever pitched those rocks—left me with another pair of eyes. See that car half-hidden in the trees?” She picked up the photo from her discard pile. “Is he an errant husband?”
“Mm.” Charlotte looked at the picture, accepting the diversion. “There was a time I’d be able to name you several possibilities.”
“Right. And all I saw was a car ruining my picture. This whole thing has left me your eyes. Seeing crimes in every eye. How do you stand it?” She gathered up the pictures and thumped them into a stack. “We need breakfast.”
“Too damned cold. Just make coffee—and toast. I’ll call the glass company.” Charlotte turned toward the phone. Once a marathon runner, she walked stiffly now. Arthritis, yes, but her body said she was as worried as she was angry. She would have named it “stress” and run it off back then—they both would have. Now, the mixture of fear and anger just filled the air and turned the smell of the surrounding evergreens ominous.
“They won’t be here until noon,” she reported, returning to the kitchen. She fell to silent pacing while Veronica stood, equally silent, watching the coffee pot. “We need a dog.”
“You really must be worried.” The battle between the responsibility of a pet and freedom was a longstanding issue between them, but she never blamed Charlotte for needing escape more than she did. Photography had always given her a freedom that Charlotte, tied to case, court, and an invalid husband could only dream of. She poured the coffee and buttered the toast.
Charlotte shrugged. “It’s probably that boy or some nut from the church crowd, but whoever it is, I’d like to scare them off.” She took a decisive bite of toast.
Veronica nodded. “Well, you know I’ll never object to a dog.”
“Not a puppy.” Charlotte’s tone was final.
Veronica laughed. “Not a puppy.”
Charlotte fell silent again. She was, Veronica knew, still opening up case after case in her mind the way she’d been examining every photo. A dog wouldn’t fix that. “We need to find out who did it.”
Charlotte looked up from studying her mug. “A pair of old biddies playing detective, you mean? You’ve been reading too much Agatha Christie.”
Veronica gave a laugh. “Maybe. But I need to be doing something.”
“It’s no game, Roni. And given that deputy’s attitude, we have no protection.”
“And when have we ever had protection, my friend?” She took the last bite of toast. “Our deceased husbands would say we have that one thing in common—not giving a damn for anyone’s warnings. They’d probably be amazed this hadn’t happened to us long ago.”
Charlotte grinned. “For sure.” She rinsed her plate at the sink. “Okay, you’re on. Where do we start?”
“That old house. The boy. Just to eliminate that possibility.” Veronica picked up her camera. “And because I have no idea how to deal with the church.” She looked at the floor. “Leave this mess, for now.” She headed for the door.
Charlotte stopped her on the porch. “You’d make a lousy sleuth.”
“Footprints, my dear.”
They found prints in the rain-soaked ground, but obliterated by other feet—Deputy Hansen’s, no doubt. There were fresh tire tracks in the gravel of the drive and pock marks where the vehicle had hit the accelerator. The tracks had been blurred by others, undoubtedly the cruiser’s. They gave a collective sigh and headed for the car.