It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you

When I exited the hotel an hour later I found Gabe seated at his bench. 

‘Why are you here?’

‘Why are you here?’  I didn’t feel like playing semantic games so I began to walk.  After a block I turned; Gabe’s eyes were clear and locked on me.  I stepped up the pace and didn’t turn again until I entered the archive.  No one followed.  Annoyance was replaced with paranoid: where did he go?  

I spent the afternoon with a collection of reports on Parchman Prison, where Clyde King had died—a thorough account of how Parchman had become the south’s cruelest prison.  While the material was engrossing, there was scant mention of Clyde King. 

I was so engaged with my reading that I didn’t hear him behind me until his hand came down on my shoulder.  It landed close to my neck, close enough that it could easily have wrapped long fingers around my throat.  I whipped around. 

‘What do you want?’ I was angry for revealing my edginess.  ‘Don’t do that again.’

‘Of course not, cousin.’  He took his right hand from my shoulder and extended his left, which was balled in a fist.  He opened the fist and revealed a black film canister.  ‘For you, Cousin Jackson.’  I eyed the canister as I would a viper.  ‘Take it.  Most interesting.’  He smirked again, knowing my curiosity was stronger than my resolve.  He offered again and this time I took it.  Gabe smiled, pleased, and exited the archive.

I opened the canister and out fell a roll of exposed film.  I grumbled to myself and put the film back in the canister and set the canister on the table and tried to forget about it, returning to my search.  I didn’t want to give in to the curiosity but after half an hour I’d made no progress on account of the black cylinder sitting beside the computer.  I put it in my pocket and it was good to have it out of sight but I could still feel it pressing against my leg.  I gave in. 

‘Can you tell me where I could get some film developed?’ I said to the white-haired archivist.

‘Go left out of the door.  Several blocks up, on the East side of the street.’

‘Thanks,’ I said on my way out the door.

I walked fast in spite of the heat.  I grew disoriented and had to ask a couple people how to get there but soon enough I stumbled onto a one-hour development shop.  I ducked inside and was greeted by the familiar chemical scent of my former workplace. 

‘How soon can I get this developed?’ I said to the young clerk behind the counter.  I’d been in his shoes just a few months before.

‘An hour,’ he said dryly. 

‘I’ll be back in an hour,’ I looked up at the clock.  2:34.  There was a drugstore next door where I passed the time thumbing through magazines I didn’t read.  At 3:30 I was back at the development shop. 

‘It hasn’t been an hour,’ the clerk said, ‘but I’m done with your pictures.’  He handed me the envelope.

I tore into it.  My hands shook.  I lifted the flap and caught my breath at the first image. At first they pictures were silhouettes–they could have been anyone. Then the vantage got closer and I recognized the two people. Me and my cousin Cathy. In bed. We both had all our clothes on–things hadn’t gotten that out of hand–but there was enough suggestion here. And the fact of these pictures–especially the last one, a close up of us sleeping side by side–was enough.  I swore under my breath. 

‘Is everything alright sir?’  This from the photo clerk behind the counter.

‘Yes, fine.’  The idea of Gabe spying incited me to violence.  I tore the pictures as I left the shop, dropping both photos and negatives in the trash.  I wanted to find Gabe, tie him up, abandon him in an alligator-infested swamp.

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