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No One Knew

by Deborah Shrimplin

Richard was known at the local police office as a “rock,” “the best,” and the “old-timer.” But, his co-workers did not know the true label. At home, he ate breakfast alone and dinner in front of the TV. He drowned it all in some kind of alcohol.

Richard drank to dull the images engraved in his consciousness. Some were so graphic the booze could not erase them. They were in his dreams and his nightmares. He knew it all stemmed from his job. As the photographer for the forensics team, he was usually the first to record a crime scene, to photograph the carnage before the clean-up.

It was around noon when Richard received a call about a shooting at the local mall. He gathered his camera from his desk drawer, quickly left his office and sped to the mall.

Richard was already picturing the scene in his head. The bodies would be lying in pools of blood, faces frozen, eyes staring at nothing. Personal items would be scattered about the scene. Police, first responders and medics would be combing the area. This mall scene would not be any different from the others.

And, indeed, the crime scene was just as he’d expected. Seven bodies lay in pools of their own blood while uniformed personnel were rushing here and there. With a detached demeanor, he began the gruesome job of photographing the bloodbath.

At the entrance to the department store, Richard saw two bodies lying side by side. He walked over for his close-up. The sight tore his hardened soul. The iron mask around his heart fell away. He cried for the first time in twenty-five years.

Richard stared. The bodies of a middle-aged woman and a teenage girl lay locked in an embrace. The blood trail told the story of their end. They had been shot while walking side by side. After they fell to the floor, the teenager could not move. She stretched out her arms, waiting for her mother’s loving embrace. The mother crawled to her dying child. The girl wrapped her arms around her mother and died in her arms. Then, cradling her child in her arms, the mother died.

“What would they have said to each other?” Richard thought. Richard fought his tears and snapped the picture.

That night, Richard poured himself a vodka tonic. The image of the mother and daughter haunted him. He was done. He had had enough of this job. His ex-wife had encouraged him to open a studio and sell portraits of children, families and pets. He would do just that. The time had come.

Richard went to the kitchen counter, picked up the half-full bottle of vodka and poured it down the drain followed by three full quarts still in the carton under the sink. Tomorrow he would begin a new life.

After this purging, he felt physically, mentally and emotionally drained. He found his way to bed, tossed and turned for a few minutes. He fell asleep visualizing his new life, new shop and new goals.

Four hours later, a small lump of blood blocked an artery in Richard’s brain. The coroner’s certificate read, Time of Death: unknown.

Copyright © 2019 by Deborah Shrimplin

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