Exactly one year ago, somebody took a photograph.
And one more.
There were several photographs taken of the same subject. Not just snapshots of a holiday or something like that. No, these were official photos.
One of them keeps flashing before me when I close my eyes.
The person who took them was a man I used to work with. I liked him. Actually, I liked all of those guys. There was this special bonding going on between them, and although I didn't exactly do the same job they did, I felt some bonding between them and me too. Maybe not as strong, but certainly something similar. You know what I mean.
Or maybe you don't. And that's a shame. Because people should know about it. Maybe that's why I'm telling you this. It changed my life and maybe it will change yours too. Maybe not as much. Almost certainly not as much, because you won't have experienced it first-handed. But I hope the story will make you think. And maybe reconsider some things. I don't know. It could happen.
It was my job to get those photos developed. I didn't have to do it myself. I just had to get the roll of film to headquarters where the professionals took care of it.
I had done it dozens of times before. I had no idea that the content of that particular roll of film would be so devastating.
That was maybe the worst thing about the job. You knew some things, but not everything. God, how I wish that sometimes they could have told me the details. Occasionally they asked for my help and I assisted. Not once did I receive information on the 'how' and 'why' of their cases.
I was bound to secrecy. There was a special paragraph in my contract. On my first day, they told me I would get to read, hear and see things about people that I wasn't allowed to pass on. That's normal, of course, and I would never reveal embarrassing details about the people we encountered. You won't even find them in this story. I could make this story much longer and far more interesting if I did include those things, but then I wouldn't be telling just a story anymore.
I stopped going to church in High School. My junior year, I think it must've been. That year, one of my friends committed suicide. But I didn't stop believing in God, if that's what you think. I kept hoping for the existence of something like God, but my days at the church were over. I found it too passive; just sitting there, reciting the same dialogues between the priest and his parish in the same, monotonous voice, praying and singing for salvation.
I've learned that it's far more effective to fight evil yourself instead of asking someone else to save you
Don't get me wrong. I believe in the forces of the universe and that if some people believe one of those forces is God, than that's their right. I certainly won't tell them otherwise. I wish I had as firm a belief as they do. I admit that sometimes my beliefs don't mean much.
But there are forces and I think that, indirectly, we do receive some kind of help. Most of us don't recognize it and say it's just coincidence.
So, no more church for me. Instead, I fight evil myself. Sometimes, I pray for help, but I don't go into a particular building with a bunch of other people at a designated time of day, listening and saying things that aren't relevant to my current situation. If I have something to say to God, I say it and hope He will keep an eye out for me.
Evil is everywhere and no man can handle it by himself. That's why I keep a low profile. I don't lure evil out of its hiding place, I don't wake it up when it slumbers, and I don't provoke it by losing my temper.
That last one is tricky. I don't always succeed in keeping my cool. Evil generating from within is the foulest kind there is. Maybe righteous people are allowed to act as severely as the ones they condemn, but I certainly don't see myself as a righteous person. There's too much blackness in my heart and too much blood on my fingertips. I would take advantage of such privileges, I wouldn't be objective and my decisions would be worthless.
I'm no crusader. I don't go around telling people how they should live their lives. But I know there's a difference between black and white and I also know there's a lot of grey in the world. I have no answers to moral questions. But I know there's no need for retribution or to commit a crime yourself when people respect others in the first place.
What I saw in those photographs when they came back from headquarters is pure evidence that people don't respect each other.
I won't tell you any details or background information. I'll only tell you what I could see.
A woman. Sprawled on the floor. Frozen eyes. A blood-soaked carpet. A black hole in her revealed stomach.
I got sick. Everybody would.
The gun lay by her side. No reasons. No explanations. Just the gun.
Was it suicide or murder? It wasn't for me to know. Probably suicide. Only a very small chance that it was something else. It wasn't my job to find out. It was the job of the photographer and his partners, the cops who handled this kind of thing throughout the year.
But when I opened that envelop and got to see what no man or woman alive should ever see, I knew.
I don't know what it was that I knew exactly. I just knew.
I don't know if the guys knew what was going on inside my head. Maybe they did or maybe they didn't. Maybe they decided not to talk to me about it. Maybe they had no idea how the photo affected me. How could they know? I was young, absorbent, I played violent computer games, watched action movies, saw the news every evening. I could handle it.
I could handle it to some degree. People die every day in a lot of different ways. You can't stand still for everybody. Yet this woman, unknown to me, held a mystery which I couldn't perceive. There was something in her eyes that made me believe the things I could see in the photograph weren't what they appeared to be.
She wasn't just staring at thin air; she was fixated on something – or someone …
How could a dozen trained police officers mistake a blatant murder for a suicide? That's what planted the seed of doubt in my mind. It was obvious to me it was no suicide. I would never believe that the woman in the photo could have shot herself in the stomach.
Sure, she could have had problems. Depression, getting fired, losing a loved one, being accused of something terrible and awaiting a lynch party. There are so many reasons to do it.
People will make up any excuse to explain the phenomenon. Of course, they never get to the real truth. That's because the real truth often is far worse than any horror story any writer could come up with.
There are things happening in this world that would make you ashamed to be human. That's why people don't know about them. If people were aware of them, it would lead to mass destruction and extinction.
They can make up plenty of reasons for that woman to shoot herself. Some might even be plausible.
When people want to commit suicide, they jump from a tall building, hang themselves in the small shed at the back of their garden or take an overdose of sleeping pills. When they do decide to use a gun, they hold the barrel against the side of their heads or clench it between their teeth.
I've never heard of someone shooting herself in the gut.
I'm not a medical expert, but I don't think you die immediately when you shoot yourself in the gut. Even if you aim and hit the liver, it still takes a while to bleed to death. You'll die quicker from shock than from the bullet. And I don't think you want to put yourself through all that agony. When you want to kill yourself, you do it quick. Get it over with. Like that. You certainly don't want to look at yourself lying in a pool of blood that's slowly dripping out of your new navel. I mean, some people even jump in front of trains to be sure it's over in a flash.
So, suicide to them, murder to me. It was that simple.
But they were trained police officers. Why would they believe me? How could I convince them? The best evidence I had was still nothing more than a hunch.
When the opportunity arose to get my hands on the case file, I took it with both hands.
Gloved hands, that is. I was dealing with the police here. They take fingerprints, remember? So I went to the broom closet and took two latex gloves from the janitor's supply box. Put them on and went back to the office of the main investigator.
It was very early – I always start work early, that way I can go home early too – and I was alone in the building. I always take a tour of the complex before settling down in my office, to make sure everything's still in order.
When I walked into that office, I saw the case file on the desk with that familiar photo lying on top. I instantly knew what I had to do. With my fingers protected by latex, I scribbled a note with my left hand (I'm right-handed) and put it somewhere in between all the papers in the file. I wrote 'location of wound not reminiscent of suicide?'
I hoped it would work. I hoped no one would recognize my handwriting. I tried to copy the handwriting of the second officer working on the case - I knew he was left-handed - but I wasn't convinced it would trick them. But that didn't matter, as long as they noticed the same thing I did and took another look at all the details of the so-called suicide.
It's not like I tampered with the evidence or anything. I just added a thought, an idea, a concept … Whatever you'd like to call it. A piece of bait, maybe. I don't know.
Anyway, my actions were responsible for what happened next. If I had kept my doubts to myself, three more people would still be alive today.
Then again, who's to say they really followed my advice on that piece of paper? Maybe it got lost and they acted on a hunch of their own. If I thought of it, it would be natural for them, the specialists, to think of it too.
Nonetheless, they found out that the bullet stuck in the woman's intestines didn't match the variety usually used with the type of gun she owned. Yet gun powder indicated that her pistol had been fired. Further investigation revealed the bullet that came from her weapon. It was stuck in the trunk of a tree in her front yard.
The bullet in her body did resemble the ammunition our very own police department used. Inspection of the service issues found the gun that had been used to shoot the woman. It was our photographer's.
No mystery as to how he got to be the first to arrive at the scene.
Mayhem, absolute mayhem followed.
The main investigator was downstairs checking the weapons personally when our photographer walked in on him. No doubt they had a conversation, but no word could be heard because of their whispering voices.
There were no witnesses. Nobody saw what happened downstairs. There were two other officers with me in the kitchenette. They were enjoying a game of darts while I was eating a sandwich and reading the paper.
We all heard the shot. First we looked at each other, trying to figure out what happened by making telepathic contact. When that didn't work, the two officers ran downstairs, only to hit the ground when two more shots were fired.
I could only think of an escaped convict. I saw that one of the officers had left his holster, with the gun still it in, on the dining table. I took the weapon out and pointed it at the door. I had no idea who could be coming upstairs. I wasn't even sure anybody would be coming upstairs. I'd rather nobody did, because I had no idea what I was capable of with that gun in my hands. Maybe I would be able to shoot, and if the person who walked in was an innocent bystander, my life would be over as well – figuratively speaking, of course. If I wasn't able to shoot and the person coming upstairs was a murderer, my life would be over, literally.
I was no policeman. The only thing I did there was help out with the paperwork, keeping the administration tidy, working the computer a bit and making schedules for the guys, dividing them into their three main shifts.
When the photographer appeared in the doorway, his gun in his hand, he looked at me and his eyes froze in an instant. He hit the floor before I realized what had happened, before I heard the sound of the gunshot, before I felt the recoil of the gun in my hand.
I had shot him. I had shot the murderer.
He didn't die, though. I'd never used a gun in my life, and a few weeks of recovery would be all he needed to get back on his feet. He was very lucky, though. An inexperienced shooter sometimes can do more damage than a trained gunman.
The main investigator and the two other officers didn't survive, though. Too bad. They would've made perfect witnesses to keep me out of jail.
I wasn't detained for long, though. Just a couple of days so they could wrap things up at the office, make sure there weren't any loose ends that could come back some day and bite me in the ass. I worked there for just six months, but the guys made sure I wouldn't have to deal with any consequences. They messed up, not me. They should have noticed our photographer had gotten very unstable.
Actually, they had noticed it, but they'd never acted upon it. They just told themselves he was having a bad day. That 'bad day' lasted an entire month, however. But he was one of the guys; he couldn't be up to any mischief. He knew the rules. Why, he even made sure everyone else lived by the rules. Sooner or later, he'd go into a bar, get drunk as hell and wake up the next morning all refreshed and ready to roll.
They were wrong. But who's to blame them, anyway? We're all human; we all make mistakes and everybody knows we're a long way from understanding each other.
Mistakes and misconceptions rule the world. The blameless take the fall and the heroes get no respect. Families and friends want revenge for everything that happened to their loved ones, but nobody thinks of the family and friends of the people who were indirectly responsible for what happened, who tried everything to prevent the disaster but failed, who were forced to act to save themselves or others.
When they are hit for their mistakes, where will it end?
"Frozen Eyes" is one of two stories written after Johnny's six month stay with a local police department where he worked as administrative assistant. The photograph mentioned in the story is real. The ensuing events aren't.