Last Day

 by Alex Harford.

This was to be the last job I'd do. My final shoot. I hear some of them say I'm getting too old. Well, I've been doing it for nineteen years now, I think it's about time I had a bash at something else. I've travelled the world, worked with some people and been able to pay my way. Better to make the choice myself before I start to get pushed out. I've already felt it happening, why they wanted me to do this assignment here I don't know, but I'm just happy to take my final pay-packet. Do the job and leave the rest to them. I've no plans on what I'll do next...I might move back to England. I'd never been one for nine to fives so this job suited me fine, we'll have to see what happens. Not many friends were made in this business, I doubt there are many people who'd do me a favour. Maybe there are some who OWE me a favour, I remember getting a few of them out of some tight spots...but never mind, there was always something in it for me as well. Usually. Not on this job, just a final 'hurrah' so to speak. A farewell of sorts; to no one but me and my self.

So then, back to this job. Recently the jobs had been deteriorating, I can't specifically say how, or pin it down to why - but look at this place!? The stench for a start...it smells like a hundred dodgy inner-city subways all condensed into a few hundred metres. That, and a dampness, a stale smell of last weeks clothes after a night spent in the club and god knows what else. I doubt this hydrant even works, as I put my foot on it I half expected it to yield beneath me. There were stains everywhere - blood, burns, even tyre marks along the pavement and all sorts of other unfathomable scars.

The street consisted of a row of dilapidated buildings on each side, barred up windows - each a mini-jailhouse. Apart from this one behind me, where the darkened windows just loomed. Surely a weak, wooden exterior was foolhardy here? Or perhaps it was a godfather's base - they KNEW they would be safe. Perhaps my imagination was going into overdrive, after all it was only a restaurant, though even this building looked unfinished and rustic in appearance. I couldn’t make out the shop faces on most of the buildings, but they did look like shops – most of them…a grocery, I was beginning to get hungry but wouldn’t eat from there…a bookies, I’d given up gambling a few years ago – much to my relief, a launderette – no need for that, I always had clean clothes on this job…of course after a days work they’d become unclean, but hopefully I wouldn’t be here that long. Elm trees lined the opposing side of the road, seemingly unaffected by the Dutch Elm disease epidemic of a few years ago, perhaps being the only proud entities remaining in this otherwise infected street. When I’d entered the road, I noticed there weren’t even any street signs to announce I, or it, was here…it’s like they wanted to forget this street, like no one dared come here. Perhaps it was meant to be hidden, to obscure from the outside world whatever went on here…

***

I'd already been here for two hours, waiting, strolling up and down the roadside. It gave me time to absorb my surroundings, I don’t usually take much notice but today was…different. Perhaps it’d do me some good taking notice of what’s around me for once.

Only a single person had passed by in those two hours, crossing over the road before they came to pass me. He ambled by not too far removed from the ethos of a monkey, which I was considerably amused by. Short and loose-limbed, with a mucky white bowler hat on and a long, dark coat that almost reached down to his shoes. In fact if I squinted my eyes, he could almost have been an escaped circus chimp, slipping away down the nameless street where no soul would dare to follow.

Not long after a squalid sect of rats scuttered by, perking their noses up at various obscenities in the gutter. Then she arrived. And to work with HER!? I said I'd never work with her again, was someone setting me up here - this place, and now her? Our paths had crossed once or twice before. The first time I recall, she was young, and fresh, perhaps naive. She wasn't ready, she got in with the wrong crowd. It changed her. But anyway, I remember her eyes, blue, that could light up a starless sky, now they just looked sorry and tired. She used to have a smile, a smile that was infectious and would charm all around her...now she had a frown that could cloud the brightest summer’s day. The once pink petals of her skin were now withered from a life far lengthier than the years she had long forgotten. And what had she done to her hair? This is the first time I'd seen her wearing a wig, and an ill-fitting one at that. Maybe that's why they had her standing back there, and well, it is my job – she’s an accessory, makes me look better. I do feel sorry for her. In a way. Courtney Love's vile long-lost sibling. Am I bitter? Perhaps that was a bit harsh on Ms Love. Maybe it is my fault. I could have done something about it all those years ago. But I shouldn't be looking into the past, today of all days. I realised I’d been looking at her for a while, perhaps in disgust, so took it upon myself to greet her and raise a smile, not that the smile would have in any way seemed bona fide – one of my few failings, one who could never feign a pleasing face.

I say our paths had crossed once or twice before, well you’ll probably judge from my reaction to seeing her that it was more than that. We dated for a while, she ended it. Once she had used me to reach where she wanted to be. Now you think I'm bitter. I could see what she was doing but I allowed it to take its course. She'd changed since our first meeting...the people had done it to her. If we'd got together 10 years before, when we first met, things would have been different. I had some experience in the game, could have guided her, could have stopped what happened.

***

A waft of uncertain air surged through the street and tipped my tongue as I licked my lips. Seconds later, to my relief, probably hers too - the Main Man arrived. Even later than her. We wouldn’t be in this job if it wasn’t for him. What a person to rely on. Here it was. My final crescendo, my swan song. It was all about to be over.

So then to the shoot.

...

BANG!

Wha..!! They killed her!? Is she okay!? NO! NOOOOOOO!!

I scrambled over to her…straight through the mouth...she's not breathing.

There she was, limply slouched in the doorway, blood spattered over the green and gold exterior of the restaurant entrance. And her wig…it looked better placed now but…blood, red streaks through the blonde. The restauranteur wanted to open while her dead body was still lain there, just another blood stain to add to the street to him. It seemed quite fitting that she died here, at home in this seedy, squalid wretch of a place, it was what she had become…but still…she’s dead, a life lost…someone I once cared for, and still do, or did...I’d never seen a dead body before…

And here I am, back again a week later, doing the job with a different woman…no problems this time, they took the pictures and we were gone in no time. I wanted to do it, just for her, it was my choice…though I didn’t tell the new model what had happened a week earlier. They turned out to be some of the best photos I’d done, the final page in my portfolio.