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"Have you seen Christine?" Anxiety thinned Cassie's voice to a whine. "We've been calling her, like, all day. We even stopped at her apartment."

"She'll show." I deflected the Rott with my knee and told him to sit. "She's already seen the photographs so she's probably planning a big, fashionably late entrance."

"Christine, she's late to everything," Nephthys said, then wrapped me in a congratulatory hug, not oblivious to the fascinated stares of both men and women in the crowd. She wore a thin black halter and stretch shorts, showing as much of her tattooed body as possible in public without getting arrested. She was insanely proud of her tattoos, precise recreations of the hieroglyphics and pictographs depicting her namesake, the Egyptian Goddess of the House and Friend of the Dead in Egyptian mythology. She gave the hug full body contact then pulled her head back to drop a lip kiss on me, unexpected at that moment but not so bad really, in a non-lesbian girlfriend kind of way. "You rock, girl," she said. "The photographs are killer."

"Cindy Sherman meets Weegee," someone said behind me and I turned to see who, because those were exactly the two traditions I intended to cross when I began composing the photographs in my head. The man who had spoken turned to look at me over his shoulder and then this really weird thing happened to time, the glittering hum of voices ground down and vectored out to silence, the crowd at the peripheral fringe of my vision spun into a centrifugal blur, and if I knew I had a soul I'd say it broke its moorings and lurched momentarily free of my body. I'd never seen the man before but still, his face looked strangely familiar, and I would have sworn I knew him in a previous life if I believed in such things, which I don't. Yes, he was handsome in a black haired, blue-eyed, and black-leather-jacketed way, but I wasn't that conscious of his face; I felt him more than saw him, as though I'd found something I wasn't particularly looking for and never thought I needed until that moment, and now that I saw it, didn't know whether to grab it or run headlong in the opposite direction. I floated toward him, not consciously moving my feet at all, and then the sensation of timelessness wavered and broke, because I'd walked right up to a strange man without an idea in my head about what to say, and that made me feel uncomfortably self-conscious.

"You're the photographer, aren't you?" He turned a knowing look to a photograph of Nephthys on the nearest wall. "I can't tell you how many times I stepped into the grubbier version of this scene."

I'd taken the photograph at night off the Pacific Coast Highway a few miles south of Malibu, a white gowned Nephthys hitchhiking in the headlight glow of a Mercedes convertible stopped on the shoulder, a little chrome automatic pistol dangling from the forefinger of her opposite hand. The driver's door to the Mercedes wings open into the center of the image and the body of an elegant young man in a white dinner jacket sprawls toward the pavement, his legs and hips still inside the car, the back of his jacket stained with vivid blossoms of light gray, the color of blood in black and white photography.

Frank stuck his shaggy head between us and introduced the man I'd been speaking to as Sean Tyler. We shook hands, his palm leathery smooth, like a good work glove. "Let's go out to the car for a sec," Frank said and hoisted toward Sean the laptop bag slung over his shoulder. "I got something I want to show you." And then they were gone, just like that, Sean's big shoulders gracefully creasing the mob, leaving me face to face with Terry Graves, my parole officer, who pinched the muscle between my neck and shoulder and said photographs weren't her thing but these wouldn't be so bad if she could drop a neutron bomb in the middle of the room to eliminate the poseurs. I noticed that her steel-gray suit matched her eyes and tapered neatly at the breasts, her shoulder holster not part of her evening attire. She'd never touched me that way before and I couldn't decide if it was a gesture of affection or control, reminding me that no matter how great my success that evening, my fate was still hers to control. I told her I needed a glass of wine and pressed toward the door, curious about Sean and what kind of business he had with Frank. He didn't look like the kind of scamming tipster Frank usually took to meet in alleyways and parking lots.

Out in the parking lot they stood hunched over the open trunk to Frank's Honda, a silvery light illuminating their faces from beneath, the blue-black of Los Angeles night blanketed around their shoulders. Frank had parked at the far end of the lot, near the street and away from the casual glance of passing eyes. When he heard footsteps and glanced to see me walking toward them he reached down into the trunk and shut off the light of whatever they were doing.

"There's really nothing you want to see here," he said and I realized then that the source of light had been his laptop.

"Maybe I should be the one to decide that," I said.

In the washed out streetlight his face looked flush and his eyes glazed. "The disk somebody mailed you?" He cleared his throat, referring to the disk sent to me care of Scandal Times. "It wasn't music."

"If it was sent to me, then I should see it," I said. "In fact, if it was sent to me, you shouldn't even be looking at it."
Frank stared at me like I really didn't get it.

"No, it's all right, she probably needs to see this," Sean said. "I mean, you're not sure, right? She'll know better than you."

Frank reached into the trunk, pressed something and moved aside. "This was supposed to be a good night for you," he said.

I stepped up to the rear bumper and looked into the mouth of the trunk, where Frank's laptop played a high resolution amateur bondage video, the scene already well in progress. The scene depicted what I imagined to be a routine S&M scenario: a young woman, semi-clad in red latex and bound at her wrists to a metal rack bolted into the wall, a man in a black latex suit and ski mask style hood mounting her from behind. A similar hood covered the woman's head, slits cut for her eyes and nose. A rubber ball wedged into her mouth, held in place by a strap. With strips of latex disconnecting her features, the woman's face could have been any young woman's face. The eyes were listless. She didn't seem to mind being tied to a rack.

"Ruffies," Sean said.

"Rohypnol." Frank added. "The date rape drug of choice."

I wanted to ask Sean how he knew she was drugged, but before I could speak the man slung a rubber strap around the girl's neck and jerked it taut. The girl's head snapped back and she twisted her shoulders, trying to pull away, but the chains bound her fast to the concrete wall. The man strangling her stood over six feet tall and pinned the girl to the wall like a butterfly. I looked away because I didn't want to watch but then I felt Sean's hand gently supporting my back. The light from the screen illuminated his face from beneath, as though by theatrical stage light, the lupine curve of his lips and miss-nothing intensity of his eyes sadly predatory. I knew then what he was doing there, what he did for a living, and what was happening to the girl. When I glanced back at the screen the latex suit had been unzipped at the back and my eye met the mischievous wink of Betty Boop, tattooed along the upper curve of the woman's right shoulder.

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