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The Exodus Effect

Part 2 of 2

Published: Bewildering Stories issue #196

When I didn’t say anything, Sparks raised a hand to point at one side of the screen. He’d indicated a man in the crowd. Medium height, middle-aged, dress shirt and slacks with tie pulled loose and short hair ruffled. Then I noticed something odd about the image. The man I’d been studying almost seemed ghostlike compared to the people around him.

“Camera problem?” I finally asked.

“You tell me, Sherlock, look at the other picture. It’s from my camera, not yours.”

I looked from the mysterious man to the other side of the screen where the same crowd was standing. When I looked back and forth, the man was in one picture and not the other. In mine he almost looked like a double exposure of sorts which is kind of hard to do with a digital memory card. We switched them out on a regular basis so this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. “Memory stick must be fouled.” I opined.

Sparks’ fingers flew over the keyboard as I saw pictures flash by almost too fast to know who or what they were of. Suddenly he stopped at the picture I’d taken of the victim as she lay on the bed. Sure enough, I saw the phantom seated next to the bed as he gently caressed her forehead with one pale, ghost-like hand.

I looked from the screen to Sparks, the half-eaten apple suddenly forgotten in my hand. “We can’t show this to the police, they’ll fire us for incompetence and probably lock us up for fraud.”

He nodded, a grim expression set in his features. “I’ll remove the two offending pictures and lock them up in the safe along with the stick they came from, just in case.”

“And not a word of this gets to Jeffers or Brockingham.” I added. “We don’t need trouble from those two.” The two homicide detectives would have a field day making short work of what little reputation we’d managed to build.

“Agreed, and take new sticks when you leave.”

The remains of my apple were still on his desk when I left. The phantom unsettled both of us, and we didn’t know why.

* * *

After the sixth crime scene we were forced to come clean with the police department. Careful to leave out the manual flash that I now favored using at the crime scenes, we laid out prints of the pictures on the conference room table.

Once we’d seen him, the phantom began to haunt us through each new set of pictures, new camera sticks and eventually new cameras. The only common denominator was the hand-held flash. Having mastered it, I’d started turning off the flash for the new cameras when I started using them.

The phantom was always dressed the same, always in the crowd shots, always with the victims as if he cared for each and every one of them. I studied him for so long I could easily picture him when I closed my eyes.

Detective Allen Jeffers leaned against the wall with his arms folded over his chest. He’d just finished rubbing his eyes and pushed his glasses back on. His suit looked freshly pressed. But the man inside it looked worn and tired; and his hair wasn’t neatly combed any more, it was mussed and wild.

The bulky half of the partnership rested his massive elbows on the desk and seemed deep in thought. Given the butch cut of his dark blond hair, I couldn’t tell if it was mussed up or not. Like his partner, his suit looked fresher than the man who wore it.

“Wish you boys had thought to bring this little gem to our attention earlier. Ghost or not, this was the man who killed those women.” Brockingham said it evenly with just a hint of a sigh.

I frowned, looking from Brockingham to Jeffers. “We thought this was a simple camera malfunction, he’s a real person?”

“Was,” Jeffers said softly. “We tailed him when witnesses came forward to place him near the last two victims. Units were on their way to arrest him when he jumped from his apartment window and left a pot hole to hell.”

Brockingham’s steel-blue eyes looked up and drilled into me. “If you two Picassos would have brought this to us earlier, we might have picked up on his connection sooner. Where are the other pictures of him?”

“These are it. He wasn’t in any of the others.” It was my turn to be irritated. We’d clearly missed the one photo-op we could have used to complete the strange story.

Brockingham sat back in his chair and looked over each of the pictures. After a dramatic pause, he leaned forward and began counting softly. “I see two pictures per crime scene, each with our perp in them. If he was in those two he must be in others.”

“Nope” Sparks replied, reaching down to open the satchel case at his feet. He pulled out a sheath of pictures and pushed them across the table to the detective. “Those are all the pictures we took. We only found him in two pictures at each crime scene. We just held them back due to what we thought were technical difficulties.”

Brockingham didn’t bother with the pile of pictures. He’d seen them before. “Whose camera?”

“Mine,” I replied evenly. “Actually, I used three different cameras. We started using new cameras to remove the ghost.”

Jeffers pushed himself from the wall and settled into a chair. Elbows resting on the table, he sighed as he looked up from the pile of pictures. “I can see why you thought it was a camera problem.”

Brockingham looked as if he were going to chime in when Jeffers reached over and gently rested a hand on his arm. “Given these will never see the light of a court room I think we can let this go... this time. But if you ever and I mean ever have this happen again we want to know about it right away. Are we clear on this?”

Both Sparks and I were unsettled as we left the police station, each wondering about Jeffers and his comments. Neither of us spoke as we boarded the subway and headed back to the loft.

“It must be the crank flash.” Sparks muttered to break the silence. Once we were in the loft, I’d popped open a beer and sat back in the lazy-boy to enjoy it. Sparks just sat on the couch looking at the dark television screen across from him. Although we used the loft as an office, it also provided amenities for comfort and entertainment.

“I wonder what those Amish were thinking when they gave it to you.” Sparks pondered.

I thought long and hard about the question. “Only kind of camera they could use would have to be non-mechanical.”

“Pin-hole camera would be the easiest way for them to do it.” Sparks suggested. The original camera box used a simple hole which focused light against a plate to create a picture. Using modern film and lenses it would be possible to make a new generation of manual cameras. Something the Amish would not want outsiders to know that they used. They could even set up dark rooms and use available chemicals to develop the negatives and pictures.”

“Nah” Sparks finally sighed. “Too much to hide for such little return.”

I nodded. “They aren’t supposed to allow pictures to be taken of their faces according to the book of Exodus and such.”

Then my memory percolated and I knew where they may have used the flash. “David Fisher.” I sighed heavily as it dawned on me. The Amish must have had someone using a camera before I came along.

“David Fisher?”

“David Fisher was a member who’d left and been shunned. When they wouldn’t take him back, he arranged to have several boys killed off while they were in town. There wasn’t much for evidence and it wasn’t until he turned up dead, himself, that everyone figured it out. He wrote out a full confession before he hanged himself. There was a black and white picture of him with one of the dead boys. I didn’t think much of it at the time.”

Silence descended on the loft as we thought about the implications of the photo and the flash the photographer must have used.

Sparks rose to his feet and turned to leave. At the door he paused with his hand on the knob. “Keep using that flash, we’ll just not tell anyone else about it.”

I sat alone drinking my beer and thinking of Amos Beiler and his black carriage.

Now I knew full well why he’d given me the flash.

* * *

Months passed and we found more phantoms.

Sparks finally broke down and contacted David King, who sent it him another flash from the address in Pennsylvania that proved to be conveniently near several Amish settlements. Sparks didn’t ask if he was Amish and King didn’t offer.

Once we started seeing the phantoms in the pictures, we gave Jeffers and Brockingham a heads-up. Our discoveries identified suspects that might otherwise have never been connected to the crimes, and as we got better at spotting the ghostly images, the detectives’ arrest records began to climb.

Invariably there would be two shots at each scene: the phantom with the victim and in the crowd watching the police. From the phantom the police could find a suspect and then the means to tie him or her to the crime.

Sparks eventually explained the phenomena as nothing more than a visual form of electronic voice phenomenon, or EVP. While EVP would allow you to hear voices on a recording not heard during the original recording session, we are able to see pictures of people who were simply not there when we took the picture. Neither of us was willing to admit the new phenomena might be the victim telling us who killed them.

We work solo for the most part now. With two of us available we have twice the chance of catching what may be the only clues the authorities can use to catch a murderer.

With the help of the Amish, we have found a new way to take a bite out of crime, one flash at a time.

We’ve come to call it the Exodus Effect. All you need is the right kind of flash and the patience to keep it wound and ready.

We’re crime scene photographers. The pictures we take sometimes show more than meets the eye.

* * *

The End

Copyright © 2004, 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr. All rights reserved.
Please do not use without permission of the author.

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