I turned to Whitey. “What the fuck?”
He sat sober-faced, his hairy sunburned arms folded. “Two hundred and forty-seven pictures of your brother, that’s what.”
“Two hundred and…?”
“Taken, well, ’round the last time he came around.”
“Jesus!” My loud mouth filled the room. “Why?”
He fidgeted his chair forward, then back. “Well, he wanted them. I had the camera. He had nothing better to do. Neither did I.”
Nothing better to do?
“Hell, he was drunk in half of them.”
The pictures were endless. Endless and bizarre.
My brother, puffy-faced and unhealthy-looking, stuffed into a buttoned denim jacket and mounted on a red, chrome-flashing Harley.
My brother in a short-sleeved, alligator-green shirt, looking less than collegiate as he stood centered before the wide trunk of a fanned-out tree.
My brother leaning over a cart in a grocery store, in front of foggy freezer doors, a colorful box pinched between the index finger and thumb.
“You might say we got carried away. We hung out a lot together that fall.”
My eyes pinched him flat. “Hung out?”
He sat back in his chair and let his head fall to one side. “Now don’t get the wrong idea here.”
I laughed out loud. Just exactly what was the right idea here? That a known pedophile gallivants around with a mentally disabled man for a month-long photo shoot?
“We was just havin’ fun.”
“Fun?” I threw my arms wide. “This is a lot of fun!”
“Don’t get riled neither.”
There were a lot of other things a person could do that were nothing better to do. This was more than beer and boredom.
Whitey nodded down at my feet. “There’s more.”
On the floor was a brown shoebox bulging with more photos. Nearby was a bloated, glossy-red shopping bag. Whitey drifted closer.
“Let me explain something right now.”
“Oh, please do.”
His face, though pie-shaped and scratched up by time, was solemn and strong. “Your brother never came and got these from me. All I asked was he pay the cost of having them developed, then prints made. That’s fair, right? That’s what he asked me to do for him. I mean, they weren’t cheap, even back then. Something like a hundred bucks. But, hell”—his voice dropped—“your brother and I had some words over it.” Under a grimy-yellow globe bulb, he looked dejected. “And that’s how it was left, God forgive us.”
God forgive them for what? I might have taken Lisa’s picture once. Two-hundred-and-forty-seven photos spelled obsession.
“But why?” I asked him again.
Whitey let out a heavy pent-up laugh. “Whatta you mean why?”
“Why’re they all so…different?”
Again he toyed his chair forward, then back.
“I told ya. Foolin’ around. Experimentin’ I guess. I’m a photographer. This was some sorely needed creative work.”
Who was he kidding? Loud. Lazy. Lewd. Those I remembered, not creative.
“That your idea?” I pointed to the Mickey Mouse cap and cowboy boots photo.
“Probably Schlitz Malt Liquor thinkin’ on that one.”
“Okay, how ’bout this one? Why the fedora and gold chain? Symbolic?”
“Symbolic? Hell, it was—”
“What’s he thinking in this one?” Steve sitting on a fire hydrant.
“Thinkin’? Good lord, boy.”
I stooped and picked up the shoebox, its sides billowing. I plucked out a photo of a rocky black field spreading out to a mountainous horizon, with Steve’s bulky figure in the foreground, in ghostly light-colored clothes, gazing into the window of the photograph.
“Now why strange?”
“’Cause I don’t recognize him.”
He kicked out a grating laugh. “You don’t recognize him? That’s a six-thousand pixel photo from my good Nikon.”
“No, like I’m looking at a complete stranger.”