Chapter Twelve

As Jami was tidying up and preparing to leave for home on Thursday, an elderly man walked into the photo store, stopped, looked around. He walked over to the wall that displayed sample portraits and a few of Jami's other photos. He spent a few moments looking at the photos, then turned to the counter.

"Excuse me young lady. Are you the Jami Barton who took those photographs?"

"Yes sir. May I help you?"

"You have skill. Better than skill! You have talent! I think you have real talent for photographing people. Do you know what I mean?"

"I know what I'm trying to accomplish when I take photos of people."

"And that is?"

Jami chose her words carefully. "People usually have an image of themselves that is what they want others to see. In formal portraits, it is that image I try to capture.

"But usually there are other images that reveal the inner complexity of a person. I find those images more interesting, though it can be a challenge to capture those images, and often a challenge to convince the client to consider them." Jami smiled.

"Always there are other images! Yes, you understand, and you have the eye and the skill. Aaron is very smart to employ you."

"Aaron? Sir?"

"Your boss, young woman!"

"Mr. Hoffman? The owner?"

"Yes, Aaron Hoffman. An old friend of mine."

Mr. Hoffman walked out from in back at that moment and stopped, looking at the man talking to Jami. He crossed his arms. "So, Ezra. You are in town and do not call me? You come to my store and bother my capable assistant?"

The two men looked at each other for a moment, then spread their arms, walked toward each other and hugged, pounding each other on the back, laughing. Jami watched with surprise. Her boss was normally quite unemotional.

Mr. Hoffman then turned to Jami, saying, "Jami, this is my old friend Ezra Jaffe. For many years he taught photography in New York City, at Cooper Union."

Ezra waved a hand in dismissal. "A small school! Now, I am retired and am an old fart. I consult and do what interests me."

Ezra Jaffe! He's a famous photographer. Jami swallowed. "Sir, I saw the photo essay of yours in The New Yorker a couple of months ago."

He shrugged. "Sometimes they pay me to do what interests me." He winked. "You keep shooting photos like that," he gestured at the wall, "you too will be able to choose what you do."

"Thank you, sir," stammered Jami.

Ezra walked to the counter. Placing a hand on Jami's shoulder he said, "I am a good judge. I would like to see more of your work." He turned to Ezra. "While I am here, I want to see more of this young person's work."

"I know you have a portfolio, Jami," said her boss.

"Yes, sir, I do."

"Let Ezra and me decide on our schedule for his visit. I will talk to him about when we can invite you, and your partner, for an evening." He grabbed Ezra by the arm. "Come, Ezra. Jami needs to leave now. We shall sit and talk and keep an eye on the store."

* * *

When Carys left the student parish, the early dusk of winter had already fallen. She walked along M.A.C. to Grand River Avenue and crossed over into campus.

Once she was in a quiet spot, she pulled out her cell to call Jami.

"Hi, Jami. I'm done with my talk. I think it helped, but I'm going to walk through campus and out Harrison Road to catch the bus there. I need to think, and moving my feet helps. Is Tam there yet?

"Okay, good. I'll be home in about forty-five minutes, depending on how long I have to wait to catch a bus. Would you like me to call from the bus stop?

"That's a big can-do then. See you both soon. Bye."

Carys walked toward the river, passing the School of Music and the Library. She knew the campus well. She'd been coming here for walks all her life.

The disk. I'm going to look for poems and for essays that look like they were maybe meant to be published. If I'm lucky, those will be pretty obvious. But I don't know how organized Kathy was.

Carys crossed the river by the Administration Building and turned right. She planned to walk to the Kellogg Center, then follow Harrison back to Grand River and catch a bus.

I can't decide how to use anything of Kathy's until I see what is there. Maybe once I separate out the poetry and writing I can ask Crystal to help. If there are only a few things, maybe we can use them in performance. If there's a lot, maybe we can put together a booklet using one of the print-on-demand services.

What about the private parts? The angry parts? Do I even look? I could miss something usable, but where do I draw the line? I don't know.

And if I run across something illegal or really nasty? Simple. I forget about it. And that includes any names or contact information or email.

Something was nagging at her mind. She walked along in the deepening darkness and tried to figure out what it was.

Crystal said Kathy was involved in stuff she didn't approve of. Using drugs, apparently, for one thing. What we suspected from her last post is true; she was using speed when she died. But as Tam said, no one knows what actually happened in that car. But she sent me the disk. That was premeditated. She had to take it out of her laptop, write the note, and box it up. Who mailed it? And why did it take so long to get to me?

Carys stopped on the path.

Kathy made a post to the community shortly before she left her house. Did she use this laptop? Jami can probably figure that out. Wait! She thought her parents were shipping her off to a behavior mod camp. So maybe she was beginning to purge her past, so to speak, and the car accident really was an accident. Okay. That makes more sense.

Carys continued walking.

So here's the hypothesis. She found out her parents were really going to crack down on her. Afraid of what would happen if they found out just how far she'd gone to the dark side, she decided to cut ties with her bad self and send me the disk. Or maybe she did think that sooner or later she would kill herself. Same answer; she wanted me to have the disk and the poems. Having made that decision, and given the package to someone, she used another computer for her final post, took speed one last time, and set off in her car for never-never land.

She stopped again.

Then why not mail the disk to me immediately, Sherlock? Hmm. Maybe someone else had the laptop. Maybe it took them a while to figure out what to do. As in, Kathy didn't write that note. In that case, they may have mailed it to muddy the trail. Hmm. But in that case, why send it to me at all? Damn. The more I think about this, the less sense it makes!

She resumed walking, quickly now.

I want Jami to look at that disk before I mess with it. Did Kathy use that computer to do the post? When was it last used? Had someone other than Kathy messed with that disk since she died? Let's figure out what it is I've got before I go any further.

Heading down Harrison to the bus stop, Carys stopped again.

That comment of Crystal's about the chastity belt. Did Kathy have a lover? Was it more than an online relationship?

She walked quickly to the bus stop on the other side of Grand River and called Jami.

"Hi, honey. I'm at the bus stop. We're going to need to talk when I get there. Yes, and eat. Talk and eat. It's just that I've been thinking. I want to make sure of some things before I go looking at what's on that disk. I see the bus coming. Be home soon. Bye."

Her mind continued coming up with interesting, but unanswerable questions on the bus ride home. She walked to the apartment, left her boots in the entranceway and headed upstairs.

"Jami! Tam! I'm home!"

Tam leaned over the railing. "Hi, Car. Dinner's almost ready." She opened her arms for a hug as Carys reached the top of the stairs.

"Bathroom first, or I'll pee all over you."

Tam stepped back and Carys ran the few steps to the bathroom, already undoing her pants. She didn't bother to close the door.

"So how did your talk with the priest go?" asked Tam.

"It was good. I see why Crystal likes him. He works with the youth group she's in. He confirmed what Crystal said about Kathy. And something else."

"What?"

"I need to tell you both at the same time," said Carys, emerging from the bathroom.

"I'm here," said Jami, putting her arms around Carys.

"Let's go sit at the table," said Carys.

Jami checked the oven on the way to the table. The casserole could use a little more time, she decided, so she turned off the oven but left the casserole in.

"This is not happy news, guys." Carys paused. "Kathy was into some bad stuff, like maybe Satan worship, and drugs."

"Oh, wow," said Jami.

"I didn't know her at all," said Tam. "I take it this is unexpected."

Carys nodded. "Kathy's public performance was quite at odds with her private life, apparently."

"Drugs?" said Jami.

"That's certain," said Carys. "This is not to be repeated, but the autopsy showed that she was on speed when she died."

"The priest told you that?" asked Tam.

"Yes. We had quite a heart-to-heart talk. We ended up pretty much trusting each other."

"What is it you want to be sure of, about the disk?" asked Jami.

Carys explained what she had been thinking about on her walk across campus.

Jami thought for a moment. "I can make a listing of files, like the one we looked at, but sorted in reverse order of their last modification times. That assumes, of course, that whoever was using the computer didn't reset the date. If there is received email or browser cookies in the most recently used files, though, I can cross check that."

Tam looked puzzled.

"Email and browser cookies are files that have time-stamps within themselves. Those time-stamps originated on other systems, and would still be valid even if the date or time on the laptop had been changed. If the laptop's internal date and time was set back earlier than the last time it was actually used, that could leave detectable traces, also."

"When it comes to computers, Watson, I leave the field to you," said Carys.

"We shall see. But may we eat first?"

"Absolutely!"

They busied themselves putting dinner on the table, then sat back down again to eat. They pointedly did not discuss the disk.

"Wash up before or after we investigate the disk?" asked Tam.

"Let's clean up now," said Carys. "If this turns out well, we can celebrate by making some kind of gooey desert."

They made short work of cleaning up, then headed into the bedroom. Jami sat at the computer. Carys and Tam perched on stools on either side.

Jami mimed pulling on surgeon's gloves, then began typing. She displayed a file of dates, times and filenames on the screen.

"So what does this tell us?" asked Tam.

"When did Kathy die?"

Carys flipped through the academic organizer they used for recording support group information. "That was a Friday, December 8. It was half past ten when I made this entry after Zoe called, so it was a while before that."

Jami sat back, looked at Carys. "This disk was used for a almost two weeks after that. Not heavily. A little email, some web browsing, a few spreadsheet files."

"This is disturbing," said Tam.

"I'll say," agreed Carys. "What about her final post? Was it made from this computer?"

Jami typed again. "If she composed the post first, and then uploaded it, and didn't delete the file, it should be easy to find. Else, I'm going to have to do some detective work here, and in the server logs." A new file list came up. Jami peering at it intently. Typed some more. "Ah!" The text of Kathy's final post came up on the screen.

"So it was made from this computer."

"I think that's a safe assumption. Also," Jami turned to look at Carys and Tam. "The timestamp on the file is 9:43 that evening. So my guess is that she left the laptop, with that file open, and either it shut itself down or someone else shut it down, later. It doesn't appear to have been used again for about two days."

"Okay," said Carys. "So say Kathy was at someone's house, made the post, left the laptop, went out in her car, and had the accident."

"That person, probably that person, used the laptop for about ten days?" Tam looked at Jami, who nodded. "Then they, or someone, decided to send the disk to Carys."

"That takes us to December 20, right before Christmas. That's still a ways before that package was sent," said Carys.

"Good point," agreed Tam. "Is there any evidence that Kathy wanted both the poems and the disk sent to Carys?"

"I'm pretty sure Kathy wrote the note. I showed it to Crystal. She didn't say anything about it not looking like Kathy's writing."

"I don't even want to look at email, but you said some spreadsheet files were used after Kathy died? Can we look at those?"

Jami typed a few commands. A spreadsheet came up on the monitor. They all looked at it.

"What is this?" asked Carys.

"Client. Date. Quantity. Payment. Oh, woof," said Tam.

"Crap! Was she dealing drugs?" said Carys.

Jami typed and brought up another spreadsheet.

"I have a bad feeling," said Jami. "A very bad feeling."

"Client. Date. Payment. And a bunch of weird names," said Tam, "kind of remind me of drag queen or stripper names, or . . . oh, double-woof."

"That's what I have the really bad feeling about," said Jami.

"What, Jami?" Carys said sharply.

"I've spent an awful lot of time on the 'net, looking at information about intersex and trans topics." Jami paused. "This is not pleasant, Carys."

"Go on!"

"A lot of searches on keywords like intersex and transsexual end up at porn sites."

Carys closed her eyes. "Shit. I'm going to be sick." Carys got out of her chair and stumbled to the bed, where she curled up in a ball. Tam went to be with her.

Jami typed quickly, searching for files with names having those strings embedded. I'm not going to see anything I haven't seen before. I know what's out there, even if I don't understand why people want it. She verified her suspicions and cleared the screen, then joined Tam and Carys on the bed.

"I'm sorry, Car."

"You looked? That's what it was?" Carys choked out the question.

"Yes."

"So Kathy was selling drugs, and pornography? That's what is filling up the disk?" asked Tam.

"I'm afraid so," said Jami.

They were all silent for a while, then Carys uncurled and rolled over on her back. "I am so angry! I never had a hint of this, not from Kathy, not from Crystal, who seems to have known about some of it. And who mailed me this disk full of filth? I am so goddamned, fucking angry!" She turned back over and hit the bed repeatedly with her fist.

Tam looked at Jami. "There's okay erotica and there's awful, bad, ugly, nasty, hateful, hurtful stuff."

"This is the latter. There's even some 'lock you up and throw away the key' kind of stuff."

"Damn!" Carys pounded on the bed with both fists.

"Guys?" said Tam.

"What?" growled Carys.

"Selling drugs, selling pornography to minors. Those are felonies. And it apparently didn't stop with her death. We are in possession of some very dangerous information. For that matter, if there's child porn on that disk, simply being in possession of that disk is a felony."

"Goddess! Why me! What do we do?" asked Carys.

"For starters, I'm wiping the copy right now." Jami started to get off the bed.

"Wait." Carys grabbed her arm. "What about her poetry and writing?"

Jami shook her head. "It's too dangerous, Carys. We've got to get rid of that thing!"

"We don't even know for certain that this is from Kathy's computer," said Tam. "Yes, she made that post using the computer this disk was in, but was it hers? It wasn't at her house. Look at this note again." Tam grabbed the copy of the note from the desk. "Read it again."

Dear Carys. This is all that's left of the real me. One way or another, the real me is going to die. I don't know for certain, as I leave this for someone to send it to you, what will become of me. I place this in your hands to hold or to use. Please remember me. Love, Kathy

Carys sat up on the bed to read the note. "It doesn't mention the disk," said Carys. "The lawyer pointed that out, but I'm just now realizing what that may mean."

"Right. The note came with the disk and the sheaf of poems. But it doesn't mention the disk. What if her only intent was to send the poems, and someone saw the opportunity to include the disk?"

Carys put her hands to her temples. "Why? Why!"

"That's not at all clear. Maybe they were hoping you'd take the disk to the police, and it would put suspicion on Kathy instead of someone else. Or they wanted to get you in trouble."

"Me? Why me?"

"You did kind of upset a few people at that high school, Car. They weren't all seniors." said Jami.

Carys put her head in her hands. "Holy shit. I do not believe this. Somebody pinch me and wake me up."

Tam put her arms around her.

"I really want to wipe that copy," said Jami. "I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight with that thing sitting on the desk."

"Where's the real disk?" asked Carys.

"It's in the fireproof filing cabinet in my parent's house, in the mailing box, with the original note, just as you received it."

Carys thought for a moment. "Okay. Wipe the disk."

Jami got off the bed and went to the computer.

"First thing tomorrow I'm calling the lawyer. Once I talk with her, I may have another talk with Father Dave. The possibility that Crystal is involved with this is really bugging me. I trusted Crystal."

"Why Crystal?" asked Tam.

"She knew things about Kathy that she didn't tell me. She may know more. The laptop had to be somewhere. Maybe Kathy gave the poems to someone to mail. It could have been Crystal. The note would have made perfect sense if someone like Crystal simply handed the poems to me."

"But didn't Crystal say she didn't approve of what Kathy was involved in?" said Tam. "And she said she'd been arguing with Kathy."

"If that's true. And I hope it is. But I can't just walk up to Crystal and ask her if she's been involved in selling drugs and pornography and wants to see me locked up." She looked at Tam. "You sure you still want to be involved with me? Maybe you and Jami should ditch me and head off on your own."

"Not funny!" yelled Jami from the computer.

"That's a super big no can do," said Tam. "Don't you even talk like that."

"I need to call Zoe. Where did I leave my cell?" Carys hopped off the bed, went to the middle section of the apartment and retrieved her cell from her coat.

"Zoe? It's Carys. Uh, well, not so good. Listen. I'm going to call the lawyer first thing in the morning. Yeh, I did, and I've got big problems. I don't want to tell you on a cell call, and maybe not at all. I think it'd be best if I go to the lawyer alone, or with Tam. You do not want to be involved in this, I guarantee. I'm sorry, but I just don't want to talk about it until I've seen the lawyer. Then I'll call you. Yes, it's that bad. Thanks. Bye." She closed the phone and returned to the bedroom.

"Okay," said Jami. "The disk is clean, the files I created are gone, and so's the history." She powered down the computer. "I'll remove the disk, return it to our stock of spares and we'll be back to the way things were before you received that package."

Carys snorted. "I'm never going to be the way I was." She curled up on the bed again.

Jami stood up from the desk, disk in hand. She placed it in a box on the shelf by the closet, then walked to stand by Tam, who was sitting on the edge of the bed, one hand on Carys's shoulder.

"Can you stay tonight Tam?" asked Jami.

Carys uncurled enough to look at her, eyes wide and moist.

"Of course." She gave Carys's shoulder a squeeze. "I need to call my house. I'll be right back."

Jami and Tam walked into the center section together.

"Thanks, Tam. I don't want to get you in trouble with your family for staying over so much, but..."

"Jami, you and Carys are my family, too. I need to be here. I'll introduce you two to my mom, Saturday. I know she's going to like you."

"I hope so." She gave Tam a hug. "I'm going to lock up and turn out the lights. Then I think we'd better work on making Carys feel better." She headed for the stairs while Tam called her mother.

Tam was coming out of the bathroom when Jami finished putting things away in the kitchen and filling the coffee maker. They walked back into the bedroom.

Jami went down on her knees by the bed to talk with Carys. "You want to use the bathroom now, hon? Tam is staying. You get the middle tonight."

Carys looked up. "I think I almost fell asleep. I don't have to think about this when I'm asleep. God, I hope I don't dream about it tonight."

"We'll be here when you wake up," said Tam.

Jami stood up, extended her arms to Carys and pulled her to a sitting position. She walked to the bathroom.

"Is she going to be okay?" asked Tam, as they pulled down the covers and top sheet.

"I'm worried about her. This is way too much like when she was getting all that shit at the end of high school. She wants to help people. She doesn't deserve this."

"Well, we may not have figured out exactly what's going on, but at least we didn't fall for the trap, if that's what it was. I think we're in a very good position to claim that we did not touch the disk. We asked for advice, then decided it wasn't worth it."

Jami nodded agreement. "I'll feel better if we can hand it off to the lawyer, though."

They heard Carys finishing in the bathroom and stopped talking about the disk.

"I get the middle?" Carys said, coming back into the bedroom.

"Ab-so-ba-lutely," said Tam.

Carys walked up to her, put her arms around her. "Thanks."

"You want to watch a video or something?" said Jami.

"No," Carys shook her head.

"Let's just turn out the lights and get in bed," said Jami.

Jami and Tam snuggled in on either side of Carys.

"Is there anything we can do to help?" asked Tam.

"You're doing it," said Carys.