“It was supposed to be.”
“Well … I mean, yes and no. We took a ton of pictures on the way up, and only had, like, one more roll of film. We got pics of the countryside, because Charlie likes that sort of thing. He thinks he’s gonna be another Ansel Adams, or whatever. So he’s snapping away. Finally, there’s just one shot left on the first roll.”
Tollin lowered her brows. “And he took a picture of the bus driver?”
Mel gave a slow, heavy nod. “Charlie wanted to �
�chronicle the trip’, you know? So he asked the bus driver to say ‘cheese’ and snapped the picture. He changed the film and snapped another one. The rest of the second roll we wanted to save for the troupe shots, you know? So anyway, the hotel had this really nice little store that even had a film developing thing. You know, one of those boxes. So Charlie dropped the film in and had it …” Mel swallowed hard. “He had it developed.”
Tollin waited. “But if the bus driver wasn’t staying with you at the hotel, how did you find out if something happened to him?”
“Because, he was supposed to be the one who drove us back, too. But another driver showed up to pick us up. When Charlie asked about it, the new guy said the other guy had a stroke. He died over the weekend.”
“Did he react like the teacher’s wife when Charlie took his picture?”
Mel nodded. “I mean, he was sitting down, so not so much. But he looked funny, kind of pale, and rubbed his eyes like something was wrong.”
Tollin sighed and pursed her lips.
“Big coincidence, don’t you think? A little too big, maybe?”
“Maybe, maybe not. Was he an older man?”
Mel hesitated. Then she nodded. “Yeah. Sixties, probably.”
“See? Strokes aren’t that uncommon, Mel. Especially with elderly people. And it sounds to me an awful lot like he didn’t feel well around the same time. Rubbing his eyes, going pale, that sort of thing — all indicators that something’s happening.”
Mel shook her head. “Whatever. It freaked Charlie out. It freaked all of us out. And then Charlie’s staring at the camera. He realizes there’s, like, thirteen shots taken on the second roll. And the pictures … they’re all us. The troupe. Mr. Penderson. All of us except Mrs. Penderson. And me. She wouldn’t let us take a picture of her. She said she was camera shy, but now … I wonder.”
Tollin tipped her head again. “Wonder what, Mel?”
“I wonder if she … knew somehow. Or if the camera just creeped her out. I don’t know.”
“Why not you?”
“I … hate cameras. This one especially. I told Charlie no. He just sort of nodded, and looked at me like he understood. He never took my picture the whole trip. Said if it turned out to be over-active imaginations, I’d be sorry for not being part of the memories. I said I didn’t care.”
Tollin nodded. “So, what makes you think the others are in stroke danger? Or that something will happen if you develop the film?”
Mel looked at her, a steady, flat, expressionless gaze. “Because Charlie knew, and I knew, and Jenna knew. We just knew. So when we got home we went back to that stupid pawn shop place. But you know what? It’s not there. And Jenna freaked. She drove us. She drove us to the place, right in the same place where we bought the camera. Charlie kept saying it was a mistake, she must’ve gotten it wrong. But she didn’t. She knew where it was. And I went back later, because … because they all asked me to. They’re scared. They’re really scared, and they asked me to cut school and find that guy that sold it to us. But I couldn’t either. Same thing, like I told you. The only thing there is a brick wall.”
A knock on the door startled them both, and they jumped.
“God!” Mel said, putting her hand over her heart.
Amber stuck her head around the door. “Ready, Dr. Tollin?”
She smiled and nodded at the nurse. “Okay, let’s get you that IV so you can get re-hydrated, okay?”
Mel nodded, and Tollin came around to the other side of the bed. She took Mel’s hand and held it in a firm, reassuring grip. “Just a quick pinch and then it’s over, I promise.”
“I’ve never lost a patient yet,” Amber joked, but Mel didn’t look at her. Or laugh.