Kermit Holland pushed the accelerator as he went down the red dirt hill; it was out in the sticks with no traffic and he was running late. He had picked up a little side gig for the Belmont High annual; the photographer who had the long-term contract had retired and he had been approached by the principal of the school about filling in for him.
“It won’t take up too much of your time; it will just be the pretty girl pictures, the kids taking care of the rest of the photos,” Principal Eldridge had told him. “You should have plenty of time for your regular job at the paper.” Kermit had been chief photographer at the Belmont Inquirer for 15 years; he was tall and lean and sported a pencil thin mustache and was considered handsome by the female populace. Kermit had jumped at the offer from Principal Eldridge; he had always liked young girls, including the one he had married twenty years in the past when he was twenty and she was 16. Dorothy had been a looker, but those days were long gone, her being the victim of potatoes and bread to excess. Kermit did not have a lot to complain about; she had naively bought into his tale about “just having lost interest in sex.” Kermit had backed up this story with several supposed trips to “specialists” searching for a cure but to no avail. Dorothy had become somewhat of a nervous wreck and devoted most of her time to selling Avon products. All these things worked perfectly for the photographer; he pretty much came and went as he pleased, citing the rigors and responsibilities of being a photographer for a newspaper and essentially being “on call” 24/7.
Kermit was truly “on call” presently; he joked about bedding as many young girls as possible being his “true calling” and he was devout to the endeavor. He could be a very persuasive fellow and this talent worked well both on his endeavors and covering them up. His standard story was “ya know this was wonderful but we can never let it out about what happened; it would ruin your reputation and probably cost me my job.” The young girls always swallowed this explanation and life was good.
Kermit took his heavy foot off the sporty red Ford Fairlane as he approached the South Fork River; he pulled up and parked under some willow trees at the edge of the water and got his Canon FTB and his bag of lenses out of the back and tucking his tripod under his arm walked the fifty yards to the rock outcropping. The rocks were in a secluded spot, a location he used on numerous occasions for shots; today he was to photograph a lovely redhead who had been chosen “Miss Stinger” by the annual staff at Belmont High. When he got to the outcropping lovely Leigh Anne was already there; she had adorned herself with the short skirt that Kermit had requested along with the modest blouse. As Kermit was setting up his tripod he noticed that young Leigh Anne’s eyes were following him closely. It was 1972, the peak of the triple knit fabric rage and Kermit had shoved his 200-millimeter lens down his front pants pocket; he loved the flexibility and easy access the fabric afforded. He looked up and noticed that the high school senior was smiling broadly at him, then she said “Mr. Holland, is that a long lens in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?”
“Talk about a tone-setter,” Kermit thought to himself, and before you could say “shutter speed” the two of them were at it. Leigh Anne was very passionate and a bit of a screamer but Kermit did not worry much about the noise due to the remote setting until he heard a loud “ahem” behind and turned around to see two hunters and two hound dogs looking at him. Kermit froze and just stared at them; they did the same and then silently turned away.
“Talk about an F stop,” Kermit mused to himself, finding it amazing that he could think something funny under the circumstances. Leigh Anne was a bit taken aback to say the least but Kermit was pretty good at consoling and she was pretty receptive so after about thirty minutes of resumption Kermit got her set up and got the shots he needed and then recited the “we need to keep this quiet” advice and went over the standard reasons. Kermit, ever the gentleman, walked her to her car, telling her how photogenic she was, et cetera, and then they parted. When Kermit got back to the Red Fairlane he sat in the car for a bit collecting his thoughts and counting his blessings.
It was the next morning at nine o’clock, time for the weekly newsroom meeting. The room quitened as assistant editor Lyle Blake rose to address the assemblage. The group was a hodge-podge of feature writers, sports writers and a couple of sports stringers and two women who had weekly columns. Lyle Blake knew that there was really no good reason for the two weekly women to attend but he also knew that they were paid very little and that they were in it for the prestige and little else, so he went out of his way to invite them.
Lyle cleared his throat and went into his customary antics, which he was totally oblivious to. He would begin his address by taking his right hand and slowly stroking his throat as he spoke in his cigarette raspy voice; after a few of these neck strokes he would take his left hand and start moving it up and down the front of his crotch. The two actions were pretty well synchronized and were the source of much hilarity in the newsroom; if Lyle Blake were absent it was not uncommon for any number of reporters to join in with their impersonations.
“The main topic I wanted to address today was the story about the young man who met his demise at the rest stop at the Catawba River. My understanding is that he was in the bathroom when someone walked up behind him and pumped a nine-millimeter bullet into the base of his skull.” Lyle droned on, both of his hands working in unison. It was common practice among the reporters to concentrate on the assistant editor’s face and not his hands, but the two weekly reporters were attending their first staff meeting and were having some trouble with all his actions. Then it got worse.
At this point Lyle switched hands, left hand going to throat and right to crotch; Kermit had seen him do this before and always had to stifle a laugh, wondering if he had gained a stroke.
“According to the police report the young man was found on the floor of the bathroom with his penis outside his pants,” Lyle announced, peering around the room, a small grin playing at the corners of his mouth. Audra Smith, the Costner News weekly correspondent and her complememt, Vera Rhyne, of the Harden Mill Update, both bolted from the newsroom upon hearing this tidbit, leaving Lyle Blake staring after them. Lyle quickly recovered and droned on. “The question that I have for you esteemed reporters is whether or not it would be an impropriety to include this last bit of information in the report that will go in the paper,” he asked. Lyle looked around the newsroom affecting an educated air; he loved to spring words like “impropriety” on the other reporters, secretly calling them SAT words.
The new sports guy, a young man by the name of Hal Charles, quickly spoke up.
“I don’t think it would add any intrinsic value to the story, Mr. Blake; additionally, we must consider family embarrassment,” reporter Charles said. There were several agreeing nods and Lyle went over a few other small items and called the meeting to a close, duly noting young Hal Charles’ use of “intrinsic”. It turned out that David Stillwell, the shooting victim, was an acquaintance of Hal Charles, the two of them having gone to Belmont High together. Hal had already figured out a likely scenario, knowing Stillwell’s habits.
“Bet he was over there in Charlotte at some club running his mouth and talking about cuttin’ somebody and unfortunately someone took him seriously and followed him and the rest was history,” he thought to himself. Hal Charles knew David Stillwell to be a pretty good guy but he also knew of his tendency to threaten people and then kind of hide behind his big football buddies and keep talking; Hal had seen it many times. All the guys at Belmont High were aware of this and the deceased had jokingly come to be known as “Blade” Stillwell. Hal Charles thought it best to keep this information to himself and meandered over to the photo department.
The red light was not on over the door to the developing room so he sauntered on in; Kermit was replenishing some chemicals.
“Come on in Hal,” he said. Hal strolled in and sat down in a chair.
“Kermit, ya know I have some experience in shooting pictures and I wanted to ask you if you could kind of let me intern with you. Of course this would be on my own time and I know I would not be paid; I would like to do it to enhance my skills, you know, learn from a pro,” Hal said, trying his best “buttering up” routine. Kermit was not dumb but he did have a bit of a weakness for praise.
“Well Hal, I think that would be a very good idea; things have been very busy lately and you know I am kind of a one-man band,” he said. “I will get it cleared with Lyle Blake.”
This comment brought a wide grin to Hal Charles’ face.
“I have Tuesday afternoons off, Kermit, and would like to come in next week if it is okay with you,” Hal said. Kermit agreed readily and Hal Charles departed very happy, a sly look on his face.
The following Tuesday morning Hal Charles finished up his last sports feature at 11:30 and left the newspaper to go home for lunch. His mother always had his lunch ready at noon on Tuesdays and he made it a point to get there on time; every Tuesday was when his little sister, Charmaine, was brought home for the afternoon, home from the facility where she was housed. Hal felt so very sorry for his sister; every time he saw her he thought of the term that his favorite playwright, Eugene O’Neill, used a lot. “I am pretty sure she would qualify as ‘neurasthenic’,” he thought to himself as he watched her eat, her head bowed toward her plate, her unkempt hair almost dragging into her food. He reconsidered his psychological analysis deciding that she did not move enough to qualify for neurasthenic.
“More like catatonic,” he thought to himself.
“Don’t they brush her hair over there?” he asked his mother.
“They do, but she immediately pulls at it and I guess they just give up,” she answered, watching her daughter stare at her plate. It had been two years since Charmaine had uttered a word; she had been such a bright young senior at Belmont High, and then one day she had come home very upset and would say only two words—“shoot canceled.” Everyone was totally flummoxed by her bahavior; as it turned out those words were the last she had ever spoken and soon, after much psychiatric screening, it was determined that she had experienced a “complete mental breakdown” and the doctors at the facility held out little hope for recovery. Early on in the illness Hal had spent the afternoon with Charmaine, but after a while it got to him and he limited his time to lunch.
“Don’t think she even knows I am here,” he thought to himself, and finished lunch and went out to his car and headed to his introductory afternoon of photography apprentice.
Kermit Holland had told Hal Charles where to meet him: on the banks of the South Fork River near the outcropping he liked to utilize.
“I’ve got a high school girl coming at quarter to two; that will give us time for some review about cameras and lenses,” Kermit had told him. Hal Charles arrived at one o’clock, parking his old Toyota beside Kermit’s red Ford Fairlane. He knew where the outcropping was so he walked on down to where Kermit was waiting. Kermit was sitting on the large rock when Hal walked up to him and pulled the 380-millimeter semiautomatic from inside his jacket and pumped two bullets into Kermit’s chest.
It had taken Hal Charles a little time to put the scenario together; a big help was when Kermit had granted him access to the darkroom. Kermit carefully filed away all his negatives and had them in order and dated so it was not difficult to find the negatives from two years in the past. Hal had already checked with the school and found out that there had indeed been an appointment for a shoot; Kermit was to photograph Charmaine, the cutest superlative, for the yearbook. Hal remembered that Charmaine had come home very distressed that afternoon and before she went mute mentioned that the photo shoot had been canceled; however, the film Hal had found told another story. Hal had surmised what had happened; whether Kermit had raped her was not the issue. The issue was what the event had done to his sister. Kermit’s reputation was legendary so Hal was satisfied that he had it all figured out. Hal Charles felt that he had settled the score and tossed the pistol into the South Fork River.