~~Cam Jordan had just moved into his new home, meaning all his things were somewhere in it, although most of them were still in boxes. He sat on the box containing his bedding and looked over the list he had been given. The list was important. It was the only reason he was able to get a nice place in New York City while working his way through college at a cafe. He had answered an ad in a paper offering to pay for the rent of the apartment as long as the person living in it was capable of doing everything on the list. As far as he could tell, he was getting a free apartment just for babysitting some girl. He’d been interviewed by her sister and hired the next day.
He set the list down and stood up, deciding he might as well introduce himself to his charge. He went across the hall and knocked on the door. There was no answer. He knocked again. He’d been told that the girl wouldn’t leave the apartment without him being notified. “Hello?” He called out to her. “Is Victoria Stone in? It’s Cam. I’m your new…assistant.” He’d been warned to always refer to himself as her “assistant” even though he was working for her sister. Supposedly, Victoria was a difficult girl, but he was confident he could get along with her.
The door opened slowly, revealing what appeared to be a doll. She had porcelain skin and long, blonde hair that fell in waves down her back. She was less than five feet tall and wore a frilly, blue dress that looked like it belonged on a Victorian child.
Cam smiled at her, thinking she looked like a very sweet little girl. He bent over a little to meet her eyes. “Hello. How are you?”
“Carrot.” Her voice was quick and cold. It was the first feature of hers that fit the eighteen-year-old she was.
Cam’s smile was frozen on his face. He laughed, feeling a little uncomfortable as he self-consciously touched his orange hair. “You must be Victoria. It’s nice to meet you.”
She stayed silent. A flash went off from a camera he hadn’t noticed in her hands and she closed the door on him.
He stood still for a few minutes, trying to sort out what just happened. That had clearly been Victoria, but she wasn’t what he had expected. Cam sighed, deciding he hadn’t really known what to expect. He headed back to his apartment and began unpacking as he had a few hours before he had to make dinner.
Once he had the essentials out, he picked up the cookbook Victoria’s sister, Amy, had given him when she gave him the job. He found a recipe for pasta that sounded pretty good and decided he’d make that. Scribbled at various parts in the recipe were notes on how to do it properly. The sister had emphasized that everything had to be just so for Victoria.
Once it was done, he brought a plate of the pasta to Victoria’s door and knocked. “I have your dinner.”
“Leave it outside the door.” She called back.
Cam looked at the food and shrugged, setting it down. “I’ll be back to get your plate in an hour.” He went back to his apartment and continued unpacking for a while before going to retrieve her plate. To his annoyance, he found that the food had not been touched. He knocked on the door. “Your food’s out here. You need to eat.”
She didn’t bother opening the door. “It’s cold.”
“Of course it’s cold. You left it sitting here for an hour.” He was doing his best to keep his voice in check. Losing his temper with the girl could mean losing the job, after all. “Do you want me to heat it up for you?”
“It’s no good reheated.” She replied. “Make a fresh batch.”
He stared at the door silently for a minute. “I don’t have enough ingredients.”
“I can wait.”
“I’m not running to the store just because you didn’t eat your food in time.”
“Then I won’t eat.”
He resisted the urge to bang his head against the wall. “You want to starve?”
“There are worse ways to die.”
“Fine. Your food is here if you want it.” He slammed his door as he returned to his apartment. It only took a few minutes for him to cool down and realize that it probably wouldn’t end well for him if the girl he was looking after starved to death. After all, her sister was a cop. He sighed and grabbed his wallet, heading out to the store.
When he went back to her apartment with the fresh food, he refused to leave it outside the door. “I’m going to come in and watch you eat it. I’m not leaving until you let me.”
The locks clicked and the door opened, granting him access. Victoria stood by, looking sullen. “Stupid Carrot.”
“My name is Cam.” He told her. “It’s one syllable, not that hard to remember.”
She took the food from him without responding and sat down on the floor to eat it.
Cam looked around the room and couldn’t stop himself from staring. The walls were covered with pictures. There didn’t seem to be a space without them and when there was no more wall to be seen, the pictures had migrated to the ceiling. The pictures had no pattern. They were of anything and everything. There were pictures of trees, pictures of squirrels, pictures of people, of hotdog stands, of jungle gyms, dead birds and living flowers. It was like she was trying to fit every feature of the world into the images. Cam let out a low whistle. “You like taking pictures, don’t you, Victoria?”
“You like making obvious statements, don’t you, Carrot?” She retorted.
“I told you my name is Cam.” He walked over to a wall to look at a picture of a white moth. “Why do you take so many?”
“I want to see the whole picture.” She ungracefully shoved a forkful of pasta in her mouth.
He tilted his head back to see the pictures on the ceiling, vaguely wondering how the small girl had gotten them up there, “What whole picture?”
She swallowed and looked at him. “The world is made up of millions of pixels. It is one big picture, but people become so focused on the little spots of color that most of them can’t see the bigger picture being formed. You think that each image is a picture by itself, so it prevents you from stepping back to look at everything else and see what picture is formed when all those pixels come together.”
He turned to look at her, surprised by her philosophical view. “So what do you see when you put everything together?”
“Everything.” She shoved the last bit of pasta in her mouth and held out the empty plate. “I’m done. Leave, Carrot.”
The change in character caught him so off guard that the plate was in his hands and he was standing outside the door before he could even think to correct her on his name.
Cam woke to a banging on his door. It was Saturday and he’d thought he would sleep in. He looked at his clock and saw that it was barely past seven in the morning. He climbed out of bed and stumbled towards the incessant knocking, rubbing his eyes as he went. “Who is it?” The words came out with a yawn.
“Get up, you lazy carrot.” Victoria’s sharp voice pierced the door. “I need you to drive me somewhere.”
He groaned. “Can’t you drive yourself?”
“Stupid Carrot, I don’t have a license. Hurry up.” The banging continued.
Cam wondered how it was the neighbors didn’t complain. “Let me get dressed.” He began walking towards his bedroom.
“Nobody cares how you look.” The banging stopped, at least.
He considered crawling back into his bed, but part of his contract had been to drive Victoria anywhere she needed to go. He pulled on a t-shirt and jeans, running his hand through his short hair to smooth it out as he grabbed his keys. He opened the door to find an irritated Victoria holding her camera. “So where are we going?”
She snapped a picture of him, and then turned on her heel and walked away. “I’ll give you directions on the way there.” She was wearing a black dress, not quite as frilly as the one from the previous day, but still not something he expected to see on a girl her age from this century. Her hair was tied back with a matching blue ribbon.
He stood in the doorway for a moment, trying to decide if the free apartment was worth it.
Victoria looked back at him. “Are you coming, Carrot?”
“It’s Cam.” He pulled his door shut and followed her. “C-A-M, Cam. It’s really not difficult.”
She made no response as she exited the building and walked over to where his car was parked.
He stopped at the car as his drowsy mind started working. “How did you know which one was mine?”
“The pixels were simple enough to combine. Your key is to a Saturn. This is the only Saturn nearby.” She looked at him. “Are you going to unlock the door?”
He nodded, dumbly, and plugged his key into the lock, getting in the driver’s side as she took the passenger’s seat.
“Go straight until you reach the crossroad, then take a right.” She told him.
He nodded again and began driving, following her directions carefully. They led him to an apartment building in Brooklyn. “Are you meeting someone here?”
Without answering, Victoria hopped out of the car and began walking towards the building, taking pictures of the surrounding area as she went.
Helplessly, Cam followed her inside. It was the kind of apartment building he’d expected to wind up in and it made him feel better about his deal with Victoria’s sister. The wallpaper was peeling and there was a faint odor coming off the carpet that he preferred not to identify. The elevator was out of order and looked as though it had been that way for a while.
Untroubled by the appearance, Victoria continued snapping photos as she climbed the stairs. At the third floor, she headed down a hallway to where there was a group of cops assembled outside an apartment.
Cam stopped. “Maybe we should go back…this doesn’t look good.”
She didn’t even seem to hear him. She walked up to the cops and stood there, silently.
One of the cops said something to someone inside the room and Cam heard somebody call out: “Okay, everybody, take five.”
The cops walked to the stairs, none of them making eye contact with Victoria.
She entered the room as soon as they had cleared out.
Cam slowly made his way to the apartment, uncertain about the situation. He had signed on for a babysitting job. He was beginning to wonder if any of his expectations came close to what he was getting into. He felt the blood drain from his face as he looked inside. In the middle of the floor lay the body of a young woman. She was on her back, her eyes open, but unseeing. Blood covered most of her hair, having come from a wound on her temple. Cam feared he may throw up.
Victoria took some pictures of the body and walked around the apartment, snapping pictures of everything in sight.
To the side, Amy was standing with her arms crossed. She offered Cam a small smile. “How’s the second day on the job going?”
He looked at her, hoping for someone logical to talk to. “Why am I here?”
“To assist me, Carrot.” Victoria replied, not looking at him.
“You can wait outside if you like.” Amy offered. “You look like you may need to sit down for a bit.”
“I’m fine.” He lied, taking a deep breath. “What’s going on here?” He pointed to Victoria. “What is she doing and why did the cops all leave?”
“I suppose I forgot to mention that my sister sometimes helps us out with cases.” She looked at Victoria. “Anything yet?”
“I don’t have all the pixels.” She went into another room, still snapping pictures.
“Was she murdered?” He indicated the corpse.
“It would appear so.” Amy leaned over, trying to keep an eye on her sister. “I try to wait and call her if we are having trouble, but she tends to show up whether I call or not.”
“I see.” He swallowed. “So she’s a detective?”
“She’s a consultant.” Amy replied. “I’m a detective.”
“Josie?” A hysterical cry came from the doorway and Cam turned to see a woman standing there. “Oh my gosh! Josie!” She started to push her way into the room, but Amy was faster and blocked her.
“Ma’am.” Amy stepped in front of her. “Ma’am, I need you to step back, please. This is a crime scene.”
“What happened to her? Josie!” She tried to push past Amy, but another cop pulled her away. A flash indicated that Victoria had taken a picture of the woman.
“What was your relationship to the victim?” Amy asked. They had moved to the lobby where police officers were checking statements. Amy and the woman who had managed to tell them her name was Kate sat across from each other.
“She was my roommate.” Kate fidgeted, looking like she was on the verge of tears, but trying to hold back. “She moved in with me when she came to the city a few years ago.”
“Do you know if she had any enemies?” Amy had a notebook open and was writing down what the girl said. Victoria walked around the room, taking pictures, still. Cam wondered if she ever put the camera away.
“Everybody loved Josie. She was nice to everybody.” Kate looked away and stood up as a man entered.
He ran over to her. “I came as soon as I got your message. Is Josie really…”
Kate nodded and hugged him, burying her face in his shirt.
He hugged her back and looked at Amy. “I’m Simon. I worked with Josie at the grocery store. Do you know what happened?”
“We’re working on it.” Amy held out her card. “Can you think of anybody who might want to harm her?”
“No, I can’t think of anybody…” He fell silent. “Well, there is one thing, but I really don’t think he would go this far…”
“Who?” Amy held her pencil to her notebook as she looked at the boy.
Simon looked around, nervously. “Look, Josie was a sweet girl, the best, but she was having some financial problems. Her hours had been cut because labor costs were too high. Most people at the store were getting less hours…” He sighed. “I guess it was worse for her, though. She seemed desperate and the other day, I saw her slip some money from the cash register into her pocket.”
“She never told me she was having problems!” Kate protested.
“She probably didn’t want to worry you.” He told her. “Anyway, I talked to her about it and she put the money back, but I think the manager may have seen.”
“Did he say something about it?” Amy inquired.
He shook his head. “I just thought I saw him looking over at her when she took it. That was part of why I was able to convince her to put it back. I doubt he would kill her over it, though.”
“Is there any chance she took money before that?”
He shrugged. “I wouldn’t think so, but it’s possible. She seemed really upset.”
Amy nodded and handed him a business card. “Call me if you think of anything else.”
He assured her he would before walking away with an arm around Kate’s shoulders.
A flash from beside Cam made him jump and he turned to Victoria. “Do you have to sneak up on me like that?”
“We’re going.” She walked out the door.
Reluctantly, Cam began to follow.
Amy stopped him. “You’ll keep me updated if she finds anything, right?” Her tone indicated that it wasn’t really a question.
He nodded. “Of course.” He got out of the building as quickly as possible, trying to escape the tension.
Victoria had him drive her to the grocery store the victim worked at. Once again, she took pictures the whole way in. She took a picture of the manager when she found him, too.
The manager was a chubby, balding man. He wore a uniform white shirt and tie. His name tag introduced him as Frank.
He smiled at Victoria. “Hello, little lady. That’s a nice camera you have there.” His tone indicated that he thought Victoria was a child.
“You know Josephine Moore.” Victoria stated, rather than asked.
He nodded, clearly caught off guard by her tone. “Are you a friend of hers?”
Victoria didn’t answer. “You knew she was stealing, didn’t you?”
Frank looked around. “Maybe we should talk in my office.” He led them to a room that looked like it had been designed for storage, rather than office space. The three barely fit with the desk there, but Frank managed to walk behind it. “Is the girl in some sort of trouble?”
“No, but you knew she was stealing.” Victoria informed him.
He nodded, looking guilty. “She’d been stressed recently, I could tell. I wanted to give her more hours, but it wasn’t in the budget. I have to think about all my employees.” He sighed and ran a hand through what was left of his hair. “I noticed she was taking money occasionally and I covered it up. It was never much, just twenty dollars here or there.”
She took another picture of him. “So you never did anything about it?”
He shook his head. “Look, I know I should have dealt with it, but she’s just a kid. She’s got nobody looking out for her. If a little money helped, where was the harm?”
“You weren’t worried about losing your job if people found out?” Cam asked.
The manager looked at him, but Victoria was the one that answered. “There’s no reason for him to be worried. Everyone here is about to lose their jobs, regardless. That’s probably why the girl stole to begin with.”
The manager looked at her, surprised. “How did you know that?”
“There aren’t many cashiers out there.” She was flipping through her camera instead of looking at him. “You have been letting them go, but not hiring anyone else. There are fewer customers than workers and nobody is making an effort to advertise, meaning you know there is no point.”
The manager sighed. “We have a month before some real-estate company comes in and tears this place down. I’ve already got a job elsewhere, so it’s true that I don’t need this one.”
Victoria nodded and walked out of the room without another word and, like a faithful servant, Cam followed her.
“Do you think he did it?” Cam asked when they were in his car again.
“The pixels don’t fit together.” She was staring out the window. “I need to go home.”
Once back at their building, she shut herself in her room.
Cam took a nap, exhausted from the events of the day. He woke up a few hours later and fixed dinner, bringing her a plate. “Open up, Victoria. I have your food.”
“It’s unlocked, stupid Carrot.” Her voice came through the door.
He opened the door. “I told you, it’s-” He stopped and took a step back to avoid stepping on a picture. They were scattered all across the floor, pictures from the crime scene and pictures of the store. She had printed them all and laid them out in some sort of arrangement he couldn’t understand.
Victoria stood in the middle, walking through a path formed between the pictures. Every now and then, she would pick one up and set it with another. “I can’t reach the food over there, Carrot.”
He jumped and brought the plate to her, carefully stepping between the pictures. “What is all this?”
She continued walking as she ate. “I am trying to organize the pixels so they form a picture.” She rearranged a group and muttered to herself. “Not enough.”
He looked around. To him, there seemed to be more than enough pictures to serve any purpose. “How do you make a picture with these?”
She let out an exasperated sigh. “I put together the pictures that connect things.” She pointed to a set of pictures which had the store next to the manager, Simon next to the store, Josephine next to Simon, the apartment next to Josephine, Kate next to the apartment and another picture of Josephine rested near the picture of Kate and Simon, connecting them. “I figure out how each person was connected to the victim and how each place was connected. Everything connects if you spend enough time tracing the paths.” She popped another bite in her mouth.
He nodded, barely understanding. He walked over to the picture of Kate and Simon. In the photograph, he had his arm around her and she had laid her head on his shoulder. “Are they a couple?”
“He was in love with the victim.” Victoria spoke through a mouthful.
Cam looked at her. “That’s a big leap. How do you figure?”
She swallowed. “Did you see the look on his face? He didn’t cry because he felt responsible for the girl who was crying, but nobody makes a face like that unless they lost someone they loved.”
“I didn’t get that. Are you sure?” Cam looked at the picture of the boy’s face. “He does look upset, but it could just be that he lost his friend.”
“It’s not. I’ve seen many looks. I know how people look when they lose friends.” She told him.
He shrugged, deciding that she knew this stuff better than him. “Well, the roommate and him look awfully cozy for not being a couple. Maybe she’s got a thing for him.”
Victoria stopped with the fork halfway to her mouth. She put it back on the plate and walked over, picking up the picture of the two together. “I see. That’s how it is.” She mumbled to herself. She shoved the remainder of the food into her mouth and started speaking before she swallowed.
“What?” Cam couldn’t understand a word she said.
She looked annoyed and swallowed her food. “Call my sister. I know who the killer is.”
Cam and Victoria drove to Simon’s apartment building and went in together. When they got to the apartment, they found that Kate was with him in it. Victoria wasn’t surprised. “I need to ask you two some more questions.”
Kate looked at Cam. “You were with the police, right?”
He nodded. “Is now a good time? I know this has been hard for you…” Victoria hadn’t told him why they were there and he really wanted to get her away from the grieving friends.
“Yeah, sure.” Simon let them in.
Victoria looked at him. “What was your relationship to Josephine Moore?”
He looked at Cam, then back to Victoria. “As I told the police, we worked together. We were friends, I guess.”
“And you were satisfied with that?” She asked.
He seemed startled by the question. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You were in love with her. That tends to put a strain on a friendship when unrequited, I’m told.”
He stared at her for a moment. “How did you…” He sighed. “I never told her. I didn’t want it to be a big deal.”
Kate stood by, silently, looking miserable.
Victoria cocked her head. “It must have been very difficult for you to see her every day, loving her, but knowing that she would never look twice at you as a perspective lover.”
“She was my friend. I didn’t want to ruin that.”
“Maybe it got too difficult, though, being near her like that. Maybe you needed to be closer. You wanted some contact beyond friendship.” Victoria looked at him with her cold, blue eyes. “She wouldn’t give you what you wanted. You got into an argument. Maybe she told you to leave. Maybe she said she was leaving. She never wanted to see you again. You couldn’t bear the thought of her running out on you. You didn’t mean to hurt her, though. You pushed her and she fell against the corner of the table. Maybe you accidentally killed her.”
His face went pale. “I didn’t…I would never hurt her. I loved her. You’ve got it all wrong.” His eyes flicked to Kate.
Kate moved closer. “He didn’t kill her. You shouldn’t make accusations without proof.”
Victoria looked at her. “I know he didn’t, just as well as you do. We both know who really killed her, don’t we?” She looked to Simon. “You said I had it wrong. You weren’t talking about murder accusations, were you?”
He stayed silent, but watched her.
She nodded. “You told Josie how you felt. She said she couldn’t go out with you yet, didn’t she?”
He looked down. “She said she needed to talk to somebody first. It was important to her.”
Victoria looked back at Kate. “She knew you were in love with him. She wanted to tell you before she agreed to go out with him.”
Kate began to tremble. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. She never talked to me.”
“She was your friend. Friends don’t date the boys you love, right?” Victoria kept her gaze fixed on Kate. “She knew how you felt about him. She should have said ‘no’. It must have made you angry that she didn’t.”
Kate swallowed. “How do you know all this?”
Victoria smiled a little. “You’re picture is so simple. There are so few pixels to organize.” She took a step towards the girl. “You got into an argument, didn’t you?”
Tears began to slip down Kate’s cheeks. “I never meant to kill her. She was my best friend. I just wanted her to understand. I thought she would understand and when she didn’t, I got upset. She tried to leave, so I grabbed her. She pulled away too quickly…she fell…” Her voice began to crack. “I thought she would be okay. I went to help her up, even…”
“It was an accident.” Victoria stated.
“We’ll consider that for your plea.” Amy said from the doorway. She pulled out her handcuffs as she walked inside. “Kaitlin Donovan, you are under arrest for the murder of Josephine Moore.”
Kate looked at Simon as she was handcuffed. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry. I just love you so much. I needed you to know how much I love you. She could never love you this much.”
Amy began reading out her rights as she walked the girl through the door.
Simon stood there in shock for a few minutes. “So…it’s because of me? It’s because I asked her out? That’s why she’s dead?”
“She’s dead because somebody killed her. That’s the only reason.” Victoria walked out the door. “We’re done here, Carrot.”
“It’s Cam.” He reminded her as he followed her out.