Alex dug in his pocket, trying to find the money for the coffee. It hadn’t been very good, but at least it had been warm. His camera knocked against the formica table as he leaned forward to search the back pocket of his black jeans. Cursing under his breath at his carelessness, he removed the strap from around his neck and placed the Nikon in a padded camera bag beside him on the bench.
On the table in the booth next to him, he spied a tip someone had left between a plate of half-eaten eggs and an empty juice glass. The eggs, although congealing, made Alex’s mouth water. He looked around. The waitress was gone. The only other person in the coffee shop was a man reading the Wall Street Journal, a few tables over.
Alex put the coins he did have next to the bill and slid out of the booth, holding the camera bag protectively. He looked left and right before taking one of the crumpled dollar bills from the other table. He added it to the coins on his table, smoothing it out in an attempt to disguise it.
On his way out, he passed the man with the newspaper.
“Why don’t you just sell that fancy camera if you’re so hard up?”
Alex pretended not to hear him. The man repeated his question, louder, with authority.
“I make my living with it.” Alex wasn’t sure why he had felt the need to answer, but the man was hard to ignore.
“Looks like you’re doing a bang-up job.” The man patted the table in the space across from him. “Have a seat.”
“You want to make some real money with that camera?”
The man promised to pay Alex ten thousand dollars for a compromising picture of a woman. Alex wondered why he didn’t just hire a private detective to do it. Maybe he had, the man knew exactly where she’d be, what time she’d be there and how Alex should get the shot.
Now that he’d heard the details, Alex could understand why a P.I. would have balked.
“Get to the top of the Stanislas building at sunrise,” the man said. “She always has her coffee out on the balcony, unless it’s raining. Take at least 20 pictures, make sure the guy is in every shot.”
He said “the guy” like the words themselves smelled bad. The businessman filled the booth, his barrel chest wide under the elegant blazer. Alex wouldn’t want this man angry with him.
And so it was that Alex made it to the rooftop of the Stanislas building the next morning, just as the pink tinged clouds gave way to the promise of blue sky.
Alex stepped out onto the ledge, relishing the crispness of the air. He hadn’t felt this close to nature since he climbed the butte in Arizona. He’d never been afraid of high places, and this one just reminded him of the cliffs he’d grown up on.
He sat down, letting his legs dangle. The balcony was twenty feet below. A light in the kitchen illuminated the two people inside preparing breakfast.
Alex raised the camera. As he zoomed in on their faces, he noted with surprise the resemblance the man in the kitchen had to the man in the coffee shop. Alex took the first picture.
As the man opened the door to the balcony, he looked up at Alex, gave a brief nod and called back inside to the woman.
It was the same man.