My name is Paul Reynam and I am a pervert. But unlike most other perverts, I’ve found a way to make my addiction my paycheck. You see, I’m the man hiding in your bushes with a Nikon, documenting your dirty little moments. People do such nasty things when no one is supposed to be watching.
Rich, obsessive types pay me for the bird’s-eye-view, although it’s not always sex acts and nudity they’re seeking. Sometimes clients have specific targets or requests. Usually it’s the ex-girlfriend, or the estranged father figure that they want to spy on. Voyeurism knows no bounds. Or price tags. I enjoy the job best when there’s no particular assignment, and I get to just snap random people who may or may not sell. The thrill is at its strongest when I’m on edge, waiting to be caught, heart racing while the shutter clicks.
I got my start with this seedy scheme when I met Roland. A day or two after I was fired from a photo lab for stealing prints, he showed up on my front door with an offer to become my mentor and agent. He introduced me to the right people, gave me the lists, purchased some equipment, and then sent me on my merry way. Now I get to move from place to place, seeing what I can see without being seen.
For the last two weeks, my latest place has been a small apartment on Hillview Boulevard. It’s in the middle of a typical suburb, filled with pregnant teenagers and alcoholic fathers. A real shady scene, where middle-class intersects with white trash.
Tonight, I’m on top of a detached garage. This provides a view of a teenaged blonde with an acne riddled face. I suspect she’s an exhibitionist because she rarely closes her blinds. I’ve shot her for three days straight, with limp results. She’s a bit rough, but Roland will find someone who’s into it.
After two hours I’ve taken three or four decent shots of her changing clothes. This job is often boring so my mind wonders, and I notice a new development across the street. There sits a Uhaul truck that wasn’t around earlier. New residents mean no curtains, and easy-access lurking. Goodbye, desperate, lonely youth; it’s time to go welcome the new neighbors!
There’s no coverage from the back yard, so I slink behind some shrubs that flank the house across the street. My back is exposed, but it’s dark. These hicks are too drunk to look out of their windows and find me.
I’ve been watching for about twenty minutes, when finally I spot movement on the second floor. Light fills the room, and my blood starts pumping. The lens begins to capture the best thing to happen to this neighborhood in decades. She stands tall and slender, with dark hair and pale skin. The way she glides across the room evokes a sophistication far beyond this slum. Why is she here?
She’s a worthy target, so she deserves a name. I’ll call her Angela. Dear, dark Angela, on the wrong side of town, tell me about it, sweetheart. You’re my only obsession. I decide that tomorrow I will glean every angle into her house, and choose my hidden locations. See you soon, darling.
Roland gives me the side-eye after looking over last night’s work. He’s debating if it’s worth it to stay in the shit-hole any longer. I have to convince him otherwise if I want get inside Angela’s head.
“This girl is one zit away from her head exploding, she won’t fetch much. And I’m really not sure what you see in the brunette. You picked this area clean weeks ago.”
“Just look at her, Roland. Tell me you aren’t dying to see more.”
“See what? That lanky twig isn’t the least bit exotic. Greener pastures, Paul, that’s what we need.”
“I’m not ready yet. Just give me three more days with her. Then you can spin the globe, and I’ll land wherever.”
“Well I hope it’s time well spent. Otherwise I’m not paying you.”
“You’ll have fresh prints tomorrow.”
I’m out the door before he has time to reconsider. Roland doesn’t understand the mystique. That’s why he stays inside the office with all the money, and I’m out in the trenches with the camera. Ultimately, he knows his place in the scheme of things, so I head out to do what I do best.
By mid-afternoon, I’ve jogged both sides of her street, twice. With locations chosen, I have five hours ’til darkness. These nerves are giving me fits. I get tweaked before every shoot, but this time I’m positively shaking. I down two Heineken to shave the edge off. A shaky camera is a blurry photo. I peer out through my blinds at the empty street. It’ll be a good night for hunting. I turn the lights off and sink into the couch, draining another bottle. When the light leaves the shades I pick up my camera. Let’s get to know each other a little better, Angela.
Two hours go by, wasted, without a sign of anyone inside. The Uhaul is gone and there are no cars in the driveway. But I’m a patient man, Angela. I’ll wait for you.
So I wait. And continue to wait, until dawn eventually arrives. She’s teasing me. I gather my equipment and look over the area before leaving. No one is watching, so I hit the street. As I pass Angela’s house, the porch light flickers on. It’s too late to turn back, so I walk with a steady pace, never looking over my shoulder. There are no footsteps, but I know I’m being followed. Did she see me?
I shut and lock the door, stumbling toward the shades. Parting the blinds, I hope to find Angela, but there is no one there. It’s just nerves, I suppose. The night was a waste. Roland will be pissed. I take a long drink from a warm beer, sinking back into the couch.
I’m awoken by a loud, rhythmic knocking at the door. Roland doesn’t make house calls, so it’s most likely trouble. Have I been found out? From the peephole I find an interesting surprise: Angela herself. Before the debate in my head over what to do subsides, I’ve opened the door. Why did I do that? She stands before me, silent, nearly terrifying in a diminutive way.
“Paul Reynam, right?”
“I am, yes, but I don’t believe we’ve met? I noticed you were moving in down the street.”
“I’m sure you did notice, you’ve been lurking about.”
“I have a request and you’d do well to follow it.”
“That sounds serious. You haven’t even told me your name.”
“And I don’t plan to. If you want someone’s photo, you should ask for it, not steal it.”
“Whatever you’re going on about, you’ve obviously got the wrong idea…”
“There will be consequences if you try it again.”
“I’m not much on threats this early in the morning. It’s not very neighborly of you.”
“I don’t make threats and I’m not technically your neighbor. Goodbye, Mr. Reynam.”
I slam the door like an insolent child, the only act of defiance I can muster. She quickly disappears from the peephole, and I only want more. Was that her clever way of flirting with me?
I’ve been made, that much is certain, but I’m not done with her yet. I’ll keep a safe distance tonight. I just need the telephoto lens.
I call Roland to pick up the lens. He’s curious about specifics, so I tell him I’m shooting from a tree to get a better view. I thought it best not to mention my surprise visit. I don’t need him to panic and pull me out of here before I get what I need from Angela. And I do need it. I’ve never wanted to photograph anyone more than I do her, especially now that she’s practically dared me to try.
And so, from the safety of my car, I spot a nice, densely covered tree just one street over. The vantage point is dead-on for a second-story view. I’d like to see her spot me from that far off.
The sun is down and everything is in place. Through the viewfinder I see every detail of her room. She’s unpacked now, and her decor tells me a little about her. So far she’s remained out of sight, but she’ll come around. I know she wants to be watched.
Even though the tree provides good cover, I still find myself looking at the ground out of paranoia. After a few hours, frustration sets in. My legs are cramping in this awkward position. The light downstairs shuts off and I feel a second wind. She glides to the open window, posting up and surveying the street. I know she’s looking for me. How thoughtful. You can’t see me here, can you Angela?
But then her gaze stops, right in my direction. She’s staring directly at this tree. It’s not possible for her to see me, but I know she does, somehow. She disappears for a moment, returning with what looks like a mirror. I zoom all the way. In the mirror, I see my face, staring back at me. Suddenly, I can’t move. I want nothing more than to jump from this tree and run to another town empty-handed. I can’t look away as I see something impossible. The me in the mirror walks right out of the reflection, taking position at Angela’s side. She leans in and whispers something in his/my ear. He walks off, leaving Angela to turn her attention my way. The mirror and my reflection are gone. It’s like she’s watching a television program.
I can feel my legs beneath me again, just as I fall off of my perch. I see Angela’s door opening, my reflection reappearing behind it. The ankle feels sprained, but instinct propels me forward. I can’t explain what that is, or what Angela is truly capable of, but for once in my life, I don’t need answers. I have no desire to figure her out. I run as best as I can, but my reflection is gaining ground. It’s not even running. Each look backward brings it closer, until I am to scared to look again. I feel its hand on my shoulder as my eyes close.
There’s a flash of light and I come to on the hood of a Ford Taurus. My whole body feels shattered. I see confused glances behind the windshield. “What the hell was he thinking?” I hear a man scream. A look of scorn falls over the passenger’s face and it becomes clear that she knows exactly who I am. My reputation precedes me.
“That’s the asshole Joanne saw hiding behind her garage last week, taking pictures.”
“I’ve seen him walking all over the place with that camera bag.”
“That piece of shit, her daughter’s only 15.”
The man gets out and surveys the damage to his car, not paying me any mind. When his attention does shift my way, I see nothing but disgust and hatred. Big, meaty hands grab at my bloody shirt, pulling me upward and into his eye line.
“I’m more worried about my car than I am you, so if you can walk out of here, then I’d suggest you get to it.”
I don’t protest in the slightest as he tosses me aside. Long after the Ford drives off, I try to stand on what’s left of my legs. Each step to the apartment door is hellish. I think about how that lady looked at me. I’ve seen that exact same look, I don’t know how many times in my life, but it’s never fazed me in the slightest.
In the apartment I crawl up the stairs to the bathroom. I wash off the blood without looking at the mirror, afraid of what I’ll see. I can feel that cold hand still on my shoulder. I know that the reflection is waiting in this mirror, too. I also know that Angela only showed me what was always there.