Chad's father, a judge, was visiting from Kansas and Chad and his older brother were going to meet him for lunch at the Flamingo. Chad needed moral support -- his father was not thrilled that his boys were being raised in Las Vegas and he often asked Chad to come live with him out on the plains. Chad really did not want to do this. He felt that the presence of some of his friends at lunch might keep the topic at bay, and Greg and I agreed to go along.
I drove, of course, and when we parked in the Flamingo's parking garage Chad and Greg started off toward the stairs as I locked the car. It was a cold day; I tucked the keys in my jeans, thrust my hands in the pockets of my jacket, and followed after my friends. I wasn't too far behind them, and looking over the railing I could see them clattering down the stairs one flight below me. As I glanced down something else caught my eye. Sitting on a cement wall, right above where Chad's blonde head was passing was a thick envelope with the familiar yellow and black markings of Kodak film. Greg and Chad hadn't noticed it, being engrossed in the kind of talk seventeen-year-old boys engage in when something is about to happen for which experience has not prepared them, something that can certainly come to no good but which might prove weird enough to make a good story later.
Curiosity and caution have always warred within me, each possessing about equal strength. As I drew level with the envelope I obeyed the urge to caution: this is not yours, it is not for you, somebody is probably on their way to get this right now, pass it by. This lasted for about five steps. I stopped halfway down the next flight, turned, and slowly and quietly walked back. Reaching up, I took the envelope down from its perch and opened it, pulling out a thick stack of color photographs.
The top photo was of a red-haired woman, nude, in a hotel room, sitting and facing the camera with her legs spread. I quickly flipped through the stack at random. More photos of the woman in a variety of sexual positions, though what precisely was going on in them didn't fully register because two things hit me. One was that I had rather improbably found a stack of mystery porn, and the other was that I had to decide what to do about it before Chad and Greg noticed that I wasn't following them and came back up to see what was happening.
Remember that bit about seventeen-year-old boys and things for which experience has not prepared them? I was now holding a stack of pictures of a stranger doing amazing (to my callow self) things to her body and possibly the bodies of others. That the pictures existed at all wasn't the mind-blowing part for me; the mind-blowing part, the bit that just didn't add up right, was that I had them. For a kid like me to possess a set of pictures like this was unlikely to say the least, yet some unguessable chain of events had led me to them, or them to me. The only clues I had as to why this might be lay in the photos, and so my first impulse was to take them with me. I would put them in my pocket or hide them in the car, act normally through lunch and the ride home, and then search them for signs of their origins and significance later on.
And, of course, wank off. Teenage boy, right?
But I realized that wouldn't work. My pockets weren't big enough to hide the whole envelope, it would stick out so much that Greg and Chad would clearly see that I had this envelope of photos on me that I did not have minutes ago. I'd have to show it to them and I didn't want to do that. At this time I had a reputation as being constantly on the make. That I had stopped and picked up some porn to take with me to lunch with the judge...they'd never let me live it down. And what if the judge noticed? "You got some pictures there, son?" Good God, no. And I had no excuse to run back to the car, no time to hide it, we were going to be late.
Furthermore, it was rapidly dawning on me that this collection of photos had not been left behind by accident. Someone had put them there for a purpose, and I did not know what that purpose was. Terrible things happen in Vegas, terrible, crazy people come here, one of them built the very hotel I was about to enter. Entire movies unspooled in my head with lightning speed:
They were dropped here for someone else as part of some shady underworld transaction. When he finds them missing, he comes looking for whoever took them.
She thought they were going to be kept private, but things have soured and now someone wants to hurt her. By taking them with me, seeing her at her most trusting, I participate in her betrayal.
I get the pictures home and sort through them. The sexual escapades begin to take on a sinister cast. The woman's expressions of pleasure turn to fear. By the time I get to the last image, the hotel walls are covered in blood, the woman's dismembered body lies sprawled on the bed.
Whoever took the photos deliberately left them here for someone to find. He is watching me right now.
One way or another, I felt that I was looking into the abyss. When it came down to it I just wasn't ready for something like this to happen to me. I put the envelope back and caught up with my friends. Chad's father turned out to be a nice enough guy, and the fact that he was the Law out on the prairies gave him a kind of Wild West luster in Greg's and my eyes. Throughout our time together it never occurred to me that the fact that I, a minor, had just randomly come across explicit homemade pornography while walking in a public place might be a strong indication that his case against Vegas was not entirely unfounded. I was preoccupied with lunch. We were misled; there was none, we went hungry.
I wasn't much acquainted with the concept of exhibitionism then, and it would be years before the invention of the World Wide Web would make amateur porn commonplace. I would have been surprised and probably skeptical if someone had suggested to me that some women get off on strangers looking at nude pictures of themselves, that some men are excited when other men look at their wives or girlfriends. And that, to me, now seems like the simplest explanation for what I found that day.
When we walked back up to the car, the envelope was gone.