“Who is it this time?” he asked me, his old black face cracking into a wide grin. “Mayor? Chief of Police?” I couldn’t see his eyes through his dark sunglasses.
“No, this is big time,” I replied. “Senator. I caught him with his pants down. He is trying to make a bid at the presidency, so I’ll be selling the pictures to the Democratic National Committee unless he offers me a better deal. Either way, its a big payday.”
“You’d better be careful that those political bottom feeders don’t gut you six ways from Sunday.”
“I’ll be getting out of town for a while afterwards. Maybe Mexico; I hear it’s nice this time of year.” I smiled, and tapped out my cigarette in the green glass ashtray.
“Well let’s take a look at what you’ve got, shall we?” He scooped the negatives up in his wrinkled black hands and shuffled his old body across room. “It’ll take a while; grab us a bottle of cognac would you?”
“Cabinet by the stove, top shelf, just like always.” He adjusted his sunglasses as he crossed the doorway into the darkroom. “Bring us a couple of snifters too.”
I snatched the bottle from the cabinet, carefully selected two brandy glasses from the next shelf down, and followed him into the darkroom. He breathed heavily as he shut the door behind me. He motioned for me to pour the cognac, and I did, just as quickly as I could.
“It’s bad luck to develop photographs without a good glass of cognac,” he said, taking a swig and a deep breath. “Now, lets get to work.”
I watched as he stood at his table, illuminated by red light, fingers working at the roll of film I had brought him. Tyrone was the best photograph developer I had ever worked with. I met him during a particularly nasty job; I had caught a whole gaggle of dirty cops running a prostitution ring in the city, and nobody wanted to touch my pictures. Tyrone didn’t have a problem with it. We sent the pictures to the news station, and those cops were bagged by state troopers by the end of the day.
That’s why we got along so well I guess, I’d photograph anything, and Tyrone would develop anything; we didn’t have a single scruple between the two of us. It didn’t matter if we were smearing some cheating husband, the president of the United States, or the Pope, we were out for the pay day. And we had always made a decent living, the two of us. But this was a bigger fish than we had ever fried before. I hoped there would be enough money for both of us to cool it for a while afterwards; I didn’t want Tyrone to have to stick his neck out unnecessarily.
I watched him again as he prepared to expose the first picture.
“Split filter ok?” he asked.
“Always has been before,” I replied.
“I just love how it brings out all the tones,” he said, and a far-off wistful smile passed over his face.
He carefully exposed the paper through the negative image, and then he dipped it in developer. After a minute he pulled the paper out, gently submerged it in the stop bath, and slowly agitated it. He then transferred it expertly to the fixer for a few minutes before he washed it thoroughly, flipping the photograph over and over, and changing the water several times.
Finally, he waved the photograph in the air to dry it off, and then held it up to the dim red light. He adjusted his dark glasses again as he examined the photo.
“That’s a good one,” he said, and hung it up to finish drying.
I took a close look at the finished photograph. He was right: rich tones, clearly focused, and the senator’s face so clearly visible. It was a beautiful picture; this would no doubt be our golden goose.
He finished developing the photographs as we sipped cognac slowly.
When the photographs were dried and tucked neatly into my briefcase, I snapped the latch shut. “I guess this is it,” I said. “After I drop off your money at the locker box, I’ll be gone for a good while, living it up as best I can.”
“I guess so. When you get those pictures sold, and get yourself to Mexico, drop me a line so I know you’re not dead.”
“I’ll do that,” I said. “And don’t worry about me, in a week I’ll be sipping margaritas with the sun on my face.”
“I’ll try not to worry, but drop me a line just the same. Maybe a post card with a nice beach and a nicer señorita.” He smiled.
I looked at him with a chuckle. “I’m going to miss you, Tyrone.”
“I’ll miss you too, boy. And I’ll miss you bringing your pictures in for me to develop.” His dark skin cracked around a mouth that smiled almost too often, and his dark glasses shaded eyes that would never again see the light of day.
“Well Tyrone,” I said, “for a blind man, you sure do know a good photograph when you see one.”