He took a picture of death...
Die Softly - Christopher Pike
1991, 248 pages
The first 50ish pages of Die Softly gave me a strange Scavenger Hunt-esque vibe, possibly because of the male protagonist. There's a little Gimme A Kiss thrown in there too, with some police-questioning chapters titled "In The End" stuck in intermittently. Not one of my favourites (it opens with a DREAM SEQUENCE, for frick sakes!), but here it is: I present Die Softly.
Who's Who - This Week
Herb Trasker - our main guy, kinda pervy, amateur photographer
Sammie Smith - Herb's friend, OMG fat girl, wears large sweatshirts
Theo Corbin - Herb's other friend, teenage alkie, his brother Roger died in a car crash recently
Alexa Close - hot cheerleader, Herb's fantasy chick
Lisa Barnscull - hotter cheerleader, school bitch, cocaine addict, was Roger's girlfriend at the time of his death
Stephen Plead - dumb guy, Alexa's boyfriend
Sgt. Fitzsimmons - local cop
We join the gang in Mannville, CA, a small town 40 miles east of Sacramento. Besides a crappy prologue, the first words of the book are "His blood was hot. His thoughts were naughty." Well, Christ, Herb, get over here and let me give you a spank. Not. Herb is exactly the type of teenage loser who spends waaayyyy too much time alone in his room beating it. And I don't even know how he finds the time since he goes to school, then works at an electronics assembly plant for eight hours every night.
Here's the deal: Pervy Herbie has an idea. His buddy Sammie - she of the fat rolls, giant sweaters, makeup-less face, sweaty bangs, and general appearance of a male ex-con - suggests that he set up a camera in the girl's shower after cheer practice and get some swank nudie pics of the snotty bitches "to pass around at grad". Sammie doesn't just suggest, she insists.
After shooting the cheerleadering team for the yearbook, Herb has the opportunity to drive his crush, Alexa, home after school. It's because Alexa's allergies are acting up and she's not allowed in her boyfriend Stephen's red Fiat, lest she stain the seat with boogers. Which, like, is not gonna happen, but Stephen won't hear it. Herb's (wet) dream comes true when Alexa wants to stop at McDonald's for food. It's almost like a date!!!
Herb and Alexa's heart-to-heart about their future hopes and dreams is interupted by Sammie, who is also in the joint. Gross. People are trying to eat. Hello! I wanna point out that in addition to being fat and disgusting, Herb also says that Sammie is funny and loyal. Just the tiniest passing mention of any redeeming qualities. Jeez, way to treat your friend. (Like, even though I have a four-point scale that I use to grade people, I would never diss a friend the way Herb does. In case you care, it's looks, humour, intelligence, kindness. The order of importance varies, like if I have a zit I have to be nicer about looks, etc... I'm only kidding a little.)
Apparently, Sammie's car won't run, so she needs a drive... with Herb. Is there no one else? She sits down with Herb and Alexa to wait for them to finish up. Awk-ward. Sammie is sweating profusely and seems nervous to be around Alexa.
After they drop Alexa off, Sammie starts in bugging Herb about the shower cam. It's almost like she's got a personal stake in it or something... or she really wants to see those pictures. Herb drops her off and goes home.
The plan is now set in stone: Herb's going to rig the camera to a VCR timer, plant it in the shower, and set it to record after cheer practice tomorrow. Conveniently, Herb's job is soldering chips to motherboards to make VCRs work. He sets one up especially for his own needs and sneaks it out of the building.
Also working at the factory is Herb's BFF, Theo. Theo's gone off the alcoholic gun-nut deep end since his brother Roger was found burned in his car at the bottom of a cliff with 2 grams of coke in his system. He's convinced that Roger's girlfriend Lisa had had something to do with Roger's death, even though she has an alibi.
At 2:30 AM, after work, Herb climbs a tree in the schoolyard in order to place his equipment. There's seriously about 9 pages of Herb hiding the camera. Let's just agree it's not visible to the general public and move on. Theo, who drank a six-pack during his shift, is passed out in the parking lot waiting for Herb. Hey, that's funny - Herb didn't tell Theo he was coming here. He leaves without disturbing Theo and goes home.
The next morning, Herb wakes up late for school. While he eats breakfast, he ponders the art of book reading. "Books got too complicated. He'd usually just flip to the last page to see what happened." Is this a hint? I hope not, because I'm not falling for it.
Herb decides to take the whole day off school and go stalk Alexa's house instead. On his way there, he sees smoke. Smoke coming from a cliff-bottom. The same cliff-bottom where Roger crashed his car and died. And the same cliff-bottom where a certain red Fiat was currently burning. Herb can see a burning girl behind the wheel... it's Lisa, Alexa's best friend! They're so close that they're known as the Sugar Sisters around school because they sold homemade (i.e. laced with cocaine) cookies to raise money for the cheer team.
Police, firefighters, and conveniently, Sammie and Alexa show up at the scene. Lisa's body is removed from the vehicle and taken for autopsy. It's later revealed that Lisa had used lots of cocaine over a long period of time during her life.
Our buddy Herb picks up his film from the school, then goes home, where he finds Theo asleep in a chair in his living room. Herb ignores him and starts developing his film. The camera caught some great shots of Lisa naked in the showers, and - oh! - the final frame is of a second person sneaking up on Lisa with a ball bat. And it looks like Alexa!
While Herb enlarges... the photo, creeps!... a few things happen. The phone rings, the door knocks, and Theo wakes up. At the door, Sammie has a theory that Lisa was murdered and wants to see the pictures. Theo, drunk again, falls out the door while Sammie and Herb are talking. Herb won't admit he has the pictures, and is suspicious. How would Sammie know there's a murder on the film unless she was the one behind it?????
On the phone, Alexa says that she received an anonymous note saying "We have pictures of what you did to Lisa." Herb tells Alexa, that he does, in fact, have incriminating pictures, but lies about where/how he got them. Alexa asks him to bring the photo to her immediately.
On the road, a blue Toyota Celica follows Herb. B-b-b-but that's Lisa's car! It's a g-g-g-ghost! Ok, not really. It's Stephen and he's there to kick some ass. Steve pulls Herb out through the car window at a red light and beats the crap out of him while Herb's car slowly rolls away. Steve kindly chases it, while yelling: "You little prick!" Also, such threat gems as "You are going to die", "I am going to make you die", and "You are going to die slowly". Huh. "Die softly" would have been so much nicer. Suddenly, a gunshot fires from the hills above and almost makes Stephen die. He runs off to his car and boots 'er outta there.
Theo is up in the hills with a gun. Herb realizes that Stephen took the photo out of his car. Oh noes! How's he going to impress Alexa now? He ditches Theo and drives to Alexa's. She wants to go back to Herb's place to see the negative. She thinks that Sammie is trying to set her up or something.
Back at Herb's, he and Alexa have a conversation where she reveals that her parents don't exactly treat her right. "You mean sexual abuse?" Herb asks, and yes, that is what she means. She feels terribly guilty that she never tried to stop Lisa from using so much cocaine. After Herb makes another print for Alexa to look at, she tells him some bullshizzle story about "Oh, this photo was taken two weeks ago. We were just playing around. Blah blah blah-lieve me. Oh, look. There's a man reflection in the mirror there. That's Sammie. She took these pictures." Now Herb is all pretty-girl mindfucked into thinking Sammie switched the film in his camera with some pre-existing incriminating film from the past. Methinks you're giving her too much credit, sir.
Alexa continues manipulating Herb by making out with him and saying she wants to tie him up. Shit! The phone rings! Christ, it's like 4 AM. What if Herb's mom has to work in the morning? It's Sammie, desperate to see the shower pictures. Jeez, girl. Just go buy a magazine already. Alexa instructs Herb to say they'd meet her at the death cliff in half an hour. Then naive Herb allows Alexa to take the only photo and the only negative into the can, alone, for an extended bathroom visit.
Herb and Alexa arrive at the cliff at 5 AM, and see Sammie waiting. Alexa makes them stay back, hidden, in case Sammie brought back-up. Unexpectedly (to some people) Stephen shows up. He accuses Sammie of stealing something of Lisa's. Drama, drama, until Sammie is backed up to the edge of the cliff. Sammie denies having anything to do with Lisa, but says that she had been involved with Roger's death at this very same cliff. Sammie pulls a gun. Stephen pulls a knife. Sammie shoots Stephen in the gut, as Alexa runs out of her hiding place with her own gun. Stephen dies.
Alexa shoots a shot in the air to scare Sammie. Sammie shoots at Alexa and misses. A shot comes from randomly in the air, strikes Sammie in the chest, and she flies over the cliff, landing on the burnt Fiat wreckage. Sammie dies.
Herb runs into the hills to see who the hell shot Sammie. He finds Theo sitting on a rock with his gun. God, this guy gets around. He says calmly: "She killed my brother. I killed her... If you don't like it, then you can go to hell." Stephen had apparently called him and told him to be here. Then he suggests that someone call the police. He's not afraid of jail. Good-bye, Theo. You were a character who... existed in this book... to, um, shoot at stuff?
The next morning, Herb is home in bed (alone, boo), until he is woken up by the phone. It's the cop, Sgt. Fitzsimmons. They talk for, like, five chapters interspersed throughout the book. All anyone needs to know is that Fitzie thinks Alexa is dangerous and implores Herb not to see her that day. Herb won't agree to it, so Fitz asks him to come to the station by his own free will. Herb's not doing that either, but concedes that he can't stop the Fitz from dropping by to talk in person in, say, half an hour.
Herb does his Saturday morning chores, like putting a knife under his pillow, and rigging up his VCR/camera hybrid to takes pictures of his bed area. Alexa shows up at the door with a bag of cookies for Herb. How sweet of her! I knew they didn't call her a Sugar Sister for nothing! Herb pours milk, but Alexa prefers beer with her cookies, calling it the "breakfast of champions". Ah, I see she's gotten her "How to be Cool" tips from Weekend and Chain Letter.
They move into the bedroom to get it on. Herb cranks up the Zeppelin to drown out the shutter clicking. Alexa brought rope to fulfill her fantasy of tying up Herb. Or maybe Herb's gonna die in the bedroom with the rope. After Alexa secures Herb's limbs, he says he wants to talk rather than be seduced. I call farfetched! Alexa says: "You know."
She starts talking... and never stops. Roger Corbin was Lisa's boyfriend, but really Lisa and Alexa shared him. They got him hooked on coke and ménage à trois, and forced him to steal shit that they could sell to get more coke. When he didn't wanna do it anymore, they lured him to the woods, probably by promising some woodlands lovin', and tied him to a tree.
Lisa duct taped his mouth and held a palmful of cocaine under his nose. After he'd breathed in a crap-ton of coke, he had some kind of superhuman Hulk moment and got free. He chased the girls to their car, and then chased them in his car. The vehicles careened 90 MPH down the hill, to the curve at the bottom. Lisa and Alexa narrowly missed a car, which swerved to avoid them. As Roger came down behind them, he tried not to hit the oncoming car and went over the cliff in the process. The driver of the oncoming car?? Sammie! Now we know her secret.
Alexa mindfucked Sammie into thinking that Lisa was going to the cops about it, so Sammie was totally willing to watch Alexa kill Lisa in the shower, then help her move the body. But then Sammie got all cocky and thought that Alexa couldn't touch her anymore. Well, that wasn't very true, now was it?
Figuring that Sammie had something on her, like concrete proof, she called Herb, lied about getting a note re: the pictures, found out her suspicions were true, and went into action. She used her sexy enchantressness to get the negative into her possession. She called Stephen to rile him up and set him and Sammie up to die at the cliff.
Herb tells Alexa that Sgt. Fitzie knows all this shit, just not the details. He goes for the knife, which is in his reach, but barely. This angers Alexa. She pulls out a baggie. Herb's mouth is taped shut. He's forced to snort not only cocaine, but some kind of poisonous bloody nose inducing bad coke. He eventually breathes it in, and tries to snuff it away. A ton of blood flies out of his face. The end (of Herb).
In the epilogue, Alexa attends Herb's funeral service. Sgt. Fitzsimmons shows some photos to Herb's mother, who punches Alexa. Fitz shows Alexa the pics and says: "You are a wicked girl."
"At least I'm not a wicked boy" is her response, and that is the end (of the entire book).
Check that cover, by the way. Sideways, it's got black gloved hands holding a camera. Honestly, there's something wrong with me. I don't pay attention when I look at stuff. I always thought that was a porthole window into the shower and that there were black flowers or some sort of plumage in the top corner. Yikes, not even close. Now that I know it's a camera, I feel like a stupid ass every time I look at this cover. Stay tuned next week for second place vote-getter The Eternal Enemy. See you around!