Dean stole a drag from Gerald’s cigarette outside the fire exit of Bernie’s Movie Theater. “You heard from your girl at all?” Gerald asked.
Dean blew the smoke from the corner of his mouth and said “Short answer’s no. The long one’s at the tail end of whether or not she is my girl,” he said, staring down at the wasteland of multi-colored gum cast aside by high-schoolers on first dates – a collection that would make Willy Wonka envious.
“You stalking her?”
“We were dating.”
Earlier in the fall semester of his junior year at Ohio State, Dean had been dating a girl in his English Literature of the Renaissance course. She was a little quiet and a lot complicated. Their mutual interest in the English language and shared agreement that Charles Dickens had a lot more to give to the world, led to several public outings together. However, when December rolled around, Jessica went silent. Not a blip on the radar, nada. Dean trudged through final exams before returning home to Dayton for custodial work at the theater. Gerald had been excited to see him; after all, he was one of the few that remained in the town, working the same job he had started during high school summers.
“Do I have to remind you again why I don’t have a girlfriend?” Gerald asked.
“Because you’ve ran out of room beneath your floorboards?”
“No. Because I ordered a lifetime supply of Cheese Balls and Sprite. And all the movies a man could want.”
In June, Fanny’s Video Rental Store had gone out of business. Digital media and video on demand had ensured the end of Fred Alleghany’s (“Fanny” for short) business that he had built with his father back in the eighties. Gerald took it upon himself to empty the store of VHS tapes, DVDs, Blu-rays, and even a few Betamax and Cartrivision tapes in a blowout sale. “Cost me a summer’s worth of pay. But another will roll around and I’ll be fine,” he had told Dean.
“If only the old would come back in style. Back when you could hold media in your hand and were proud of it,” Gerald mused. “Actors were better back then, too. People dealt with a lot more back then. Made ‘em come across more real.”
“You remember that fat ass that Pitt and Freeman come across in Seven?” Dean asked.
“What’s your point?”
“Might be you in a couple…”
The fire exit door opened from the inside. It was Nancy. “Got a big mess in number five. Need a couple extra hands.” Dean and Gerald looked at her as if waiting for the punch line. “It’s only me. Manager’s up front dealing with an irate customer who said Sausage Party left her child scarred for life. I’m waiting.” Gerald stamped out his cigarette and followed behind Dean into the dark guts of the theater.
Auditorium five was one that rarely had to be cleaned. Not many patrons entered the place because of what that particular auditorium chose to show. Every night, they played movies that could have easily been on the Turner Classic Movie channel’s hit list. The manager, Harrison, loved showing old 1930’s gangster films like Angels with Dirty Faces and Little Caesar. Harrison, the theater manager, enjoyed film noir from time to time, but his sweet tooth couldn’t resist American crime movies, especially those with James Cagney. “You know what? Actors nowadays are spoiled with all these special effects,” he once stated to Dean. “In Cagney’s day, they shot real bullets out of real guns to show the bullets’ impact. They had to really know where they were shootin’ and those that were gettin’ shot at really had to move out of the way. Duckin’ live machine-gun fire on set!” he let out with a cackle, shaking his head at the absurdity. “Your generation couldn’t handle it.”
“Spill’s on the back row,” Nancy said, ascending the steps of auditorium five, Gerald and Dean trailing behind.
“Nothin’ special in this one. You might find a few Werther’s Original wrappers from the old geezers that actually do come in here to watch something they grew up on,” Gerald said.
The three of them stopped halfway from the top. “Wait,” Nancy ordered. “There’s no way that it reached this far down.”
Dark liquid had slinked down the steps.
“That’s not soda,” Gerald said.
Nancy broke out her flashlight and cast a spotlight on the liquid. It was blood.
“Help,” a voice echoed from the darkness. An elderly man posted on an elbow on a seat. He stood, a man searching for his sea legs. “I’ve been shot.” He removed his hand from his stomach, peering down at the glove of blood that covered it.
Dean hurried up the steps, bent down and thrust a shoulder beneath a bony arm. “It’s okay. I’ve got you.”
“Who did this?” Nancy asked, looking around.
“I smell it. Gunsmoke,” Gerald said.
Dean helped the old man to his feet. “Easy.”
“Guys,” Gerald’s broken voice hesitated. “The screen.”
Projected onto the screen, a man in a three-piece suit and fur felt fedora stared back at them, a grin across his face. In his hands rested a tommy gun, smoke floating from its mouth like breath in the early morning. “Thought my Tommy put a fatal one in ya,” he said, his voice spilling through the surround sound system. “Oh, Larry,” he spoke to the wounded old man. “You always were a slug, slippin’ and slidin’ your way outta things. Told ya I’d come back. The rest of ya, look out. I’m comin’ in to take care of business.”
The gangster stepped forward, his grainy face filling up the screen until the entire projection was a cloud of white. Then a three-dimensional foot stepped through the bottom of the screen. Another foot followed as he carefully walked through the screen, his body becoming one with the real world, the old and forgotten meeting the new.
Brodie Lowe has a B.A. in English with a concentration in professional writing from Western Carolina University. His brother and he wrote a film named Three Count that was picked up by executive producers of One Media Productions in 2016. He has forthcoming short stories to be published in Story and Grit and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature literary magazines. A short film that we wrote is currently in pre-production by a North Carolina based, award winning director of photography.