Cover Image
Bill McGee

Berry liked movies. Correction, he loved them.

     This late spring, the local PBS television station started playing foreign films every Saturday night on a program called "International Cinema Showcase." So far, on his parent's Zenith TV, he'd seen "La Strada," "Wild Strawberries" (adored both), and a movie he forgot the title of that featured Alan Bates as the male lead and Genevieve Bujold as a ballerina. He was taking French in college and loved saying her name. Boo-zhold.

     Year 2 of college was winding down and he needed a job for spending money. He didn't want to go back to the county park again, where the previous summer, he'd worked at the concession outlet as a cook, throwing dozens of frozen hot dogs and hamburger patties onto a grill, hearing them sizzle until they were stained up enough to serve to the recreational masses.

     He had an idea about working at the classy Sutton Theater on East 57 Street in Manhattan. The year before, he'd seen a limited release of a classic movie there and loved the theatre.

     "As what?" his mother asked when he told her. "What job will you do?"

     He frowned. An usher? He'd thought about it before and thought it through again.

     What did an usher do anyway? They took the patron's tickets, led them to their seats, waited for the film's start and closed the doors, opened them again when it was over, and in between … lots of free movie watching.


When summer break arrived at the semester's end, he went to the two theaters in town and asked to apply. They weren't hiring. He went to the multiplex at the Sky Set mall and filled out an application. No response after a week. Several days later, he went to the Waverly Theater, a

     few towns away, where he'd seen "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" when he was five and for years thought it was the funniest movie he'd ever seen. He arrived and walked to the place where tickets are purchased. A young dark-haired lady sat in the enclosed booth with the

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     circular amplified mouthpiece you talk into when asking for a ticket.

     "Excuse me," Rule said, leaning in close, thinking he had to speak right up against the mouthpiece.

     "Where do I apply for a job here?"

     She held up her hands to her ears to deflect the volume of his voice, then leaned forward to the mouthpiece and pointed inside.

     "Go through there, turn right, head toward the main theater. Just before the entrance, look to the side, and you'll see a closed door. That's the manager's office."

     Arriving there, he met the assistant manager, a lady named Regina Putnam. She was in her early 40's, unsmiling, well-dressed, and talked fast like she'd just drank five cups of coffee. She pulled out a piece of paper from a desk drawer, handed it over, asked him to complete it, and then left.

     It was late morning; the theater wasn't open yet. He walked on the lobby's plush red carpet to the stand where they sold candy and popcorn and, on the counter, filled out the form with a Bic

     pocket pen he'd brought. While doing this, he looked around. The ticket-selling lady was out and about walking in the lobby. He noted her uniform: white blouse, red vest, red skirt.


Red seemed to be the color in favor; it was painted in textured swirls on the lobby walls, and the stacked soda cups on the refreshment stand were all red. He then saw a young man approaching, walking leisurely, tossing a red flashlight up and down, and yes, he was an usher,

     wearing a uniform consisting of a red blazer jacket, black pants, and black shoes. He was about his age, pale-complected, wore plastic oval-shaped frame glasses, and had irregularly combed oily light brown hair; some strands of it pasted on his forehead. He was whistling, completely self-absorbed, rhythmically tossing the flashlight up in the air a foot, waiting a moment, then catching it. He did this a few more times, then dropped it. Without missing a beat, he scooped up

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     the fallen flashlight, this time securing its flexible band tight to his wrist, and continued, resuming his whistling.

     Rule completed the form, looked around, and spotted Ms. Putnam coming down the stairs that led to the mezzanine seats. He raised his hand to get her attention.

     "All done", he said.

     She passed by him, pointed to the office from before, and said over her right shoulder,

     "Just leave it in there." and went on, walking through the doors to the main theater and out of sight.

     Rule lived with his parents and younger sister in a single-level Cape Cod house in Westgate Township in a subdivision where the streets were named after flowers. Two decades before, his parents had moved there as newlyweds, and within a year, his mom gave birth to him. It was a

     neighborhood with several dozen attractive homes built on 1/3 — 1/2-acre plots, all with far more grass than concrete.


A week after his visit to the Waverly, a phone call came through at home. His mom answered, and wearing powder blue plastic hair curlers in a new frosted bouffant style her hairdresser had sold her on, she walked to Rule's room.

     In a whispering voice, she told him, "There's someone on the line for you." He looked up uncertainly.

     "I can't raise my voice; it might disturb these," pointing a finger at the done-up hair.

     "Oh," he said, putting down the paperback of the play "Antigone" he was reading.

     "Who is it?"

     His mom shrugged, "Not sure. Earl? Steve? Wheel? He talks fast. And not clearly."

     She held her hand up against the curlers as he walked to the kitchen.

     "Hello?" he said, picking up the phone.

     "Hey, Rule Berry, it's Murkzurkalazer."

<  4  >

     Rule struggled with recognizing the voice but said, "Good, hi!" to be polite and to buy a few moments for his memory.

     "I was going through the pile of applications. There's so many of them, and I saw your name and told my boss, 'Hey, I know this guy. I've worked with him.' "

     Halfway through listening to these words delivered at 200 mph, it hit Rule. It was Mark Zerzer, his manager the year before at the county park.

     "What a small world, you work at the Waverly?"

     "Yeah, I manage the ushers. I told Mrs. Dutton I know you, and you're a good worker, and said let's bring him in," delivering twenty-two words in a record-breaking three seconds.

     "That's great. Thanks. How've you been? When do you want me to come in?


Not answering the question at first, Mark proceeded in a fast recap of his life since the previous summer and Rule knew not to interrupt him, and even though he understood maybe three out of five words said in the next several minutes, he resolved (he'd learned early on working for

     Mark) not to say What? Come again? Excuse me? I'm sorry, what was that? Rule waited for him to stop for breath.

     "Can I swing by tomorrow?" he asked, and Mark was off to the verbal races again.

     Somewhere in there, Rule heard the time and agreed to come in at 1 pm the next day.

     Because of Mark's recommendation, he got the job and found out there were many more things that an usher did. On the first day, he helped lift and bring a half dozen pinball machines

     down from the mezzanine storage space to the lobby. A couple of nights a week, he climbed up

     a twenty-foot ladder with a bucket of foot-long black plastic letters to change the names of the movies playing on the large marquee signboard located at the turnpike turnoff entrance. At closing time, he swept the theater floors of dropped candy wrappers, straws, and soda cups.

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     He met all the ushers and young ladies who worked there except for the guy he'd seen in the lobby tossing the flashlight. He was out for a few days dealing with "a family issue." No one

     gave any more details than that.


The local high schools were now closed for the summer. Attendance increased. The Waverly had expanded a few years before. A large wing extension was built on the east side of the building to house four new mid-sized theaters. Two ushers had to stand back there to make sure

     no one jumped theaters.


One weeknight, Rule was with another usher named Ceez (short for Caesar) in the back wing.

     There was a group of exit doors that led to the parking lot, and people were encouraged to leave that way at a movie's conclusion. Loud banging started. Rule stood still and looked to Ceez questioningly.

     Ceez mumbled something about local neighborhood punks, waited a bit, then walked to the exit and opened the doors. Rule followed. No one there. Ceez gestured towards the north side of the parking lot, and Rule saw a couple of guys walking through and about the parked cars. Ceez

     pointed in their direction, then sighed.

     "Something must have distracted them because they don't go away easily." He reached into his inside jacket pocket.

     "I could use a cigarette." He found one and lit it up. "The local delinquent youth," he continued.

     "They want to get in for free."

     Ceez quickly finished the cigarette, and they went back inside.

     "Hey, I have to go up front," Ceez said, as if he'd forgotten something. "Stay here… we'll send someone back."

     Rule nodded and waited. No one came. He walked into one of the theaters and sat on an armrest in the back row. A melodramatic teenage love story was playing; he'd seen most of it.

<  6  >

     The banging on the back doors started again. Louder now.

     Rule heard it, but the movie volume was loud enough that the patrons didn't notice. He left the theater and looked toward the exit doors. Now, they were being pounded incessantly, and someone was trying to pull the handles to get in. Rule scooted back to the hall angle leading to

     the lobby to see if relief was coming. No activity. He walked back, went to the exit doors, and opened one quietly. No one was there, but he heard voices upon walking out and looking over the lot.

     "Come over here, little lamb; get your wool cut," one shouted to him.

     "Let us in the movie, buddy," another one said fiercely.

     Rule started to say something but saw a guy running and an arm in motion; an object came hurtling in the air toward him. Startled, he quickly backed up. A beer bottle broke in a small explosion on the cement about ten feet from him. He heard laughter.

     "Where did that come from?" one said.

     "Hey, pole, let us in, and we won't bother you."

     Rule looked at the broken glass on the ground. He saw two figures moving through the parked cars heading toward him. Disgusted and a bit frightened, Rule backed up and started to re-enter

     the theater. He was about to slam the doors behind him when he saw Mark.

     "What's up?"

     "There's a few jerks out there. One threw a beer bottle."

     Mark walked right by him and pushed the exit doors open. Rule followed.

     There were two guys standing no more than twenty feet away. Mark pointed at the broken glass.

     "Did you do this?"

<  7  >

     Rule noticed Mark's words were easier to understand when he raised his voice.

     One of them approached, a young guy with blonde hair parted down the middle, well built, wearing a t-shirt and denim, his thumbs hooked in the belt loops of his jeans.

     "What of it?" he said to Mark. The other one stayed behind.

     "This is private property," Mark told him. "Doing something like this is destructive."

     The blonde guy laughed and looked down at Mark.

     "Who are you, the Boss usher?"

     Rule was a few feet behind and to the right of Mark, close enough to hear their words.

     "I work for the lady who manages here. She counts on me to make sure things run smoothly. No

     interruptions, no trouble." Mark said.

     "Who wants trouble? We just want to see a movie." the guy said leisurely like it was no big deal, first looking at Mark, then at Rule.

     "Okay," Mark said matter of factly, wanting to deflate the tension, "Just go to the front of the theater and buy a ticket."

     The other guy walked up. He was tall, lanky, round-shouldered, with long dark brown hair, very

     serious looking, bearing a resemblance to the rock guitarist Todd Rundgren. He spoke in a dull, droning baritone, with emphasis.

     "Thing is, we don't have jobs. We don't have money, "the guy said. Mark shrugged.

     "That's not my manager's problem. Everyone who comes here has to pay."

     "We see a lot of kids we know that get in, and they don't have jobs." the tall guy continued.

     "They don't get in for free. Everyone pays." Mark responded.

<  8  >

     The tall guy stared at Mark, then at Rule, and said nothing more. The blonde guy seemed to have lost interest and stepped back.


     "Not right to keep us out," he said.

     Rule piped up, "You don't go to a diner and expect to get free food."

     The blonde guy registered surprise that Rule had said something and fixed his gaze on him. The

     tall guy suddenly asked, "Is Ray around? Does he still work here?"


Mark looked at him. "Not your business to know."

     "Oh-h-h, it is. You tell him that Voo was here." He then turned and walked away with the

     blonde guy, and they continued through the parking lot and, in a minute, were out of sight.

     A bit flushed from the verbal exchange; Mark turned to Rule. "Losers, nothing better to do with

     themselves." Rule nodded.

     "Why don't you go up front to the lobby? There's a rush at the refreshments stand. See if you

     can help." Mark asked, closing the back doors with force.

     There was downtime, joking, kidding around, and something Rule didn't participate in:

     frequent verbal attacks and insincere imitations of Ray, the usher he'd first seen with the

     flashlight. Rule had been there a month, and often, he and Ray were together monitoring the

     back wing theaters.

     They teased Ray about his appearance and his walk, and he gave it back, but not well. Rule asked

     Mark about the relentless verbal abuse. Mark shrugged.

     "That started before I got here. It's harmless stuff. Besides, you've been around him; Is it a

<  9  >

     surprise he's a target?"

     Rule didn't respond. He didn't have a problem with Ray and talked to him at length.

     He found him bright, and didn't say weird or disrespectful things; when he cursed, he brought his

     voice down to a whisper. He did find his manner very serious and official, like he was trying to

     present himself as older than his years, but that wasn't unusual for someone his age. He was

     someone pretending, portraying parts of a personality of the man he sought to be, who wanted

     to be listened to, respected.


The others didn't grasp it. To them, he was nerdy and aloof, lacking a sense of humor. There

     were past occasions when they'd invited him to go to a local bar after work. His excuses had

     come off as contrived. One time, he told them.: "I have to wash my sister's car."

     "At night?' someone asked.

     "It's better to wash a car at night so it dries slower, out of the sun's rays." After several

     invites, they stopped asking, deciding it seemed he preferred to be alone.

     Of course, Rule hadn't known him long and wasn't aware of his home life or upbringing, but one

     day, he got a peek when Ray inadvertently opened up a bit. There was an inference he made

     about coming home from school in the afternoon and his mother sitting at the kitchen table

     pouring scotch into a glass and raising it to him as he entered. Then down it in one gulp.

     Followed by another. Ray intimated that the scene was played out more than once a week. There

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     was an older sister who received the advantages (the few that were available) to be given in the

     family, but he didn't have a problem with that; she was older, and he liked her.

     "We have a special relationship," he said to Rule one time with a slight wink.


One night, Ray was helping Stacy with the crowd of people lined up at the refreshment stand.

     Behind the counter, there were a few empty cardboard boxes that kept getting in their way.

     "I'm going to dispose of these in the dumpster. Won't be gone more than a few minutes."

     Stacy nodded. She knew how the others felt about Ray, that he was goofy, bordering on

     strange. She heard the verbal abuse he took day after day and not let it get him down, not

     change himself to pander to them. She thought that was kind of ballsy. There were rumors about

     a difficult home life, an unemployed father, money problems, recently, he had to take a few days

     off to deal with this.


Ray went out the back entrance, holding two cardboard cartons in each hand, and headed to the

     dumpster. It was in the back of the lot, near a coiled fence. Beyond the fence, there was a patch

     of lawn called an apron. It was like a buffer between the fence and the small A-frame houses

     built close together along a residential street.

     It was a Tuesday night; the parking lot was half full. Ray noticed a car parked by itself several

     spots to the right of the dumpster. The night was cloudy and moonless, so even as Ray

     approached, he couldn't see the car's make or color or if there was anyone in it. The dumpster

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     door was closed, so Ray had to put down the cartons and lift the heavy door to throw them in.

     As he did so, he heard the hinges creak loudly, but not the car doors opening.

     The dumpster door landed full, bouncing two booming times, then stopped from its weight.

     Then Ray heard the car's doors shut. There were two guys, and they were walking towards him.

     He didn't react, instead lifted the two cartons, and tossed them in, keeping his glasses on and

     not removing his usher's jacket.

     The two were close now, and Ray thought about how to acknowledge them. He threw the other

     two cartons in the dumpster and turned around. He knew one of them, a tall, lean nasty, nasty-looking

     guy named Voo from his high school in this town. Voo, short for voodoo.

     He recognized the other guy but didn't know him well. Blonde-haired, well-built, smirking. Ray

     thought maybe he was on the football team, but couldn't be sure, he didn't follow his school's

     sports teams. Couldn't care less. Kalb, he suddenly remembered, that may be his name. The two

     of them were just a few feet away.

     "Heard there's a party here tonight." Kalb said.

     Ray looked at him blankly and took a breath.


     He decided he wasn't going to play friendly and buddy up to this guy. Wasn't going to say, hey,

     you're from BrookView High right?

     He wasn't going to show any concern or fear. Wasn't going to start walking away fast. He

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     would just be content with himself.

     "No party here, we're just playing movies," Ray said, acting nonchalant.

     "I heard otherwise, why don't you let us in? "Kalb asked with determination. Voo advanced,

     loomed over him.

     "Yeah, why don't you RAY", clapping him on the back so hard that Ray had to suppress a


     "You can introduce us to everyone inside. "Kalb said, poking him in the chest.

     Ray looked up at Voo, who was staring at him with a look that was carefree menace.

     "Time to pay up." Voo said.

     This wasn't even partly true. Ray had borrowed money, but not from Voo, from Andy Balboa,

     a guy in his science class. Andy's dad was well-to-do, Ray's dad was in a bind (putting it

     mildly), and Ray enlisted himself to help. Andy had come through. It was $200, enough to pay

     for a few past due bills. He didn't know how this goon knew about it, didn't really care, it was

     none of his business. Friday was payday, and Ray was giving Andy most of the money back.

     The slap on the back resonated. Ray looked at each of them. He hated their cocky expressions,

     their impudence, and bullying style. He felt like hosing them down, spitting on them, or setting

     them on fire, but he didn't display any of these thoughts in his expression until he squared his

     stance and seethed at them.

     "Why don't you get the hell out of here." summoning an ominous grin, as he told them.

<  13  >


     In pieces, Rule found out what happened to Ray. Two guys had jumped him at the dumpster and

     Ray got the worst of it. Mark was quiet about it, management was tight-lipped, fearing a

     lawsuit. The co-workers who'd verbally abused Ray kept their mouths shut, wrongly feeling

     guilty about what had happened. Stacy was pissed off at all of them. She expressed herself

     clearly one evening about how they'd treated Ray, blasting them as cowards.

     "Where were any of you when he was at the dumpster by himself? I thought we were such a

     team, backing each other up." she laid into them sarcastically. By the next day, she was to be

     seen no more.

     Rule approached Mark and asked him what was up.

     "How's Ray? Is he hurt?" Rule asked.

     "He's going to be fine," Mark said, then hesitated.

     "Keep this between you and I…." Rule nodded he would.

     "They don't want this going to court, they're going to pay him some money. He got hurt…but

     he's tough. What the f…." and with that Mark turned to leave, shaking his head in disgust.

     Rule had one more question.

     "Does anyone know who did it?" Mark turned back.

     "This town is full of young jerks like those two guys we met a few weeks ago in the parking

     lot." he answered and shrugged.

     "Whoever they were, Ray didn't press charges," Mark said and walked on.


A few nights later, on a Friday, another usher named Pete had gone into the manager's office as

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     was usual at that time, then came out and sought out Mark. They had a conversation. At the end

     of their talk, Mark nodded, then looked over at Rule, turned back to Pete, and nodded assurance.

     At that, Pete came over. It was around 11 pm, the last movie had started, and the ticket office

     was closed. All that was left to do was open the back doors for the audience to exit when the

     last movie ended. Only one usher was needed for that.

     Pete took off his jacket. Rule didn't know him well, Pete was more involved with assisting

     the projectionist. He was about 5' 9", tan, well-built from weightlifting, easygoing, and, from

     his appearance, someone you didn't want to mess with. He got Rule's attention and tilted his

     head back toward the lobby.

     "C'mon, ride shotgun with me," he said.

     They went through the lobby. Mark was still there, holding a briefcase-sized, multi-zippered

     vinyl bag with a lock. He handed it to Pete and then smiled at Rule.

     In a voice imitating a carnival barker, he said, "Young man, you can make a lot of money in the

     motion picture business."

     Rule followed Pete out to the front parking lot, and they came to his car, a '75 Chevy Malibu.

     Pete carefully placed the vinyl bag in the back seat and leaned over, unlocking the passenger

     side door. Rule got in, grateful to be off his feet.

     "Usually, Ray or Ceez come with me on the bank run, but Ceez is out and…." Pete started.

     "Are we getting money, or are we giving money? Rule asked, cutting to the point.

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     "They're getting, and we're giving," he replied as he steered the car onto the turnpike. At a

     red light, he turned on the car radio. "Betty Davis Eyes" was playing.


"I like this tune," Pete said.

     The light turned green, and he accelerated. The car choked, sputtered, and noises erupted

     from the exhaust pipes. The car lurched a bit and stalled.

     "Da-a-mn." Pete said, shutting the radio off and turning over the ignition once, twice, on the

     third try it started.

     A horn honked behind, and the car went around and passed them. In park, Pete pressed the pedal

     a bit, and after a while, hearing it steady, put it in drive and went on at a slow pace.

     "Got to get her to the shop tomorrow," he said, mostly to himself. "We don't have far to go;

     the bank's about another half mile."

     Rule nodded and leaned back a bit, enjoying the time spent off his feet.

     Traffic was moderate for a Friday night, a few cars passed on the left, looking over to see why

     they were going so slow.

     Pete waved them on, giving them a look that acknowledged their frustration.

     "So, how much money is in the bag." Rule asked.

     Pete didn't answer at first. He shrugged and looked at his rear-view mirror.

     "I really don't know. Maybe 40 grand."


Rule said nothing but was impressed. He noticed Pete looking often at his rear-view mirror.

     "What's going on behind us?" he asked.

     "For the last minute, there's been a car pacing my speed and has its headlights off."

<  16  >

     Pete opened his window and waved his left arm forward to let them pass. They


     They continued pacing close behind. Rule felt the relaxed ride was over and alertly sat up and

     looked back.

     "I see the driver and a guy to his right. No one in the back seat. Can't make out their features."

     Pete had the green light at the next intersection and crossed it. The car behind them accelerated.

     Rule turned around and saw it make a right at the intersection and speed away. He gave out a

     phew! sound and relaxed. Pete didn't. He pulled into a gas station, drove past the tanks,

     found a parking spot, and stopped.

     "What's up?" Rule asked. Pete was looking at the rear-view mirror again.

     "Want to see if that car comes back." He waited several minutes.

     Finally, Rule asked if he should get anything inside, can of soda, candy bar, he didn't know

     what, just felt the silence caused a tension that didn't feel right.

     "Uhh..chewing gum." Pete said and told him the brand he preferred. Rule nodded, went

     inside, bought five packs. Returning, he gave three to Pete and unwrapped another for himself. Pete

     chewed on a stick with satisfaction, it brought a smile to his face.

     "The area by the bank is pretty safe, but the deposit box isn't well-lit, and there's no security

     camera. It's not attached to the bank branch itself; it's set back away from it. ", he said.

     "I don't like to take any more time than necessary. Drive up, park, get out with the bag, deposit,

<  17  >

     snatch the slip, back to the car, and boogie out. "

     This was partly a self-comforting speech because in the two years, he'd been doing this, no car

     had tailed him like this before.

     "So, that's the story. Let's get this done," he continued and chewed faster on his gum.

     He backed up, returned to the Turnpike, and drove on, looking often at his rear-view mirror.

     In a few minutes, seeing the blue and white banner of the bank branch, he put on his right signal

     light, and turned in. He drove past the branch building, continued, and came to a stop at a spot

     he was familiar with. They were parked at an appendage of the branch, in front of a little non-

     descript cash deposit hut, illuminated by a dull overhead light with a frosted plastic covering. It

     was giving off an electrical buzzing noise.

     Pete whistled, unsnapped his seat belt, and turned to reach for the package in the back seat. He

     had it in his arms as he moved himself back in place, when they heard a car engine start, then

     saw its headlights turn on. From its position at the north end of the large parking lot, it

     proceeded towards them. It was the same car that had been tailing them.

     There were still two people in the front seat, and as they got closer, Rule saw they were now wearing

     knit ski masks. Pete had his driver's side door halfway open, his right arm cradling the money

     pouch, when the car accelerated and abruptly stopped perpendicular to them. The driver put the

<  18  >

     car in park, and he and the passenger both got out. They wore gloves. One was tall and thin, the

     other mid-sized and well-built with blond curls that came out from the collar tuck of his knit


     Pete stopped from exiting the car, started to sit back down in the driver's seat. Rule was all eyes

     looking at the two approaching.

     There was a faint rustling noise to the right, behind some decorative shrubbery situated at the

     mid-section of the parking lot, and a figure appeared and came out running at a slow gait. The

     two masked guys had their backs to the figure, and the buzzing noise hid the sounds of the

     running steps.

     Pete could see the runner as he put the money bag down on the car floor and turned to respond

     to the threat these two presented.

     The figure had a tire iron in his right hand, and in the rapidity that happened next, Pete saw it

     was Ray. He was wearing sunglasses and was dressed in a black tracksuit. Leaning a bit to

     his left side favoring the area where his ribs had been bruised from the recent tussle.

     When Ray came upon them, he first smacked the tire iron on the head of the one with

     the blonde curls. The aim and speed were devastating as Kalb groaned aloud, his knees

     buckling fast like a spring, and fell heavily to the ground. Whatever discomfort Ray might be

     feeling didn't slow him down. Next, he went right after Voo, smacking him low in the

<  19  >

     back with the tire iron, and as Voo closed his arms defensively and leaned over, in one fluid

     motion, Ray jumped in the air a half foot and slammed the tire iron on top of his head. Then he

     turned to Kalb writhing on the ground and kicked him in the head several times. Then gave the

     same kicking treatment to Voo. They never saw who was attacking them.

     Out of breath and grimacing, Ray came over to the Malibu and leaned down to Pete and Rule. He

     had plastic gloves on and tightly cradled a towel they hadn't seen before.

     "Nice to see you boys. Likely, we won't meet again." Then he turned, growled, yelled with joy,

     jumped, hobbled a bit, and at a quick trot went back to where he'd come from, proceeding past

     the bushes, then onward, until he was out of their sight. Moments later, Rule heard the sound of

     metal being dropped on metal, perhaps the tire iron being dropped down a street drain.

     Pete was stunned. Out of forced habit, he proceeded with his mission, exited the car, ran to the

     deposit box with the bag in hand, entered the code, heard the air release noise, dropped the bag

     down the hatch, closed it, pulled the slip out, stuffed it in his pocket, and returned to the car. It

     was the right thing to do, to deter any thought that he'd been in conspiracy with these two

     bloodied guys now lying still on the bank parking lot.

     Back in the car, Pete floored the pedal. He got back on the turnpike in the direction of the

     theater, drove a quarter of a mile, then slowed down, bowed his head toward the steering wheel, and with a grunt, started massaging his stomach with his right hand. He turned down a local

<  20  >

     street and stopped at the first corner.

     Berry saw the stress on his face, Pete's complexion was pale, as if the facial tan had been an

     actor's grease paint and was now washed off.

     He was breathing heavily, whispering, "What the hell just happened?" then "What the hell?"

     then again, a bit louder, "What the hell just happened?!"

     He reached for the last strip of gum in his pocket and started chewing it rapidly. Its cinnamon

     flavor seemed to help his nausea because he stopped massaging his stomach.

     Berry was calmer. Yes, he'd just seen things he'd never seen before in his 240-month-old

     life, but he'd seen other things like it; three years before, his neighbor's house went up in a

     roaring fire, killing several inside: Mrs. Talbot and her two children, 7 and 9 years

     old, who he'd known well from delivering the local newspaper to them, seeing his mother

     have a seizure on the kitchen floor from reaction to oppressive heat on a summer day, her eyes

     rolling around, tongue darting out involuntarily, body shaking helplessly; like having an out of

     state cousin, who, when he met him as a little boy, thought he was the funniest person in the

     world, then a few years later, died at 23 from a heroin overdose.

     Berry took out the remaining two sticks of gum and, peeled the aluminum covering

     one by one, and started jawing on them. Pete was frozen, his two hands tightly gripping the wheel of the

     parked Malibu.

     Berry rolled down the window and aligned some thoughts that were starting to populate in his

<  21  >

     mind. As they gathered, he gave voice to them and turned to Pete.

     "Okay… here's a suggestion. You're going to put the car in drive and head back to the theater

     now. Here's what happened. You made the bank deposit delivery as you always do. We were

     confronted by two thugs we didn't know because they wore masks. They ambushed us. Then…

     a stranger appeared out of nowhere, running like a track star, and without stopping went after

     them with a… knife? Two by four? Who knows? Not sure. Happened so fast. Who was he?

     Don't know. Light not bright enough. Didn't want to look at him. It happened so quickly, it's a

     blur. Officers, we're lucky just to be here."

     He paused a minute, letting it all settle in Pete's mind.

     "That's what happened…. Oakey Dokey?"

     Pete didn't say a word while staring ahead. After a few minutes, he nodded slowly, mumbled

     "Right," then drove back to the theater.

     In his mind, Rule ran through some questions he might be asked in the coming hour.

     "What took us so long?"

     " Pete's Malibu was acting up."

     "What did I see?"

     "Pete made the deposit at the bank…Not much else."

     "Who was there? Do you know their names? Why did they do it? "

     "No idea. I can't begin to tell you."

     When they got back to the theater, the cops were already there. A passing motorist had seen

     the commotion in the bank parking lot, the two on the ground, and called it in.

<  22  >

     Pete was still stunned. Couldn't talk. In shock. He went inside, and Regina Putnam and Mark

     approached him. They walked him to her office. The two cops left him alone. They approached


     The Waverly was fully closed now. They found a quiet spot in a theater and sat Rule down to

     ask him questions. Observing him, he seemed to be fine, they thought.

     When he was little, several times, his parents took his sister and him upstate for weekend trips to

     the Catskills. "Watch out for falling boulders" signs had captured his attention and stretched out

     his imagination, making those signs more encompassing in their message than just about the

     possibility of falling rocks.

     A boulder had fallen tonight just feet away from him and missed.

     After a few minutes, he was comfortable and satisfied with the answers he was giving to their

     questions. What they thought didn't concern him. This is my story, he told himself.

     Toward the end, he felt a need to open up a bit. A release. He started to feel his abdomen

     muscles tremble and couldn't control them. Subtly, he put a steadying hand on them.

     "I'm a movie theater usher," he started and continued in a slow, measured tone.

     "About three months ago, I was hired by my friend Mark, who I know since last summer. I've

     known this theater since I was five years old." He paused and looked at their eyes sincerely.

     "I work at the Waverly Theater, how cool is that. I love movies, that hasn't changed." He

     hesitated, then went on.

<  23  >

     "But what has changed?" Rule asked them and himself at the same time. He sighed, then


     "I used to like popcorn, but now… I don't like the smell, the burning. Don't like the kernels that

     don't pop, and you don't know that until you bite down upon them and they nearly break your

     mouth." At the end, he raised his voice a bit to emphasize the point.

     "It's hazardous. You work here for just a few days and your feelings about popcorn will be

     changed forever. "The two cops looked at each other.

     Rule wondered how this little speech was going over, but he didn't care. This was a helluva

     night, and he realized that he'd worked with, conversed for hours upon days with a guy named

     Ray, who he'd sized up as a young person his age, not deserving to be picked on to the degree

     he'd been. A guy he thought he knew. But this other person he'd seen tonight who swooped in

     like an avenger, who he had to admit it — maybe saved my life--- that circumstance he couldn't

     get a handle on, couldn't get his arms around, it would take some time, some mental review….

     But for now, talking to these two officers, he parked those thoughts and reflections away in a

     corner of his mind, and that was easy because the event had been quick, stark, and conclusive.

     He now felt his left arm start to tremor, inheriting what his abdomen had started. He tucked it

     behind his back, out of their view. Without seeing them, he felt their eyes upon him.

<  24  >

     With meaning, he looked at them, took a noticeable deep breath, and said very seriously,

     "Truthfully, I just can't stand it anymore."

     They looked at him questioningly. He attempted to clarify.

     "No, it's not the movies I can't stand," he hesitated, thinking it was an important point to make.

     "When I say I can't stand it… I just mean the popcorn."

     Authored by Bill McGee ©2023

     All Rights Reserved

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