Authors: Phoef Sutton
Tags: #Supernatural Thriller, #Fiction
THE DEAD MAN:
THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL
Lee Goldberg & William Rabkin
THE DEAD MAN:
THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL
By Phoef Sutton
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2012 Phoef Sutton
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
If you haven’t read
The Dead Man #4: The Dead Woman
yet, be forewarned that this book contains a spoiler.
For twenty whole minutes, right up until the time Jenna Liefer’s head was split open by the fire ax that had hung in the corner of the projection booth in the Rialto Cinema in New Orleans for forty years, she was texting her friend Penny Zirkle about what a piece-of-shit movie she was seeing.
Jenna had been dragged there by her current boyfriend, a fellow sophomore at Tulane named Kyle Moynihan, who didn’t know it, but he was skating on thin ice with Jenna even before he had taken her to this dingy movie theater to see this picture, which Jenna described in her third text to Penny as “a boring turd of a waste of time.” Really, if it weren’t for Kyle’s expertise at cunnilingus, she’d have shown him the door weeks ago. But he ate pussy just fine, so she’d put up with his “film school” bullshit up till now. But this was really pushing it.
The “film” was some seventies piece of crap that looked like it was filmed through Saran Wrap that had been used to wipe somebody’s ass, called either
Dead Men Tell No Tales
Dinner at the Brooklyn Morgue
, depending upon which print you were watching. As far as Jenna was concerned, a movie that couldn’t make up its mind about its own title wasn’t worth the time it took to watch. But Kyle insisted that the picture’s Italian director, Giuseppe Somebody-or-Other, was a real auteur, which, as far as Jenna could tell, meant somebody who made the same movie over and over. So the movie was Italian, even though the beginning was supposed to be set in New York and it had been shot in Italy and Los Angeles.
After that, the characters (if you could call them that) went to the Amazon for some reason and got attacked by zombies that weren’t nearly as cool as the ones in
The Walking Dead
. However, when she pointed that out to Kyle (in a whisper, for God’s sake) he shushed her and told her not to talk in the movies. Kyle had a thing about that, for some reason.
So she started texting Penny and she sent some really funny ones about the lead actor, who, Jenna said, looked like a refugee from some seventies porno, not that Jenna had ever seen a seventies porno. She’d just sent another one about the bad dubbing, which made everybody sound like the Ghost Host at the Haunted Mansion in Disney World when a creepy old man tapped her on the shoulder.
“We don’t allow that in here,” he said.
Jenna looked at him blankly.
“What you’re doing,” he went on. “We don’t allow it.”
“Texting?” Jenna couldn’t believe this.
“It disturbs the other patrons.”
She looked around the half-empty theater. “I have it on ‘silent.’”
“Nevertheless. The light. The glow. It interferes with the enjoyment of the film.”
Jenna was fed up. “Your talking is interfering with my enjoyment of the ‘film.’ Not that this ‘film’ is very enjoyable.”
The old man stared at her with naked hate. “Turn it off.”
“No,” Jenna said, turning back to her iPhone and texting Penny about this asshole. “It’s a free country.”
The old man looked at her for a while, then went away. Jenna felt good that she’d stood her ground. She even texted Penny about it.
The old man, whose name was Bo Gustavson, went back to the projection booth and thought it over. The booth was tiny, as was the norm when the theater was built in the 1930s. There used to be two projectors crammed into the room. Entire films would be delivered to the theater on reels of fifteen minutes each, and the projectionist would run the first reel on one machine and make a changeover—a switch to the second reel on the other machine. When done properly, a changeover was seamless and the audience never knew it happened.
Since the 1980s, though, they’d made do with one projector, the film spliced into one continuous horizontal disc, so all the projectionist had to do was start it up and sit in the dark till it was over. Sit in the dark and watch the movie. Sit in the dark and watch the audience. Sit in the dark and watch that bitch’s cell phone light up like a beacon, flashing on and off, ruining the picture for everyone.
At fifty-five, Bo didn’t think of himself as an old man, though everyone else did. A child of Swedish immigrants, he’d begun as the projectionist at the Rialto in 1979, when he was a junior at Tulane University himself, dreaming of being a filmmaker, watching the classics thread their way through the little window onto the big screen like projections of his future achievements. Back then the Rialto was a rep house, showing two double features of everything from Bogie and Bacall to Preston Sturges to François Truffaut to Jean Renoir to Satyajit Ray to everything in between.
He watched them all and somehow along the way never got his degree and never made that short film that was going to catapult him to the level of the next Scorsese or Coppola. He just kept firing up the lamp, dimming the houselights, and working the projector. He worked it, even though the Rialto was sold to a second-rate movie chain in the mideighties and stopped showing the classics, replacing them with second runs of
The Karate Kid Part II
The Golden Child
Then the multiplexes started to open on Airline Drive and the business just dried up. For a time, the Rialto was renamed the Jack Box and showed gay porn for a select clientele who, although they didn’t watch the movies much, at least were quiet and attentive to what they did do.
The vice squad shut the place down around 1998, and it sat empty for ten years while local preservationists fought with land developers over who could gut the place for the most money. There was talk of it becoming everything from a bookstore to a music venue to a parking lot.
Bo, in the meantime, got work at the Regency Fourteen out by Route 10, where he learned how to work a digital projector and even showed
Ice Age 3
in 3-D. He hated it. He hated that he could show fourteen films at once, hated that the film no longer ran through sprockets, hated that he didn’t get to light the lamp and start the magic.
But most of all, he hated the audience. Hated the way they talked through the movies as if they were in their own living rooms. Hated the way they crinkled their food packages. Hated the way they talked on their goddamn cell phones. Hated the way they brought their babies in to see everything from
The Dark Knight
and let them cry their heads off while Heath Ledger stuck a pencil in a henchman’s eye or Mila Kunis went down on Natalie Portman.
So when he heard that an unnamed philanthropist had purchased the Rialto and promised to return it to its former glory, Bo was first in line to get his old job back. Since there were so few people around who knew how to work an honest-to-God projector, he got the job easily.
The Rialto was back, showing old movies, three double features a week, the way God intended.
Only one thing hadn’t gone back to the way it was. The audience. They weren’t the kind of people who sat attentively through
The Lady Vanishes
and laughed respectfully at
. They were a new breed of audience that laughed and made jokes
the screen instead of with it. Even the movies they watched were different—instead of
, they wanted
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
; instead of Bogart, they wanted Rudy Ray Moore. They wanted films they could feel superior to and sneer at, like
Plan 9 from Outer Space
Dinner at the Brooklyn Morgue
. They wanted it so much that the only existing print of this lousy seventies “masterpiece” was delivered to the Rialto by an agent of the unknown philanthropist who now owned the theater. The agent was a wizened “little person” (a “dwarf”? a “midget”? Bo didn’t know which way was the less politically correct to refer to him) who now sat, sleeping, in the projection booth next to Gustavson, apparently charged with not letting this “gem of cinema history” out of his sight. So the small audience turnout could admire this “cult classic” and chortle and wisecrack and enjoy it in the requisite ironic manner.
And text their friends about it. Bo watched that blue glow go on and off there in row eight. The zombies were eating guts on the screen, and all he could see was that blue glow. The other patrons didn’t seem to notice it, but to Bo it came to represent all the wisecracking audiences, all the disrespectful houses, all the broken dreams and lonely nights of his miserable existence. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the lens of the projector and he thought he saw, instead of his face, the image of one of those zombies, those half-rotting corpses that were chasing the young virgins through the city streets on the screen in front of him. A trick of the light, he thought, as he moved past the sleeping dwarf and crossed to the fire ax that had sat undisturbed for nearly four decades behind a pane of glass on which were stenciled the words
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS
Texting in a movie theater. If that didn’t constitute an emergency, what did?
When Kyle Moynihan accepted his Oscar for Best Director at the 2024 Academy Awards ceremony, he recalled that night in the Rialto in 2012 when he’d heard the sound of breaking glass, didn’t think anything of it, and then was startled by a voice coming down the aisle, saying, “I warned you about that.” He didn’t mention that he’d been annoyed by Jenna Liefer’s texting too; didn’t mention that he’d decided to dump her, even if she did have the sweetest-tasting pussy in New Orleans. He just went on to say that he saw the man lift his arms and swing them down, burying an ax in Jenna Liefer’s brain.
Bo didn’t give Kyle a thought at the time. He just wrenched the ax from Jenna’s skull, walked up to the screen, apologized to the audience for the interruption, wrote a single word in blood across the screen, and proceeded to disembowel himself with the ax.
Kyle, in his speech at the Academy Awards all those years later, would dedicate his Oscar to Jenna Liefer, although he secretly thought she’d have called his film a boring piece of shit. And, for once, she would have been right.
Matt Cahill had flown on an airplane only once before. That was eight years ago when he and Janey were feeling the first rush of love and they just weren’t thinking straight about budgets or time or anything else. They blew their savings on a flight to Vegas and then didn’t gamble or see any shows, just spent the whole time in their hotel room making love, which they could have done back home in Deerpark, except for the room service.