Late Nights at the Movies
I can feel his breath on my neck before he speaks. This used to make me nervous but now I know he’s there, I am almost at ease.
I would go to the late night screenings every Thursday night, just because I preferred to see the movies in an empty theatre. No talking, no noises, no disruption, no people at all. Maybe one or two people would wonder in either drunk or bored but otherwise I had the place to myself, just the way I liked it. But then he showed up, looking for me.
I don’t like conducting business when I’m trying to relax, trying to escape from the day. But he had insisted. It made sense, he said. No one would suspect anything, especially if this was my normal routine. Even after I protested, he kept showing up. I was annoyed at first, but I then I just got used to it and eventually gave in.
‘How’ve you been?’ He whispers in my ear. ‘I ain’t seen you in a while, you been keep yourself busy?’ He sits down behind me. ‘Or you just been avoiding me.’
I don’t speak. I stare at the screen. I put my hand up and make a stop sign. I hear him sigh and lean back in his chair. He knows me. He was late so I got interested in the movie. He won’t have my attention for a few minutes.
He starts to complain. ‘Ah man, what’s this damn movie even about? What the hell is that?’
On screen, a young girl with red hair is soaking wet as she burst through the doors of a barn. She has been running through the rain. She is obviously upset. She falls to the floor and breaks down in tears. A figure moves in the shadows but the girl doesn’t notice until the figure has fully immerged. She looks up and gasps. She gets up quickly and stands so close to the now closed barn doors as if she would slip right through them. The figure is a young man, dressed all in black. He speaks to her. She looks at him again and recognises him.
Satisfied I know what will follow in this scene, I turn my head slightly to the right. Answering his earlier question, ‘I’ve been right here Jack.’
I hear him move forward. ‘Right here huh, well how else have you been?’
‘I’ve been just fine. Been taking it easy.’ I look back at the screen.
The young woman is crying again but now she is in the arms of the man in black.
‘How have you been Jack?’
‘I’m sure you‘ve heard the rumours going round.’
I pause. ‘I have.’ He sighs again and moves in his seat, uncomfortable about my knowledge of his indiscretion, as they call it. ‘Does it matter?’ I say.
‘No. I guess it doesn’t matter, not anymore.’
‘But the rumours are true, aren’t they Jack.’
‘I thought so.’ I turn back to the screen. The previous scene has ended. The young man in black walks along a deserted road, alone. ‘Doesn’t bother me. You gotta do what you gotta do.’ It’s a cliché I know, but it’s true, he had to do it, he had no choice. I’ve had to make those choices before so I wasn’t going to judge him for it.
‘Not everyone agrees with you.’ I hear him move in his seat again, leaning back. ‘I got some people telling me to step aside. Step aside from what? Others are saying I should just leave. But then I get told, don’t do it again, like its no big deal. I’m not big leagues. I just get a telling off because I’m just the messenger.’ He tuts to himself and sits quietly for a few moments.
On screen the young man in black, still on that deserted road, stops and turns to see a grey car driving towards him. It pulls up in front of him. He talks to the driver and passenger, they seem to know each other. The passenger hands him a case through the window, gives him a warning then the car drives away, leaving the young man in black alone, again.
‘Have you got a message for me then, Mr Messenger?’ I ask. I can feel him get closer, his breath touching my ear. ‘Go to Gardenside Park, Sunday at 3pm. It’s the south corner door. That’s all.’
‘Anything else I need to know?’
‘You’re on your own for this one. It’s basically just a follow up.’
‘That’s it? I need more information.’
‘There were three guys but there is only one at this address. He refused to pay his debt, even after Luther and the others had a talk with him. He’s left handed.’
‘Left-handed. Ok. I can sort that out.’
There is a pause while he moves even closer to me; he is practically inside my ear. When he exhales I feel the hairs on my neck tingle. It’s an odd and unwelcome feeling. He whispers to me. ‘Now can we talk?’
‘Sure Jack, we can talk.’
When Jack first insisted on having our meetings in the old cinema, I didn’t like it. I felt like he was invading my space. Even though I knew it was his job to find me, pass on messengers I didn’t like the fact someone knew where I was, where I could be found. I felt like my privacy had been taken away. I guess that’s the main reason why I didn’t like Jack, to begin with anyway.
I met him a New Year’s Eve party three years previous. I was standing by the bar as I used to do in those days. I’d talk if spoken to, smile and shake hands when introduced but really, I just wanted to find a quiet corner and drink in the New Year. Donald Fabricant, the host of the party, big time business guy and my employer at the time had personally asked me to attend. I was reluctant but he promised to be worth my while. I thought he meant in a networking sense but he really just meant ‘we’d have a jolly good time’.
After he had got me to meet and greet a few of his dearest friends, as he called them, he left me alone at the bar. He had garbled something about ‘and bring two bottles of wine to my table won’t you my dear?’ and wondered off with a small crowd. I ordered it from the bar and started to drink it myself. I had my back to the party when someone fell into me, I felt liquid down my back. I turned to find Jack holding a half empty glass and surprised expression on his face. He started to apologise but I cut him off abruptly.
‘What the hell are you doing? Don’t you watch where you’re walking? Idiot!’
‘I’m so sorry, I slipped on the-the-‘
‘Slipped on the the the, stop stuttering you moron and just get lost.’ I turned back to the bar and I felt the back of my dress with my hand, trying to gage the damage.
‘It’s not that bad, most of it went on the floor.’ Jack started to dab my back with napkins from the bar. I turned sharply round again and smacked his hand away. ‘Don’t touch me.’ I grabbed the tissue from him. ‘Touch me again and I’ll bite your hand off.’
At that moment my employer came back to the bar looking for his missing wine. He looked at the situation and his face lit up. His red drunken face shined under the pale lights of the bar. ‘Ah so you’ve met, excellent.’ I looked at him confused and still furious.
‘This is the man I wanted you to meet.’ Said Fabricant in a slurred voice.
Jack looked at me and narrowed his eyes. Then he nodded as if he just understood the situation. I was still confused.
‘Jack, this is Livien, the woman I was telling you about.’
Jack smiled unpleasantly and held out his hand. I just looked at him, blankly.
Fabricant, starting to act nervous, quickly grabbed my shoulder and whispered in my ear. ‘This is the man who works for The Company. They asked to meet with you. They want to offer you a contract.’
The Company, the crime syndicate, the most powerful in the city. I had heard they were looking for someone like me.
Fabricant pulled away. ‘Can I leave you two to your business talk then?’ It sounded more like a plea than a friendly question.
Without taking his eyes off me Jack said ‘Of course, Livien and I have quite a bit to talk about.’
On screen, the man in black stops at a road side diner, he sits at a table and looks in the case. He is so absorbed in the contents that he doesn’t notice the waitress standing in front of him. She asks in a bored tone what he wants, he orders coffee and she moves away.
I look behind me and Jack has disappeared. I hear movement to my left. A couple of teenagers or sitting two rows in front. They are giggling at something.
The seat next to mine is now occupied. Jack sits there starring at the screen, breathing slowly. He speaks quietly. ‘Are you going to tell me where you’ve really been or do I have to guess?’
‘I haven’t been anywhere Jack, you know that.’ I look at him, he hangs his head, he doesn’t believe me.
‘If you’ve been taking jobs on the side you can tell me, I won’t get angry.’
Yes he would. The whole point of a contact with The Company is that I don’t work for other people. I’m meant to be exclusive.
‘I don’t like it when you keep secrets from me Liv.’
I stare at the screen now, trying to ignore him. The man in black drinks his coffee, the waitress watches him from the counter. He opens the case and takes out a phone, dials a number and talks to someone immediately. The waitress watches and as the conversation continues, she moves over to his table.
‘At least tell me where you were.’ He asks softly.
I take a deep breath and whisper back. ‘I was in Laytonville, I had business to take care of.’
He looks at me. ‘What business?’
I don’t look at him, I don’t want to. ‘Private business Jack, nothing for you to worry about.’
He gently takes my hand and holds it still looking at me. I feel my heart beating faster. I hate this feeling, I wish it would just stop.
‘I wish you’d told me. I would have come with you.’ He leans forward to try and get me to turn to him. I will myself to stare at the screen.
‘You know I prefer to work alone Jack, it’s better that way. Besides it would have got you in trouble, wouldn’t want that.’
On screen the man in black is outside the diner with the case, smoking a cigarette. The waitress, inside, is on the phone someone. She can see the man in black outside as a yellow cab pulls up. The man in black gets in and the car drives away.
‘That’s bulls shit Liv! You should have told me.’ His voice has changed to an angrier tone. I pull away my hand and look at him for the first time this evening.
Even in the dark I can see his brown eyes glimmering. He has dark circles under them, probably from lack of sleep and his hair is ruffled from moving about in his seat. His hands have odd stains on them, looks like paint. He has spots of paint on his coat too. He looks dishevelled tonight but still handsome, in his own way.
I look at him and say ‘I work alone Jack. If something goes wrong, I’m to blame and only I can fix it. If they find out about it, so be it, I can deal with them. If you wanted to take on a contract you should have gone out and asked them for one, not get angry that I didn’t ask you to tag along.’
‘That’s not why I’m angry.’ He says quietly. He turns away from me and I pause for a moment. I start to speak but takes my hand again and moves in close to my face.
‘I wanted to be with you to make sure you’re safe.’ He leans towards my ear. ‘You say you work alone, that’s fine, but you don’t care about yourself. You can be reckless and act like you’re untouchable. You’re not. I’ve seen you get hurt. I don’t want to see you like that again. That’s why I’m angry you didn’t ask me to come along.’
As he speaks I feel the tingle on the back of my neck. I take deep breaths and listen to him. He’s right. I have been reckless, I’ve been so confident that nothing can touch me I’ve got myself into trouble. The kind of trouble that leaves lasting scars.
His hand reaches out and gently strokes the scar on my neck that continues down my shoulder. His other hand holds mine and pulls me closer until our faces almost touch. I reach across and hold his coat collar. It feel as if I’m reaching across a vast space for him yet he is sitting so close.
‘I’m sorry Jack.’ I whisper.
On screen, the yellow cab car pulls up outside a extravagant hotel. The man in black looks outside the window and up at the building. He pays the driver and steps out, still holding the case. He walks into the building and up to the front desk. He asks a question and the woman behind the desk gestures towards the bar and dinning area. The man in black walks over.
My heart is beating fast again. Jack is breathing heavily, his warm air enters my mouth. ‘You don’t have to say sorry Liv, just please, please don’t do it again.’ I bite my lip and screw up my eyes. I will do it again, I have to.
Our lips are almost touching when there is sudden shriek of laughter from the teenagers. This brings me to my senses. I let go of his collar and move back slightly. Jack is still holds onto my hand.
‘Are there are any other messages for me?’ I say quietly, not looking at him.
‘No.’ He lets go of my hand so I can adjust my coat. I stand up and start to walk out. He grabs my hand once more.
‘It’s ok Jack I know what I’m doing. Left-handed right?’ I smile weakly, he smiles back. ‘I’ll take care of this one.’
He starts to say my name so I lean down towards him so my face his close to his.
‘I’ll see you next week Jack.’ I kiss him on the neck and slowly pull away.
Just before I exit the screen I look to see what is happening on screen. The man in black walks up to a table in the hotel restaurant, the young woman with red hair sits there. She looks up at him and smiles. He smiles back and hands her the case. She looks puzzled so he says something in her ear and walks away. The young woman watches him leave the restaurant, still puzzled at what he said.