Porter would have been—should have been—shocked to hear Larry Walker standing there reading what sounded like another letter from the grave. But no. After weeks of grieving and wondering and crying and why-ing, his tank of high level emotional response was running on fumes. So he just stood and listened.
"From the moment the first reel of the movie runs out, wait exactly ten minutes before starting the second one."
Teddy will be having a conniption at five minutes, Porter thought.
"Don't worry about Teddy. Mr. Walker has a note for him too and he won't be bothering you this evening. Ten minutes. Trust me. All my love. Alice."
Walker refolded the letter and slipped it back into an inside pocket of his suit coat. Then he pulled out a little digital timer and handed it to Porter. "It's already set for ten minutes," Walker said. "Just push the button on the top to start the countdown." With a little shrug, Walker turned and headed down the narrow stairway.
Porter looked at the timer for a few seconds, briefly wondered if he had gone insane and was really locked up in some padded room dreaming, then said "Okay, Alice," and walked into his booth.
When the first reel expired, Porter immediately pushed the button. He went ahead and readied the next reel, then sat down on his stool with the timer. When the readout hit 7:00, he noticed that his heart was beating pretty fast. He shifted his gaze from the timer to the door, timer to door, back and forth, waiting to see what would happen. 5:00. Nothing. 2:00, the same nothing. The timer beeped as it hit all zeroes. Porter sat there a few seconds, shook his head, and started the projector rolling again.
As time went on and Peter O'Toole forged epic relationships on the screen, Porter felt more and more like a fool. What had he expected to happen? Alice was gone. Dead. And whatever goofy nonsense she had conjured up before she died wasn't going to change that. He couldn't imagine why she would plan this elaborate ruse, and his soul was too spent to care.
About an hour into the second reel, he walked downstairs, raised the walk-through on the countertop, and went behind the concession stand. Fixed himself a Coke while Jenny restocked the candy displays. He left the concession area with his drink and headed back toward the stairs. That's when he met Teddy coming out of the office. His hair—what he had left, anyway—was frazzled, his eyes wide. Porter headed that way; he wanted to ask what Teddy's message from Larry Walker had been. But when Teddy saw Porter? His eyes got wider. He spun around, walked back into the office, glanced back for the briefest moment at Porter, then closed the door. Porter could've sworn he heard him lock it. Could the night get any stranger?
When the movie was finished and Porter had shut down the projector and rewound and stowed the reels, he made his final trip down the stairs for the evening. Most of the moviegoers were gone, but a few still trickled out of the auditorium. These would be the real film lovers, the ones who sat through all the end credits and then dissected what they had just seen. Porter knew pretty much all of them and fielded a couple hey-we're-still-so-sorry-for-your-loss sad smiles when they saw him.
He entered the auditorium and went to the electrical box on the rear wall to kill the lights. The box had a little lock on it to keep out pranky teenagers. Porter reached into his pocket for his key ring but came up empty. Crap. He had probably left them in the booth. Which was itself locked. On his way to the office to grab the spare set of keys, someone behind him said, "Mr. Hamlin?"
He turned and saw a man of about fifty coming out of the auditorium. Hadn't the room been empty when he was in there? Oh well, he hadn't exactly scoured the room, had he? "Yes?" he said.
The man approached with his hand out to shake. "I'm Bill Griffin."
Porter shook his hand. "Porter Hamlin."
Griffin reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a business card. A ReelMark business card. "This is a pretty special old theater you guys have here."
"We think so. What can I do for you, Mr. Griffin?"
"Oh, nothing really. I just wanted to say hello. Loved the showing tonight. Looks like a lot of other people did, as well."
"Not meaning to be rude, but how is it you know my name?"
"Teddy told me about you and your wife—sorry for your loss, by the way—how long you've all been here running the Magic. Almost forty years, right?"
Porter nodded. He was tired and wanted to go home, not chat it up with this vulture. "Been a long day," he said. "I better be getting home."
"Oh sure, sure, don't want to hold you up," Griffin said. He stuck his hand out again. "Glad I got to meet you, and great job with the showing tonight. I have to tell you I'm very encouraged to see this kind of turnout on a weeknight for a classic. Maybe we can talk again soon?"
Porter shook his hand, gave him a tight little smile, walked away. Griffin headed for the office.
In bed, Porter stared at the ceiling. He had followed Alice's instructions from the Twilight Zone, and nothing had happened. Actually worse than nothing; by doing as she asked, he had made Griffin even more interested in the Magic. Great job, Alice.