The pole was the bane of Porter's existence. Stick the letter to the suction cup. Raise the pole to the marquee. Slip the top of the letter in the channel, then the bottom. Sounded simple but the suction cup dropped the letters as often as it held them, and the long reach up to the sign was tedious to maneuver. And of course Alice couldn't have picked something with a short title. It took him an hour to spell out the details of tomorrow's showing of Lawrence of Arabia. Finally, he collapsed the pole and walked across the street to check the sign, as he did each and every time he changed it. Looking good. Happy, Alice?
Naturally, here came Teddy. Out the front door, then craning his neck to look at the marquee, then crossing the street with a confused look on his face. "Porter? What on God's big green Earth are you doing?"
"What does it look like?"
"Lawrence of Arabia?"
"It's an epic," Porter said. "First rate film."
"I know the film! Why are you putting it on the sign? We don't even have it here!"
"It's in the booth."
"Why? When? Where'd it come from?"
Porter started to tell him the truth, that he didn't have the foggiest where it came from, changed his mind. "Looks like it's been there a while is all I can tell you."
"And you just had the urge to show it, without talking to me at all? The new film we're running is selling well. We need the business, in case you haven't noticed."
"Teddy, would you say I've been a good employee here?"
"You're more than an employee, Porter, but sure. The best. What's that got to do with Lawrence of dadgum Arabia?"
Porter drew three deep breaths and said, "I need to do this. I can't explain why, but I do. You say I'm more than an employee, then cut me a little slack here and let me do what I gotta do."
Teddy drew a breath to speak, then stopped. Drew another and said, "I don't know what's going on with you, but I don't like it."
"Is that a yes or a no?"
He didn't answer. Teddy just turned and walked back across the street, slowly shaking his head.
The next day at 6:00 P.M., Porter had the projector loaded and ready. No trailers tonight, just the feature at 6:10 on the button. He barely had any view of anything outside the booth, so he made his way down the stairs and into the auditorium. He really didn't know what to expect, but he surely did not expect what he found: The room was almost full. For a fifty-year-old movie. Whose only advertising had been a day on the marquee on an uncrowded Diebold day.
He left the auditorium and headed back to the stairs. Teddy spotted him and hustled over, a big smile on his face. "Wow, Porter. Looking like a good call!" He looked over his shoulder at the concession stand, where Jenny Phillips was servicing a healthy flow of customers.
"It's nice to see the room that full," Porter said. A good weeknight at the Magic was twenty-five or thirty people. The current crowd of more than a hundred was unheard of. "Well, I better get back up there."
Teddy patted him on the back. "Good call, buddy. Good call."
Porter climbed the stairs and found Larry Walker waiting on the tiny landing outside the door to the projectionist booth. What the crap?
"Porter, good to see you, good to—uh, looks like a pretty busy night."
Porter nodded, checked his watch. "I have to start the film in five minutes. Can this wait?"
Larry shook his head and pulled an envelope from inside his coat. "Afraid not. You're not the only one who has to follow some strange instructions." He opened the envelope, extracted a piece of paper. An old looking piece of paper like Alice's strange letter Porter had read in Larry's office. Then he started reading: "My Dearest Porter. This will be brief because if Mr. Walker has done as I asked, you need to start the film in just a few minutes. So please listen carefully and do exactly as he asks you. All my love. Alice."