The Box Job

The Box Job

Max Reynard pulled into the parking lot of the Devil’s Grin and backed his charcoal 2016 Dodge Challenger into a space not too far from the exit. The sounds of cheers and yelling greeted him as he cracked open his door. Cool mountain air flowed over a red-orange fox-like creature holding a set of keys in its mouth moving through dark Japanese waves, making the goose skin on his arm prickle. He slipped on a worn black Café Racer as he made his way to the front door. At the edge of the woods, he saw a gathering watching two men fist fight. Several of the group wore leather jackets with a logo he couldn’t quite make out, but clearly marked them as bikers. They were holding beer bottles and fistfulls of cash, awaiting what he figured to be payouts pending a decisive finish. Max watched the two combatants flail wildly, tossing haymakers in each other’s directions. Neither of the two were going pro anytime soon. He laughed to himself and went inside.

He had heard stories of this mondo lodge turned haven for bikers, ne’er-do-wells, and criminals on the edge of a little nowhere town in the northwest corner of Georgia. If anything the stories had been watered down. Scanning the room, Max saw no shortage of denim, leather or tattoos. With his close-cropped, silver hair and stubble beard, he reckoned most people couldn’t pick him out of a line-up in this room. He found an empty space at the bar next to a weathered old fellow in a leather vest with long hair tied back in a ponytail.  The old guy had a Celtic wolf sewn onto the breast pocket of his vest. He began to smile and the old man turned to him and spoke. “See something you like, friend?”

“Oh yeah.” Reynard nodded, “I could spend a lot of time here.”

“Why don’t you start by ordering a drink?” the old man replied in a Scottish accent.

“Don’t mind if I do.”

The old man let out a whistle that pierced through the noise of the crowd, catching the attention of the weathered-looking blonde serving drinks behind the counter.  She came over quickly to see what the old man wanted.

“What’s up, Wolf?” she asked.

Wolf nodded toward Reynard. 

“What’s your poison, honey?”

“Gimme two fingers of Jameson, and one rock.”

“Comin’ right up,” she said with a smile, turning to fetch his drink.

“Keepin’ it Irish, eh?” the Scot said with a smirk.

“Would you have recommended something else?” Max quipped.  “Scotch, perhaps?”

The Wolf laughed. “It may be heresy for me to say this, but I always preferred bourbon to Scotch. Maybe it’s just cause fancy fuckers in suits seem to like it so much. I like my booze to just be booze. Not a fucking status symbol.”

Jenny returned with the drink and Max slapped a ten dollar bill down on the bar. “Keep the change,” he said.

“Thanks, hon’,” she said, holding up the money and leering at him as she walked away.

“Oh, I think she likes you, laddie,” the Scot said taking a swig of his own glass.

“She’s nice, but I’m actually here on business,” Max said just before taking a sip. 

“Is that right? You must be here to see that fancy fellow over there.” The Wolf pointed to a man on the far side of the room wearing a black silk suit and a red shirt that made him stand out like a Ferrari in a trailer park.

“How’d you know?” Max asked.

“It’s my place, son. It’s my fucking job to know,” the Scot said squaring up to Reynard. “The name is Eric. People ‘round here call me The Wolf. And who might you be?”

“Max Reynard,” the two men shook hands. “Pleasure making your acquaintance. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”  Max raised his glass, gave a respectful nod and headed over to the man in the suit.

Strolling across the room in his leather jacket, jeans, and boots, Max didn’t draw much attention.  The gentlemen in the suit stared him down, quiet and confident, clearly not bothered by the numerous glances he was getting from the nearby tables. As Max got closer, he sized him up. He was a gaunt, hungry fellow with sunken cheeks and sharp spider-black eyes. The suit and shirt  he wore fit so well they could have been sewn on to him. Max estimated the guy at five feet, eight inches, and maybe one hundred and forty fully dressed and soaking wet.  

“Mr. Reynard, I presume,” the suit said, more telling than asking.

“That’s right. And you must be Mr. Surrey.” Max responded, as he pulled out a chair and sat down. “You picked a helluva place to meet.”

“It has a certain...charm,” Mr. Surrey said with a wry smile.

Now that Max could see him up close, there was something even more  unsettling about this man. From what he could tell this fellow was in his late forties, impossibly thin, with a full head of stylishly disheveled hair. His face was thin, with a narrow but strong chin and high cheekbones. He wore a calm expression on his face and his eyes surveyed the room in a slow predatory fashion.

“How can I help you, sir?” Max said trying to suppress the uneasy feeling that kept creeping up his spine.

“If your reputation is to be believed, you have a talent for acquisitions,” the well-dressed man said staring calmly across the table.

“That’s one way of putting it,” Max said shifting in his chair.

“There is a theater on the other side of town with a safe in its office.  We’d like you to retrieve the contents of that safe.”

“Am I gonna need to rent a truck or hire a crew? Because that’s gonna cost extra.”

“No need, Mr. Reynard.  I believe you will be just fine with what you already have.”

“So what is it I’m acquiring?”

“I assure you, you will know when you see it.”

A loud ruckus erupted from a nearby table and a man with shaggy hair and a bushy beard stumbled toward Max and his would-be employer. Max assumed he was a biker, judging by his clothes. Bushy Beard was considerably larger than himself and looked to be twice the size of Mr. Surrey, who didn’t even turn his head as the biker approached.  A small crowd of people from the nearby table jeered as the biker walked up on Mr. Surrey, just within arms reach.

“I don’t know what you heard, fellas,” the biker slurred, “but this ain’t that kind of place.”   Laughter erupted from the table Bushy Beard had just left. “If you two want to suck each other’s dicks there are plenty of hotels in town that’ll cater to your kind.”

In a flash, the well-dressed man grabbed the biker by the wrist. With a quick twist, he pulled the man down and, from his belt, whipped out a long dagger that came to rest under the biker’s chin as he fell forward.

“Listen to me, troglodyte,” Mr. Surrey said in a calm but menacing voice, “I don’t know what rock you crawled out from under, but I suggest you go slither back there promptly.” Surrey gave the dagger a slight twist and a little pressure.  Just enough to draw a trickle of blood. “And in case your beer-addled mismatch-chromosomal brain doesn’t comprehend, that means ‘walk away, now.’”

Surrey released the bearded man who was too shocked to speak.  The biker wandered back over to his table touching the blood under his chin. He gingerly sat down to have his neck and his ego tended to by a couple of ladies who sat with his crew.

“Now, where were we?” Surrey said looking back to Reynard.

“You were gonna tell me about a job,” Max answered, still processing what he had seen.

“Oh yes, the job.  There is a safe, in the local theater.  We would like you to acquire the contents of said safe, and bring them to me,” Surrey said cleaning off the tip of his dagger with a napkin.

“Sounds easy enough,” Max answered. He watched the man in the suit put away his blade back in a sheath attached to his belt with the hint of a smile.  

“So we are in business?”

“Yes, we are.”

“Excellent.” Surrey reached into his jacket and came out with a small flip phone and slid it across the table toward Max. “There is only one number programmed on this phone. If you need to reach me call it. I anticipate there may be complications, but rest assured, I am here to help you finish the task, should you require any assistance.”

“I’m a pretty resourceful guy, but thanks.”  Max palmed the phone and stuff it in the side pocket of his jacket.

“The theater is on the east side of town.  Not too hard to find. The safe, as we understand it is in the projectionist booth.”  

“That’s a bit odd, but okay.”

“We thought you might be particularly suited to this job, due to the person who runs the theater,” Surrey said, giving Max a peculiar look.

Max leaned forward in his seat for the first time. “Why is that?”

* * *

Leona Hughes sat in darkness, staring up at gray figures who towered over her like gods.  Shimmering lances of light danced overhead, tracing the outline of a dozen heads in front of her.  A gunshot rang out and one of the heads jumped slightly. Leona smiled. 

The Superb Theater sat on the east side of Garfield’s Crossing and had been under her management for a few years now.  As a personal indulgence, she occasionally showed old gangster movies and crime capers from the black and white days of cinema.  She billed the showings as “Noir Nights.” With an aging population in and around the town and some smart advertising, she was able to sell enough tickets to keep it going.

Leona stood up and began to move toward the aisle. Wearing a slinky black dress, she cut an elegant figure in the flickering light. One of the heads turned back to see her as tried to stealthily make her exit.  She paused for a second, unable to make out the face staring at her. The glow of the projectors shined across close-cropped silver hair. The figure turned back toward the screen after a few seconds and Leona went along her way. 

Coming up a small staircase she found her way to the projectionist room. A young woman with blue hair cut into a bob sat away from the projector reading a graphic novel. 

“I gotta admit I’m conflicted,” Leona said casting a hard glance at her employee. “On the one hand, I’m glad to see you reading, but on the other I’m a little disappointed that you’re ignoring such a great movie.”

Courtney Wheeler leaned out from behind her book, letting her blue hair fall away from her eyes, looked back her boss, and smiled. “If it makes you feel better, it’s Neil Gaiman.”  

Leona sighed. “I’m gonna go grab a bite to eat, downtown. You and Hunter good to close up by yourselves?”

“I think we can manage,” Courtney replied full of teenage sass.

She was only a few steps outside when she looked to her side and saw a familiar figure staring at a poster.  The silver-haired man who had glared at her inside now stood looking at a poster with Marilyn Monroe leaning against the side of the frame with a cityscape in the background.

“Don’t you think this poster is kind of a gyp?” the man asked in a voice that stopped her in her tracks.

“How so?” Leona asked closing in on the figure.

Max Reynard turned and stepped closer to her, into the light of the box office where she could get a good look at him. “I’m just sayin’, Marilyn’s maybe only in the movie a grand total of 15 minutes tops and somehow she’s getting the whole poster to herself. Doesn’t seem fair.”

“Considering she’s the biggest star in the movie, I guess them’s the breaks.”

“I guess you gotta do something to sell tickets right?”  Max approached her with a warm smile on his face and a tinge of sadness in his eyes.

Leona steeled herself and stood tall and proud. “Of all the theaters in all the small towns, you had to walk into mine.”

“You still look good, Leona,” Max said.

“I almost didn’t recognize you with that head full of gray hair.”

“Doin’ the best I can.”

Leona gestured toward a car parked nearby. “I’m headed to the local diner to grab a late dinner. Care to join me?”

Max grinned and held out his hand in a lead-the-way gesture, following her as she walked to her car.

* * *

The man in the Café Racer jacket followed the lady in the slinky black dress into a chromed diner attached to a two-story building. Candy apple red seats filled a room with a checkerboard floor and a jukebox tucked in the corner. There were only a few people there this time of the evening. Max could only assume that Leona had chosen it for just that reason. After a moment, realizing the diner was considerably warmer than outside, both Max and Leona took off their jackets and slipped into a booth on the far side of the room next to a window. Leona’s short sleeve dress revealed a Japanese style half sleeve on her left arm.  A curvy, blond waitress in a tight shirt and blue jeans walked over to them.

“Good evening, Leona. Who’s your friend?” the waitress said in a cordial Southern accent.

“Sadie, this is my old friend, Max. Max, this is my new friend Sadie,” Leona said in a tone of voice Max found vaguely ominous. 

“Are you in the theater business too, Max?” Sadie inquired.

“No. I’m actually…” Max started.

“A magician,” Leona finished.

“Oh,” Sadie said in a curious tone. “That’s really interesting.”

“He has a disappearing act that’s quite impressive” A wicked smirk formed on Leona’s face.

“Is that right?” Sadie squared up and looked down at Max. “I’ve known a few magicians in my day too. So…Max, was it?  Will you be performing here in town?”

“Uh..no…” Max answered feeling like a man being charged with a crime that somebody else had committed. “I’m just passing through town. Thought I’d pay Leona a visit.”

“Just as well. I’ve never really been big on magic.” Sadie turned to Leona. “How ‘bout I bring you both some coffee?”

“That would be great,” Leona said.  

Max couldn’t help but notice the bags under the lady’s eyes which were also a bit red. He motioned toward Sadie. “Is she alright?  Looks like she’s been crying.”

“She’s not. But she will be.” Leona cast a long concerned look after her friend, who was heading back their way with a pair of mugs and a pot of coffee.

Sadie set the mugs down and filled them both. Leona caught Sadies eye, “You doin’ okay?”

Sadie swallowed hard and forced a porcelain smile, “I’m fine, just had a rough day.”

Leona reached out her and hand and clutched Sadie’s arm. It was then Sadie perked up ever so slightly. She obviously noticed Max’s tattoo and compared it to the one on Leona’s outstretched arm. On it was a fox-like creature, similar to the one Max had, only it was silvery white with a jewel under its front paw. Dark clouds swirled at its feet with red maple leaves blowing around it.

Sadie said stepping back with a thoughtful gaze upon her two customers. “Did you two get those at the same place?” 

“Actually, we did,” Max said sheepishly. “Did she tell you what they mean?”

“She just told me that it was some kind of trickster spirit that could be good or bad. Maybe it goes along with the magician stuff.”

“My friend is awfully partial to pecan pie, and I told him you had the best pecan pie in the state of Georgia.” Leona smiled at Sadie, and then looked to her companion. “What do you say, Max?”

“Sound’s wonderful,” Max answered with a polite smile.

Waiting for her to be out of earshot, Max leaned in and asked “What was that about?”

Leona leaned in. “She lost someone recently. A friend. A young lady, kinda like a daughter to her really.” 

“That’s a shame. How’d it happen?”

“She was killed. By a cop. Off duty, but still.”

“Jeez! What happened to him?”

“The cops investigated. And while they didn’t find him guilty of murder, they did kick him off the force. He also happens to belong to one of the wealthier families in town, so it’s not like he’ll be out on the street anytime soon.”

“I see.”

“It gets worse.”

“How so?”

“She used to be the cop’s sister-in-law, but she killed his brother in self-defense after he had been beating on her. So the story goes.”

“And they still let him go?  Damn, even for cops investigating cops, that sounds suspicious.”

“The guy claimed that she grabbed the gun in his hands and squeezed the trigger herself.”

“I’ve heard some shit in my day, but that’s special.

Sadie returned with walked back to the table with two slices of pie and placed them on the table.  “Anything else?” 

“We’re good.” Leona said with a smile.  She waited for Sadie to get out of earshot, then turned back to Max. The look of compassion in her eyes had faded and had been replaced a relaxed, yet piercing gaze.  “So what brings you to town, Max?”

“I’m just passing through.  I’d been on the road for a while and thought this looked like a nice place to stay for the night.”

Max fidgeted with his fork before taking a bite of his pie.  He chewed and made a face as if to say he was impressed with it.  “You’re right, this ain’t half bad.”  

Leona took a bite herself, still looking very much unimpressed.

Max took a sip of coffee and squared back up to the table.  “Look, I know we didn’t exactly end things on a good note.” 

“We didn’t exactly end on any kind of note. You took off and I never saw you again. Not until tonight.” 

“Yeah. About that…”

An awkward silence hung in the air, and Leona let it, before pressing on. “What about it?”

“After that last job..” Max sighed. “Let’s just say, some concerned parties were looking for what we had acquired, and I thought it was best if I kept them off your scent.”

“I remember you saying that at the time. And I also remember you saying you’d come back for me when the coast was clear, but I guess it never got that clear did it?” Leona took another bite of pie, and chewed it slowly watching Max grow uncomfortable. “I figured you eventually just cashed out and went on with your life. Looks like I was right.”

“And what about you?  How’d you wind up here of all places?  And running a movie theater?” Max sheared off another slice of pie and forked it into his mouth.

“I always wanted to run a movie theater,” Leona said taking another sip of coffee. 

Max talked out of the side of his mouth, as he tried to finish chewing. “Yeah, I remember you sayin’ so all the time.  And you still got a thing for old gangster movies, I see. And they’re letting you play ‘em. How’d you pull that off?”

“Remember our last job?” Leona’s leaned forward and her voice became more hushed in its tone.

Max leaned in to greet her. “How could I forget?”

“Remember those interested parties you spoke of?”

Max nodded silently.

Leona continued.  “A few of them found me about a month later. In a movie theater in Atlanta of all places.”

Max smiled. “Don’t that beat all?”

“Yeah.” Leona cracked a faint smile, relaxed her posture and leaned back. “Well, they asked about you and where our take was. I told them I didn’t know.”

“And then what?” Max stared forward, elbows pressed into the table, with a look of concern etched across his face.

“As you can imagine, they were disappointed. But also impressed that we pulled off the job in the first place. They quickly figured out that I was telling the truth about having no idea where you were and they gave me a choice.  Be punished. Or work off my debt.”

“By running an old movie theater?” Max finally leaned back, relaxing the scowl on his face a bit.

“I did a few other things, at first.  And after I proved to be trustworthy, I was allowed to come here.”

“Who the hell are these people?”

“Let’s just call them well-connected, but not well-known company that has a lot of fingers in a lot of different pies.  All around the world.”

Max smirked and took another bite of his pie. “And one of them is a two-screen theater in a nowhere town in the mountains?”

“They’ve had the place for a while.  A guy that used to run it back in the day put it on their radar.  He was a real character from what I’ve heard. A bit of local legend.  He’s the guy that gave it its name.” Leona took another bite. “The Superb!” she said through a mouthful of pie.

“You always did have a knack for finding your way into the most interesting trouble.” Max sipped his coffee.  “I wouldn’t mind getting a closer look at the place. If you’re willing to give me an after-hours tour.”

“I think I can work something out… for old time’s sake”  Leona stared straight ahead at Max and gave him a smile.

* * *

With the lights on full, Max Reynard could see the Superb Theater in all its splendor.  He had taken note of the small but well-kept lobby when he first arrived. The art deco themed carpet ran throughout the theater.  Geometric shapes of black, red, and gold lined the walkways even down the aisles up to the screens. Plush red curtains were draped across the walls and the seats were polished with matching red fabric. Leona smiled from the back of the theater as Max took in the sight of everything from midway down the aisle. He had always known of her love for movies and could see she had poured it into this place. 

“I dare say this is too nice a theater for a town like this.” Max turned back toward Leona with an impressed smirk on his face.

“The town’s not so bad.” Leona cocked her head and smirked as pride gleamed in her eyes.

“They gotta surprisingly good Chinese restaurant, and a bar with one damned decent selection of whiskey.”

Max laughed and walked closer to her. “Ya know...that’s one thing I always did admire about you. As elegant as you are, you never needed much to have a good time.”

“I remember all we needed as a bottle of Jack. Two glasses, some ice, and a room. And most of that was optional”

“Yeah, we had some good times.”  Max stood right in front of her with a lingering stare. “Mind if I see the see the projection booth?”

Leona stared at him for a moment and then looked away. “Sure.”

Max watched behind her as she walked out of the room and to a doorway on the other side of the narrow hallway. They came to a rectangular room with two large, old-school film projectors facing a window that overlooked the theater they had just been standing in. On the back wall was a long table with some tools for splicing film together. The room was clean and orderly with a shelf of film canisters which had been arranged neatly just beside the editing table.  

“Not too shabby,” Max said looking over the projectors which had been lovingly taken care of.  His eyes drifted to the far side of the room where an ornate safe was nestled against the wall.

“And now he sees it.” Leona followed his eyes and began to walk toward the safe.

Max began to follow. “Sorry. Occupational hazard.”

As they approached, Leona looked back at Max, whose eye almost began to glaze. The safe was bronze with black trim, with an art deco design that matched the theater.  It was almost five feet high and had a large combination lock whose notches counted to ninety-nine. At the center of black ornate design, was a plate on which a smooth feminine face was carved.

“May I?” he asked, looking like a kid in a toy store.

“Go ahead,” she answered, watching him closely.

Max reached out and touched the etched face softly. With his thumb, he slid the face sideways to reveal a fingerprint scanner, which he noted had been wiped clean.  He had always taken pride in having a good poker face, but there was no point in hiding it here, certainly not from her. Might as well lean in, he thought.

He stepped back and took it in. “That is god-damned artwork.”

“I thought you might like that,” Leona said as the same proud smirk from before returned to her face.

“Whatcha got in there, old film reels? Original prints of Citizen Kane, or something like that?” 

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“That’s why I’m asking.”

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

Max leaned against the nearby while and smirked. “That’s not the kind of thing you want to say to a man in my profession.”

“Trust me. Anyone that takes this box job, will wish they hadn’t.” Leona’s tone sounded confident almost to the point of being cocky.

Max stood up and swaggered up to her. “That almost sounds like a challenge.”

Leona squared up to him.  “It’s not. It’s a death sentence.”

Each one looked into the other’s eyes for a few heartbeats and then Max spoke. “I need to get going. Thanks for the tour.”

He headed calmly toward the door.  Leona looked back at the safe and then back to him, and after a moment, followed him out.

Outside the theater, Max calmly walked to his Challenger.

“Ya know, we’re showing Casablanca starting tomorrow if you’re interested,” Leona said just as Max reached for the handle of the car door. 

“If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were trying to get me to stay for a while.” Max opened the door and started to step in.

“You always did like Bogart.” Leona continued Max’s car.  

“What can I say? He’s the only person who might be a cool as me.”

Leona laughed. “And yet you pick that movie? Where he almost loses it. Almost.”

Max sat down in the driver’s seat, leaving the door open. “Well...I guess we all got that one person in our lives that can do that to us.”

“And what is that exactly?” Leona came to stop and stared intently at him.

“That person who could walk into whatever room you’re in and just shatter your world.”

Neither of them spoke for a moment. 

Max gave Leona one last smile and reached for the car door.  “See around, Leona.”

The door to the car closed and Max quickly pulled out of the parking lot, leaving Leona all alone.  As the car drove out of sight, she walked back inside. Her heels clicked against the pavement, breaking the silence of the night.

* * *

The man known only as Surrey sat at the same table where Max had left him.  Once again, he was impeccably dressed and stood out like an orchid in a junkyard. Reynard wasted no time pulling up a chair and swung it around to straddle it backwards.

“I assume there is a problem.” Surrey took a sip of whiskey, looking completely at home in a room full of people who looked like they’d mug him on the street.

“Yeah. When you said I knew the person running the place, you didn’t say it was Leona Hughes and that it was a custom made safe I was cracking.” Max tried to contain the anger in his voice.

“Mr. Reynard…” Surrey said, leaning forward. “We hired you because you were the best safecracker in business. We also assumed your personal connection to Ms. Hughes would be an asset, not a liability. Don’t tell me you’re...catching feelings as the kids might say.”

“No…” Max bit his tongue to avoid cursing at the man. “It’s just…”

“Go on…” Surrey quipped with a raised eyebrow.

“I got a bad feeling about this.”

“How so?”

“I know this woman. We’ve worked together on more than a few jobs. Which you know.”  Max looked to Surrey for a reaction and got nothing. “I’m telling you that ain’t no ordinary safe. I guarantee you that there’s more to that safe than meets the eye.”

“So, you’re saying you’re not up to the job? Is that what I’m hearing?”

Both men suddenly noticed the room was deathly quiet. They looked up and saw the biker from before glaring down at them, with a revolver in his hand.

With a crew behind him, the biker spoke, “Listen, you fancy motherfucker. I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but no one makes me bleed and gets away with it.”

“Is that so?” Surrey simply turned his head and then leaned back.  “So what are we going to do about that Mr. Matthews?”

The biker’s jaw dropped and his voice softened. “How do you know my name?”

“Oh, I know a lot more than your name.” A sinister glimmer came into Surrey’s eye. “I also know you have a sister who lives in Nashville who has a rather nasty drug habit, so I hear. It would be a shame if someone offered a laced dose of her favorite party drug sometime tomorrow night, should I not be allowed to check in with my employer.” 

Matthews said nothing. Even the people behind him froze.

Surrey continued. “Run along now. Or I’ll have to look into your friends as well. We wouldn’t want anything unfortunate to happen to anyone’s family, because they’re brothers felt the need to misbehave.”

The biker and his crew slumped off, meandering toward the bar, leaving Surrey and Max alone again.

Surrey once again fixed his attention on Max. “You were saying, Mr. Reynard?”

Max hung his head and looked away. After a moment, he looked up and spoke. “I need to know where you are staying locally.”

“Why is that?”  

“Because when I get what you’re looking for, I’m gonna have to make delivery quickly. If I know this woman, she’s gonna have some extra security measures that may require me getting out of town immediately after delivery.”

“I’m staying at a cottage off Wheeler Road. I’ll text you the address. After you deliver the package, you can be on your merry way.”

Max Reynard stood up, and without a word, walked out of the bar.  Surrey took another sip of whiskey and smiled.

* * * 

As the crowd strolled out of the theater after Casablanca, Leona Hughes stood outside taking in the fresh mountain air and the late autumn chill that gave her a slight jolt. She said a kind good evening to her patrons as they meandered to their cars. It was mostly an older crowd and the occasional film student from out of town. In her few years of showing classic films, Leona had entertained an unusual number of people who longed for the cinematic styles of a time that was not their own. Even she herself found an odd attraction to the old black and white films. To think that an entire genre of art had been created from a palate of two colors with an astonishing array of complexity in between. There was something poetic about the stories of crime, dark deeds and epic tales told in the vast spectrum of gray that seemed to be some epic metaphor for life that people with the right lenses could see and feel in their bones.

A familiar voice came from behind her. “No matter how many times I see it, that movie slays me.”

“You always were a romantic,” Leona said turning around to see Max walking up to her.  

“I thought you had left town,” she said, unable to contain the smile spreading across her face.

“I had an extra day to kill. Thought I’d stick around and catch a movie.”

“Thanks for your business.”

“I got a bottle of Jack in my car, and a room at the Sunset Inn if you’d like to stop by and reminisce about old times.” Max walked closer to Leona.  

“Let me close up and I’ll meet you there.” Leona pinned him with her gaze before turning and going back inside. 

* * *

Back at the Sunset Inn, Max arranged two glasses on his small table, placed a few cubes of ice in each one, and then filled it with their favorite Tennessee whiskey.  A knock came at the door and he went to answer it. Leona stood at the doorway wearing tight dark blue jeans, a crimson sweater, and a black leather jacket, all of which fit a curvy frame. Her warm, dark brown eyes locked onto him and for a moment took the breath out of his chest.  

It had been almost a decade since he had seen her, and save for a few lines in her face and a few extra pounds that she wore all too well, the years had been very kind to her.  Max felt a sharp pang of something deep down and the warm feeling of some kind of youthful fire that he had not felt in some time.  

“Welcome…” he said holding out a glass toward Leona.

She took the glass, downed it like a shot and walked toward him slowly and confidently.  He quickly took a shot of his own cup and then reached out for her. Max Reynard and Leona Hughes collided against one another, kissing passionately and their clothes fell to the floor like autumn leaves in a strong wind.

* * *

A few hours later, Leona woke up naked and alone. A sticky residue coated her fingers and she felt dizzy as she rose. Her phone vibrated angrily on the table nearby.  Even though her eyes were still struggling to focus, she could make out the word “Base” on the phone. She reached for the phone, trying not to fumble it, dropped it on the bed.  A rush of panic began to set in, giving her enough focus to grab the phone and tap the green button with her thumb. 

“We’ve been trying to call you for an hour.” The woman on the phone spoke in an urgent tone while trying to remain business-like.

“I’m sorry. I think I was drugged,” Leona said looking around the room for her clothes. 

* * *

A few hours earlier, Max Reynard calmly unlocked the closed doors of The Superb and let himself in with Leona’s keys. With a briefcase in hand, he quickly walked to the doorway in the hall and up to the projector’s booth went directly to the safe.  He put the case down on the floor next to the safe and opened it. In one of the compartments was a set of small individual molds of Leona’s fingerprints. Being a smart girl, he figured she’d wipe the fingerprint scanner so that he couldn’t just get a mold off of it, and knowing as she was likely to not just use the thumb or index of right hand, he took molds of all ten of her fingers as she slept from the cocktail of drugs he’d slipped into her whiskey.  

He took out a stethoscope and placed it in his ears. Knowing Leona, and figuring she might have had some input on how the safe was built, he thought she may have had some safety precaution against drilling into it. If someone was to get in to this beautiful piece of equipment, she would want them to do it old school, which just happened to be Max’s specialty.  

They say the best crime is one by which you never get caught. Max Reynard always believed that the best crime was one that you never suspected even took place. It might take a little more work, but he was a man who enjoyed the challenge. He placed the tunable diaphragm against the door and began to turn the combination lock to the left. He heard the first click on the number nine. Turning the dial slowly to the right, a click came on the number nineteen.  And finally back to the left. Ever so slowly, he twisted the lock until a final click came on the number eighty one.  

He gave the five-spoke safe handle a tug and it did not move. Looking down at the molds of Leona’s fingertips and then back to the face that covered the fingerprint scanner. He reached down and grabbed one of the rubbery molds and placed it over his finger.  Lifting up the face, he pressed the mold down against the screen and heard a click. He once again pushed on the handle and this time, it moved. Max had chosen the middle finger of Leona’s right hand. She always did like giving people the bird.

Cranking the handle, he opened the door only to find another door. Max let out a heavy sigh. Figures, he thought. Of course Leona would have a safe with two doors to break through. This door was flat and fit inside the first door. In the middle of it, was a standard electronic keypad with the numbers one through nine on it. Above the keypad was a retangular screen, and on it a timer blinked on and began counting down from sixty seconds. A muffled whine came from behind the door and the pitch rose higher as the numbers got closer to all zeros.

In a panic, Max put in Leona’s birthday: 7-2-8-7-7. Nothing. Grabbing his flashlight out of the briefcase, he clicked it on and cast a beam of light onto the keypad. As expected, she had wiped it clean so as not to leave any fingerprints.  A fluttering thought suddenly stuck in his head. Thinking about the middle finger, he typed the numbers 4-2-3-7-5. A green light came on beneath the numbers and the clocked stopped. The whine became silent, and with a click, the door came open.  I’ll be damned, he thought. The combination to the second lock had been his birthday.

He sat back for a moment resting on the floor as a flood of emotions washed over him. Since the day they had parted eight years ago, there had not been one day that passed where Leona Hughes had not haunted him. After cracking a particularly tricky safe, they realized they had tripped an alarm. Shortly after, a pair of armed men had come looking for them. It was only by dumb luck Max and Leona had gotten the drop on them first, catching them walking into their motel room after forgetting something and going back shortly after they had left to get dinner. The way Max figured it, as fast as they were found it must be an organization with some serious connections and or money. Either way, there would be more to replace the two dead bodies they left in that room. With that in mind, Max decided that they should split up and he would take the prize that they had claimed and sent Leona the money after picking up their payment. True to his word, he did send Leona the money, but he never saw her again, until he came to the theater two nights ago. 

Max regained his composure and reached pulled back the secondary door. Inside of the safe, were neatly organized folders, thumb drives, CD’s and small containers with what looked to be microfiche. He names and dates going back over one hundred years. What the hell has Leona gotten herself into? Max saw a bright red folder on a shelf by itself. You’ll know it when you see it, he thought, hearing the words in Surrey’s voice. He grabbed it and tucked it back into his briefcase. Then, with quickness and precision, he closed the safe and made his way out of the building.

* * *

Leona had roared down Main Street as fast as she could manage with the heavy drugged feeling making her feel like a cup of whiskey she had downed had been an entire bottle. She did her best not to swerve onto the sidewalk, even at this late hour, so as not to arouse suspicion from any cops who might happen to be out on their late night rounds. She hoped to see Max’s charcoal Challenger racing past her, but she did not. She continued on to the theater, where she staggered up stairs and went directly to the safe. When she opened it, she fell back on the floor for a second. She fumbled for her phone and dialed a number.  

“The folder is gone,” she sighed. “Did you get me an address?”

Again, a flat-voiced woman answered the phone. “I did. Are you ready?”

“Yes,” Leona answered, gathering her composure.

The voice spoke and Leona clicked off the phone.  After a moment, she reached into her purse and pulled out a small handgun. Taking a deep breath, Leona Hughes steeled herself and went back out into the night.

* * *

Surrey sat in a chair at a reading desk in a bedroom of his rented cottage when a knock came at the door. He calmly laid down a bookmark with the painting of a medieval demon on it, closed the book, and went to the door.  

Max Reynard stood on the other side of the door with a folder in his hand and held it out as Surrey greeted him with a tablet in his hand.

“My goodness,” Surrey said to Max. “You certainly don’t waste any time.” 

“I don’t. And you shouldn’t either. I suggest you take this folder and leave town as soon as fucking possible.” Max handed off the folder, to Surrey who smiled and opened the folder.

Max stared at him while he thumbed through the folder’s contents. Once again, Surrey wore a suit that was probably worth a few mortgage payments in this town. He wore it so nonchalantly that Max could almost imagine him sleeping in it. Surrey smiled down at the folder and looked back up to Max.

“Now go ahead and wire the money into the account I gave you” Reynard asked.

Surrey held up his tablet and tapped on the screen a few times. “It’s done. Check it and see, Mr. Reynard,” the man in the fancy suit replied. “The cottages do have wi-fi, so you should be able to see it on your phone.”

Max pulled out his phone and began to type. After thumbing in a password he looked to his account to see a vast sum of money had been transferred to it only minutes before.

“No parting words, Mr. Reynard?”

“You got your folder. I got my money. What more is there to say?” With those words, Max turned and walked back to his car, quickly hopped in and drove off.

Surrey casually closed the door and went back to his desk and laid the red folder down.  He calmly opened it, and began laying out files on the table. Maps, legal documents, and personnel files with pictures of Abernathy Jackson, Mazzy Euler, Devon Traeger, Teddy McMillon and various other members of the Founding Families.

Surrey reached for his cell and quickly dialed a number. A low slightly distorted voice answered. “Do we have the files?”

“Yes sir. It’s just a matter of time before…” A  knock came at Surrey’s door. “Hold on just a minute, sir.”

He laughed as he walked up to the door and opened it. “Did you forget something Mr. Reynard?”

As the door swung open a flash of something caught Surrey’s eye and gun shot rang out.

“Surrey, are you there? Surrey…!” The voice went silent as the phone was abruptly clicked off.

* * *

Back at the Sunset Inn, Max Reynard slid his keycard across the lock and pulled the handle when he saw the greenlight. He stepped into the room and immediately noticed a woman sitting in a corner with a small reading light casting it rays across her face, leaving one half bright and the other half in shadow. A small handgun laid across her lap.

Before Max could speak, Leona lifted the gun and pulled the trigger. Max fell backwards as the bullet hit him in just below the diaphragm. He fell to the ground and clutched the wound which was bleeding profusely. He tried to speak but his words came out in a whisper. He crawled to the bed and propped himself up into a seating position as blood continued spilling through his hands on top of the wound. Once again, he tried to speak.

Leona walked slowly over to him and leaned down, next to his face. Max Reynard whispered something into her ear and then leaned back against the bed. Leona stared back at him, unable to speak and then with a smile and a sigh, Max’s eyes went vacant and his head tilted over slightly. Putting her gun back into her jacket, she dialed the phone. A click let her know the line was active. “It’s done,” Leona said.

The person on the phone said nothing and simply hung up. Leona reached down and grabbed a shell casing off the floor, tucked it into her pocket, and calmly made her exit. 

* * *

The following evening, theatergoers sat in The Superb theater watching Casablanca on the screen reserved for classic movies.  Leona had decided to run the projector that evening. She leaned over in the ghostly light to stared down across the illuminated heads to the large screen in the front of the room.  Humphrey Bogart ushered Ingrid Bergman into the plane, allowing her to go on to save the world. At least that how Leona had always envisioned it in her head. She stepped back away from the projector and walked over to the safe. As the flickering light danced across the bronze sheen of the carved face, Leona Hughes sat down against the side of it and wept.

THE END



The Superb

The Superb

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