Tuesday, October 11, 2016
By Daniel Skye
Sally Elswick was missing.
Kit had seen the missing posters all over town, stapled to every telephone pole, hanging in the windows of every storefront. He couldn’t escape her innocent smile. They had used a recent picture from Sally’s high school yearbook.
In the picture, Kit saw a seventeen year old girl with mocha brown hair, light blue eyes, and a guiltless smile that told him that Sally wasn’t even capable of harming a fly. She was last seen on Wednesday, October 15, at about 5:30 PM, walking home from a friend’s house, wearing a pink blouse and beige pants with white tennis shoes.
For the sake of her family, Kit didn’t want to assume the worst. But with black roses turning up all over town, it was hard not to assume the worst.
Greensville was in the grip of fear. And that fear had been given a plethora of names by both the residents of Greenville and the local newspapers. The Butcher. The Greensville Reaper. The Slasher. But the name that seemed to stick was the Black Rose Killer.
For every victim he claimed, the killer would leave a single black rose behind. Just like the rose that was found where Sally was last spotted before her sudden disappearance.
The rose was a symbol of death, but it also served as the killer’s sadistic calling card.
Everyone in Greensville was on high alert. The cops were urging everyone to stay indoors. But Kit wasn’t going to let it spoil the evening. He promised Darlene a surprise, and he’d be damned if he didn’t deliver.
* * *
“What’s that smell?” Darlene asked, walking blind through the vestibule. A Saint Christopher medallion dangled around neck, clanking against the buttons of her shirt. She took it off only to sleep and to shower, and during those intimate moments when she and Kit were completely alone.
She had explained it to Kit on their first date. She considered herself a wandering soul. Saint Christopher was the patron saint of travelers. And he protected her wherever her soul chose to roam.
“Never mind that,” Kit murmured.
“It smells like mold.”
“You’ll understand why in a second.”
“You mean I can take this stupid thing off now?”
“Go right ahead.” She removed her blindfold and took a look around.
In the lobby of Greensville Cinema, a poster for the movie As Good as it Gets was still sitting in same display case from when the theater flooded back in 1997. It was one of the few relics that remained. The flood had tarnished the decor, warped the floors and demolished the theater seats.
“I remember this movie,” Kit told Darlene. “Jack Nicholson won an Oscar for his role.”
“Don’t sell Helen Hunt short. She won an Oscar, too.” Kit was an aficionado of movies, but Darlene was quite the film buff herself. It was one of the reasons Kit was so fond of her. That and the fact that Darlene liked Kit for who he was. Not for his money.
Kit’s father was a big Knight Rider fan, and the name was his idea. He hated it at first, until he learned his mother had wanted to name him Dickie. From that point on, he learned to tolerate the name Kit.
Kit’s dad was also a wise investor who had started his first business by the time he was his son’s age. And he left Kit a substantial inheritance when he passed on. And Kit wasn’t going to squander it away. He was going to invest it in something he was passionate about.
“So why are we here?
“Free dinner,” Kit teased her as he pointed to the concession stand. “The popcorn is eleven years old, so it might be a little stale.”
Darlene didn’t even feign a laugh. Just rolled her eyes and waited for a real answer.
“I bought the place,” he told her, adding, “Surprise.”
“We’re in a recession and you bought a theater that’s been closed for eleven years?”
“I have big plans for this place. It’s going to be the movie theater I always dreamed of as a kid. Old school arcade games and pinball machines in the corner over there. A fully stocked concession stand with reasonable prices. A make-your-own-sundae bar.”
“You’re really going to have a make-your-own-sundae bar?”
“And if I can pull off a liquor license, beer for the adults.”
“It sounds like a gamble to me,” she said doubtfully.
“Trust me, I can spare it. Besides, wait until you see the real surprise. I know your favorite movie is Shawshank Redemption. I scored a 35mm print of the film. Unfortunately, the concession stand is empty, but I stopped off and picked up some candy and snacks before I picked you up.”
Her eyes practically lit up like Christmas lights. She wrapped her arms around him and planted a soft kiss on his cheek. “That’s the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”
“I don’t mind telling you I went to a lot of trouble to find that print.”
“I wasn’t talking about the movie. I was talking about the candy.” She smiled just to let Kit know she was busting his chops. When she smiled, it showed her dimples, which Kit found absolutely adorable. When she smiled, it also reminded him a lot of Sally Elswick.
He put his arm around her and led the way. “What are the theaters like after the flood?” she wondered. “Do they smell as moldy as the lobby?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, holding the door open to Theater One. “I just had this one remodeled.”
Darlene marveled at its pristine condition. That lingering fresh paint and carpet smell was a bit nauseating, but it was a small price to pay. There were rows of reclining leather theater seats. They all had special cup holders designed to keep drinks extra cold. And attached to the back of every seat, a folding tray that could be used to hold snacks.
“No more standing up and spilling your popcorn all over the floor,” Kit said.
“I hate when that happens,” Darlene said. “I’m afraid to ask, but do the bathrooms even work? I want to visit the ladies room before we watch the movie.”
“I had the plumbers here the other day. The sinks, toilets, everything works. And while you’re gone, I’ll get the movie started. I have to go up to the projection room and set the reel.”
Darlene followed him out of the theater and went down the hall. Kit went upstairs to the projection room and set up the first reel. He flipped the projector on and the silver screen lit up.
“This is going to be the perfect evening,” Kit said, peering out into the theater from the little window in the booth.
He turned to walk out, and there it was. Pinned to the back of the door. Staring back at him. Mocking him. Taunting him. It was a lonesome black rose, wilted and decaying.
Kit rushed downstairs. He checked every theater. He checked the bathrooms and the lobby. But Darlene was gone.
“Darlene” Kit wailed at the top of his lungs. “If this is a joke, it’s time to end it. Come on out.”
Kit decided to peek behind the concession stand to see if she was hiding. And that’s when he noticed the backdoor was ajar. He hopped over the concession stand and ran into the back alley.
He looked down and his eyes barely made out the thin trail of blood. He followed it to the end of the alley, where Kit made a gut-wrenching discovery. Darlene’s Saint Christopher medallion. The chain had been snapped. And the medallion glistened in the moonlight as it sat abandoned on the cold, hard pavement.